Lou Lamoriello went into the offseason with a mandate. He fired Barry Trotz, a popular head coach who had taken the Islanders to two straight conference finals before a disappointing 2021-22 season.
Lamoriello, the Islanders’ president and general manager, talked about improving the blue line and making a “hockey deal” to bolster the forward group. His objective was clear, leading the Islanders out of the morass into which they had slipped last season.
It’s now mid-August and most of the NHL’s business before training camp has been long concluded. The last big name on the market, Nazem Kadri, signed with the Flames on Thursday morning. The Islanders have made one addition that we know of: Alexander Romanov, a raw but promising defenseman for whom Lamoriello dealt his first-round pick on the draft floor six weeks ago.
Losing out on Kadri, who had been linked to the Islanders by SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman and by fans hoping that Lamoriello’s unusual silence meant he was trying to clear cap space, is only the latest disappointment. That letdown stems from the Islanders’ omerta regarding transactions, which led portions of their fan base to believe a deal with the former Avalanche center was done when no credible reporting indicated that to be the case.
Barring a completely unforeseen trade — which can never be ruled out with Lamoriello — the Islanders’ top-six in 2022-23 will look … exactly like their top-six last season, when they ranked 22nd in the league in scoring.
Maybe things will turn around with the roster as is and a season unimpeded by the long road trip and COVID-19 outbreak that affected the Islanders at the start of last season. Maybe Anthony Beauvillier or Oliver Wahlstrom will take the next step forward. Maybe new head coach Lane Lambert will unlock something Trotz couldn’t in this team.
Those are a lot of maybes for a team that believes itself to be a Stanley Cup contender.
At this point, the most viable free agent the Islanders could add is Massapequa’s Sonny Milano, who had 34 points for Anaheim last season playing alongside Trevor Zegras. Milano would probably be on the third line in the Islanders’ depth chart right now. There is not an obvious trade candidate for Lamoriello to go after, at least at the moment. Most likely, the Islanders will bring to training camp what they currently have.
“We’ll be as active as we can to make us better,” Lamoriello said during the draft, regarding his approach to free agency. “Whatever we need to do, we’ll do to make us better. But remember, it takes two to make a transaction.”
Six weeks later, the roster is in essence the same, and a team that struggled to fill its brand new arena for much of last season will need to find a way to explain to fans how this is going to work.
Lamoriello might not care what anyone else thinks, but there is no team in the league for which a fast start will be more important when games get underway in mid-October. If the Islanders play anything like they did during the 37-35-10 disaster last season, it will not take long for hope to dissipate.
Mathew Barzal’s pending restricted free agency following the season hangs over all of this, as there is no player the Islanders could less afford to have spurn them.
If the Islanders indeed prove that last season was an aberration, as they seem to believe, then all of that will cease to matter. Good teams have a way of making problems go away.
If not, though? Something will have to give. And soon.