The New York Islanders qualified for the playoffs for the third straight season in 2020-2021. Sneaking in after finishing in fourth place in the East Division, the team won 32 games during the NHL’s shortened 56 game season. Backed by one of the strongest goaltender tandems across the league, the team saw Semyon Varlamov tie for the lead in shutouts with seven in 35 starts. Furthermore, backup Ilya Sorokin amassed a .918 save percentage and a 2.17 goals-against average, leading to a 15th place finish in Calder Voting. One of the best defensive teams in hockey under head coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders allowed 128 goals against, the second-lowest mark in the league.
New York made moves at the trade deadline as they aimed to return to the conference finals. Acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils, the franchise sent back forwards A.J. Greer, Mason Jobst, a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. In addition to this, general manager Lou Lamoriello made one more minor transaction by acquiring defenseman Braydon Coburn from the Ottawa Senators for a 2022 seventh-round draft choice.
Eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the postseason, the Islanders dispatched of their rivals with a 5-3 victory in Game 6. Advancing to play the Boston Bruins in the second round, the team would head back to the TD Garden for Game 5 tied at two games apiece.
Narrowly defeating their opponents with a 5-4 victory, the franchise would advance to the conference semi-finals. They were in tough against the reigning Cup champions in the Tampa Bay Lightning. A back and forth series saw the team return home with a victory needed in Game 6 to keep their playoff hopes alive. New York was able to stave off elimination with a 3-2 win after Anthony Beauvillier beat Andrei Vasilevskiy just one minute into the extra frame. Ultimately stimied in game seven by a robust Tampa Bay defense, their quest for a title would fall short after losing 1-0.
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By the Numbers
Powerplay: 18.75% (21st)
Penalty Kill: 83.70% (6th)
Goals For: 156 (Tied for 20th)
Goals Against: 128 (2nd)
Best Player: Semyon Varlamov
Rock-solid for the Islanders in his second year with the team, Varlamov finished fifth in Vezina Trophy voting. He faced the 13th most shots across the league. The 33-year-old recorded a .929 save percentage, the highest total of his career. Furthermore, he finished with just a 2.04 goals-against average while amassing a .743 quality start percentage. Ranked in the top five in nearly every major category for netminders, he continues to be their backbone for success.
Sustaining his strong play during New York’s playoff run, he played over 790 minutes for the team across 14 starts. Ultimately leading them to seven victories, he trailed only Carey Price and Vasilevskiy in saves with 403. He is slated to be with the franchise for two more years. The star net-minder will account for $5 million against the cap during the 2022 season.
Biggest Disappointment: Playoff Shortcomings
Battling through a first-round matchup with the Penguins, the teams flip-flopped wins. Highlighted by a double-overtime victory on the road in game five, they would return home to close out their rival. After winning three straight games to defeat the Bruins, a second consecutive date with the Lightning would become set. Splitting the first four games, New York ultimately would be set up with the difficult task of trying to win two of three games on the road.
Coming up short, the group scored just three goals in three games, including an 8-0 thumping in Game 5. Similar to a year ago, the Islanders struggled to score in big moments. They managed just four goals in the final three games of their conference final date with Tampa Bay in 2020.
Behind the Bench Analysis
Finishing up his third season behind the bench for the team Trotz has provided them with both a vision and stability. A two-time Jack Adams award winner, the longtime Washington Capitals head coach led the Islanders to their third consecutive playoff appearance this past year. They have been one of the best defensive teams in the league under his guidance. He led New York to a 19-7-4 start in their first 30 games.
As knowledgeable and detail-oriented as they come, the 59-year-old routinely stifled opponents with his patented 1-3-1 forechecking system. He has helped turn a constantly offensively challenged group into a championship contender. Surrendering just 128 goals against during the regular season, Trotz would, however, see his teams fall short of their postseason goals again after losing to the reigning champs one series short of the cup final.
Front Office Analysis
Setting New York up for long-term success, Lamoriello captured the Jim Gregory Award for general manager of the year. Reupping with pending free agents on their roster a year ago, he agreed to terms with defenseman Ryan Pulock and Andy Greene. Furthermore, the longtime New Jersey boss was able to ink star forward Mathew Barzal on a bridge deal with a $7 annual cap hit.
Aggressive at the trade deadline like in years past, Lamoriello added to the Islanders roster. He struck a deal with the Devils for Palmieri and Zajac. The Rhode Island native sent back a package of draft picks and two players. Staying successful in the draft with a solid young core already in place, the franchise also saw 2018 first-round pick Noah Dobson play over 16 minutes a night while recording a career-high in points with 14 in 46 games.
2021 NHL Entry Draft Picks/Prognosis
Currently slated to hold six picks in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, the team will be without their first-round selection. Trading it away in the Palmieri deal with New Jersey, New York also sent a second-round pick and defenseman David Quenneville to the Devils in exchange for Andy Greene. Adding an extra choice in the first 63 picks, the team acquired veteran forward Richard Panik and a second-round draft pick from the Detroit Red Wings for Nick Leddy.
Following the selection of forward Jordan Eberle in the expansion draft by the Seattle Kraken, look for the team’s front office to look for young forward help with their first few selections. Holding the 52nd pick, possible names include winger Jackson Blake and center Oliver Kapanen.
Offseason Wish/Checklist & Prognosis for 2021-2022
The group opened up cap space through the expansion draft and with multiple salary dumping deals. The team now has close to $23 million in available salary room after losing Eberle to the Kraken. However, multiple restricted free agents will leave Lamoriello, and the front office with their work cut out for them. Beauvillier will be looking for a new deal after finishing second on the team in postseason scoring with 13 points in 19 games. Furthermore, both young blue liner Adam Pelech and Sorokin will be searching for new contracts.
Projected to have just under $10 million in available cap space if they agree to deals with all of their pending RFAs, look for the franchise to focus on finding a replacement for the recently departed Leddy on the blue line. A primary part of the Islander’s top four a year ago, the veteran defenseman also led the group in ice time on the powerplay. Lastly, as a more high-end scoring punch continues to be needed, look for them to continue to search for players who can provide production in their top six.
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