Four years after Garth Snow was dismissed as General Manager, the New York Islanders remain a team built by Snow but solidified by Lou Lamoriello.
If you take a look at the 25 players (15 forwards, 8 defensemen, 2 goaltenders) that make up the Islanders' current depth chart in mid-July, just 7 players were acquired by Lamoriello heading into his fifth season as Islanders GM. Those players are: JG Pageau, Kyle Palmieri, Oliver Wahlstrom, Zach Parise, Noah Dobson, Alexander Romanov and Semyon Varlamov. That's just 28% of the roster and that gives credit to Lamoriello for drafting Dobson and Wahlstrom with Snow's scouting department. Lou ultimately made the call so they go into his column. The number grows to 8 (32%) if you include Matt Martin who was re-acquired by the Islanders in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018.
From Josh Bailey in 2008 to Robin Salo in 2017, 15 players were drafted by Snow. Only one was acquired by trade (Cal Clutterbuck in 2013) and two others (Grant Hutton and Ross Johnston) were signed as non-drafted free agents.
Despite missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons, Lamoriello knew he inherited a roster in 2018 that had talent and his first move was hiring Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz to cultivate it. Lamoriello instilled credibility and stability to the organization while Trotz brought structure and accountability to the ice.
To say it worked would be an understatement. The team embraced the teachings of Trotz and found their new identity as a team built around defense and goaltending with opportunistic scoring. Players unlocked parts of their game that were dormant, the team learned to win and with Lamoriello at the top, the organization found its footing.
But four years later, it's surprising to see so much of the embattled Snow's roster in place. In retrospect, maybe the billboard should've said "Snow Must Go, but his players can stay."
Lamoriello doesn't bring back players. They never leave. Only Josh Bailey and Scott Mayfield are still on contracts handed out by Snow. Everyone else is here because Lamoriello wanted them and/or wanted to keep them.
The immediate success and turnaround of the team in 2018-19 led to extensions following the end of that season. A much-improved Brock Nelson was signed to a six-year extension and captain Anders Lee inked a seven-year deal on day one of free agency. Jordan Eberle, who Snow acquired in a deal with the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Strome also signed a five-year contract in June 2019.
The extensions haven't stopped.
Lamoriello valued continuity and maintaining a culture true to the identity of the Islanders over taking his chances in free agency. Based on last week's events, perhaps we understand why. Better to keep what you have rather than chase a player you won't land or overpay for a need created by letting one of your own walk.
Some extensions were universally praised. Locking up defenseman Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech to matching eight-year extensions at manageable AAVs was shrewd and prudent. Meanwhile, signing fourth-liners Matt Martin and Ross Johnston to four-year raised eyebrows. Each adds value, but the term continues to be questioned especially as the team is stretched for cap space.
Bridge deals for Mat Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier were executed without drama. Casey Cizikas signed to a $15M deal spread out across six years to keep the AAV down. His fourth-line mate Cal Clutterbuck wasn't traded at the deadline in March, rather he received a two-year extension and soon after was shut down for the rest of the season to recover from a shoulder injury.
Lamoriello's extensions haven't been limited to Snow's roster. JG Pageau and Kyle Palmieri were extended after being acquired at the trade deadline (Pageau before ever skating for the Isles) and Zach Parise was brought back for another year at the league minimum. This summer, Lamoriello is working on a new deal for Noah Dobson and there's long-term contract potential for Mat Barzal.
The success of the Islanders in the first three years under Lamoriello can be attributed to keeping the team's core intact and Trotz getting the very most of it. But as time has gone by, the extensions have made it more difficult to navigate the salary cap and have restricted the team's flexibility to bring in the scorer they most desperately need.
In a Sunday column for the New York Post, Larry Brooks described the Islanders' current stats as "stuck in a salary-cap calamity created by GM Lou Lamoriello’s decision to grant lucrative contract extensions to just about every veteran on the teams that fell short in 2019, 2020 and 2021."
The Islanders have kept their players in hopes of not taking a step back, but in the long-term, will that strategy be what keeps them from taking a step forward?