Like the rest of the organization he now runs, Lou Lamoriello is excited about the Islanders’ plan to play home games at a modern arena at Belmont Park. But the president and general manager also is focusing on shorter-term goals to improve the franchise.
“It’s certainly big for the fans and the organization and for the future of the organization when you have ownership in Scott Malkin committed,” Lamoriello told Newsday in a telephone interview on Monday. “We know it’s going to come about. I’ve had the opportunity to see the plans. It’s something exciting. It’s a state-of-the-art facility. The players should also be excited. But that’s a little bit away. We have to focus on how we play now.”
Lamoriello has been extremely busy since being hired on May 22, notably hiring coach Barry Trotz on June 21, two weeks after Trotz lifted the Stanley Cup with the Capitals.
Monday was no different. The Islanders signed Czech-born center Jan Kovar out of the KHL and re-signed left wing Ross Johnston, a restricted free agent. Lamoriello continues to build organizational depth despite losing free agent John Tavares, who got a seven-year, $77-million deal from his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this month.
The Islanders and Maple Leafs, along with the Sharks, Lightning, Stars and Bruins, made presentations to Tavares and his agent, Pat Brisson, in Los Angeles during the negotiating window leading up to the start of free agency.
“I was extremely disappointed with the window of interviews; that was not the intention of how the league and union intended it,” said Lamoriello, declining to go into further details as to what irked him about the process. “I was very disappointed with the way the process was. I’ve never seen it like this one.”
The Islanders have missed the playoffs the past two seasons and have won only one series since 1993, but Lamoriello is optimistic about the team’s future.
“We’re going to have to see who we are in training camp,” he said. “But I feel very good about this group. I feel very good about the coaching staff. As far as any predictions, I’ve never done that.”
The proposed arena at Belmont Park must receive environmental approvals and is not supposed to open until the 2021-22 season. For now, the Islanders will split home games between the refurbished Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center.
The Islanders will play 20 home games at their former home in Uniondale this season.
When asked if he considers splitting home games between two arenas any sort of obstacle, Lamoriello said, “I’m not even going to think about it. I’m not looking at it as any difficulty at all. We know what we have to do. Two teams have to play in the same building.”
As for other personnel moves, Lamoriello was emphatic that center Brock Nelson, 26, a restricted free agent who has filed for arbitration after receiving a $3.5-million qualifying offer, will remain an Islander.
“We just have to work through it,” Lamoriello said. “He will be on the roster one way or the other.”
He said he has confidence in a goaltending tandem of Robin Lehner, who signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal after the Sabres failed to extend him a qualifying offer, and Thomas Greiss.
“The players determine where they play and how they play,” Lamoriello said. “Robin has more experience being a No. 1 than Thomas.”