It’s always hard to predict Lou Lamoriello’s next move because the Islanders president and general manager telegraphs his thinking to so few. In some cases, none.
But Lamoriello has clearly paved the way to make a significant move prior to the April 12 trade deadline by placing captain Anders Lee (torn right anterior cruciate ligament) on long-term injured reserve and freeing his $7 million salary-cap hit to be used above the NHL’s $81.5 million cap ceiling.
Scoring help is needed with the top-line left wing out for the season. So is defense depth. There are plenty of names being bandied about as potential trade targets.
But with most teams facing a cap crunch because of a flat cap ceiling caused by the revenue losses of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be an unpredictable trade market.
"I think what we have right now is we have balance throughout the lineup," Lamoriello said. "The young players who have come in have done an exceptional job. They were ready when the opportunity came. And they also know that it’s going to get a little tougher as you go towards the end of the season. But I think they’re ready for that.
"Sometimes you add and it takes away from other players. You have to be very careful. Chemistry, to me, is as important as anything."
Second-year defenseman Noah Dobson — despite his stint on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list — and rookie Oliver Wahlstrom have taken on full-time roles. Rookie Kieffer Bellows is getting a good chance with Lee injured.
But Lamoriello is looking to add. And he is looking at character as much as contribution, that combination being why the organization pursued Jean-Gabriel Pageau at last season’s trade deadline.
If that’s all the case, Devils’ impending free agent right wing Kyle Palmieri — who was born in Smithtown — may be the perfect fit.
He plays the hard-edged game coach Barry Trotz prefers. He has scored at least 24 goals in each of his five full seasons with the Devils, with a career-high of 30 in 2015-16. His reasonable cap figure of $4.65 million would also allow the Islanders to pursue a defenseman. Off the ice, Palmieri’s foundation Squad 21 has afforded military members the chance to attend Devils games and interact with him.
Lamoriello will do what he thinks best, and tell nobody about it in advance.
But Palmieri is his and Trotz’s kind of player.
Boychuk’s new role
An eye injury forced defenseman Johnny Boychuk into de facto retirement prior to this season but his effervescent personality is still present.
Boychuk has been on ice during some practices in an unofficial assistant coach’s role and has also spent many games in a suite with Lamoriello. Boychuk is learning Lamoriello’s method of management while Lamoriello has great respect for Boychuk’s "old school" take on hockey.
"If anyone knows Johnny Boychuk, you know why I encouraged him to stay close to us," Lamoriello said. "He has a tremendous amount of knowledge. He’s played in the league. He’s played in the division. More importantly, the character that he brings and the sounding block because you get things from a player’s perspective. And he communicates with the players.
"We’re very fortunate and we’ll do everything to keep him here as long as he’d like to."
Boychuk’s seven-year, $42 million deal runs through next season and the Islanders placed him on LTIR to apply his $6 million salary cap hit above the $81.5 million cap ceiling.
Lamoriello said he was unsure of whether Boychuk wants a permanent position in the organization once his contract expires.
"We will find a role for him," Lamoriello said. "But it has to be a role that he feels he’s contributing because that’s the type of person John is."
Back to boos
It didn’t take long for the season-ticket holders to boo the Islanders despite not being at Nassau Coliseum for more than a year. The fans voiced their displeasure as the Islanders headed off the ice for Thursday’s second intermission after the Flyers scored three, second-period goals to fuel a 4-3 win.
It was the first game the Islanders had a sell-out of 1,391 season-ticket holders, the allotted 10% of the building’s capacity. Coach Barry Trotz said the crowd’s energy was easily felt.
"Yeah, you could during the [third-period] comeback," Trotz said. "And the booing as well, which we well deserved. That was good. That’s to know you’re back in New York and in a New York rink when they boo you."