You don’t need to be in the front office or an insider to understand what the New York Islanders need considering it’s been atop their list for the last 30 years.
The Islanders need an elite, 40-goal scorer and 100-point player to put on their first line in order to take the next step back toward Stanley Cup Final contention after missing out on the playoffs last season — and making the Cup semifinals in the two previous campaigns.
It’s been the one constant that has been missing from this franchise, especially in recent years.
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They already boast a strong defensive core with Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Noah Dobson, and potentially Alex Romanov. They have one of the best goalie tandems in the league with Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov. They have an abundance of talent down the middle of their forward group with the playmaking promise of Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson coming off a career-high 37 goals.
Now all they have to do is find an all-around talent when free agency opens up at 12 p.m. ET Wednesday that can consistently put the puck in the net and open up play around him for the much-needed trickle-down effect.
Simple, right? Not exactly.
Over the past 30 seasons, only four franchises that have participated in each of those campaigns — the San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings, and Dallas Stars — have had fewer 40-goal-scorer seasons than the Islanders’ seven (Steve Thomas, Pierre Turgeon, Ziggy Palffy three times, Jason Blake, Anders Lee).
The Sharks and the New York Rangers are the two teams who fit the same criteria and have had as few as the Islanders’ singular 100-point season during that same stretch, which came in 1992-93 behind Turgeon’s 58 goals and 74 assists (132 points).
Get a player with that kind of production now — like a Johnny Gaudreau — and the Islanders will catapult up the ranks of the Eastern Conference.
But a franchise that has constantly lost out on big names in free agency — most recently three years ago when Artemi Panarin chose the crosstown Rangers over the Isles’ larger offer — needs to prove that they can buck that trend.
This is where we enter co-owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky’s noble experiment.
The Islanders are a paradoxical franchise. They possess a rich history headlined by the greatest American dynasty in hockey history despite not being an Original 6 franchise while spending a majority of the last four decades mired by dysfunction.
And while “New York” is the geographical forename, this is in no way a big-market franchise like its neighbors in Manhattan — one of the reasons why Panarin opted for the Blueshirts rather than blue and orange.
Regardless, Ledecky and Malkin helped foot the bill for a $1 billion, brand-spanking-new arena that should be the envy of plenty of NHL teams around North America.
They brought in Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations and general manager, who helped bring in Barry Trotz as head coach, who helped the Islanders make two Stanley Cup semifinals over the last three years.
Now Lamoriello has to prove that he can do it without one of the greatest coaches in hockey history running the show — rather his top disciple in Lane Lambert pulling the strings.
To make his job easier, this isn’t the time to pivot to another “solid” or “dependable” player. They need to get one whose description contains the “elite” and “superstar” tags.
The excuses to land a big name are running out for Lamoriello, who has seen the Islanders become a destination thanks to ownership and the work of the former head coach. Another empty offseason will only see patience for the Hall-of-Famer grow even thinner for a fan base that needs to be convinced to spend their hard-earned money to make their way out to UBS Arena.
Not to mention the message it sends to Ledecky and Malkin.