More will be expected of the Islanders next season.
That’s what finishing second in the Metropolitan Division after a 23-point improvement over the previous season and advancing to the second round of the NHL playoffs does.
“There’s a certain amount of expectation that’s going to be bestowed on us that wasn’t bestowed on us this year,” right wing Cal Clutterbuck said Monday as the Islanders conducted their exit interviews at East Meadow. “That’s the tough thing, coming back and recreating something. The positive to that is there was nothing fluky to this year. I don’t know if there was much luck involved in all of that.”
Of course, doing better next season is no guarantee. Free agency almost certainly will alter the roster. President and general manager Lou Lamoriello also will look to improve through the trade market. And there’s no telling how other teams will improve as well.
The goal for Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz is to improve the organization to the point where it is a perennial Stanley Cup contender. The Islanders missed the playoffs the previous two seasons. “We want to build a winning organization here and not be a one-hit wonder,” Trotz said.
“The bar to the outside is set high, higher than it usually is,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “For us, it doesn’t change much. We always had standards. There have been years we haven’t met them. For us, I don’t think it changes too much, but we just know we can do it.”
The Islanders thrived this season after former captain John Tavares left via free agency for the Maple Leafs.
“I think him leaving just cleared room for people to come into their own,” Clutterbuck said.
But now the Islanders face the possibility of losing captain Anders Lee, goalie Robin Lehner, right wing Jordan Eberle and centers Brock Nelson and Valtteri Filppula to free agency.
Regardless of who returns, Trotz knows Lamoriello will try to import more goal-scorers.
“If you look at the playoffs, we need a little more pop up front,” Trotz said. “We knew that, I think, all year.
“The expectations are different. There is expectations, from us internally, and there’s expectations from the rest of the league. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody.”
Lamoriello had an effective first offseason with the Islanders after being hired on May 22, 2018, even considering that Tavares went home to Toronto. Lamoriello re-acquired Matt Martin from the Maple Leafs to reconstitute the Islanders’ identity-setting fourth line. He signed Lehner to a make-good, one-year, $1.5 million deal, and he is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie. Filppula was good on and off the ice on a one-year, $2.75 million deal, and linemate Leo Komarov also provided intangible leadership qualities, even if his four-year, $12 million deal was a bit of a head scratcher.
The expectations for Lamoriello this offseason have similarly been raised.
“It’s not good enough just to win every once in a while and make the playoffs once every couple of years,” center Mathew Barzal said. “We want to be consistent in that and really put the Islanders back on the map as a contending team.”
The Islanders know the job is not completed. But the organization certainly has made strides.
Defenseman Johnny Boychuk, with the Islanders since 2014 after winning a Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011, sees very tangible changes.
“I appreciate it a lot more seeing where we were when I first got here,” Boychuk said. “It puts a smile on your face.”