Lou Lamoriello Needs to Ride Off into the Sunset
I really wish I didn’t have to write this. Unfortunately, Lou Lamoriello has left me no choice. The rest of the hockey world is still pulling their collective jaw off the floor after Johnny Gaudreau reportedly signed a seven-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even more baffling is that Johnny Hockey left a lump sum of $15 million on the table by walking away from the Calgary Flames’ massive offer. However, I am not here to write about the Flames, Columbus, or anything else. This article will be devoted to Lou Lamoriello and the glaring failure that the New York Islanders now face. It does not matter what he does for the rest of the summer, what today taught me is that Lou is not fit to run the Islanders or any NHL franchise for that matter.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
June 2018, the exact same thing happens. Who is the big name, you may ask? Former Islanders captain John Tavares. However, everyone gave Lou a free pass. He was on the job for only months at that point. As well, Tavares had a close relationship with former Islanders coach Doug Weight, who just got axed. Tavares had been used to losing a lot on the Island. Apparently, he was not sure if the new regime of Lamoriello and Barry Trotz would do the trick. Despite offering a mammoth eight-year, $88 million extension, Tavares walked out the door for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.
Rather than swinging for the fences and trying to find a replacement, Lou was conservative and decided to see the job Trotz would do with this roster. The only additions? A very old Valterri Filppula and a reunion with Matt Martin. However, Barry Trotz worked his magic. The Islanders became a playoff team practically overnight and swept the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the first round. However, then came the fall back down to Earth. The Carolina Hurricanes swept them, with home ice, and it really wasn’t much of a fight. Having some more firepower like Tavares probably would have helped in that series.
Due to the unforeseen success of the Islanders, their brass made out like bandits in 2019. Barry Trotz won the Jack Adams award as Coach of the Year and Lamoriello won Executive of the Year. Once again, a big fish was lurking in the waters of 2019 Free Agency. This time around, his name was Artemi Panarin. Fresh off a surprising trip to the second round with the Columbus Blue Jackets (remember them?), the Breadman was due for a massive payday. He was and is a star who can put up points with his eyes closed.
Once again, Lou had the check ready. The result? Despite both the Islanders and Blue Jackets offering more money, Panarin spurned them both and opted to join the rebuilding New York Rangers. Despite being the more successful team and offering more money, Lou could not get it done. In Panarin’s wake, Lou opted to simply bring the band back together. Names like Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, and captain Anders Lee all got long-term extensions.
A Brief Reprieve
It looked like the Islanders were starting to fall back down to Earth in 2019-2020. Despite being well over .500, and making a trade deadline deal for JG Pageau, the playoffs looked slim at best. They were in sixth place in a loaded Metropolitan Division. However, in comes COVID-19. The whole world is put on pause as the NHL eventually has to end its season behind closed doors. However, it was a blessing in disguise for the New York Islanders. Getting all the guys in shape and rested ahead of a modified playoff format played heavily in their favor.
Their defense-first style helped them neutralize almost all opposition. First, it was the Florida Panthers in a play-in series. Next, Trotz’s former employers in Washington. They went down without much of a peep in five games. Then the Philadelphia Flyers. After coasting out to a 3-1 series lead, the Flyers put up a strong fight, taking the series to a seventh game. However, the Islanders closed out the series in style with a 3-0 victory. Up next was the Tampa Bay Lightning. A supremely talented and hungry team looking to get over the hump and win a Stanley Cup.
In hindsight, if the Isles would have been able to close out the Philly series in less than seven games (maybe with some more firepower), it would have helped a lot. They seemed to be one step behind at every turn in the third round, with Tampa eventually getting up by three games to one. However, the Islanders would not go down. An Eberle overtime goal forced a Game 6. Once again, there was overtime. However, it was not meant to be. Anthony Cirelli stuck the dagger in the Islanders and their unlikely bubble run.
