Big changes needed if Islanders miss the playoffs
Let’s address the next 2½ months first: GM Lou Lamoriello and his band of aging Islanders deserve the opportunity to somehow wriggle out of this mess.
Stranger things have happened, and in the NHL, merely sneaking into the playoff field often is enough to do damage come late spring.
Lamoriello and his players – along with former coach Barry Trotz – are responsible for the second-greatest era in team history and have earned that much.
But in the likely event it does not work out for a team ESPN’s P.K. Subban fairly labeled slow and old the other day, it will be time for changes.
Big changes, ones that fans will demand involve more than Lamoriello handing the reins to his son, Chris.
Islanders ownership’s mantra in recent years has been, “In Lou We Trust.”
That’s fine. But with the All-Star break at hand and the Islanders outside of a playoff spot, fans have a right to turn to ownership itself seeking some trust of their own.
If this continues, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky will be on the clock, and must be ready to begin a rebuild, a process Lamoriello has said is not his thing.
The first hint of where this is going will be the March 3 trade deadline, when we see if Lamoriello is willing to part with assets – or try to add some for a late run – pending how February goes.
None of it will be easy. The list of free agents-to-be headed by Semyon Varlamov, Zach Parise and Scott Mayfield will pale in comparison to the many veterans who still will be under contract come October.
Lamoriello’s actions in 2022 helped set up this situation and opened him up to first-guessers far and wide.
When he decided to stand pat at last season’s trade deadline in March, I wrote this:
“Could it work? Sure it could. But it had better, because by not unloading assets such as Semyon Varlamov for other current or future needs, Lamoriello signaled that he expects this win-now team to win now — or at least next season.”
When he fired Trotz in May, I wrote this:
“By parting ways with coach Barry Trotz, saying the team ‘needs a new voice,’ Lamoriello further put himself on the line as the better-be-right decision-maker for a core group whose last hurrah could well be the 2022-23 season.”
Well, here we are. To his credit, Lamoriello, 80, does not shy away from any of this.
“There are no excuses because that’s on me, totally on me,” he said in Ottawa on Wednesday. “That’s my responsibility to make us the best we possibly can, to make whatever changes we can.
“It’s not on the coaching staff. That’s not on players, and I take that responsibility.”
Subban merely was saying bluntly what most who follow the NHL believe about this team.
It has good goaltending, a dynamic playmaker in Mathew Barzal, leaders and strong character from captain Anders Lee on down and um . . . grit?
It does have grit.
Fans are on edge. There have been “fire Lou” chants at UBS Arena, and worse, empty seats, including against the Red Wings on Friday night.
The boos started after the first failed power play, and by game’s end the Islanders were three for their last 63 attempts with the man advantage.
But no one should expect this team to go quietly, not after all it has been through in recent years. The Islanders found a way on Friday, winning, 2-0, and fans left relatively happy.
The rhythmic “Let’s Go Islanders” car horn chant was heard in the parking lot, and there was singing on both sides of the Elmont train station platform, sounds heard too infrequently this season.
With the walls closing in from voices in the news media and fan base, I asked Lee about the importance of solidarity within the dressing room walls.
“It’s part of our business and what goes on, but there is a lot that happens with us and in our room, little things that are tough to describe sometimes,” he said. “It’s tough to understand (for outsiders).”
The Islanders pride themselves on how close-knit they are, in part a function of the fact many have spent an extraordinarily long time together by NHL standards.
But in sports, keeping the band together rarely works. Athletes’ life spans are too short for that. Standing pat usually is not an option.
Lamoriello and the core players of this era will be remembered forever in team lore. But absent dramatic change, in a few months the memories might be all that is left.