New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello took most of the blame for the team’s failures this season when he spoke to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday morning.
“There’s no excuses because that’s on me, totally on me,” Lamoriello said. “That’s my responsibility to make us the best we possibly can, to make whatever changes we can. It’s not on the coaching staff. That’s not on players, and I take that responsibility. And it’s making it happen.
With his words, Lamoriello took the heat off first-year head coach Lane Lambert and the rest of the coaching staff. But how much heat was on them, to begin with?
Despite their mistakes and the lack of strong play from his players, this all comes back to the man at the helm.
Heat on Lamoriello
When Lou Lamoriello stood pat at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, this is what he had to say regarding improvements.
“I don’t think we’re gonna get better by just adding a player,” Lamoriello said. “We’re gonna get better by making hockey trades.”
Then a month later, Lamoriello fired future Hall of Famer head coach Barry Trotz, his most significant acquisition since coming to the island on 2018.
Looking back now, what Trotz did with the roster was what one would call a work of art.
Trotz took the worst defensive team in the sport and turned them into a team that came ever so close to reaching a Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back years.
With all that went wrong in 2021-22, Lamoriello believed it was a one-off.
If that’s the case, Trotz should have been given the same courtesy as the players–but I digress.
Lamoriello did stay true to his word regarding a hockey trade, as he shipped his 13th overall pick in 2022 for Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexander Romanov. The 22-year-old defenseman has shown his flaws this season, but again, he is a young player with tremendous upside once he fine-tunes his game.
Offense had been an issue for this team for quite some time, with just 2.75 goals per game under Trotz.
Even if Lamoriello wanted to run things back with the same group, there was still the need to add a goal scorer. And that didn’t happen.
There were chances to sign top-flight free agents this past offseason, but lackluster contracts from Lamoriello and Snow cap-strapped the organization from getting deals done.
And that’s on Lamoriello.
Early in this season, the Islanders got to a point where the offense was executing their chances, as the organization was showing signs that maybe 2021-22 was indeed a fluke.
However, quickly, the season started to spiral, and when the Islanders struggled due to injuries and lackluster play, nothing was done to save the season. Now, the Islanders sit five points out of a wild-card spot on a six-game losing streak, with a 2-1 loss to a struggling Ottawa Senators team.
They have scored just 2.88 goals per game, ninth-worst in the NHL.
Things couldn’t be worse.
Lamoriello’s Banking Backfires, Opportunities Lost
By banking on the group, Lamoriello missed out on trading players with value, which would have put them in a better financial position.
Cal Clutterbuck was a player that many playoff teams had their eye on at last year’s deadline, the Colorado Avalanche being one of them. Instead, the Islanders signed Clutterbuck to a two-year extension worth $3.5 million. Clutterbuck has dealt with various injuries this season, missing 16 games, and is currently out indefinitely.
Semyon Varlamov, with a cap hit of $5 million, could have been moved for a first-round pick, even with his struggles, but was held onto as Lamoriello cited his importance to Ilya Sorokin and how critical it was to have a dominant goaltending tandem.
While Varlamov has had a bounce-back season, he hasn’t played as much, given Sorokin’s elite play.
Anthony Beauvillier, who struggled mightily in 2021-22, has struggled yet again as his value has continued to fall. At a cap hit of $4.15 million annually over the next two years, he is a player that the organization may try to move–but it will be tough to get any worthwhile return.
Josh Bailey is another player that has continued to struggle, and despite reaching the 1,000-game mark this season, the loyalty despite his struggles has been concerning. Bailey has a cap hit of $5 million over the next two seasons, and if the Islanders wanted to move him, they would need to give up picks to entice teams to take him on.
With more financial freedom, the Islanders could have made more of a play on the high-caliber players available this past summer.
Nazem Kadri, who signed with the Calgary Flames, Johnny Gaudreau, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and J.T. Miller, who signed a long-term extension with the Vancouver Canucks were players that could be had.
The New York Islanders have the chance to sell, given their situation, and Lou Lamoriello has the opportunity to right the wrongs a bit and set the Islanders up for future success. Or he could go full throttle and acquire the players needed for this group to go on a run.
If he doesn’t get the job done at the deadline and the Islanders missed the playoffs again, ownership’s continued support may waiver as they have a new arena to sell out.