As far as the standings are concerned, the New York Islanders are having an okay 2022-23 season. Despite the lack of offseason moves to land a top-line player to skate alongside Mathew Barzal, they’ve found a way to tread water through the first 30 games. Ultimately, however, they haven’t played very well outside some exciting comeback victories in November and some odds and ends in between. What’s worse, they’re playing mediocre hockey without the laundry list of excuses that followed them throughout the 2021-22 season.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the way they’ve played to this point is not sustainable. With just one victory in December against the Chicago Blackhawks and three points in six games, the Islanders have fallen down the standings. Before they drop out of contention completely, they need to course correct because they don’t have time on their side this season or beyond.
Islanders Out of Excuses
Even with Adam Pelech (he was placed on injured reserve on Dec. 15 retroactive to Dec. 6), Anthony Beauvillier, and Kyle Palmieri out of the lineup, the Islanders still have a pretty deep roster. The way the team is constructed, the Islanders should be able to get by without Beauvillier and Palmieri for a little while. While missing Palmieri, who was playing pretty well next to Zach Parise and J.G. Pageau, definitely hurts, Beauvillier hasn’t missed much time, and when he was in the lineup, he’s been largely invisible. Pelech, on the other hand, is a different story.
Even though Pelech is a major loss, it’s recent. Josh Bailey, Beauvillier, and Oliver Wahlstrom’s inconsistency have hurt the Islanders all season, on top of bad play from up and down the roster. Barzal, despite being the best Islanders forward by a country mile, has been caught trying to do too much at times. Even though the league’s best players turn the puck over more than other players, Barzal seems to do it at inopportune moments, and in many cases, with an opportunity to simply keep the puck in front of him and get it in deep. Instead, it’s a lot of bad passes, a symptom that runs deep.
Related: 4 Takeaways From Islanders’ 4-3 Shootout Loss vs Bruins – 12/13/22
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We could blame these issues on general manager Lou Lamoriello’s inability to secure a top-line winger for Barzal this offseason or even the fact that this is Lane Lambert’s first season as a head coach. But that doesn’t excuse the group’s inability to focus, stay engaged, and play with any consistency, be it from shift to shift or game to game.
The soft plays and mountains of mistakes continue to add up, and for a veteran group, it’s unacceptable. As the Islanders approach the halfway point of the season, they don’t have time to continue to figure out Lambert’s system. At a certain point, they need to bear down and simplify their game and limit their mistakes. It also wouldn’t hurt if Lamoriello made a move before the trade deadline to bolster the roster.
Islanders Core Needs Help
There’s still hope, however. As frustrating as it’s been to watch, this is still a group that went to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals before a down 2021-22 season. Let’s also not forget Lamoriello hasn’t been afraid to add a player around the trade deadline, particularly a forward. If – and that’s a big if – the Islanders are in contention to start the new year, it would surprise no one if Lamoriello found a piece or two to help his team. That could include a forward and a defenseman, especially if Pelech is still out. The Islanders were in worse shape in the standings near the trade deadline when Lamoriello added Pageau in 2020 and Palmieri the following season in 2021.
The big hurdle to adding a player? Lamoriello likes to have a handshake contract done when he’s interested in an unrestricted free agent (UFA), and that’s not always easy. That applies to nearly any UFA with one year left on their contract, including Bo Horvat, who recently became available from the Vancouver Canucks, and the Islanders might be interested in him.
Sportsnet’s Elliot Friedman reported that two people from the Islanders were in Vancouver near the end of October. “I have to tell you,” Friedman said on 32 Thoughts the Podcast. “Someone said to me they saw two Islanders people at a Vancouver game, and they were thinking, what could be going on here?”
The Islanders and Vancouver may or may not have had trade discussions leading up to the 2022 NHL Draft as well, which was said to involve J.T. Miller. If that was the case, the two general managers may have an opportunity to rekindle their previous conversation, albeit the players involved may be different this time around. There’s no question, as many have already noted, that any failures this season will rest on Lamoriello, and even though the players have not played well consistently, he has an opportunity to right the wrongs he made this past summer and, perhaps, give his roster a shot in the arm with a deal.
It’s fair to say the Islanders had a decent start to their road trip, dropping a 4-3 shootout loss to the league-leading Boston Bruins on Tuesday. It shows the team isn’t completely hopeless. But it’s clear something is missing, be it getting a player back from injury, trading for one, or simply finding their ability to focus. The Islanders’ core is aging, and if things don’t work out this season, the organization will likely start to ship out some long-time players, maybe even by the trade deadline. To avoid that, they’ll need to shape up before the end of December, especially if they want to make the playoffs.