It hasn’t been very long since the New York Islanders exposed Jordan Eberle to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft — that is, unless you ask Islanders fans. This 2021-22 season has been a slow and painful descent since the calendar flipped over to November. After two wins to start the month, they’ve been outscored 34-8 and have led for less than a game’s worth of time.
The team’s defense, especially the addition of Zdeno Chara, is cause for concern, but the lack of offense, even under head coach Barry Trotz, is troubling. This leads us back to Eberle, who is on pace for one of his best offensive seasons in years, and questioning whether or not resigning Kyle Palmieri vs. keeping Eberle was a miscalculation or simply bad luck.
Eberle Missed on Long Island
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think the current group of Islander forwards was an upgrade vs. the group last season. In an article this past summer, I compared two groups of forwards — incoming and outgoing — and concluded, based on goals scored the last two to three seasons, that the Islanders actually upgraded their forward group, even though they only made internal moves and let players go. I also mention Oliver Wahlstrom wasn’t even part of that equation and after his start this season, it looked accurate.
Fast forward, and the Islanders — who let Eberle go due to cap restraints heading into the season because they thought they had replacement level goal scoring from, at the very least, Palmieri — might be regretting that decision. To be fair, he was great in last season’s playoff run, outscoring Eberle seven to four in goals, and appeared to be a reliable 1-to-1 replacement for Eberle next to Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee. The issue is, so far this season, that just hasn’t worked out for the Islanders. Palmieri hasn’t played with Barzal all that much, and when he has, neither have produced. Palmieri has just one goal so far, while Eberle is up to 11 in 22 games on the west coast.
Islanders’ Problems Go Beyond Eberle
While the Palmieri-Eberle comparison a quarter of the way through the season is worthwhile, it’s also not the entire problem. The Islanders have been hit with one massive hurdle after another. A 13-game road trip, massive bad luck in the offensive zone, and a serious COVID-19 outbreak have put the team in their toughest position in three seasons. Barzal, Lee, J.G. Pageau, and Anthony Beauvillier have all started the season poorly, COVID protocols and Bridgeport Islanders callups notwithstanding. Even before the outbreak, the Islanders were on a four-game skid and not looking like themselves.
The silver lining to this? General manager Lou Lamoriello cleared a significant amount of cap space this calendar year between exposing Eberle, trading Nick Leddy, Andrew Ladd, and Johnny Boychuk (or at least his contract), and getting a little extra help when Leo Komarov left the Islanders organization to head back to the KHL. That’s definitely good news, but in the irony of it all, Lamoriello now has the cap space to make a move for another scoring winger to re-replace Eberle.
In a perfect world, Eberle and Palmieri would be in the lineup together and add some serious depth, which certainly seems feasible now considering the team’s cap space situation. Even without Lee during last season’s playoff run, the two forwards helped the offense at different times. Now, the Islanders are wondering if they need to bring in someone else.
With fans calling for Trotz, Lamoriello, and perhaps most importantly, the players on the ice to make some sort of change to the lineup and their game, it may be a long rest of the season watching Eberle succeed in Seattle as the Islanders struggle. It leaves us wondering if Lamoriello will use his age-old philosophy of “if you have time use it,” or if he will make a move to try and turn the season around before it’s too late. Either way, fans’ patience is running out despite the team’s deep playoff runs the last two seasons.
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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.