It looks as if Lou Lamoriello will get a new contract
All indications are that after some internal organizational discussions, Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello will be offered a contract extension. Which means coach Lane Lambert will be returning for a second season.
So the Islanders’ biggest offseason question morphs from their job status to how Lamoriello will handle the huge challenge of trying to improve this team.
Lamoriello has yet to speak publicly since the wild-card Islanders were eliminated in the first round by the Metropolitan Division champion Hurricanes. Lambert last addressed the media after the 2-1 overtime loss in the deciding Game 6 at UBS Arena on April 28.
Their post-elimination silence only fueled speculation that one or both would return, even though the super-secretive Lamoriello, 80, pushed back with a bite when asked late in the season about the common belief that he was coming to the end of his original five-year deal with the Islanders, saying media members should report facts and not what they think they know.
Well, Newsday is very confident about reporting that Lamoriello will be asked back — likely on a new three-year deal — though it almost certainly never will be announced. The only way to confirm the news will be to see him continue his Hall of Fame career.
So that matter aside, how can Lamoriello improve the aging core after a 42-31-9 season?
The team needs to get younger and faster and much, much more consistent on the power play. It needs to be more dangerous in the offensive zone while not sacrificing its defensive structure.
Decisions need to be made on goalie Semyon Varlamov, defenseman Scott Mayfield and left wings Pierre Engvall and Zach Parise, who will turn 39 in July. All are pending unrestricted free agents.
Josh Bailey, the longest-tenured Islander — he’s three games shy of matching Hall of Famer Denis Potvin for second in games played in team history at 1,060 — does not want to return for the final season of his six-year, $30 million deal if he again is going to be a consistent healthy scratch. Can Lamoriello somehow get any value back in a trade?
The Islanders have approximately $76.6 million committed to 18 players for next season, including Bailey, with the salary-cap ceiling expected to rise just $1 million to $83.5 million.
The Islanders have qualified for the playoffs in four of Lamoriello’s five seasons and he has, time and again, placed great trust in the core of veterans. It paid off with berths in the NHL final four in 2020 and 2021.
Lamoriello’s big offseason move last summer after missing the playoffs — other than acquiring defenseman Alexander Romanov from the Canadiens — was promoting Lambert from associate coach as a “new voice” to replace the fired Barry Trotz. The results were mixed. Yes, the Islanders made the playoffs. No, they did not look like a team that could compete with the NHL’s elite.
So a more extensive renovation is needed.
Quite obviously, Lamoriello is not soliciting outside opinions on how to proceed. Still, here are some (unwanted) suggestions on offseason moves:
Trade a center
Third-liner Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a versatile, dogged player who can be used both on the power play and special teams. But he also might be expendable if Mathew Barzal, who was moved to right wing upon Bo Horvat’s acquisition from the Canucks on Jan. 30, is returned to center.
Barzal, who, like Horvat, will begin an eight-year extension next season, didn’t hide on breakup day that he’s more comfortable in the middle. He very well may have expressed that to management, too.
Pageau has three seasons left on a six-year, $30 million deal with a modified no-trade clause and will turn 31 in November. Brock Nelson, coming off a career-high 75 points, would fetch more in a trade, but the Islanders can better withstand Pageau’s subtraction.
Lamoriello might be able to bring back a scoring wing or a strong-skating defenseman who also can quarterback the power play for Pageau.
Vladimir Tarasenko, the former Blues sniper and, presumably, soon-to-be ex-Ranger via free agency, could be the scoring wing the Islanders need. Tarasenko isn’t a natural fit with the Islanders, given that he plays little to no defense, and he would be costly. But if Pageau and Bailey could be moved, or, in Bailey’s case, bought out, plus with Varlamov’s $5 million cap hit coming off the books presumably via free agency, maybe there’s a match.
Righty defenseman Damon Severson is likely to leave the Devils via free agency. He’s two years younger than Mayfield and would provide more offense, plus he could potentially play on the power play. Lamoriello drafted him 60th overall for the Devils in 2012.
Top-pair defenseman Ryan Pulock, who turns 29 in October, has a no-trade clause with seven seasons remaining on an eight-year, $49.2 million deal. But a righty defenseman in his prime on an affordable deal could bring back a huge return. Not likely at all, but maybe worth kicking the tires.
Think about the future
Lamoriello is always in win-now mode, but this organization needs more prospects and should consider trading back into the first round. Remember, Lamoriello has used first-round picks in trades for Pageau, Kyle Palmieri, Romanov and Horvat and has not picked in the first round since taking Simon Holmstrom 23rd overall in 2019.