"We're not going to get better by just adding players. We're going to get better by making hockey trades. That's the conversation we've been having the last few days."- Lou Lamoriello
That statement was made by NY Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello back in March 2022. The Islanders were out of the playoff race and closing up shop on a disappointing 2021-22 season in which they only scored 2.79 goals per game, the 23rd worst in the NHL.
On Monday morning, we learned the Islanders finally made the extensions of Noah Dobson, Alexander Romanov, and Kieffer Bellows official. What we also learned was that Lamoriello's silence this offseason wasn't for any other reason than the pure fact that he's sticking with what he's got:
"There's no disappointment with where we're at because we feel very good with who we are or else we would've made drastic changes... I say that with confidence and we're looking forward to getting back at it and maybe proving everybody wrong."- Lou Lamoriello
Heading into free agency, the Islanders were rumored to heavily pursue top free-agent forward Johnny Gaudreau. Hours passed and it was revealed that despite having been linked to the Islanders, New Jersey Devils, and Philadelphia Flyers, Gaudreau opted to sign a seven-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. After, the attention turned to Nazem Kadri who was regarded as the second-best free agent on the market. Kadri's decision went unmade well into August and much like Gaudreau, he was rumored to be in the sights of the Islanders.
The Kadri rumors went as far as a plethora of reports coming out that the Islanders and Kadri had a handshake agreement in place contingent on the Isles GM's ability to move out a contract or two in order to fit the rumored seven-year, $7 million contract the two sides had agreed on. Instead, Kadri signed that exact contract with the Calgary Flames and he'll be Canada-bound for the next seven seasons.
Lamoriello's intentions back in March felt very clear. "Hockey trades" was the term the Islanders GM coined in order to improve the Islanders for next season. It sounded as though the Islanders might actually do that, too, when there were multiple reports surfacing that the Islanders and Vancouver Canucks were talking about a possible JT Miller deal until that fell apart at the table and Lamoriello acquired Romanov instead.
This isn't to say the Romanov acquisition wasn't a good one. It certainly is, especially given the fact that players like Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene are no longer going to be relied on as options for the Islander this season. Instead, Romanov will replace Chara, and Lamoriello stated he wants to remain "internal" for his sixth defenseman alongside Scott Mayfield. That spot feels like Robin Salo's but the Islanders also extended Sebastian Aho to a two-year deal earlier this summer.
It's more of the same from Lamoriello this summer. The same statement that feels recycled year after year to this point, one that has many scratching their heads and wondering if the Islanders will actually be an improved team:
"I'm really excited about the team we have going into the season right now. I feel very good. If we could've gotten better, we would've done that."- Lou Lamoriello
Perhaps the most puzzling thing about that statement is the fact that the Islanders clearly need to find line-mates for Mathew Barzal. There were plenty of opportunities for the Islanders to do so this summer, too. Names such as Alex DeBrincat, Matthew Tkachuk, and Jonathan Huberdeau were all big names that were on the move via trade. Heck, even Max Pacioretty was given away by the Vegas Golden Knights for free. The Ottawa Senators even fetched DeBrincat, a two-time 40-goal scorer, at the low price of three draft picks. There were even free agents after Gaudreau and Kadri that would have been useful for the Islanders such as Ilya Mikheyev, Andrew Copp, or Vincent Troceck. Yet, the Islanders look mostly the same with just the addition of Romanov, and the subtraction of Chara and Greene.
It's not to say that the Islanders can't be better next season, they can. The many factors that derailed their season in 2021-22 will unlikely be present in 2022-23. However, it's a big bet on a group of players that has been determined to have maybe just one superstar in Barzal and the fact that they fired future Hall-of-Famer Barry Trotz and replaced him with Lane Lambert who has yet to be an NHL head coach. Lamoriello stated under Lambert:
"(The Islanders) will be a little better offensively but we will be a defensive team. I will not apologize for that... I'm a goal differential type of person."- Lou Lamoriello
The point here really is that Lamoriello stated he was going to improve the roster. As it stands, the addition of Romanov helps the blue line, but it's hard to say the Islanders, at least on paper, are improved at all. It's been a long summer, one that has most pegging Lamoriello's offseason as a failure. Now, he's solidified the failure of improving the roster displaying his lack of willingness to pull the trigger on a deal that can help the Islanders win in what appears to be a closing "win-now" window.
The Islanders are heading into the 2022-23 season mostly the same and are placing a large wager on improving from within and staying consistent. With most of the Metropolitan Division adding to their rosters with the intent of improving, it feels as though the Islanders will be facing an uphill battle from the first puck drop to return to the playoffs in 2023.