The New York Islanders are an interesting team. It was the general consensus that they were Stanley Cup contenders this season, but a long stretch of road games derailed their season early. Now that they are back into a normal schedule finally, they are starting to make games back up in the toughest division in the NHL.
General manager Lou Lamoriello always likes to rely on veterans and players who have played well for him in the past. In today’s game with the speed and skill getting better and better, that strategy is becoming out of date quickly. Since he used to be the general manager for the New Jersey Devils, in recent years he’s brought in a couple of household names in Andy Greene, Travis Zajac, and Zach Parise. All these players are up there in age, as Zajac is now retired.
With youth starting to be injected into their lineup, that’s a trend that needs to continue as the Islanders look to the future. This year is far from over with a ton of games in hand, but they are going to need the legs and energy to make it competitive to the very end. Teams change around every year, and by next season these are the players that won’t be suiting up for the team in October.
Goaltenders have done immensely better once head coach Barry Trotz took over and implemented a defensive style of game that focused on keeping pucks out of their own net before scoring. As the saying goes, offence wins games, defence wins championships, and this team has come very close each of the last two seasons, losing out to the back-to-back Stanley Cup winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
We’ll start with the goaltending situation. There may have been a question as to if Ilya Sorokin was ready to be the starter for the Islanders before the season, but with the injury to Semyon Varlamov and the large workload, it’s not a question anymore, he’s ready. Sorokin’s win/loss record is a bad indication of just how strong of a season he’s had, but the team in front of him has struggled to score.
Varlamov came back from injury and really fell flat out of the gate, posting a 0-6-1 record and having a save percentage (SV%) of over .900 in only two games (.919 and .923). Since then he’s won two of three and allowed one goal in each game, with his worst SV% coming in at .971.
Still, a very good goalie, though he is getting up there in age as he’s now 33 as opposed to Sorokin who’s 26. Sorokin is on a great deal for two more seasons at $4 million AAV (average annual value), while Varlamov is signed for next season at $5 million. The cap situation that Lamoriello has put the Islanders in is going to get tricky, as he’s signed many older players to long-term deals at higher AAVs.
With the system the Islanders play, they should be able to trade Varlamov to a team for a good future return and get an inexpensive backup goalie that should do well.
After Parise was bought out of his contract with the Minnesota Wild, Lamoriello jumped at the opportunity to sign him to a cheap, one-year deal at $750k. This contract isn’t bad because he’s not being overpaid, but Parise is now 37 and his production has dropped off significantly the past two seasons.
He has been playing on the third line because of how the fourth line is set up, but two years removed from 25 goals in 69 games, he has just managed one goal in 31 games this season. Sure, the Islanders aren’t as much of an offensive team as the Wild were, but the hope was that Parise would be able to help out a bit in a reduced role and even provide support on the defensive side of the game. As a player who’s received Selke Trophy votes in six different seasons, he has been slotted in on the second penalty-killing unit.
If the Islanders are out of it by the trade deadline and decide to sell, Parise could be sold for a late round pick to provide a veteran presence and add depth and a little defence to a contender’s forward group. If he and the Islanders stick it out to the end of the season, an option to retire may be on the table, but the team has to move younger and can’t have a spot in their lineup be taken by someone who will be 38 by then.
Zdeno Chara looks to be on his last limbs in the NHL. He’s signing one-year deals at league minimum and has already been much slower than most. His size and physicality are what allows him to continue to get deals, but if he stays in the NHL, it shouldn’t be with the Islanders.
Along with the youth movement that the team has to start implementing, he can’t keep up with the speed and becomes a defensive liability if he is constantly being beaten wide. The Islanders have some exciting young talent ready to break into the league, starting with Robin Salo who’s already shown he is ready. Close behind is Bode Wilde, Samual Bolduc, and Sebastien Aho has been around and could be more effective in a larger role than just a seventh defenceman.
The same course of action should be taken with Greene. He came over at a recent deadline to solidify the defence and give the team a stable defenceman, but again, he’s 39 and playing on the third pairing. The team re-upped him for one year after his contract ended. If he’s not moved before the deadline, the Islanders would be wise to let him hit free agency or retire as well for the same reasons as Chara.
Maybe Wilde and Bolduc aren’t ready just yet, but there will be many options to choose from who are younger or who have potential in free agency. As I’ve said, the Islanders should move away from continuing to bring in older players and trust and give their prospects more of an opportunity.
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The best place to look is around the league, as many teams have had to use a lot of players from their system that they may have thought weren’t ready for the NHL yet. Many have also been surprising and will be part of the future of those teams. The Islanders have a chance to follow suit and get ahead of things so they are a competitive team year in and year out.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News, trade talks, and daily betting guides.
You can find more of his work here.