Once again, the New York Islanders wake up the day after the beginning of free agency with no dance partner. Left at the altar – you get the point. There was unrest on Long Island minutes after Johnny Gaudreau decided to take his skills to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a move that has confounded fans and media alike. Now, questions are being raised about general manager Lou Lamoriello’s ability to truly improve the team, and for good reason. The issue is, he prepared fans for lackluster free agency with specific and careful phrasing near the end of the 2021-22 season.
Islanders’ Lamoriello Under Fire
I wrote in May that Lamoriello was on the hot seat, and following the lack of movement by the Islanders all around, in addition to losing out on Gaudreau, Lamoriello is now very much under fire from all angles. We obviously don’t know how Islander owners, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, feel about where things are, but it’s easy to guess they aren’t in love with the current state of affairs.
And as much as Lamoriello is under fire right now, he prepared fans for a lackluster free agency two months ago. He was quoted saying “I think what we have to do is get improvement out of our younger players and also a more complete year out of some of our veterans than we did this year,” Lamoriello said during a conference call in May. I asked at the time if this was an out just in case he can’t land the big fish the team really needs this offseason. After striking out on Artemi Panarin a few summers ago, he may have been greasing the skids in case it doesn’t work out again. Low and behold, it didn’t work out again.
Now, it’s entirely possible, and hardly defensible, that Lamoriello was going all in on Gaudreau – with the most lackluster of the three deals presented to his camp – and wasn’t planning on making any moves to free up cap space unless it was for him. That, of course, would mean that Lamoriello is bound to say, “we really like our group and what we’ve put together over the last few years,” when little to nothing happens this summer.
There are still a lot of questions about the deal the Islanders presented, reported to be seven years, nine million dollars per year. More importantly, how did Lamoriello present the team, and is he the best person for the job moving forward. Artemi Panarin took less money to go to the New York Rangers and he hasn’t been able to “woo” anyone to Long Island without having traded for them first. Is the way Lamoriello does business day-to-day and the rules he puts on his teams repelling potential free agents?
Can Lamoriello Sell the Islanders’ Vision?
Rumors and talking points are floating around about Lamoriello’s ability to sell the vision of the Islanders and of Long Island as a place to live, and how John Davidson, the Columbus Blue Jackets general manager, was able to sell his team’s vision.
Gaudreau also seemed to have an affinity for Columbus at the outset, as reported following the signing. “I’d never been to Columbus before until I made it to the NHL,” Gaudreau said on Wednesday evening. “So when I started playing there I didn’t know what I was walking into, and I was just … ‘Wow!’” (from ‘Johnny Gaudreau explains why he stunned the NHL world and chose the Blue Jackets,’ The Athletic, 7/13/22). Perhaps there was nothing to compete with and Lamoriello didn’t really have a shot no matter what. But that may make how he presents the vision for Long Island and the Islanders all the more important; knowing that players don’t have a natural affinity for the Islanders makes that pitch enormously vital to get free agents to sign on the Island.
So, we enter the depths of the offseason – yet again – with no real direction, at least not one anyone is aware of. Another offseason looking to get our franchise, top-line center some help, and another offseason waiting as other teams scooped up talent around the league. Perhaps there’s a new Plan A Lamoriello has scraped together, but he’s never given anyone a reason to believe he has one.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.