New York Islanders Future in Flux Despite Success

There’s no question that the last two seasons have been successful for the New York Islanders. Structure and culture have helped to push this team to the brink of being a real contender, though they certainly believe they are right now. Despite that success, this offseason and the future of the team is in flux as they look to take the next step.

Need for Consistency

Since the Islanders’ series with the Tampa Bay Lightning ended, many of us have been thinking about how this team could move forward. Will this be the offseason the Islanders finally make some big moves? It’s possible. There are some potential trades to be made, but in addition to any incoming players, the team will need to address something else that plagued them this season: consistency.

Buffalo Sabres Sam Reinhart New York Islanders Josh Bailey Semyon Varlamov
Buffalo Sabres Sam Reinhart is hit in the back by a shot as New York Islanders right wing Josh Bailey and goalie Semyon Varlamov look on. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

This was evident during the shortened regular season and reared its ugly head during the Islanders’ playoff run, too. During the team’s first 20 games of the 2019-20 season, they went 16-3-1, buoyed by their 17-game point streak. Over the next 48 games, the Islanders fell on hard times, putting together a 19-20-9 record. While injuries added up at the turn of the calendar year, the team’s record following the streak with a mostly healthy roster wasn’t great either.

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In the bubble, the Islanders went 13-9-0 in 22 games. Overall, that doesn’t look bad, especially when you consider they made it to the Eastern Conference Final. But if you take a closer look at the back half of their run, you see they begin to fall off mid-way through the series against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Justin Braun Philadelphia Flyers Brock Nelson New York Islanders
Justin Braun, Philadelphia Flyers and Brock Nelson, New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Playoff hockey gets the best of a lot of teams, not to mention ones like the Islanders who, by and large, haven’t made it this far in the postseason before. Beginning with Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal, the Islanders finished the playoffs with a 3-6 record. Digging deeper, they struggled to play a full, 60-minute game, allowing the Flyers to get an early lead or give them a chance to crawl back.

The Islanders got deeper at the trade deadline, picking up center J.G. Pageau to help round out their bottom six and solidify the team up the middle, but a piece or two may still be needed to bring the level of consistency to their game to ensure they’re true perennial contenders.

Roster Shakeup Looming

As teams around the league, specifically in the Metro Division, continue to get better and make changes, Islander fans are anxiously waiting for general manager Lou Lamoriello to make something happen. As of Oct. 11, however, the Islanders remain the lone team not to sign a free agent.

There’s been plenty written about offseason trade targets for the Islanders, who Lamoriello should avoid acquiring, and how they can clear cap space to make a move. But so far, the team has only said goodbye to long-time goaltender, Thomas Greiss, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings, and goaltender Christopher Gibson, now a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

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Luckily for the Islanders, there aren’t very many big offensive names off the free agency board. Taylor Hall remains in play as he decides whether to go with a long or short-term deal, Mike Hoffman is also still available, along with a few other intriguing names.

Taylor Hall Arizona Coyotes
Taylor Hall, seen here with the Arizona Coyotes, is a top target for the Islanders this offseason (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

There’s also the possibility of a trade as teams balance their budgets to stay under the cap or reach the floor. Either way, Lamoriello will need to clear space for any newcomers while leaving room to sign their big restricted free agents, Mathew Barzal, Devon Toews, and Ryan Pulock.

“There’s room for improvement internally and if we can get better externally, we’ll certainly do that,” Lamoriello said on a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon. “But right now we’re going to focus in on keeping our team together.”

From “Lou Lamoriello’s early plan for Islanders to take next step,” New York Post, 9/29/2020

Things can certainly change, but considering how much of a role those three young players had in their run, the rest of the dominoes will fall after this takes place. The same could be said about the free agent market in general. Many general managers are waiting to see the fallout of players like Hall before making trades to solidfiy their team.

For the first time in recent memory, this offseason could mean a big shakeup for the Islanders. The team hasn’t had much luck in the free agent market over the years, but with the recent success and need for continued growth and depth, this could be the year we see some big changes.

Want more Islanders content? Check out the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, hosted by The Hockey Writers authors James Nichols and Jon Zella. Follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts to catch weekly episodes.

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