Another Bump in the Road
This time around, Lou Lamoriello had no marquee free agent to worry about. What he did have to worry about, however, was a severe cap crunch. Locking up so many different guys, including the recently acquired Pageau, made cap space very slim. There were ways to get out of it, however. Andrew Ladd’s contract looked absolutely gruesome, and Johnny Boychuk’s was also not too pretty. Instead, Lou bit the bullet and sent defenseman Devon Toews’ RFA rights to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for two second-round picks. It was a tough loss, but Lou would make it work, right?
The only thing is, he didn’t. Toews went from an advanced stats beauty to one of the nine or ten best defensemen in all of hockey. He has a Stanley Cup to his name after being a key contributor in the Avs’ Top 4. All the Islanders have are what-ifs. Lou unsurprisingly decided to run it back with the guys that were still around and see what 2021 would bring. And it was a similar result.
Still Close but No Cigar
The 2020-2021 season started behind closed doors and featured only matchups against opponents in the reworked divisions. It made sense, considering COVID was still really bad in the Winter of 2020. However, as the season went on, and restrictions started to ease up, a sense of optimism began to grow once again. The Islanders were a playoff team in the brand-new East Division, and Lou wanted to make sure of it. He went out and acquired Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the Devils at the trade deadline. And once again, the Barry Trotz coaching masterclass was in full session. Despite punching above their weight, the Islanders landed a few knockout blows. They were able to dispatch both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins in six games for the first two rounds.
Then came the rematch. Once again, the Islanders faced the Lightning, who were now going for a repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. In all honesty, they could not have played a much better series. They gave the Bolts everything they could handle and were the only team that pushed them to seven games in those past two seasons. However, a glaring trend once again flashed itself. Tampa scored the only goal of that Game 7 shorthanded and left a really bitter taste in the Islanders’ mouth. More and more what-ifs came about. What if Tavares or Panarin actually chose to sign here? What if Lou managed the cap better and was able to keep Toews around? And then, what if we can actually get an elite scorer to pair with Mathew Barzal?
More Straws to Grasp On
If Lou Lamoriello was going to get that big scorer, it wasn’t going to be a free agent. 2021 had a notoriously weak class on the open market. There was already work to do after he saw the Seattle Kraken take Jordan Eberle in the expansion draft. That was followed up by a draft day trade where Nick Leddy was sent to the Detroit Red Wings. However, there was one possible trade candidate. His name: Vladimir Tarasenko. The Russian had reportedly reached an impasse with Blues management and was available for next to nothing. However, his recent shoulder surgeries scared away many teams, including the Islanders. For those wondering, Tarasenko put up the first 80-point season of his career and helped the Blues make the second round of the playoffs in 2022.
Instead, Lou opted for more veteran leadership instead of actual talent. He continued his trend of keeping the boys around and bringing in guys he knew from his legendary past. Guys like Anthony Beauvillier, the aforementioned Palmieri, and Casey Cizikas all got extensions. So, how did he fill in the holes of Eberle and Leddy, you may ask? By signing a 36-year-old Zach Parise and a 44-YEAR-OLD ZDENO CHARA. For those wondering, Nick Leddy and Devon Toews were both lauded for their ability to move the puck as a defenseman. Chara, on the other hand, shouldn’t be trusted to move a puck even if it was glued to his stick.
Back to Reality
For the record, I have no problem with the Islanders’ ownership. Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin have proved they will put their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting this team. Whether it’s investing in a brand new, state-of-the-art arena, or consistently being at the NHL’s cap ceiling, they want to win and make the Islanders brand look as good as possible. Heading into the 2021-2022 season, the UBS Arena was not fully done being built. As a result, the Islanders’ first 13 games of the season would all be played on the road.
It looked like business as usual through the first five or six games. However, the train would fall off the rails shortly after. A COVID-19 outbreak combined with the unorthodox schedule would throw the season into turmoil. A team with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations would be sitting in the NHL’s cellar for a good 30-40 games. However, Trotz and the guys managed to turn it around in the second half. They had a mathematical chance of getting in the playoffs for the last few weeks, but it was too little too late. Lou Lamoriello should have known for a while what he needed to do. Despite great goaltending, they needed ways to score.
