Islanders Need to Make Changes This Offseason

The New York Islanders’ season has officially come to an end after an overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 6 Friday night. The goal was scored off of an Adam Pelech turnover in the defensive zone, with Paul Stastny putting one past goaltender Ilya Sorokin from the side of the net. It definitely was one Sorokin would like to have back, but it’s almost a fitting end to a bizarre season for the Islanders.

This group had one major problem throughout the entire season that carried into the playoffs: consistency. Just like the regular season, they could not find their scoring touch throughout the entire series vs. the Hurricanes. The power play failed them all season and all series. The top-six forward group was about as nonexistent as you can get. They were outplayed and out-coached by a better team.

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Where do the Islanders go from here? It’s pretty clear to fans of the team and hockey fans around the league that this core has gone as far as it could go. With back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Final ending in losing fashion, this group has maxed out its potential. Islanders general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello made the bold move last summer, firing future hall of fame coach Barry Trotz, stating that a “new voice was needed.” He blamed the lack of success last season on COVID-related injuries, and the team needed a fresh start to get things back on the right track. But that clearly wasn’t the case.

The team battled around the last playoff spot for the majority of the season and were on the brink of falling out of it until Lamoriello made the Bo Horvat trade. There just wasn’t enough shown from this group that they were ready to take the next step, and the blame has to fall on Lamoriello and the coaching staff. Lamoriello believed Lane Lambert would be the right guy for the job and make a few tweaks to the team’s style that would create more scoring opportunities. It’s hard to blame Lambert for the majority of this team’s lack of success, given the roster he was dealt with on a nightly basis. That leaves the biggest blame on Lamoriello.

Time for a New General Manager

When the Islanders brought in Lamoriello to oversee hockey operations, he brought instant credibility to the franchise. He brought in a future hall-of-fame coach, created a culture of leadership and accountability throughout the entire organization and helped this core get to its peak level.

When John Tavares left the team in the summer of 2018, many people around the league expected the Islanders to sink to the bottom of the standings and enter a rebuild mode. The exact opposite happened, and the team believed in each other and exceeded expectations. Lamoriello made some great moves over the past five seasons as GM, bringing in Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Kyle Palmieri, and Horvat and locking them all to long-term extensions. He also managed to keep the majority of this core together, including long-term deals he gave to Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Brock Nelson, and Mathew Barzal.

General manager Lou Lamoriello
CHICAGO, IL – JUNE 24: General manager Lou Lamoriello of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on during the 2017 NHL Draft at United Center on June 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Lamoriello did some great things over the past five seasons. The Islanders became an attractive destination for free agents, and he deserves plenty of credit. Unfortunately, not everything is meant to last forever. For the past two seasons, Lamoriello just has not done enough to make the Islanders a contender. He has arguably the best goalie in the league on his roster and has not done enough to help him.

Under Trotz, the Islanders had one of the best defensive cores in the league. That is what this team thrived on. It was elite goaltending and defensive play, but they lost their identity this year. Lamoriello put too much faith in the existing group to get the job done. The only upgrade this past offseason was a draft day trade for defenseman Alexander Romanov.

Romanov took some time to get adjusted, but he looks like he will be a keeper for the Islanders. The problem is that it just wasn’t enough. This team has been lacking a top puck-moving defenseman ever since Lamoriello regretfully made the Devon Toews trade. The bottom line is he just hasn’t done enough to make this group contenders. He’s failed to fill major holes and arguably has put the Islanders in cap hell.

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They now have a group of aging forwards with high cap hits and long-term deals. This team needs to get younger and faster and not continue to pursue aging veterans with high character. Owners Scott Malkin and John Ledecky need to keep up with the trend of the rest of the league. It’s time to bring in a younger GM who can adapt to the game today.

Lamoriello has traded the team’s first-round picks for the past three seasons. They have one of the worst prospect pools in the NHL and don’t have many top forwards coming up the pipeline. They need to bring in a younger GM who can clear some of this dead weight on the team and help the Islanders get faster. They don’t need a full rebuild, but a retool would be extremely beneficial. There is no doubt Lamoriello is a first-ballot Hall of Fame executive and has done incredible things for this franchise. We’ve just reached the point where it’s time to move on and get younger, and a new GM should be brought in to start this process.

Islanders’ Biggest Offseason Needs

One thing that was clear that stuck out all year and carried into the playoffs was the Islanders’ abysmal power play. They generated practically nothing all season, finishing 30th in the regular season and only scored one power-play goal all series vs. the Hurricanes.

The biggest need is improving this power play right away and finding a power-play quarterback. They need to find a puck-moving defenseman who can create opportunities and provide offense on the power play. There are a few unrestricted free agent (UFA) options out there this summer.

Dmitry Orlov was outstanding after the Boston Bruins acquired him at the trade deadline. If Orlov hits the market, there is no reason the Islanders don’t make a contract offer. Damon Severson is another name that comes to mind. The New Jersey Devils have a few guys that are due big raises, such as Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt. They may not have the cap space to re-sign Severson, and the 28-year-old defenseman would be a massive upgrade for the power play.

Dmitry Orlov Boston Bruins
Dmitry Orlov, Boston Bruins (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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The biggest need, without question, is getting a power-play quarterback. The forward group is a little more puzzling. They have a lot of talent up front that just underachieved this season. They need more from Barzal, Horvat, and Anders Lee. Hudson Fasching was a pleasant surprise for this group, but he needs a new contract as well. Zach Parise finished with 20 goals, but he could possibly consider retirement. The ideal situation would be to find a winger to play on the top line with Horvat and Barzal, but in order for that to happen, they need to clear cap space.

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This is only the beginning of a long off-season for the Islanders. I believe that the first course of action is to find a new general manager. This group still has a ton of potential on this roster, but it needs some serious tweaking. They need someone to come in and clear out the dead weight they have in cap space and find a way to get younger and faster. This is the biggest offseason for the franchise since Lamoriello was hired. In our next piece, we will dive deeper into the roster and who they should bring back/let go.