New York Islanders
Are The New York Islanders In Serious Trouble? (Brad Penner-USA Today Sports)

Can The New York Islanders Find A Way Out Of This Slump?

The New York Islanders are currently in a state of disarray. A 5-8-2 record, good for last in the Metropolitan Division, has many fans worried. Not to mention, the team is currently in the midst of a COVID outbreak and injury crisis. Regulars in the lineup like Josh Bailey, Adam Pelech, and captain Anders Lee have all tested positive and are out for at least the time being. Even worse is that others like Brock Nelson and Ryan Pulock have picked up injuries, with the former getting a lower-body injury last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. So, are the Islanders screwed? Let’s take a look at how both the near and long future may look.

The Short Answer Is Yes

Simply put, yes, the Islanders are in trouble right now. It appears that this hole could be too deep, even if the Islanders are known for their slow starts. Concerns were raised after it was revealed that the teams’ first 13 games of the season would be played on the road with the new UBS Arena under construction. At the time of writing, the Islanders’ new home hasn’t given them the push they need. Losses in back-to-back nights against the Leafs and Calgary Flames are disappointing, to say the least. Getting outscored by 8-2 in those games and 27-6 during their 6 game losing streak is incredibly concerning.

With many important players sidelined, the ones that aren’t have needed to step up. Hockey Guy Trey is pretty much on the money about Mat Barzal at the moment. He is a great player to watch but has not produced at the level that he should. Barzal is called upon to carry the load to an extent and create offense. He is the top-line center and paid a handsome $7 million a year for a reason. The only moment of magic to date, however, is a slick breakaway goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hopefully, when his usual linemates return to the ice, Barzal will be able to step his game up.

There Are A Couple Of Reasons For This

Fans are also upset at the state of the roster. Lou Lamoriello is beginning to take criticism for not properly replacing the departed Nick Leddy and Jordan Eberle. The Islanders still need another Top-6 forward and Two-way left-handed defenseman. That is what many, including myself, see on paper. Samuel Girard and Vladimir Tarasenko are some of the most recent candidates, but Lou is still hesitant to pull the trigger. However, we could finally see some moves being made if they manage to turn it around. Trotz is also taking flak for some personnel decisions. Giving significant minutes to Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene, whose combined age is 83 (!!!), is far from ideal. For lack of a better word, they are dinosaurs on the ice. I mean that with all due respect, but those guys cannot make up one of your three defense pairs in 2021.

The Long Answer Is Maybe Not

The Trotz-Lamoriello era is not at stake, even if this season is a wash. The Islanders’ cap flexibility has been tremendously improved thanks to moving off the contracts of Johnny Boychuk and Leo Komarov. The team could even go big game hunting in 2022 without any major pending free agents. As well, Lamoriello has been able to open cap space without losing their 2022 first-round pick. Falling into the draft lottery and landing a top-10 pick along with cap space would be great in helping this team retool and become a true contender for the following season.

It is fair to say that we may not even have to think of those hypotheticals. It is still very early in the 2021-2022 season. A large chunk of the Isles’ games before the Olympics are at UBS Arena. Many important players will return in the near future. If they can somehow manufacture a midseason run like they frequently do, then their first-round pick could come into play when it comes to making upgrades. Perhaps Lou would even take a run at another rental, with Filip Forsberg being one of the biggest names set to be without a contract in 2022.

Fans are actually happy to see some new faces in the wake of the COVID outbreak. Robin Salo impressed considerably during the preseason. Many, including myself, wanted to see him make the roster for Opening Night. There was a wait, but it appears to be more than worth it. Salo registered over 21 minutes of ice time against the Maple Leafs, the most of any Islander. He could be an in-house answer to replacing Nick Leddy, especially with many red flags surrounding the play of both Chara and Greene.

The Answer: Potentially

The fatal flaw of the New York Islanders is that they are a team that wants to win now without an abundance of talent. Through great coaching and structure, they have shown to go pretty far. This is why their start is so surprising. The defense is uncharacteristically bad, and the offense is hot and cold at best. Semyon Varlamov appears to have taken a step back from his great 2021 postseason, and Ilya Sorokin is relied on far too much to bail this team out. If they can manage to weather the storm and make the right upgrades, then this season may not be lost. However, all eyes could be looking forward to 2023 very quickly with the state they’re in. Only time will tell what’s next for the Islanders in this topsy-turvy season.

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