By any metric, the 2018-19 version of the New York Islanders was a resounding success both on and off the ice. When Lou Lamoriello was hired to be the Islanders general manager, one of most important things that he brought to the Island wasn’t just his hockey acumen, it was credibility.
Despite 48 wins and 103 points in 2018-19, the Islanders were a team whose whole was greater then the sum of its parts. In their second round playoff sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes, the Islanders lack of playmakers outside of Mathew Barzal was evident.
The Islanders struggled to create speed through the neutral zone and were effectively hemmed into their own zone by a quicker and more physical opponent. So that leads to the question of how do the Islanders capitalize on 2018-19 and improve for 2019-20?
How Do the Islanders Improve the Roster?
The Islanders’ biggest needs are as follows:
- Top-six forward
- Right-shot top-six forward
- Center depth
The Islanders went big game hunting in free agency, and struck out with Artemi Panarin. They did sign goaltender Semyon Varlamov to replace Robin Lehner, and successfully retained their own unrestricted free agents (UFAs) Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson. The Islanders are basically bringing back the same roster as last season without having addressed any areas of need. However, there are still interesting UFA targets for Lamoriello to target who can improve the Islanders for the 2019-20 campaign.
Micheal Ferland was a pleasant surprise for the Carolina Hurricanes last season. He scored 17 goals and had 23 assists in 71 games. His shooting percentage dropped last season to 10.9% from 14.6% and 14.2% the previous two seasons, which could mean that he might have a few more goals in him and be closer to a 20-goal scorer. Ferland also is a right shot and plays a sandpaper game that would fit in well with the Islanders team dynamic.
Ferland would seemingly be a perfect fit on a revamped Islanders third line and second power-play unit. He could slot in nicely as an upgrade over Leo Komarov who, despite being popular in the locker room and a fan favorite, struggled to help drive play as his 44.1% even strength Corsi number reflects.
I would think that a three-year, $12-million deal would be about right for someone of Ferland’s caliber. The Islanders could fit that contract into their current cap structure without creating too much of a cap situation down the road for themselves.
Brian Boyle is another player who would fit into the Barry Trotz/Lamoriello mold. Boyle has good size at 6-foot-7 and is versatile in that he can play the wing or center. In his career he has been decent at faceoffs, winning 50.2% of them over his career. He can also chip in offensively as his 18 goals last season indicates, although his shooting percentage did spike a bit to 14.9%, which was above his career average of 9.3%. This could mean some regression in that area.
Boyle is also a player who is seemingly coveted at the trade deadline each season by contenders. In 2018-19, he was traded from the New Jersey Devils to the Nashville Predators. In 2017-18, he was dealt by the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the deadline.
Signing the 34-year-old Boyle to a one-year deal, similar to what Lamoriello gave Valtteri Filppula last offseason would be a low-risk, high-reward move. In the event that the Islanders regress and fall out of contention, Boyle netted the Devils a second-round pick from the Predators, so it stands to reason that he could be moved at the deadline and net the Islanders either a second or third-round pick or be another veteran component for a deeper playoff run.
There are two names that stand out that the Islanders should absolutely be calling on. Those are Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild and Jesse Puljujarvi of the Edmonton Oilers.
Before being moved to the Arizona Coyotes, Phil Kessel vetoed a trade to the Wild for the aforementioned Zucker. The Wild also almost traded Zucker to the Calgary Flames at the 2019 Trade Deadline. So I think it is fair to say that the Wild are open to dealing Zucker in the right move. He would be an immediate boost to the Islanders’ top-six, and with a reasonable $5.5 million cap hit over the next four seasons, is affordable.
As evidenced by yesterday’s deal between the Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres, sometimes prospects need a change of scenery as they don’t pan out. Puljujarvi, the fourth-overall pick in the 2016 Draft, formally requested a trade this offseason. The Islanders themselves have a mercurial prospect in Josh Ho-Sang who has struggled to crack the Islanders’ NHL roster. Both players have shown flashes of NHL potential, struggled with their current teams and probably would be best served elsewhere. Perhaps a one-for-one swap could make sense and net the Islanders a potentially elite talent that Trotz can work his magic on.
Whatever route Lamoriello chooses, his work this offseason is far from over if the Islanders want to improve upon last season’s success. They have pieces in place, but the team needs to be augmented in order to continue to improve in what is a much more competitive Metro Division then existed last season.