After a disappointing 2021-22 season, Lou Lamoriello and the New York Islanders front office are under a significant amount of pressure to acquire star-caliber players in the offseason. The Islanders reached the Stanley Cup Semifinal in back-to-back seasons, but the past season exploited some of the underlying weaknesses within the roster as the team missed the playoffs.
One of the key needs entering this offseason will be acquiring a star goalscorer. The Islanders need a skater that can provide the offense with 30 goals like Johnny Gaudreau or Filip Forsberg, both of whom are pending unrestricted free agents. With the team expected to have salary-cap space to work with, and the potential avenues to open up more space by trading some players in the upcoming months, the Islanders are in a prime position to make the acquisition, one that would likely turn them into one of the league’s best teams.
Trotz’s Defensive Coaching Philosophy
With the Islanders’ offense struggling both this season and in recent seasons, it’s easy to criticize head coach Barry Trotz’s coaching philosophy. After all, a defensive-minded coach likes to slow the game down and prioritize great defensive play. Despite a goalscorer conflicting with Trotz’s coaching style, throughout his tenure, having a scorer has been essential to the team’s success.
When Trotz started his coaching career with the Nashville Predators, an expansion franchise founded in 1998, he had multiple successful seasons with the team. The Predators reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs seven times in eight seasons and reached the Western Conference Semifinals in both 2011 and 2012. However, the inability to find a star scorer was ultimately Trotz’s undoing with the team, with only four skaters scoring 30 goals or more in a season in his 15 years with the franchise.
Moreover, when Trotz brought his defensive philosophy to the Washington Capitals, he finally found success. In four seasons with the team, Trotz won the division three times and won the Stanley Cup in 2018. Along with his defensive philosophy, the team possessed one of the best goal scorers in the game, Alexander Ovechkin, creating an ideal winning roster. With the Islanders, a similar problem has emerged with the roster; the team is good but missing that final piece that Ovechkin was for the veteran coach.
How a Scorer Fits in the Islanders’ Forward Unit
This season proved that the Islanders must find the ideal forward to play alongside Mathew Barzal. While Barzal is talented, he is a puck distributor that was most successful when he played alongside Anders Lee, who capitalized on loose pucks in the center of the offensive zone, and Jordan Eberle, who was a sharpshooter on the wing. With Eberle being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft and Lee playing alongside Brock Nelson, who had a career year, the 24-year-old forward struggled.
The Islanders need to find a skater that not only can find scoring chances in the offensive zone but is a complete scorer. Barzal can create open ice in the offensive zone but will only thrive with other elite skaters on his shift. Zach Parise started to find a rhythm in the second half of the season, playing on the wing with Barzal and becoming one of the most productive forwards on the roster. However, the Islanders still need the complete forward to put the shift and offense over the top.
While Nelson and Lee formed a great connection in the second half last season, finding another goalscorer isn’t ideal for the duo. Instead, if the Islanders can’t acquire an elite goalscorer, they can find another puck distributor to play alongside the two natural goalscorers. Ultimately, the need for a scorer is to find a skater that complements Barzal’s skillset, which in previous seasons, has made him a top-line forward.
The Islanders Must Elevate the Offense
The Islanders, despite being a successful team in recent seasons, haven’t had a great offense. The last time the team averaged over three goals per game was the 2017-18 season when they averaged 3.18 goals per game. The Islanders’ struggling offense has put more pressure on the defense and goaltending not only to step up but to play at an elite level to allow the team to win games.
Moreover, this season proved that the Islanders need to adapt to the modern game. While the defense can still carry them to a playoff berth, the team was noticeably slower in both the forward and defensive units. The league has gotten younger as well as faster, and the Islanders’ age is starting to cost them. The team needs to find more production and better play overall from their offense and acquiring a complete scorer immediately solves that problem.
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Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.