Lou Lamoriello entered the offseason with a term. He fired Barry Trotz, a popular head coach who led the Islanders to back-to-back conference finals before a disappointing 2021-22 season.
Lamoriello, president and general manager of the Islanders, talked about improving the blue line and making a “hockey deal” to bolster the forward squad. His goal was clear, to get the Islanders out of the quagmire they had slipped into last season.
It’s now mid-August and most of the NHL business before training camp is long over. The latest big name in the market, Nazem Kadri, signed with the Flames on Thursday morning. The Islanders made an addition we know: Alexander Romanov, a raw but promising defenseman for whom Lamoriello handed out his first-round draft pick six weeks ago.
Losing Kadri, who had been linked to the Islanders by SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman and fans who hoped Lamoriello’s unusual silence meant he was trying to free up some space, is just the latest disappointment. This disappointment stems from the Islanders’ omerta over the trades, which led part of their fanbase to believe that a deal with the former Avalanche center had been reached when no credible reports indicated. that was the case.
Barring a completely unplanned trade – which can never be ruled out with Lamoriello – the Islanders’ top six in 2022-23 will look…exactly like their top six last season, when they ranked 22nd in the league in terms pointing.
Maybe things will change with the roster as is and a season unhindered by the long road trip and the COVID-19 outbreak that plagued the Islanders at the start of last season. Maybe Anthony Beauvillier or Oliver Wahlstrom will take the next step forward. Maybe new head coach Lane Lambert will unlock something Trotz couldn’t on this team.
That’s a lot of maybes for a team that thinks it’s a Stanley Cup contender.
At this point, the most viable free agent the Islanders could add is Massapequa’s Sonny Milano, who had 34 points for Anaheim last season alongside Trevor Zegras. Milano would likely be on the Islanders’ third line on the depth chart right now. There’s no obvious business candidate for Lamoriello, at least at the moment. Most likely, the Islanders will bring to training camp what they currently have.
“We’ll be as active as we can to improve,” Lamoriello said during the draft, regarding his approach to free agency. “Whatever we have to do, we will do to improve. But remember, it takes two to make a transaction.
Six weeks later, the roster is essentially the same, and a team that struggled to fill its brand new arena for much of last season will need to find a way to explain to fans how it’s going to work.
Lamoriello may not care what other people think, but there’s no team in the league for whom a quick start will be more important when games begin in mid-October. If the Islanders play like they did in the 37-35-10 disaster last season, hope will soon be dissipated.
Mathew Barzal’s pending restricted free agency post-season weighs in on it all, as there’s no player the Islanders could less afford to reject.
If the Islanders do indeed prove that last season was an aberration, as they seem to believe, then all of that will cease to matter. Good teams have a way of making problems go away.
If not, however? Something will have to give. And so on.