Islanders GM Lamoriello stresses internal bolstering, retention as offseason priority

Mathew Barzal Islanders
Mathew Barzal
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello has built the reputation of keeping his moves and strategies close to the vest over his Hall-of-Fame career — only divulging what he wants the media or his fan base to know.

He did just that once again on Tuesday afternoon during his end-of-season conference call as he embarks on a pivotal offseason for a franchise coming off its first Eastern Conference Final appearance in 27 years.

Based on their rather unlikely run to the NHL’s final four, the Islanders are just a few pieces away from becoming legitimate Stanley Cup contenders — with many goading the veteran general manager to go outside the organization’s ranks to acquire the necessary upgrades.

Lamoriello, however, has his hands tied when it comes to spending wildly on the free-agent market to ensure he finds those difference-makers. In fact, he divulged that his top priority is bringing back his potential free agents — both restricted and not.

“There’s room for improvement internally,” Lamoriello said. “If we can get better externally, we’ll do that, but right now we’re going to focus on keeping our team together.”

The Islanders have three talismanic restricted free agents that they’ll need to re-sign this offseason in the forms of star center Mathew Barzal and the young defensemen in Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. Their unrestricted free agents are comprised of the veterans Matt Martin, Derick Brassard, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Andy Greene.

Lamoriello has an estimated $8.9 million to work with this year to try and bring back a majority of that list.

“Right now, all I’m doing is focusing on communication with each and every one of our restricted free agents and unrestricted free agents and seeing exactly what we can get done,” he said. “We didn’t have any communication during the playoffs intentionally. I feel we’ll get all our players signed in due time.”

He added that he would “love” to bring back the 37-year-old Greene, who stepped up seamlessly during the postseason for the Islanders’ blue line.

However, there will be a few that won’t be given offers.

“We haven’t finalized the list but I’m sure there will be one or two that we will not qualify,” Lamoriello said. “We have not made a final decision, we have several days to do that. We’re talking internally about it.”

Those few impending cuts wouldn’t be much a difference-maker when it comes to making a big splash on the free-agent market, which lessens the Islanders’ chances of going out and nabbing a scorer like Taylor Hall or Mike Hoffman.

A better option could be finding that bona fide first-line winger on the trade market, to which Lamoriello said: “Right now, we’re certainly exploring each and every situation that can potentially take place.”