We’re deep into the NHL’s offseason, and it’s been some time since the New York Islanders last made a move.
To this point in the summer, some are outraged with the decisions Islanders’ president of hockey operations and general manager Lou Lamoriello has made, pointing at the new contracts given to Pierre Engvall, Scott Mayfield and Semyon Varlamov as the latest in a line of deals that are too long and expensive.
On the other hand, others believe there’s reason for cautious optimism this upcoming year. If all goes well, a full season of Mathew Barzal and Bo Horvat in front of more stellar play by Ilya Sorokin could set the Islanders up for a playoff run.
After taking some time to weigh my thoughts and evaluate what other Eastern Conference teams have done, my viewpoint on the Islanders’ offseason falls somewhere in the middle.
While I agree that the contracts Engvall, Mayfield and especially Varlamov signed are too long, the Islanders are a better team with them on the roster than not. At the same time, we’ve seen what Barzal and Horvat can do when they’re on the ice together. Plus, there’s no reason to believe that Sorokin is headed for a cliff. But great teams are more than just three great players.
Although Lamoriello was restricted from being more aggressive this offseason by limited cap space, he still could have made some moves to address the issues that plagued the Islanders last season. Or, at the very least, sent a message to a roster that underperformed.
Without any significant changes to their lineup, the Islanders aren’t any closer to competing for the Stanley Cup than they were a few months ago. And even though they haven’t necessarily taken a step backward, their competition has certainly taken strides forward.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had a monumental collapse to close last season, which gifted the Islanders a playoff spot, and they’ve reset their roster this summer by making changes in an attempt to fix glaring issues. They may not be done either, as numerous reports have stated the Penguins are the favorites to acquire Erik Karlsson if he does get moved.
With or without the last year’s Norris Trophy winner, Pittsburgh will be back in the mix of what’ll surely be a heated Metropolitan Division. They and the New York Rangers will be the Islanders’ chief competition while the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils battle for the division crown.
Outside of the Metro, the rest of the Eastern Conference has made upgrades as well. The Buffalo Sabres seem dead set on making their long-awaited return to the playoffs, and the same can be said for the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings.
Even a team like the Boston Bruins is still capable of competing for a wildcard spot despite losing several key players.
After barely making the postseason last year, Lamoriello has done little this offseason to improve the Islanders’ playoff chances within an already crowded Eastern Conference, which has only gotten better. But maybe that’s his point.
Lamoriello has given much of the roster generous contracts and traded multiple first-round draft picks for NHL-caliber talent over the last few years. His inactivity this offseason might be his way of saying he’s done all he can to assemble a winning team, and he’s now putting the onus on the players to make it work.
They have no other choice now.
They didn’t get any help from the front office this summer and likely won’t get any from the outside once the season begins either.