New York Islanders fans can tell you all about bad general managing. In the last two decades, the Islanders had both Mike Milbury and Garth Snow in charge. Fortunately for New York, they were able to take advantage of being so far under the salary cap – they were forced to acquire players from teams above the cap. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk both were traded to the Islanders within hours and since then, New York has been relevant.
However, as we enter the new year, general manager Lou Lamoriello has work to do. He decided that they were going to bring back virtually the same team that got them to the second round of the playoffs last spring. The only moves that were made were replacing Semyon Varlamov for Robin Lehner, who beat them Friday night, and adding Derick Brassard to fill the void left behind from Valtteri Filppula.
In what was an offseason that consisted of some very talented players available in free agency, Lamoriello believed in his group. By no means are the Islanders in any sort of desperation after their terrific start, but concerns are starting to pick up for them after they lost five straight to teams currently outside a playoff spot before their win against the Minnesota Wild.
One guy they did not sign was Artemi Panarin, who is tearing it up across town with the New York Rangers. At some point, winning a playoff series or possibly two can’t be enough. A Stanley Cup is really the ultimate goal and the Islanders will be on Year 37 without one come 2020.
When the Islanders had their last superstar in John Tavares, they won a total of two playoff series. While Mat Barzal has been everything the Islanders could have hoped for, the reality needs to set in that he is going to get paid. Looking around the league, Nico Hischier of the New Jersey Devils received a seven-year contract north of $50 million. Barzal has clearly outperformed the former top pick and will certainly carry a heavier price tag.
With all that being said, Lamoriello needs to go out and get him some help. With Barzal making less than $1 million this season, it would be a perfect year to break the bank and bring someone in with him. Even if it is someone they rent, the Islanders need to show they are all in. It is hard to rely on young players such as Anthony Beauvillier, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews to contribute so much when the team has veterans that have struggled this season.
Head coach Barry Trotz can’t be forced to be playing guys like Matt Martin, Tom Kuhnhackl and Ross Johnston all on the same night. Both Martin and Kuhnhackl both scored Sunday night, but having fourth line players get top minutes is not a recipe for success. Out of all of those guys, Johnston has performed the best and plays a similar role to Martin. They are both fourth liners that play physical and can chip in goals from time-to-time. Plus, with Cal Clutterbuck out, the normal fourth line of Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck is missing a key piece. Martin has not shown chemistry with many other players in his time with New York.
However, Johnston is playing top-six minutes in a glaring hole for a sniper. Whether the Devils would have even considered trading Taylor Hall in the division, it adds to a long list of players the Islanders have missed out on in recent years. One would think the Islanders should be all in on Hall in the off-season. It also makes it a bit easier to re-sign a player when he has been part of your team for some time.
It is still a bit early for any more big-time trades as teams are still trying to prove they are contenders. In any event, the Islanders will need to be active. Last season, they stood pat. Years prior, all they brought in were guys like Chris Wagner, Tyler Kennedy and Brandon Davidson. Realistically, the Islanders will look to add a center. With veteran teams like the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Las Angeles Kings all struggling this season, there could be some players that could fit with the Islanders.
The perfect match with the Islanders is the Nashville Predators. They have been one of the better teams in the NHL the past few seasons, but could potentially miss the playoffs this season. The Predators do though have a lot of depth at center, though – one name that Lamoriello needs to keep an eye on is Kyle Turris. The Islanders would have to take on the rest of his salary to potentially not have to give up as much.
They also could take a gamble on Ryan Johansen, though he has a contract not too many teams want to take on. The dream would be to acquire Filip Forsberg. He is that type of player that, along with Barzal, can take the team to the next level. It is just hard to think the Islanders have enough to get Forsberg without giving up any of their former first round picks.
There also has two be question marks with how the Islanders have dealt with some of the younger players. Most notably, Noah Dobson has been the seventh defenseman and is lucky to see the ice more than once a week. While he is unable to play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the only options left for him are to stay in the NHL or go back to juniors. Other than one glaring mistake in the Islanders game on Monday, Dobson has shown he is NHL ready.
However, he continues to be a healthy scratch and could be getting top minutes for Team Canada in the World Juniors. It is not like the Islanders are lacking depth in the NHL, as they have longtime Islander Thomas Hickey playing this season in the AHL. They also have Sebastian Aho who saw time in the NHL a few years back.
At some point, former first-round pick Oliver Wahlstrom is going to need to get a second call-up. Unlike Dobson, Wahlstrom is playing in the World Juniors and had played most of the season with the Sound Tigers. Wahlstrom has the potential to be a legitimate sniper in the NHL, and the Islanders need that secondary scoring. Also, Kieffer Bellows has impressed with Bridgeport of late, scoring in 12 goals of the past 13 games. Perhaps we can see some younger players in the lineup. Michael Dal Colle has been with the team all season, but other than a couple of solid games has not played to his full potential.
It will be an important stretch for the Islanders coming up. They will face the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals on Tuesday afternoon. In the new year, the Islanders will have some key divisional games before they face the Rangers three times in a stretch of eight days.