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Islanders Mailbag: Who Should Be Moved? New Arena Pressure? Offseason Target

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New York Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello

The New York Islanders latest loss, a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, encompassed a lot of the same issues that had plagued this team throughout the entire 2021-22 campaign.

The Islanders have dropped their last two games and are 20-23-8, 19 points out of wild-card spot with 31 games to go.

After each game, I love connecting with you guys and I plan to do an Islanders Mailbag each week, if possible. Thanks for everyone who sent in questions.

Who would you move this year to try and give the Islanders the most flexibility to improve and contend again next season? (@AzoffBrendan)

If the New York Islanders want to have a bounce-back season in 2022-23, general manager Lou Lamoriello needs to get what he can for assets that are not part of his future plans. Moving Semyon Varlamov would not only free the Islanders of $5 million in cap space to use in the offseason, but it also allows for Ilya Sorokin to take the reigns as the team’s no. 1 goaltender without interruption.

Ilya Sorokin has started 36 of the New York Islanders 51 games this season and besides one span of the season where head coach Barry Trotz alternated the two for a bit, he’s gone with Sorokin more times than not.

The biggest issue in Sorokin’s game right now has been the softer goals or goals that he has the ability to stop given the skill set he possesses.

The only way Sorokin is going to shore up that part of his game is by just playing, and playing often. He’s still adjusting to North America ice and it’s going to take time for him to be fully comfortable.

Sharper angle shots are not something that Sorokin saw much of in the KHL. I asked head coach Barry Trotz about Sorokin’s issue with the sharp-angle shots and he agreed that more games under his belt in the NHL is how he will overcome this issue:

“Oh, I think you probably hit it right on. That’s more of a trend throughout the NHL. I’m sure five or six years ago he (Sorokin) wouldn’t see as many of those. Now they’re pretty commonplace just as the Michigan-type attempts and all those. There’s trends in the league that seem to evolve over years, and this is one of them. Now that’s a shot that goes in. You know, maybe 10 years ago you didn’t even think about that shot.”

The Islanders need Sorokin to be sharp and comfortable for next season, and with the state of the Islanders right now, it’s a perfect time for Lamoriello to move Varlamov and allow Trotz to focus on Sorokin’s development.

Why do you think Varly has struggled so much this year? is it a confidence thing? missing camp because of injury? a mix of both? Seems like he hasn’t been able to get in a real rhythm like we’re used to seeing. (@justincarp55)

The fact that Semyon Varlamov had a shorter offseason after another elongated postseason run, in which he was not 100%, backed by no training camp, did not allow for Varlamov to get into game-shape. And not being able to play in any preseason games, with his first game-like action, an actual game, it made life tough

Now, the defense in front of Varlamov, both goaltenders but especially Varlamov when he’s between the pipes, has been lackluster.

Shots that Varlamov did not see in his Vezina-caliber 2020-21 season he has seen at a significantly higher rate and he has not come up with the “key saves” he made all the time last season.

The Islanders have scored 2.55 goals per game this season, but when Varlamov is in goal, the Islanders have only scored 1.76 goals per game.

I don’t think it is a confidence thing with Varlamov. He’s a professional and spoke about his first start of the season against the Minnesota Wild, as he said he felt great. He admitted that it was tough to not have training camp or preseason.

So to sum this one up, I think it’s a combination of the defense in front of him and the inability to prepare physically and mentally for the season the way he has been able to in years past, has plagued him. Plus, the Islanders have given him little room for error.

Do you think the hype around the new arena put added pressure on this season? Has it affected the crowd? The energy at UBS hasn’t come close in any game this year to the feeling of Nassau Coliseum. (@JLazzy23)

There’s always hype surrounding a brand new arena and for the New York Islanders who had been trying to get a new arena for years (Barclays Center did not count), it was important to get off to a good start at home.

After having to wait until game 14 of the season to play in front of the home crowd, the Islanders were not given a fair chance during their first homestand. They dropped their first four home games due in large part to being forced to play through a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Islanders fanbase still shows up but given the Islanders current position in the standings, a shocking position given the lst couple of postseason runs, their new home does not have the energy (yet) that everyone was expecting. The Islanders are 10-11-4 on home ice this season.

Which player should the Isles target most in the offseason? (@HockeyNyi)

The New York Islanders need to add an elite forward. It’s something they have had to do since the Tavares days and it’s something that needs to be done to get the most out of Mathew Barzal. Look around the league.

Most teams have dynamic duos, for example Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov–playmakers that have finishers. Barzal does not have that.

The top name I’m looking at is Nashville Predators Filip Forsberg. Nashville has been actively shopping their 27-year old, who is set to become a UFA.  Forsberg has 27 goals and 18 assists in 45 games this season and he will be getting 8×8 this offseason and deserving so.

Unless the Islanders are signing Forsberg to an extension upon acquiring the forward like they did with Jean-Gabriel Pageau when they acquired him back in Feb. of 2020 and immediately signed him to a six-year extension.

Forsberg played under Islanders head coach Barry Trotz for two seasons, the last two seasons Trotz was behind the bench in Nashville (2012-13, 2013-14). Forsberg was just getting started at the NHL level then and Trotz treated him the same way he has treated Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows this season.

But if Forsberg is interested in coming to Long Island, he and Barzal should be able to do some significant damage.

Do you think it’s time for a new system? I’m not necessarily saying a new coach but simply a more offensive system as many teams have adapted. I feel like teams know our style of play and figure out ways to beat it a lot more lately than the past Isles. (@vizzia18)

The New York Islanders defensive system has been the reason Trotz’s teams have been able to do damage in the postseason. Their regular-season game plan has a playoff feel to it and although the Islanders do have players on offense, they never had the firepower to compete offensively with the rest of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division. But they had the defense.

The problem this season is that the defense has not been nearly as sharp as it has been over the last two years. The loss of Ryan Pulock have hurt, along with the struggles of Zdeno Chara and the loss of Nick Leddy.

There had been little to no transition game and that has negatively affected the offense. I don’t think it is time to move on from the system, as long as the Islanders can add a piece to the back end for next season.

Although the season has been a massive disappointment, what bright spots do you see with this team? (@NCulkin27)

There have been a few positives this season. The biggest positive has been the exponential growth of Noah Dobson. In NHL year three, Dobson has become a difference-maker on the offensive side of the puck.

He is a shot machine, leading the Islanders in that category. He has 10 goals, a career-high, with all 10 coming since Dec. 5.

He still has some things to work on in his own zone, but he has earned the trust of his head coach and has played 21:10 minutes per game this season.

Robin Salo, although only an 18-game sample size, has shown a Leddy-like skill set that the Islanders desperately need. He has shown an ability to get shots on net like Dobson and could be an everyday player as soon as next season.

Oliver Wahlstrom has taken strides in year two, despite Trotz and his treatment of the 23-year old. Kieffer Bellows has taken strides in his game, going from a “B” level prospect to much more than that.

He still has much to work on and like Wahlstrom, has been given the short end of the stick. I do think that Wahlstrom has more of a future with the Islanders.

The last positive I will say is the discipline of Mathew Barzal. He has just 14 penalty minutes this season and has shown a growth in maturity in 2021-22. The Islanders need Barzal on the ice as much as possible and he’s been available for Barry Trotz.

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