The Islanders were the Metro division champions in the 2020 NHL Playoffs, and the Eastern Conference runner-up.
This was their second season under head coach Barry Trotz and GM Lou Lamoriello, and they’ve led the team much closer to the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article summarizing what the Islanders would have to do to improve next season. This week, I’ll go more in-depth into what that is.
The Front Office
It’s been known that the Islanders’ cap situation isn’t exactly the most breathable. There are three restricted free agents they have to lock up (Mat Barzal, Ryan Pulock, and Devon Toews), and decisions that need to be made on the five unrestricted FAs. With players like Brock Nelson, J.G. Pageau, and Anders Lee locked up for the long term, they have to be careful they don’t overpay the RFAs, or that could lead to prolonged cap trouble.
As for the UFAs, it appears that one of them will almost certainly walk. Thomas Greiss was with the Islanders for the last 5 seasons and had been a solid option in net throughout, winning the Jennings Trophy with Robin Lehner in 2019. With the limited cap space, Varlamov on the books for at least the next three seasons, and goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin likely being called up, it wouldn’t be in the Islanders’ best interests to resign Greiss.
As for the skaters like Derrick Brassard, Tom Kühnhackl, Matt Martin, and Andy Greene, it’s very unlikely that New York will sign all of them. Greene is closer to 40 years of age than anyone else, and the Isles have Noah Dobson who could see more playing time next season, so I would not be surprised if they let Greene walk. The Islanders also have some forward prospects that could see some NHL minutes, like Dobson.
If that’s how they want to go, two of those three forward UFAs will likely be gone. My guess is that either Brassard or Martin will stay; but it’s hard to replace the presence that Martin provides, not to mention the fact that he’s a tenured Islander, unlike Brassard.
The Team on the Ice
While Lou figures out how he’s going to work free agency and the draft, the team on the ice has to improve on last season’s showing. The 2019-20 Isles struggled throughout the postseason, and definitely in the shortened regular season. Those struggles included getting swept by the Anaheim Ducks, and going on a seven-game losing streak to finish off the regular season.
In the postseason, their level of play increased drastically, and it got them all the way to ECF. But there was one key factor in their defeat to Tampa Bay… offense; the Lightning were the much more successful team on offense.
Now, when you go up against a goalie like Andrei Vasilevskiy, it’ll be hard to get a lot of scoring chances. However, New York had more chances than their 12 goals, and the skaters either missed the net or turned it over. If the Islanders are more disciplined on offense, they can go all the way to the Cup Final.
Free agency begins on October 9th, but as Lamoriello said in his letter to the fans “… preparation for the 2020-21 season has begun.”
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