Lou Lamoriello’s uneventful offseason tempting fate of Islanders regression

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UBS Arena Islanders
(AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

For a franchise that has often failed to lure in big-name free agents or top-tier trade targets, the summer of 2022 appears to be the latest indignity for the New York Islanders and their general manager, Lou Lamoriello. 

Reports of Nazem Kadri signing with the Calgary Flames on Thursday was just the latest whiff by Lamoriello, who created a salary-cap crunch too tight to work around this offseason — unable to offload swollen contracts of players who have not performed up to such lofty parameters. 

It’s the main reason the Islanders were not linked to the NHL’s largest free-agent prize of them all, Johnny Gaudreau, last month despite reports indicating they were very much in the hunt. Instead, he went to the Metropolitan Division-rival Columbus Blue Jackets in a last-minute swoop that stole him from the likes of another pair of division rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers or New Jersey Devils. 

While those two teams missed out, they still managed to improve their rosters. Actually, almost every team in the division either improved around the Islanders, who went from making two consecutive Stanley Cup semifinals to missing the playoffs during a dizzying season that saw off-ice events impact the product on the ice.

The Devils acquired two-time Stanley Cup champion Ondrej Palat after trading for Erik Haula from the Boston Bruins. 

The Flyers added versatility (and controversy) on their blue line with Tony DeAngelo and winger depth with Owen Tippett. 

The Rangers upgraded their second-line center spot by nabbing Vincent Trochek. The Penguins retained Evgeni Malkin and brought on Jeff Petry to strengthen their defense. The Capitals brought on Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Darcy Kuemper and nabbed Dylan Strome, who was coming off a career-best 22-goal season. The Hurricanes went for it with a trade for Max Pacioretty — though injuries have sidelined him indefinitely — and a pick-up of veteran blue liner Brent Burns.

And then there are the Islanders, who are the only team in the NHL to have not made a free-agent signing — the only thing to show so far this offseason being a draft-day trade for young defenseman Alex Romanov. Plenty of that has to do with Lamoriello’s patented shroud of mystery as he still hasn’t let it be known whether or not the team has retained key restricted free agents like Noah Dobson.

Lou Lamoriello Islanders
Lou Lamoriello (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)

The steady inability to land the big fish, though, is nothing new. The Islanders for the better part of the last 30 years have been unable to attract top talent to their ranks.

It was an unsuccessful pursuit to keep John Tavares in 2018. It was watching Artemi Panarin choose the Rangers in 2019. It was the faint hope of Gaudreau flanking Mathew Barzal and even Kadri — who still wouldn’t have satisfied the Islanders’ need for an elite goal-scoring winger, but you make room for an 87-point player — joining New York’s ranks only to go elsewhere. 

All of this comes after Lamoriello fired a Hall of Famer and easily the second-best head coach in franchise history, Barry Trotz, after four invaluable seasons that helped change the narrative surrounding the Islanders from a constant and embarrassing bottom-dweller to an Eastern Conference power and a team no one wants to face in the playoffs. 

And he did it by squeezing every last drop of blood and sweat from the proverbial stone that was looked upon as an underwhelming roster on paper. 

Now it’s his protegee in Lane Lambert patrolling the Islanders’ bench for a roster that still hasn’t taken that next step to truly announce its malice as a legitimate contender.

That’s on Lamoriello, who hasn’t been able to balance the books or use a brand-new, state-of-the-art arena and the team’s recent success as an attractive enough pitch to improve the team. 

There’s still time for the 79-year-old to pull off a “hockey trade” that he has preached about since the end of the season, but it certainly feels like Lambert is being set up to fail here. 

It’s also a rather disingenuous ask for fans to buy season tickets when they quite literally have zero idea of what direction the team is moving in.

For more on the Islanders, visit AMNY.com