With just over a month left until players report to camp, the New York Islanders offseason yielded a team that looks far too familiar.In the two weeks that preceded the opening of free agency, the New York Islanders did as much to shake up the roster as they did to change — nothing.
The Islanders look more or less the same since the trade deadline came and went this-past February, and their familiarity is far more alarming now.
From the moment they entered and left the trade deadline, the Islanders have been looking for a spark that doesn’t appear to be on their roster.
The Isles’ lack of offense is something that hasn’t gone unrecognized by management. Barry Trotz opened up his thoughts to Arthur Staple of The Athletic.
“We know how to defend; that won’t be easy to duplicate, but I think the next evolution of our game is a little more on the offensive side,” Trotz admitted. “You do see the growth. I’ve gone over our team, training camp — I know what I’m going to do and I’ve gotten that done, even before July 1 when the team could change a bit. And then I’ll go over it again in a couple weeks and tweak it.”
There’s just over a month left until the puck drops for the 2019-20 season and any hope for more pop to come up front dwindles with each passing day.
While the acquisitions of both Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk taught Isles fans to never say never, it’s hard to believe a move is imminent given the amount of silence revolving around the Islanders for the last month.
Given how close we are to the start of the season, the offseason activity was actually largely good. Starting with the weeks leading into July 1, here’s what Lou Lamoriello has done thus far.
Brock Nelson was the first domino to fall in the Isles retention of their key free agents.
Signing on for another six years at $6 million per season was a bargain deal for Lamoriello, as Nelson could have commanded closer to $8 million AAV given the ludicrous contract the Philadelphia Flyers gave to Kevin Hayes.
In what was the biggest surprise of the NHL offseason, Jordan Eberle opted not only to stay with the Islanders, but took a pay cut in the process from $6 million per season to $5.5 million.
Historically speaking, not only have the Islanders struggled to attract free agents in the past, but failed to retain many of their key pieces in recent history.
The Anders Lee saga, which bled into the later hours of July 1, was the most nerve-wracking process to witness of the offseason. Facing the grim reality of potentially losing captains in back-to-back free agency windows, Lee finally signed a seven-year, $7 million contract.
Contrary to belief at the time, Lee never entertained offers from other teams according to his agent, Neil Sheehy.
With the exception of Robin Lehner (the Islanders’ plan seemed to always be Semyon Varlamov), the Islanders had a historic season in terms of retention, speaking volumes of the work both Lamoriello and Trotz have done to uproot the team’s culture and lay the foundation for years of success.
What of the offensive “pop” requested by Trotz at the beginning of the offseason? As of right now, it doesn’t seem to be coming externally.
For the second consecutive offseason, Lamoriello is leaving a bad impression with Isles fans and those surveying from around the league.
Last offseason, when the Isles lost their captain the indication seemed to be that Lamoriello was all-in on Plan A, and when that didn’t pan out seemingly frantic adjustments were made to compensate.
This-past July, Lamoriello swung for Artemi Panarin — hard. The Islanders missed — hard. Panarin rejected the reported $12.5 million offer from the Islanders and opted for the crosstown rival Rangers at nearly a $1 million annual discount.
What came next was a whole lot of nothing. Sure, the Islanders re-signed utility man Tom Kuhnhackl to a one-year, $850,000 contract. That’s not a bad thing as Kuhnhackl was a welcome addition in the 36 games he played for the Isles last season. But it’s not the pop Trotz and those surrounding the team were seeking.
For a second consecutive year, Lamoriello left the impression that when Plan A folded, there was no backup in place.
As of right now, the Islanders are taking several gambles. While Varlamov entering in place of Lehner should be seen as more of a lateral shift under the (NHL-best) direction of Mitch Korn and Piero Greco, expecting a goalie who’s coming off a .909 save percentage to improve to at least .920 is a gamble.
In the same vein, Casey Cizikas posted his first 20-goal season in 2018-19. He’ll have to at least replicate that despite posting a high of nine goals in seasons prior.
Can Anthony Beauvillier take a big step forward in his development and score closer to the pace from January through April of 2018? Will Mathew Barzal find equilibrium between his 85-point rookie campaign and his more defensively balanced 2018-19? Is Otto Koivula or another Bridgeport prospect ready to fill the hole left by Valtteri Filppula at 3C?
These are just a handful of the questions the Islanders must have answered for success next season. Most importantly, can the overall team structure take another step and balance the defensive responsibility of last season with some of the scoring touch seen in 2017-18?
The 2019-20 season comes with the added pressure of last season’s success plus the expectation that there needs to be a step forward. If the Islanders are going to do so, they’re going to need everyone to repeat their career seasons and then some.