Over the offseason, it was unclear whether Kieffer Bellows had a future on the New York Islanders roster. After three seasons with the team, he failed to establish himself as a regular but at 24 years old he showed signs of promise and proved he could contribute in a minor role to the forward unit.
This week, the Islanders placed Bellows on waivers and he was subsequently claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers. The move was a surprise for many, largely because of the timing as the team has played a few games this season and suddenly is letting go of the young skater.
The Islanders re-signed Bellows in the offseason to a one-year deal, indicating that they would give him one more year to prove that he belongs on the NHL roster. Instead, they are choosing to waive him just a few weeks into the season, signaling that they don’t see a future with him on the team. The Bellows timeline and move this week is just another that raises questions about the team, general manager (GM) Lou Lamoriello, and the direction the front office is heading in. Furthermore, it’s a continuation of head-scratching decisions that began in the offseason and are starting to spill into the regular season.
Lamoriello Fires Trotz
The biggest shock of the offseason was when Lamoriello fired head coach Barry Trotz. The decision is understandable as the Islanders needed a new voice, a new system, and a coach that could adjust the roster to compete in a faster, more offensive-minded league. However, the decision was still one of the biggest surprises and one that could easily backfire for the Islanders.
Trotz provided the Islanders with a few things they lacked as a franchise for decades. For starters, he gave them a strong defense and disciplined play across the ice. More importantly, he gave the team stability and made them competitive in his four years as the head coach, allowing them to reach the Stanley Cup Semifinal in 2020 and 2021. The Islanders struggled in his final year behind the bench but for most head coaches, one bad year isn’t enough of a reason to be fired.
The move was a bold one for Lamoriello and with the decision, he bet on himself and the current roster to prove that they can compete for a Stanley Cup, even without Trotz behind the bench. The firing was a surprise and signaled that Lamoriello might have a big summer, one where he puts together a strong roster for the 2022-23 season. After he acquired defenseman Alexander Romanov during the NHL Entry Draft, a lot of signs pointed to a big offseason ahead to help out a new head coach but instead, the questionable summer continued.
Islanders Stay Quiet in Free Agency
Johnny Gaudreau was the player that many fans hoped the Islanders would sign. They needed a forward that could play on the wing with Mathew Barzal to enhance his play and improve the offense. The team had the salary cap space needed to make the move but didn’t put together a strong enough offer to convince the star forward to sign. Gaudreau ended up signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a seven-year contract, leaving the Islanders empty-handed. It’s possible that he was going to sign with the Blue Jackets all along, but Lamoriello wouldn’t budge from his offer and overpay for the forward.
After coming up short in the Gaudreau sweepstakes, the next player in line was Nazem Kadri, a player many thought Lamoriello would sign. However, like Gaudreau, the Islanders failed to make the right offer and he signed with the Calgary Flames late in the offseason. While Kadri is a center and would have forced the Islanders to bump a player to the wing, they could have used his offensive production, especially at the start of the season. Through six games, he has four goals and five assists, and while both Barzal and Brock Nelson have recorded more assists than him, Anders Lee is the only skater on the roster with as many goals as the Flames’ prized addition.
The offense struggled last season, scoring only 2.79 goals per game. The Islanders needed a forward that could add a spark to the offense but Lamoriello not only failed to sign a star skater, but he also failed to make any free agent signings. Lamoriello put himself in the line of fire by replacing Trotz and in a summer where he was hoping to help the team rebound, he chose to remain silent. Granted, he has a lot of confidence in the current roster but the quiet summer was confusing and understandably didn’t make a lot of sense for a team that missed the playoffs the previous season.
Signing Bellows & Placing Him On Waivers
The question that has to be asked about the decision is if Lamoriello was going to place Bellows on waivers, why did he sign him in the offseason in the first place? It’s possible that Lambert didn’t like what he saw in Bellows and didn’t want him on the roster, especially with the team looking to open up salary cap space and a spot on the roster. However, the decision was made only six games into the season and the timing was confusing, to say the least. After a season where the forward scored six goals and 13 assists in 45 games, the signing hinted that 2022-23 would be a make-or-break year for him and that the Islanders would give him a season to prove that he belongs on the roster.
Bellows only played one game with the Islanders this season, playing only 7:16 in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. That was enough for the team to determine that there wasn’t a spot on the roster for him. When Lambert was asked about the decision in the press conference following a 3-0 win against the Rangers, he pointed to Lamoriello as the reason the move was made, hinting that it was a front-office decision.
The move can be rationalized but it certainly raises questions about Lamoriello’s decisions. He bet on himself throughout the offseason and had a lot of confidence in the roster that was assembled for the season but with a 3-4 start, he could be the next departure if the team continues to struggle.
Lambert’s Questionable Decisions Early On
Lambert was hired in the offseason and there is a lot of optimism about how he will lead the team. Through seven games, the Islanders have looked promising under the new system and a lot of excitement remains with the new head coach. However, there have already been a few head-scratching decisions by Lambert who is still adjusting to the role as a first-year head coach.
Robin Salo won the starting job out of training camp and looked like the ideal defenseman to play alongside Scott Mayfield to round out the defense. Salo struggled at times, but he also looked promising and showed flashes on the offensive end of the ice, notably scoring two goals in his four games with the Islanders. However, only four games into the season, he was sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL) to join the Bridgeport Islanders with Sebastian Aho taking his place in the lineup.
Salo wasn’t a liability and doesn’t need to develop. On the contrary, he improved the Islanders’ defense and only more time with the NHL team will help him at this point in his career, making the demotion confusing. Likewise, Anthony Beauvillier, whose tenure has been a rocky one already, scored one of the three Islanders goals in a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The next game, he was a healthy scratch, a move that didn’t make sense considering he was one of the bright spots the night before and throughout this season, helping out an offense that oftentimes has struggled.
The Islanders have a talented roster that can reach the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup. Even with a 3-4 record, it’s early and there’s plenty of time for the team to turn this season into a big one. However, a lot of the decisions by both Lambert and Lamoriello have set them back and they could both derail an otherwise promising season.