New York Islanders fans are having a tough summer. They’ve been vocally critical of their team’s general manager, Lou Lamoriello, but not for what he’s done, rather, it’s for what he hasn’t done, at least officially. News surrounding the team has been slow, secretive even, save for re-signing restricted free agent Adam Pelech late last week. However, there are theories being bandied about Lamoriello is holding his cards – aka available cap space – close to his chest so he can make a trade.
It’s easy to subscribe to that theory. The Islanders have been seeking a first-line winger forever and, with Vladimir Tarasenko saying he’d be interested in coming to Long Island, St Louis’ trade options dwindling, and Lamoriello’s moves to clear cap space, it makes a lot of sense. And while there’s a debate about whether or not that’s a good idea given Tarasenko’s recent shoulder surgeries, I’m here to propose a different scenario – the Islanders don’t add any more offense this offseason. Their search for a second pair, left-shot defenseman will continue, but the Islanders offense is already upgraded when compared to last season, even with the loss of Jordan Eberle to the Seattle Kraken.
Let’s start with what we know, or, at the very least, what we’re pretty sure about. Kyle Palmieri and Zach Parise will be Islanders next season. We also know captain Anders Lee will be healthy and ready to go for the 2021-22 season. We also know Eberle, Michael Dal Cole, Leo Komarov, and Travis Zajac (more on him in a second) will not be back at all or have limited roles with the team. On paper alone, that’s an upgrade.
Fans were calling for Komarov to be launched into space for much of last season after Lee went down. To be fair though, head coach Barry Trotz didn’t have much choice until Lamoriello made a trade near the deadline and, even then, he kept Palmieri primarily on a line with J.G. Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom, and, later, Zajac.
It’s hard to argue with the success they had, coming within two goals of their first Stanley Cup Final in decades is no joke, especially considering they were without Lee for the entire run. Heading into this season, with Lee, Palmieri, and Parise added or returning to the lineup over the aforementioned departures, the numbers also say the Islanders’ offense has been upgraded.
Let’s base argument this on the last two seasons, just to provide some extra context. Combined, Group 1 of Eberle, Zajac, Komarov, and Dal Colle collected 59 goals over two seasons, mostly thanks to Eberle’s consistent 16 goals per season. Compare that to Group 2 of Lee, Palmieri, and Parise, who collected 99 goals in that same time. Now, Group 2 all had down seasons in 2020-21, Lee’s injury notwithstanding, but perhaps a bit of a concern. But if they can get back to form, all three players in Group 2 scored over 20 goals in 2019-20, with the latter two scorings 25 on mediocre teams. Even still, Group 1 scored just 26 goals last season, three short of Group 2 who, again, dealt with Lee’s injury. Switching over to total points, Group 2 outscored Group 1 192 to 137. Not even close.
And this is nothing to say of Wahlstrom, who many feel may even get first-line minutes at some point this upcoming season. At the very least, he’ll be on a line, presumably, with Parise and Pageau – not bad. Wahlstrom collected 12 goals and 21 points this season and had himself a decent start to the playoffs before going down with an injury.
Now, I think it’s important to mention that, obviously, this team would be better with Tarasenko on it even if it meant potentially trading a Josh Bailey and rearranging the middle six a bit. A line of Lee-Mathew Barzal-Tarasenko would be elite, not to mention how much it would improve the powerplay. This would be a good trade for this team and not just because Tarasenko only has two years left on his deal. How I see, though, is Lamoriello may be biding his time.
“If You Have Time, Use it.”
So, you may be asking yourself – or yelling at your screen – “Then what the heck is Lamoriello collecting all this cap space for?!” Fair question. Lamoriello’s famous line of “If you have time, use it” comes into play here. He needs to get the previously mentioned second pair defenseman before the start of the season, which may not only cost him assets but possibly some cap space depending on the player. That’s in addition to whatever Anthony Beauvillier’s, Cizikas’, and Ilya Sorokin’s new contracts cost the Islanders on top of a Palmieri deal. It’s possible Lamoriello rolls the dice with what he has heading into the season, much to the chagrin of Islanders fans, and uses that time to evaluate his lineup.
With that in mind, think about what Lamoriello has done near the trade deadline the last two seasons, and during his time on Long Island as a whole. He’s picked up Pageau and Palmieri, both players that helped the Islanders go deep into the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. Is it possible Lamoriello holds on to that cap space until the deadline, or earlier, in order to make a midseason trade? Though it may seem like it right now, he hasn’t been shy during his time with the Islanders, making moves with players he thinks will contribute to the team. By and large, he’s been right, even it’s been difficult to see the forest through the trees at times.
Many fans do trust Lamoriello, but as frustrations grow with every passing silent day, you wonder if there aren’t multiple storylines to consider. What do you think? Should Lamoriello make a move this summer, or wait like he has the last two seasons?
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Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.