NHL 2022 Offseason Guide: The New York Islanders
The New York Islanders had a season to forget. That much is clear. However, the way their offseason will pan out is not. After back-to-back appearances in the Conference Finals, expectations were through the roof. But the regression that fans were dreading finally came about. After a COVID outbreak during the team’s 13-game road trip to start the season, things quickly fell off the rails. Despite an incredible moment with the UBS Arena finally opening up, it appeared that the Islanders of old were playing there.
Things came to a head when Lou Lamoriello chose to can beloved coach Barry Trotz and replace him with longtime Trotz assistant Lane Lambert. Obviously, people inside closed doors know more than I do. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I am worried about Lou (see linked article). If he gets this offseason wrong, then everything he has been building since 2018 feels like it will all come crashing down. With all that being said, it’s time to see the options that the Islanders have at their disposal.
The Islanders are not as far away as this season made them look. They have already figured out one of the most important categories of success in the NHL: goaltending. Ilya Sorokin is an absolutely amazing goalie. If the Islanders somehow made the playoffs this year, I have a feeling that the White Whale would have gotten more Vezina consideration. You can ask both Lightning and Rangers fans how important it is to have an elite goaltender.
Elsewhere, Lamoriello has his work cut out for him. They have a top-level defensive pairing in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, but they severely lack depth. So much so that Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara, with an average age of 42, consistently saw Top-4 minutes throughout the season. Robin Salo could potentially turn into something down the road. The forward group also struggled throughout the season. Mathew Barzal had a revolving door of linemates and even saw Brock Nelson usurp the top-line center role. In all fairness, Nelson had an excellent season. Things could really turn around on the Island if #29 keeps it up. Captain Anders Lee made his triumphant return from knee surgery also and didn’t miss a beat, scoring 28 goals in 76 games. On the other hand, names like Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, and Kyle Palmieri all had a pretty rough time.
There are two clear needs on this team. Depth on the left side of the defense, and a high-level forward (preferably right-handed). Names like Jakob Chychrun, Oliver Kylington, and Samuel Girard have all been floated as potential options. The Islanders only have so many trade pieces to deal, though. Assets like the #13 overall pick, future draft capital, Aatu Raty, and William Dufour are about the extent of it. As well, players like Oliver Wahlstrom, Beauvillier, and Bailey could also be in play. Lamoriello did allude to making “hockey trades” this offseason using current roster players, so one or any of those three could be involved.
Beauvillier in particular could be on the trade block. Inconsistency and a cap hit over $4 million for the 25-year-old could entice a number of teams. What more logical landing spot is there than his hometown Montreal Canadiens? The Habs are knee-deep in a rebuild and may consider dealing Josh Anderson the other way. However, there are bigger fish to fry. Names like Filip Forsberg, Alex Debrincat, or even David Pastrnak make much more sense. Getting an elite scoring wing and locking him for the long-term alongside Mathew Barzal is undoubtedly a priority. Lou could show his commitment to this team by adding to this group and making 2023 a year to watch out for.
The Honest Truth
Pulling off a big move for one of those names is unlikely at best. In fact, that is truly me being more optimistic than anything. We all know how conservative and reserved Lou is. The flashiest moves he will make are with coaching changes (obviously). In my eyes, a more realistic and underrated move would be to go for Colorado’s Valeri Nichuskin (sorry Gavin!). If Lou could somehow find a taker for Bailey’s full contract, the former Dallas Star would fit in absolutely perfectly in the middle-six. He is a Swiss army knife of a winger. Excellent in both ends, good with the puck, a team player, and obviously, an important cog to a powerhouse of a team.
It’s also important to note that this is Joe Sakic we’re talking about. If anyone can find a way to navigate through the Avalanche’s tedious cap situation, it’s him. This also takes me to potential defensive upgrades. I’m sure Sakic would only allow Girard to leave for a really strong offer. Someone will more than likely outbid the Isles for Chychrun during the draft. Kylington is only possible if Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk both ask for massive extensions. Would Lou play it safe and bring Nick Leddy back into the fold on a cheap deal? I’m starting to get worried that could be the reality.
What To Look Forward To
Obviously, this post had a bit of everything concerning my thoughts about the New York Islanders. Part of it was what I hope will happen as well as some rumors around the league. However, the other part of it was me coming back down to earth and facing facts about the team. Throughout my lifetime, they have somehow invented new ways to let me down.
I still think there’s potential for this New York Islanders team. Barry Trotz showed everyone what the best version of the modern-day Islanders looked like. Now it’s on Lou and Lane Lambert to see if it could either be replicated or is simply lightning in a bottle. It is far too early to tell how things will go because my cautious optimism comes under one condition: that Lou actually does what he says and makes this team better.
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