The NY Islanders are entering the 2022-23 season with very mixed expectations. Lou Lamoriello was not extremely active in the off-season and as a result the Isles will return mostly the same. The external transaction and assets moved were at the NHL Draft when Lamoriello traded the 13th overall pick to the Montreal Canadians in exchange for the defenseman, Alexander Romanov. The Islanders also received the 98th overall pick in the draft.
Romanov will shore up the defense and likely pair with rising star, Noah Dobson this season, and potentially in the distant future. Dobson and Romanov signed three-year contract extensions, so you could see how their careers align.
There's no doubt the Islanders are coming off a poor season that saw them finish fifth in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Sixteen points separated the Islanders and the last playoff spot, taken by the Washington Capitals who totaled 100 points last season. The question is are the Islanders the team that didn't make the playoffs last season because of a plethora of obstacles, or are they a team that has seen age catch up to them and they just can't keep pace with today's NHL anymore? Or, are the Islanders the team that went back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Of course, every team experiences obstacles in the form of injuries and losing streaks. It's the really good teams that can overcome missing players on injured reserve or bounce back from losses. The last two seasons were different with Covid wiping out more players than usual, and the Islanders got more than their fair share of missing players to start their 2021-22 season.
So if the Islanders are successful in 2022-23, why might that be?
A "new voice"
Whether or not the firing of Barry Trotz was the right move is not the focal point here. The fact of the matter is that Lane Lambert is now behind the bench with the anticipation he will lead the Islanders back to the playoffs. There was a lot of interest in Lambert's services from other organizations, however, the Islanders made sure to keep him for themselves. As a disciple of Trotz working by his side for the last 12 seasons, you're sure to see some similarities in their coaching styles. You won't see a drastic difference in philosophy, but the change should certainly provide more opportunities for the younger players.
Just playing the youth more doesn't quantify "success," however. The Islanders will be younger on paper this season because of the subtraction of Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene, plus the addition of Romanov, and another season of Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, and Robin Salo. Wahlstrom and Bellows have yet to break onto the scene as impact NHLers, and Salo saw just 21 games last season where he showed some promise, but he's far from a guarantee. As former first-round picks, the two young Islander forwards were drafted to score goals. They've both proven they can do that, but haven't shown they can be relied on in the other two zones on the ice. Lambert developing this trio of players into everyday players would be one box to check next to what determines "success" for the Islanders this season and could answer some questions regarding their ability to win in the future.
Still, the Islanders are starting the season with a first-year head coach. Lambert has seen success in the NHL as an assistant and has even been a successful head coach below the NHL level, but his ability to run a successful NHL bench is still in question. Lambert can quickly answer that question though, allowing the youth to grow and in turn, improving the Islanders' offensive production that has been lacking for the prior four seasons under Trotz.
Forget the media. Entering last season, the Islanders themselves would consider nothing less than a Stanley Cup Final appearance a success. This was natural after bringing back the same roster from the prior two seasons that had lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. Clearly, that didn't happen.
A team with a similar finish to last season for the Islanders would lower expectations entering the following season. The difference is that the Islanders expressed they knew they weren't the team that ended the season missing the playoffs, but more the team we saw between 2019 and 2021.
"There’s no disappointment where we’re at because we feel very good about who we are, or we would have made drastic changes last year if we didn’t feel good about the group we have and what they’re capable of doing. I say that with comfortability. I say that with confidence. We’re looking forward to getting back at it and proving everybody wrong."- Lou Lamoriello
It's the same group of forwards this season that struggled to score goals last year. The expectation should be that forwards like Kyle Palmieri doesn't struggle for months, Anthony Beauvillier stays consistent, Mathew Barzal plays like the Islanders' No.1 center and franchise star, and Brock Nelson and Anders Lee maintain their 30-goal form. If all that goes right, the youth develops positively, and the Islanders maintain elite goaltending and health, there's no reason the Islanders can't get back into the playoffs. And once they're there, we've seen what they can do in the past. A successful season is developing the youth, consistency throughout the roster, and a return to the playoffs. They've proved in recent history seeding doesn't matter, just get in and go to work.