Where do the Islanders go from here?
Once again they are entering an offseason having come up woefully short — a first-round exit in six games at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes coming a year after they missed the playoffs — riddled by the same problems that have plagued the organization for years, if not decades.
Despite Lou Lamoriello’s desperation heave at the trade deadline that landed him Bo Horvat, the Islanders still don’t have enough firepower up front. Horvat and Mathew Barzal were shut down by Jordan Staal and the Hurricanes at even strength while the power play they make up two-fifths of was deplorably inept.
A defense that was once an unwavering strength had been splintered by the salary-cap constraints partly created by Lamoriello, forcing them to part ways with Devon Toews and Nick Leddy — two blueliners that would have provided immeasurable support for a group that experienced a sizable regression across the board in 2022-23.
Now the Islanders face a summer that could spark severe change — or keep them in the same neutral gear that saw their slim Stanley Cup window that was cracked open from 2020-2021 slam shut for good.
Who’s in charge?
While there’s been no official word or figures made available, it is believed that Lamoriello’s contract is up, meaning co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin have a decision to make.
The Hall-of-Fame general manager helped bring the Islanders out of dark ages, overcome the loss of John Tavares, and bring them back to relevance by hiring Barry Trotz as head coach. But the same decision to shockingly part ways with him last offseason didn’t help a team that ultimately got back to the playoffs for the fourth time in five years this season, but at times looked overwhelmed and ill-prepared for the moment with Lane Lambert in charge.
Ledecky’s mantra has remained “In Lou We Trust,” but after five seasons, the Islanders have moved in the wrong direction after that overachieving start. Does that prompt such support for the now 80-year-old Lamoriello to come back and continue running things on Long Island?
If Ledecky and Malkin don’t think so, then an organizational upheaval comes next, which likely includes the finding of a new head coach and staff.
Moving on from members of the core?
There are still 10 players in total who have been with the organization from before Lamoriello’s arrival. However, this season could very well have been their last with the Islanders.
Josh Bailey, currently making $5 million annually and signed through next season, was a healthy scratch down the stretch of the regular season and throughout the postseason — providing more than enough indication that his time with the franchise is drawing to an end.
Questions are arising about how much more is left in the tank for the team’s fourth line, particularly Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, and whether or not a change in direction is necessary considering the emergence of player like Hudson Fasching who could take one of those roles and co-existed well with Casey Cizikas.
Anders Lee scored 28 goals for a second straight season, but an inability to create a dangerous first line alongside Barzal and Horvat suggests that a move to the third line, for example, could be in the cards. He makes $7 million annually.
Who comes back?
The Islanders possess three unrestricted free-agent forwards who have done more than enough to at least warrant a conversation of a reunion.
Hudson Fasching came out of nowhere to become a mainstay within New York’s bottom six with 10 goals in 49 games. He had just one goal in 38 games across five seasons with the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes.
Acquired at the trade deadline, Pierre Engvall provided an influx of speed to a slow team, helping to create its most imposing line alongside Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri. He recorded five goals in 18 games after scoring just 12 in 58 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Then there is Zach Parise, who at 38 years old, was still one of the Islanders’ most valuable players. He played in all 82 games, scored 21 goals, played on both the power play and penalty kill, and has a motor that certainly appears as though it has no quit. Retirement is an option, but it certainly appears as though he still has plenty left in the tank.
Defenseman Scott Mayfield had a career year despite continuing to be a bottom-pairing defenseman for most of the season. He posted bests in goals (6), assists (18), points (24), and blocked shots (168). The free-agent market should be robust for him.
In goal, Semyon Varlamov has expressed a desire to stay with the organization despite being relegated to a full-time backup role down the stretch this year. Those sentiments will obviously be tested if a team approaches him with the promise of consistent starting-playing time and with it, starting money.
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