We've heard it all off-season: the New York Islanders are returning the same team from last year. That narrative was created and held firm across the national hockey media after GM Lou Lamoriello prioritized signing his own free agents on Jul. 1, signing Scott Mayfield (7 years), Pierre Engvall (7 years), and Semyon Varlamov (4 years) to new deals.
While the lazy rhetoric that the Islanders are “running it back” with the same veteran core from last season has permeated the NHL season previews, the numbers tell a different story. Yes, when you take a snapshot of the lineup from their first-round playoff series against the Canes, it's a lot of familiar names, but is that the right benchmark?
The Islanders were out of a playoff spot when they acquired Bo Horvat on Jan. 30. They went 17-9-4 after the Horvat trade, that's 38 points in 30 games. That's a 104 point pace for the season. That may help explain why Lamoriello chose to trust that stretch, which didn't include Mathew Barzal for 23 of the games, as an indicator of what the team could accomplish across a full season.
When you compare the 23-man roster submitted on Monday from last season, the following players are not on this year’s team: Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauviller, Kieffer Bellows, Zach Parise, Nikita Soshnikov, and Robin Salo. If you add Ross Johnston, who was placed on waivers on Monday, that means seven of 23 players are different - that’s over 30% of the roster year-over-year.
Granted, Cal Clutterbuck was on IR to start the season last year so he wasn't on the original 23-man roster, but that's still significant turnover from year-to-year. The new names to the opening night roster will be Horvat, Engvall, Hudson Fasching, Julian Gauthier, Samuel Bolduc and Simon Holmstrom.
Are the Islanders a different team from how last year ended? No, not really, but they are from how they opened the 2022-23 season and that is a much more fair comparison when judging what they did or didn't do this off-season.