At the first-half mark of the season, the NY Islanders are tied for 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division at 19-12-10 (48 points). It’s hard to fathom this team has only played 41 games, given all the confusion, excitement, and heartbreak with every week that goes by. We see the Islanders beat tough opponents like the Toronto Maple Leafs and jump for joy, but in the same breath, we have seen them blow countless 3rd-period leads and call for Lane Lambert's job.
To say the 2023-24 Islanders have been a rollercoaster ride is an understatement. Normally at the midway point, we can predict the outcome of a season. For instance, we can say definitively the Boston Bruins will make the playoffs and the Columbus Blue Jackets will have a losing record. The Islanders have seen the best of both worlds considering a slow start, a hot stretch at home, and a rough start to 2024. With 41 games officially in the books, how have the offseason decisions made by Lou Lamoriello impacted the team?
1. The free agent signings have been disappointing.
The Islanders began their offseason spending spree before the 2022-23 season had ended. They traded for and immediately extended Bo Horvat for eight years and $68 million at the trade deadline, eliminating a contract showdown on July 1st. The front office also allotted enough cap space to extend Ilya Sorokin for eight years, $66 million. However, these decisions also left little cap space to re-sign their own players or acquire new ones.
With limited financial flexibility, Lamoriello still found a way to re-sign Pierre Engvall and Scott Mayfield to 7-year contracts and Semyon Varlamov to a 4-year contract. The seven years given to Engvall and Mayfield were always questionable given their age and production. Engvall is a bottom-six forward on a good team who does not score many goals. While Mayfield is a lifelong Islander and Varlamov has contributed well, having them signed through ages 37 and 38 is not ideal either.
At the midway point, these decisions are already justifying fan concerns regarding these contracts. Engvall has been benched twice for turning the puck over in key moments and has not provided enough production playing on the second line with Brock Nelson and Kyle Palmieri. Mayfield has only played 26 games due to injury and is yet to register a goal. Varlamov has been terrific but is now on injury reserve with a lower-body injury. While it's still early in all of their respective contracts, Lamoriello's free-agent signings have not lived up to expectations.