Islanders’ Veterans Are Key to Success Moving Forward

The New York Islanders had a roller coaster ride for a season in 2022-23. Up and down in the standings, a late push to qualify for the playoffs and an unfortunate early elimination at the hands of division rivals Carolina Hurricanes.

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Usually, teams look to youth to fill in NHL roles and to save money under the salary cap. Despite already having a veteran-laden group, especially at forward, there is a need to keep as many veterans as possible. The way the team is constructed means the window to competing is open now, and those veterans could be retained with inexpensive, short-term deals.

What Went Wrong?

The Islanders suffered injury problems throughout the season, and it took its toll on their record. Had they been healthier, perhaps they could have been seeded higher and would not have needed the heroics of Brock Nelson to earn a win over the Montreal Canadiens in game 82 to qualify for the postseason. The intensity to earn a berth made it seem as if the Islanders were in playoff mode for several weeks before the start of the postseason, which deprived them of resting or managing the ice time of their best players.

Brock Nelson New York Islanders
Brock Nelson, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If there was one area that must receive significant attention, it will be special teams. The penalty kill (PK) was an impressive ninth place at 82.2% but can be improved upon. However, the real issue is the power play (PP). Perhaps because of the loss of Mathew Barzal for several months, the Islanders ended the season as the owner of the NHL’s 30th-ranked PP, with a woeful 15.7%. The Isles have trouble scoring, finishing 22nd in the NHL with an average of 2.95 goals per game, even with a healthy roster, a more potent PP would have had a significant impact in adding goals, and by extension, wins. General manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello may need to investigate making changes to his coaching staff to help his head coach.

There Will Be Fresh Blood

When the Islanders return for training camp next September, there will be some youth pushing for full-time NHL roles.

On defense, Dennis Cholowski had a strong season in Bridgeport, but at 25 years old and with over 117 NHL games on his resume, he isn’t exactly classed as “youth.” Calle Odelius, the 2022 second-round pick is likely to come over to North America (NA) next season, but he will need time in the American Hockey League (AHL) to adjust to the style, pace and rink size of NA professional hockey before cracking the NHL lineup. The good news is that the Isles blue line is established with six excellent pieces – including restricted free agent (RFA) Samuel Bolduc – all under the age of 28, so they are young veterans.

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At forward, 21-year-old William Dufour will make a significant push for an NHL job. His 21 goals and 48 points in 69 games with Bridgeport point to him being ready. More so due to his compete level and NHL size at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds which allow him to play the gritty style in place with the Islanders. Then there’s Oliver Wahlstrom, who is poised to have a breakout season and will be fully recovered from his season-ending knee injury.

However, beyond that, there is not expected to be many youth pushing for NHL jobs beyond being used as injury call-ups. The Islanders’ prospect pool isn’t rated very highly, as a matter of fact, some place them dead last. This is why the Isles will need to remain a veteran-laden group.

Veteran Island

Team leadership sees the Islanders as a team on the cusp of greater things, as captain Anders Lee spoke after the disappointing game six loss against Carolina that eliminated the Islanders.

“It’s very hard right now. It’s going to sting for quite a while, but this is a special group like I said, and this is just, unfortunately, a part of our journey to do something here.  That faith and that belief in one another’s not going to waver based on tonight’s result, but it’s just going to be a part of us getting better. This is part of our journey and our road. So we got to sit on it for a little bit.”

Anders Lee

His comments don’t point to a team that will need to be overhauled. With significant money invested in top forwards, Barzal for nine more seasons, with a $9.15 million extension, and Bo Horvat signed for eight years at $8.5 million, Lamoriello will need to keep veterans and not gamble on youngsters and hope that they perform up to their potential. But that doesn’t mean that all veterans should stay. Long-time Islander Josh Bailey ended the season as a healthy scratch. At 33 years old and a $5 million cap hit, he is a candidate for a buyout, a move that would save the Islanders $2.33 million against the cap next season yet would add $1.16 million on the cap in 2024-25. His departure could be the one big shakeup the team faces this summer.

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Re-signing 27-year-old Hudson Fasching to a two-year $775,000 per season deal adds stability to the bottom six. His style of play fits the system in place, but he is there mostly to provide depth. Which is why it will be important to retain Zach Parise. The 38-year-old winger, coming off his second consecutive one-year contract is an ideal choice for his third. His experience and leadership are impactful, even in a veteran club. More importantly, he doesn’t want to play anywhere else. Also, his 21 goals this season prove that he still brings an offensive touch the Islanders still need in the lineup.

The Islanders may have had a disappointing end to the season, but there are signs that this group is ready to take the next step. With only $6.14 million in cap space at their disposal, a lack of draft picks and a prospect pool seen as lacking, there will be little room for Lamoriello to maneuver in the trade market. This all adds up to the team’s success relying on retaining the veterans currently on their roster and buying into the core that has been constructed on the Island.