If I asked Islanders fans what they thought of the current state of the team after the 2019 offseason, there would be a general trend towards concern. The Islanders, who were the favorites to land Russian super-star Artermi Panarin, lost out on him to the Rangers. Valtteri Filppula left the team to sign with the Detriot Red Wings, leaving a gaping hole down the center on the third line, and Robin Lehner, a Vezina finalist for the NHL’s best goaltender and fan-favorite left the team on a sour note to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Islanders did, however, manage to re-sign Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee to contracts as well as sign goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
Looking at the current roster and comparing it to last year, it is almost a mirror image of last year’s team minus the third line center and in net.
While the Islanders didn’t improve, they didn’t clearly regress as they did in 2018 after John Tavares left the Islanders high and dry to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. While losing Lenher may sting for the fans after he posted career numbers, the Islanders still have Thomas Griess who had an equally successful season basically splitting the games with Lenher.
Griess posted a .927 save percentage, and both him and Lenher won the William M. Jennings Trophy, which is given to the goaltending tandem that allows the least amount of goals in the league. With coaches Mitch Korn and Piero Grecco still in the fold as well as the defensive structure that the Islanders displayed last year, maybe Varlamov posts similar numbers to Griess and Lenher.
By also re-signing Jordan Eberle to a five-year deal worth $5.5 million per year, Lou Lamoriello has done something for Mat Barzal that Garth Snow never did for John Tavares, get him his winger.
Barzal and Eberle have great chemistry together. According to Newsday’s Andrew Gross, Eberle tallied six goals and one assist in 14 games next to Barzal after coach Barry Trotz put them back in the same line. The pairing was significant to the Islanders sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs last season.
By locking up Eberle and with Anthony Beauvillier, a restricted free agent, Barzal could have his future line secured up for years to come.
A Bad Dream Compared to a Nightmare
In 2016, the Islanders let key players to their success of the season prior walk. Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielson and Matt Martin left the team in place for Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd. The subtraction of the three players led the Islanders to regress heavily the next season. The Islanders also lost out on signing the star free agent Steven Stamkos, who opted to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
2017 was uneventful for the Islanders as they kept the same team. However, the Islanders still struggled the next season and failed to qualify for the playoffs. Perhaps, the promotion of Doug Weight from interim coach to head coach was the biggest move that the Islanders made over the summer of 2017.
In 2018, the Islanders lost out on the John Tavares sweepstakes, and they signed players like Leo Komarov, Filppula and Robin Lehner. The Islanders then went on to surprise the league and had 103 points and had a second round entrance in the playoffs.
So looking back, the 2019 offseason was in some way a success. The team kept their core together and signed a goaltender who could replicate what the Islanders had last season. The Islanders still have Barry Trotz and Lane Lambert on the bench, who could very well become an NHL coach after next season. The Islanders also added Jim Hiller, formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs, to coach the powerplay, something that needs to be better for the Islanders if they are to have success next season.
Time will tell what the grade for the 2019 offseason will be, but at this point, things are not all bad.