The New York Islanders have had their share of bad general managers. From 1995-2006, Mike Milbury was in charge of the team. Then, after a short run with Neil Smith, the Islanders turned to former backup goaltender, Garth Snow. Fans chanted and begged for him to leave, and when he did, it seemed like the organization would be saved by Lou Lamoriello.
Lamoriello’s tenure as general manager of the Islanders has started off far different from his time with the New Jersey Devils with whom he won three Stanley Cups. Other than bringing in head coach Barry Trotz, what has he done to help the franchise?
After a playoff series victory by the Isles in 2018-19, it seemed the time was now for them to make a run at a Stanley Cup. While they overachieved with phenomenal goaltending from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss last season, the Islanders needed a few pieces to make a real playoff push. They reportedly offered more money to Artemi Panarin who signed with the Islanders’ crosstown rivals, the New York Rangers, for $81.5 million over seven years. While it’s hard to blame Lamoriello for that, he didn’t make any moves to help the team after that, even though it was clear he was willing to spend. He also did not bring back fan-favorite Lehner, who was interested in re-signing with the Islanders after a career season.
Their goaltending, with Semyon Varlamov and Greiss, was strong to start the season, but it has really hurt them the past couple of months. Other than a shutout on Jan. 6 against the Colorado Avalanche, the Islanders netminders have allowed at least two goals in 17 of their last 18 games.
The only other move the Islanders made was signing veteran Derick Brassard after losing Valtteri Filppula. Earlier in the season, the Islanders stayed silent at the trade deadline despite most of their division improving.
By not going out and signing players, the Islanders left themselves with many holes to fill. They relied heavily on their players to stay healthy, which did not happen early in the season. It forced players such as Tom Kuhnhackl and Ross Johnston into top-six minutes in order to spread their lines out.
When it got so bad, the Islanders were forced to put all their eggs in one basket and roll with a Kuhnhackl, Brassard and Michael Dal Colle on a line while their fourth line struggled without Cal Clutterbuck. The Islanders are now without Casey Cizikas after he was injured in New York’s win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
In a move that seemed like it was six weeks too late, the Islanders eventually called up their talented prospect, Kieffer Bellows. He showed his skill by scoring two goals in only his second career game and pulling New York to a win over the struggling Los Angeles Kings. He was then scratched against the Washington Capitals in a move that frustrated many fans. Rookies such as Oliver Wahlstrom and Otto Koivula have each had short stays with the Islanders. However, with Clutterbuck and Cizikas hurt, the Islanders will likely turn to one of them in the immediate future.
Rookie defenseman Noah Dobson barely saw action in the beginning of the season before the Adam Pelech injury, and missed an opportunity to show himself at the World Juniors. When he does play, Dobson is routinely playing on his off-side and seeing time on the power play.
With the trade deadline approaches, Lamoriello really needs to analyze if this team is a contender. While the Islanders are paying Mat Barzal nearly a tenth of the salary he may get when he becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season, why shouldn’t they go and make a move and pay someone now before their cap space shrinks next season?
Kyle Palmieri and Jean-Gabriel Pageau could really help the Islanders, but if Lamoriello is going to continue to wait, New York could potentially be out of a playoff spot by then. Teams have also shown they are willing to move players prior to the deadline, such as Taylor Hall. The Toronto Maple Leafs made a move this past week to shore up their goaltending, and the Penguins improved on Monday by adding Jason Zucker.
The Islanders will continue their busy month of February with the start of a four-game road trip beginning against the Nashville Predators and finish with the Vegas Golden Knights, Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche.
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