Dale Money | August 22nd, 2019
There is no question the New York Islanders exceeded all expectations, with the loss of cornerstone forward John Tavares. A good reason for that surprise success can be attributed to the direction of both Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz. Trotz’s 48 wins were the most he has achieved, in his first season with any one team. Helping lead the Islanders to a first-round home-ice berth, they’re first since 1988. They would have a terrific opening round where they knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins in four, before bowing out to the Carolina Hurricanes.
There hasn’t been a lot of movement in free agency this offseason, outside of the recent minor signing of Derick Brassard. They were able to re-sign three of their key offensive players in Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Jordan Eberle. They did attempt to sign highly-coveted free agent Artemi Panarin, even offering more money. Regardless he decided to jump over to the New York Rangers instead.
Currently, there is plenty of talk swirling around RFA Patrik Laine, as of now it isn’t looking likely that he will re-sign with the Winnipeg Jets. If the Islanders could manage to put the right trade offer together in order to entice the Jets to part with Laine, they would be able to add themselves a player that averages 30+ goals. And at 21 years of age, has his whole career ahead of him.
Calder Trophy winner in 2017, Mathew Barzal took a large dip in his sophomore season as his point totals dropped by 23 points but still led all Islanders. Playing for a new contract this next offseason, Barzal should have a strong bounce-back year after having a full season to adjust to Trotz’s new defensive scheme.
Eberle had the lousiest regular season statistic wise in his career. A lot of this can be attributed to his lack of line chemistry. It would take until mid-march until he was placed back on a line with Barzal, the increase in production was evident. He carried that late-season hot streak into the playoffs, leading all Islanders in points. If they expect Eberle to get back to that player from two seasons ago, they are going to need to stick with what works. He’s going to be relied upon to be a solid top-six forward.
The way Trotz was able to completely turn around the Islanders horrendous defensive troubles in just one season since he’s arrived has been nothing short of remarkable. The year before he arrived on the scene they were dead last in goals allowed with 293. In 2018 they completely flipped the script allowing 191 goals, going worst to first.
Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, and Devon Toews make up their four core names on the blue line, all are 26 years of age or younger. Pulock was able to play the full 82 games in his sophomore season, putting up 37 points and was third in minutes played leading all skaters. He will be playing for a new contract next year, and I like for him to push hard for that breakout season.
While the defense was lights out last season, the offense was in need of some more help, and could certainly use another top-six forward. Nick Leddy has been hotly rumored as potential trade bait. There are a couple of young defenders coming up in the system, in Sebastian Aho and Noah Dobson.
Leddy has become somewhat expendable to an extent. Johnny Boychuk is another player that will be looking over his shoulder, as Dobson is inching closer to moving up into an NHL role. Boychuk should continue contributing serviceable numbers this season.
The Islanders were not able to come to terms with Robin Lehner, losing him to the Chicago Blackhawks. Understandably it left a bit of a raw spot for a lot of the fans, as Lehner appeared to be best suited for the organization and its system. In an attempt to replace him, they would end up bringing in Semyon Varlamov, paying him the same amount per season at five million for four years.
Varlamov had a relatively solid season, starting 49 games, with a 20-19-9 record which included a pair of shutouts. He certainly has the potential to have a solid bounce-back season under Trotz. He’s expected to share duties with Thomas Greiss. Last season Lehner started 43 games to Greiss’s 39.
The Metro has gotten a lot harder in one summer, the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, in particular, have loaded up through the draft as well as free agency. While the Islanders have basically stood pat, and it’s certainly debatable on whether or not swapping out Lehner for Varlamov was the smart move. Regardless of all that, I do like for Trotz to at least help give them an opportunity to fight for one of those final spots. As I could see it coming down to a win or go home, on the final game of the regular season.
Check out our other 2019-2020 NHL Team Previews:
Colorado Avalanche|Florida Panthers|Dallas Stars|Arizona Coyotes|New Jersey Devils|San Jose Sharks|Buffalo Sabres|Los Angeles Kings|Vancouver Canucks|Winnipeg Jets|Carolina Hurricanes|Boston Bruins|Ottawa Senators
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