Five offseason questions facing the Islanders
1. Will Lou Lamoriello and Lane Lambert return?
The Islanders have reached the playoffs in four of Lamoriello’s five seasons as the president/general manager, but he is believed to be nearing the end of his original five-year deal to run the franchise. At 80, he is as energetic as ever, but his win-now philosophy has depleted the organization’s prospect and draft pool. Moving on from Lamoriello would indicate committing to an organizational rebuild, but that might be tough given that the salary cap is rising just $1 million to $83.5 million and the Islanders are locked into multiple long-term deals with players either already over 30 or approaching 30. Lambert guided the Islanders to a 42-31-9 record and a wild-card berth in his first season as the head coach after four seasons as the associate coach under Barry Trotz. He likely will return if Lamoriello does. A new GM, however, might want to hire his own coach.
2. Should the organization still trust the core group of players?
Management and the players had confidence that the group still was as good as it was in 2020 and 2021, when it reached the NHL semifinals. But inconsistent offensive production, some defensive deficiencies and a sputtering power play — with an alarming dip in play in the last two categories by 23-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson — indicated otherwise. Anders Lee, who will turn 33 this summer, scored 28 goals for a second straight season but isn’t pouncing on as many pucks around the crease. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, 30, has a modified no-trade clause over the final three seasons of his six-year, $30 million deal and had 13 goals and 27 assists in 70 games. Fourth-liners Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck are entering the last season of their deals. Expecting this group as constituted to improve is a reach.
3. Which free agents could or should be re-signed?
Forwards Pierre Engvall, Hudson Fasching and Zach Parise, defensemen Scott Mayfield and Parker Wotherspoon and goalie Semyon Varlamov will be unrestricted free agents. Right wing Oliver Wahlstrom, rookie defenseman Samuel Bolduc and AHL goalie Jakub Skarek are restricted free agents. The Islanders have approximately $76.6 million committed to 18 players for next season. Mayfield, a top-four defenseman for the Islanders, is completing a team-friendly five-year, $7.25 million deal and may find bigger offers elsewhere. The same may be true for Engvall, a nice pre-trade deadline pickup, as he comes off a one-year, $2.25 million deal. Fasching was a find after signing a one-year, $750,000 deal but probably would be more effective in a fourth-line role rather than playing on the third line. Parise may retire. Varlamov, completing a four-year, $20 million deal, would have to take a significant pay cut to stay with the Islanders to serve as Ilya Sorokin’s backup. Other teams may see him as a starter.
4. Is there help coming from within?
Not much. Forward prospects William Dufour, 21, and Arnaud Durandeau, 24, had brief looks this season during strong seasons with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, but neither may project as a top-six forward. Ruslan Iskhakov, 22, also was good for Bridgeport, but at 5-9, 165, he may be too small for big-time NHL success. Defensemen Robin Salo, 24, and Bolduc, 22, showed they weren’t ready for a full-time NHL role, though both will get another chance in training camp. Skarek isn’t ready to be Sorokin’s backup.
5. Has Josh Bailey’s time with the Islanders come to an end?
The longest-tenured Islander — third on the franchise list with 1,057 games played — was a healthy scratch for all six playoff games and 10 of the last 12 regular-season games. The Islanders likely will try to move the last season of his six-year, $30 million deal to a team like the Coyotes, who need to take on salary to reach the salary-cap floor. A draft pick or prospect might have to be added as an inducement to make the deal. If not, a buyout is possible.