The NY Islanders' most glaring external need if they go 'all in' on the 2024-25 season

Yes there are many items on Lou Lamoriello's checklist, but this one has been left unchecked for years now.
New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Five
New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Five / Grant Halverson/GettyImages

The NY Islanders have officially completed their 2023-24 regular and postseason. The first 82 games were an absolute roller coaster ride of emotions, from being 7 points behind a wild card spot in mid-March to clinching third place in the Metropolitan Division in April. Lane Lambert was replaced by Patrick Roy on January 20th following a horrific loss to the last place Chicago Blackhawks. All of this concluded with a five-game exit against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 30th. Suffice it to say, the 'good guys' drew a complete mismatch with their postseason seeding.

Now that we have had time to let the loss marinate, we can now reflect on the exact areas the Islanders must improve to compete next season. While fans are fairly split on directional preference, the expectation is that Lou Lamoriello will remain general manager through the 2024-25 season. Most fans will yawn at that statement, while a few still follow the 'In Lou we trust' mantra. Regardless, Lamoriello has shown no sign of pivoting from his pursuit to win immediately with the roster as currently constituted. Except for a few free agents, the Islanders have the entire roster on their salary cap next season. With that being said, which area is in most need of external improvement if Lamoriello continues to go 'all in'?

The top line's left-wing position

After re-signing all of their free agents last offseason, Lamoriello scoured the trade market in search of another top-six forward to complement either Mathew Barzal or Brock Nelson. The best fit was Alex DeBrincat, but the Islanders had already dealt their 2023 first-round draft pick at the trade deadline that prior January. Ultimately, he was traded from the Ottawa Senators to the Detroit Red Wings for multiple draft picks. As a result, Lambert and Roy alike played many different players next to Bo Horvat in search of a permanent left winger. 

Simon Holmstrom began the season playing this position but was quickly flipped to the third line with J.G. Pageau due to a lack of offensive aggressiveness. Anders Lee then saw a bulk of the playing time on the Isles' top line, but his hot streak in December did not carry over with the calendar year. After Roy threw names in a blender to write his lines in mid-March, he gave the always max-effort Casey Cizikas a try next to Barzal and Horvat. While Cizikas held his own, the offense provided is not enough to conclude this experiment as a success.

This offseason, the Isles must address this whole to be successful in 2024-25. It was clear this roster did not have the speed or shot aggressiveness to keep up with the Hurricanes or the now-rising New York Rangers. Remember, the Isles also trailed the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals for most of this season. Suffice it to say, neither team scares us in terms of playoff threats next season.

The Islanders' top line could be elite with just one more piece to complement their two all-star caliber players. Horvat proved in 2023-24 he could play on Long Island, while Barzal had his best season since he won the Calder Award in 2017-18. Had DeBrincat been playing alongside those two, it's hard to imagine this roster having a prolonged offensive slump.

However, the Isles are limited in cap space with just around $5.5 million to spend per Spotrac. This makes Lamoriello's 2023 offseason look even worse when adding in the performances from Pierre Engvall and Scott Mayfield. While it is nice to dream of signing a Jake Guentzel or Sam Reinhart, this is unrealistic as they will command north of $5 million in average annual value. The most realistic route for Lamoriello is the trade route if he can make salaries match. As the offseason approaches, we await to scour the trade market if the Islanders decide to contend in 2024-25.