For nearly thirty years the New York Islanders have been known as a franchise in disarray, but in the past year the organization, under Lou Lamoriello’s oversight, has built something that fans and players have been pining for – stability.
For many New York Islanders fans, they have never known any real stability with the franchise. For those under 35-years-old or so, the days of the Bill Torrey and Al Arbour well-run Isles teams are no different than your grandfather talking about buying a movie ticket for a nickel.
I’m not even talking about four consecutive cups. I’m talking about having a team that isn’t the well-deserved punchline of NHL jokes.
Isles fans have been treated to “Mad Mike” Milbury, the John Spano fiasco, Gorton’s Fisherman jerseys, Kirk Muller, trading Roberto Luongo, trading Zdeno Chara, Garth Snow, Rick DiPietro‘s contract, first-round-draft-pick busts, Doug Weight‘s defensive structure, a decrepit Coliseum, Barclay’s obstructed views, split-location home games, Andrew Ladd‘s contract and hearing ad nauseam about Josh Ho-Sang.
But take one look around the Islanders right now. What’s the biggest complaint you hear? A bad power play. Not enough scoring. Too many grinders. Oliver Wahlstrom not making the team.
What beautiful complaints to have.
Turning It Around
For once, Islanders fans can gripe like most fans do – about winning and losing, the refs, ice time, bad penalties, defensive pairings and power play units. No longer do fans have to be embarrassed by ownership, management or the arena (soon enough).
And I’ll give credit where it is due – with Lou Lamoriello.
John Ledecky and Scott Malkin may have signed Lou, but he’s been the one to orchestrate the turnaround plan.
I was skeptical at first. Fans have and will give Lou many slights for some of his roster moves (more on that below) and his old-school approach and private manner.
You may not have liked signing so many bottom-six players, or not doing better to re-sign Tavares, or even for letting Robin Lehner go, but if you look at this holistically, he has finally given fans the stability they deserve.
When your first order of business is signing Barry Trotz to a five-year contract, you are on your way to immediate culture change for the better. In addition, Lou Lamoriello brought in some players that raised eyebrows but built on what he knew was necessary in building a team identity.
And he knew exactly what the cultural effect would be.
He brought in Leo Komarov, another “grinder” who brings tenacity and penalty killing to the team. He signed Robin Lehner, showing that character factored into decision-making as much as stats. Valtteri Filppula brought a veteran defensive-minded leader for younger players.
He traded for Matt Martin and reunited a line that not only was a fan favorite but is now dubbed “the identity line”. He built a team identity and even gave fans an entire line to show it nightly.
And if the identity of the Islanders is a tough, hard-working, defensive one represented by the Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck identity line then that’s a team Isles fans can be proud of.
The Islanders are returning their entire core forward group from last year (save for a 3C swap of Filppula for Brassard) and the same top three blueline pairings (assuming Dobson is taking the 7th spot from Hickey).
That is something that doesn’t happen in pro sports, and I can’t remember it with the Isles of all teams. That’s just something that good teams always got to enjoy.
He re-signed forwards Brock Nelson (through 2024-25), Jordan Eberle (through 2023-24), Anders Lee (through 2025-26), Anthony Beauvillier (through 2020-21) and added goalie Semyon Varlamov (through 2022-23).
Pair those signings with existing deals (Bailey through 2022-23, Cizikas 2020-21, Clutterbuck 2021-22, Komarov 2021-22, Johnston 2021-22, Boychuck 2021-22, Leddy 2021-22, Pelech 2020-21, Mayfield 2022-23, Dobson 2021-22) and you have nearly an entire roster expected to stay with the team through at least the 2021-22 season.
You can even look deeper at the no-move or no-trade clauses that drew such ire from fans. Lee, Nelson, Eberle, Komarov and Varlamov were all given clauses in their deals with Lou. I’d expect this to become standard in Isles’ deals moving forward.
These clauses give players confidence that they are valued and it lets the team know that the roster is being invested in, not being used as trade deadline pawns.
Do you know who notices that? Players. Both on your own team and others.
When you’re faced with a decision for where to play, knowing you’re going to a team that has roster continuity year to year is a factor. No longer are fans and players faced with the annual drama of who is playing on the wing of our star center.
Do you know who notices that? Everyone.
You may have complained about some signings, or trades, or lack of signings or trades. You may even have your complaints about young players not doing enough, or young players not getting a chance. Either way, your complaints are what fans of healthy organizations talk about.
Isles ownership invested in Lou Lamoriello, and like his ways or not, he has give the fans exactly what they have deserved but never got all these years on opening night – stability. I, for one, am going to enjoy it, and hope that this overdue competent leadership leads to another four consecutive cups.