It’s been a long season for the New York Islanders and their fans. With excuses abound, legitimate or not depending on who you speak with and which excuse is being discussed, it has made for a season that many didn’t expect. After back-to-back Stanley Cup semifinal appearances, the team was poised to make some noise this season even without any serious additions to the lineup. After their second west coast swing and another loss at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks in their return home, The Athletic‘s Kevin Kurz sat down with Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello recently to talk about a great many things, including how the veteran manager believes in the team’s core and the possible future on Long Island.
Lamoriello Believes in Islanders’ Core & Head Coach Trotz
There’s often debate on what the Islanders’ core actually is considering the team’s average age, but what’s clear is Lamoriello is confident in who he has and what he can build around, whoever that may be. The most straightforward answer would likely include Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Oliver Wahlstrom, J.G. Pageau, Casey Cizikas, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Noah Dobson, Ilya Sorokin. Kyle Palmieri could also be argued to be one of the core players simply out of necessity, as his contract coupled with his up-and-down production is likely not a very easy contract to move in addition to needing to once again find a top-line winger for Barzal.
This isn’t to say the other players, like Anthony Beauvillier, Scott Mayfield, or Matt Martin, will depart this offseason or that we, or even Lamoriello, wants to see that, but some of them — namely Beauvillier — may be used as a trade chip in say, a deal for a top-four defenseman. Mayfield hasn’t officially been reported to have interest among the group of players rumored to be on the trade block, but that doesn’t mean anything with Lamoriello at the helm.
“I have a real strong belief in this core. There’s no question of that,” he said. “We’ve had some players this year have some slow starts in areas that they have to be proficient in.… We’ve got scorers who are supposed to score, and we’ve got other people that are supposed to play different roles. We haven’t had that on a consistent basis, it’s obvious. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”From ‘Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello doesn’t sound ready to sell, despite struggles: ‘I have a real strong belief in this core’ The Athletic, 3/1/2022
In addition to believing in his roster, Lamoriello also appears to be confident in the man behind the bench running his team on the ice — head coach Barry Trotz. Despite the calls from some fans to dismiss the veteran head coach getting louder, Lamoriello doesn’t agree, or at least that’s what he’s saying publicly. “He’s done an incredible job trying to navigate through all the extenuating circumstances that have transpired,” Lamoriello said.
Many good teams have taken a step back following deep playoff runs over the years, including the Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, and even the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning’s Jon Cooper has been with the team through all of their ups and downs, while other coaches for the teams on this list haven’t been so lucky. Whether that’s an outlier or what Islander fans should hang their hats on is up for debate, but Trotz has, at the very least, earned a down season. He’s been hard on himself in the recent past, reflecting on some decisions to play veterans over younger players despite the results. Perhaps with a retool this summer, as many expect, along with some rookies having a season under their belt, Trotz will have more to work with next season.
“This one hurts,” Nelson said after the loss to the Vancouver Canucks. “Coming back after a long trip, everybody excited to be home… I thought we had a good first (period), a little sloppy in the second, and then we found a way to have the lead in the third. You’d like to think that we could hang on to it, but a couple of plays, quick plays, that was the difference. Turnovers kind of led to some of their offense.”
“Varly was pretty good for us,” Trotz said about Semyon Varlamov following the team’s loss to the Canucks. “He kept us in the second period, when we kept turning the puck over he made some pretty good saves. He’s moving better. I think he’s catching up to the train a little bit of how much time he’s missed this year with stops and starts. He’s starting to look like the Varly we all know and love. He had a really strong game for us in LA, we just didn’t give him any support.”
Trotz on the team’s turnovers — “There’s an old saying, ‘Turnovers are like ex-wives. If you have too many, they cost you a lot, and they cost you more and more.’ It’s so true, and that was the second period.”
Dobson on the loss to the Canucks — “We had some good spurts where we were really going but then a couple of letdowns, especially in the third that led to a couple of goals against, so I think we just got to try and find that effort when we are going good for a full sixty.”
The trade deadline will continue to dominate over the next few weeks, but what’s interesting right now is Palmieri, who scored for the second straight game, has six in the last nine games. His play as of late is an indication that, perhaps, Lee may be the player moved down the lineup to accommodate a top-line winger to flank Palmieri and add some firepower next to Barzal.
Varlamov has also become a bit of a lightning rod for criticism lately as the team’s woes continue. A closer look, however, reveals something interesting. Aside from Varlamov’s numbers being close to his career average and very close to his numbers just two seasons ago with the Islanders, the team’s scoring rate in front of him is truly the cause for concern. According to Stefen Rosner of NYIHockey Now, the Islanders have scored a paltry 2.55 goals per game this season on average. With Varlamov between the pipes, it somehow gets worse, as they’ve scored just 1.76 goals per game. With that in consideration, he has had a heck of a season and likely doesn’t deserve the criticism he’s getting.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.