As the start of the training camp approaches, the New York Islanders are betting on improvement from within to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs next season. Even those down on the team's prospects will admit that several players underperformed last season and that a return back to their career production would likely move the team into the playoff picture.
Lamoriello: NY Islanders "have to compete against ourselves"
Islanders' G.M. Lou Lamoriello was a great admirer of Vince Lombardi. At one point during his career with the New Jersey Devils, a poster of the legendary NFL coach was framed in his office.
Among the many inspiring quotes from Lombardi is "the measure of who we are is what we do with what we have." Given the lack of turnover this off-season, that's how Lamoriello and the team will be judged - they've given themselves no other choice. The players in the room will decide the upcoming season, not the could've been and should've been trades and signings that never came.
"Everybody gets better, either by addition or internally. In our case, at this point, internally is where we have to get better. We did add, in my opinion, a top-five defenseman, a left-hand shot we needed, and we feel very good about that. We have to compete against ourselves more than worry about what the other people are doing."- Lou Lamoriello
When you look back at the 2021-22 season, there are three, maybe four, players that surpassed expectations: Brock Nelson, Noah Dobson, and Ilya Sorokin surely did and I'll include Anders Lee coming back from his ACL injury and scoring 28 goals in that category.
That list will have to grow for the Islanders to prove their growing list of critics wrong. Prime candidates include Oliver Wahlstrom and Anthony Beauvillier, two home-grown Islanders that have teased fans with their skillset but have yet to find consistency throughout a full 82-game season.
Beauvillier is the more accomplished player with multiple strong playoff performances to his resume, but like Wahlstrom, he took a step sideways, if not back last season, and was even a healthy scratch in the midst of a prolonged drought. The Islanders were rumored to have discussed him with teams when trying to move salary, but there is no doubt the team values his aggressive fore-checking and skating ability.
Meanwhile, Wahlstrom was given an opportunity with Mathew Barzal late in the season, but the pair failed to produce the instant chemistry fans had hoped. It will be interesting to see whether Lane Lambert goes back to the combination and gives Wahlstrom and lethal shot another opportunity on Barzal's wing.
Forget exceeding expectations; just meeting them would be a boon to the team as well.
Kyle Palmieri needs to replicate his second half of the season when he returned from the All-Star break with "Dad Strength" and a hot streak that led to 12 points in 14 games (8 goals, 4 assists). On the third line, JG Pageau found his legs and scoring touch far too late as he battled through a nagging injury. After deciding not to trade Semyon Varlamov at the trade deadline or the off-season, Lamoriello is banking on his goaltending tandem being the team's strength.
For that to be true, Varlamov, who was better than his record showed, needs to play like a No. 1 even if he is on the lower end of a 60/40 split with Sorokin. If Varlamov can perform as he did during the prior two seasons, the Islanders will have a Top-10 netminder in their crease each night, something few, if any teams can boast.
To prove everyone wrong, the Islanders will need to first prove to themselves last year was an aberration. According to the general manager, the way that happens is through competition with their own expectations. By doing so they have a chance to surpass the expectations of others.