Lou, Is Anybody Home?
Despite a season that many considered an outlier, Lou Lamoriello decided to go through with firing Barry Trotz, a future Hall-of-Famer, who absolutely loved to be out on Long Island and coaching this team. He was ready to go for 2023, but Lou had other plans. Some have said that Lou picked Mathew Barzal over Trotz, while others had claimed that Lou and Barry did not see eye-to-eye. Regardless, the Islanders will be going into the new season with a rookie head coach in Lane Lambert.
It doesn’t matter what the circumstances were. I still stand by the point that Barry Trotz gives that team the best chance at winning. Adding an elite scorer like Panarin or Tarasenko increases their chances of winning even more. Because Lou failed at the second point, the first point has now been thrown out of the window.
The Nail in the Coffin
The 2022 offseason held equal amounts of weight and optimism for the Islanders. Heading into the draft, I had my fingers crossed that Lou would get to work. And it seemed like that’s exactly what would happen to start off. The Islanders and Canucks were reportedly deep in trade talks for star forward JT Miller on the draft floor. The return would appear to include the 13th overall pick. However, talks then broke down. Lou switched gears and used that pick to acquire young defenseman Alex Romanov from the Montreal Canadiens. It was a good trade on most accounts, barring one condition. Having Romanov in the fold would be great IF a big-name forward joined him. And it seemed like you couldn’t miss for scorers this summer.
However, that’s exactly what happened. Kevin Fiala, an RFA, was sent from Minnesota to LA for a prospect and a first-round pick. Alex DeBrincat, a 40-goal scorer, was picked up by Ottawa for a few picks, including the 7th overall. Miller seemed to be moments away from becoming an Islander, but no one knows what happened. David Pastrnak seemed to be on the trading block but will probably give Boston at least one more year. However, the latest big fish is Johnny Hockey.
Johnny on the Island?
Experts had long pegged him for either the New Jersey Devils or Philadelphia Flyers but said Lou and the Islanders had an outside shot. As Day 1 of free agency started, it looked like there was a chance. Philly handcuffed themselves by not having any cap space to sign him. The Devils didn’t have much physicality to protect Gaudreau’s speed and skill game. While there was some cap management required, there was a chance. A fit, both on and off the ice, made sense to many people around the league. However, the unthinkable happened. Gaudreau went for the mystery team in Columbus and their seven-year, $68+ million deal. Once again, the Islanders were in the race and seemingly in the home stretch. However, here is all they were left with:
A True Gut Punch
This means one of two things. Either Lou Lamoriello did not think Johnny Gaudreau was worth $9.8 million per season or, Johnny Gaudreau did not think Lou Lamoriello and his New York Islanders team was an attractive fit. Regardless of which is true, it’s entirely Lamoriello’s fault. Following up on getting rid of Trotz this offseason with this is bad. It’s just about at a point of no return. To make things even worse, Lou put all his eggs in this basket. He sat back as guys like David Perron, Ilya Mikheyev, Max Pacioretty, and others changed teams. Now, the only way back for Lou is via trade.
Will Patrick Kane actually ask out of Chicago? Will Vladimir Tarasenko be available for a reasonable price? With Gaudreau in Columbus, will RFA Patrik Laine become available? I say all this, but don’t have my hopes up. The sad truth is that Lou Lamoriello has let the Islanders and their fans down on many different occasions while he’s been in charge. The only way things can change is if Lou actually takes serious action or steps down from the role. I thought things couldn’t get worse, but they did. I’m pretty much at the point where I think ownership should get involved and find someone else to run the team. To all my Islanders fans out there, I’m thinking of you.
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Fwiw, I think you’re being way too charitable with ownership. They’ve never shown that they know what they’re doing or care as much as you clearly do writing this. And if your barometer for their giving a damn about the on ice product is Jon showing off his horseteeth in pictures with the patrons or the hiring of Lamoriello, I’d refer back to your own writing and realize the circular argument you’d be creating.