Lou Lamoriello is looking forward to next season, not back on why the Islanders lost franchise player John Tavares to his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs via free agency.
“First of all, we did everything I think we possibly could to keep John,” the Islanders president said on Thursday on SiriusXM NHL Network. “He’s been an exceptional player for the Islanders. But he now is with another team so that’s the past.”
Coach Barry Trotz also appeared on Sirius XM NHL Network later on Thursday, marking the first public comments from either him or Lamoriello since Tavares agreed to a seven-year, $77-million deal with the Maple Leafs on Sunday.
“It’s a big blow losing a John Tavares,” Trotz said. “I understand everybody’s concern and they have a sky-is-falling mentality. But I can tell you this team is very young. The future is really bright. We’re right around the corner from doing something great.
“When John did make his decision, I can’t tell you how many players texted and said, ‘We’re going to be just fine. We’re going to miss John but we’ve got a lot of good pieces here and we’re going to get it done as a collective group,’” Trotz added. “That is a sign of a group that understands it has to have a team mindset, not an individual mindset. That’s a huge step for any organization going forward.”
The Islanders were the only team able to offer Tavares an eight-year deal and they also reportedly offered $11.25 million annually.
Still, Lamoriello, the Maple Leafs general manager the past three seasons, said he does not believe the Islanders are rebuilding under Trotz, who led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup last season before departing because of a salary impasse.
“In Toronto, we had to really break it right down and get to the core and see who wanted to be a part of it,” Lamoriello said. “There is more talent here at this given time from the original core. So I think that it’s different. It’s not a break down. It’s really finding out exactly how high the level is of the players you do have here. There’s a couple of exceptional hockey players here in my opinion as far as their talent.”
Mathew Barzal, the heir apparent to Tavares as the franchise player and No. 1 center, had 22 goals and 63 assists as he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. Left wing Anders Lee scored 40 goals and second-year forward Anthony Beauvillier chipped in 21 goals and 15 assists.
“We’ve got some good, young players,” Trotz said. “Some players are going to have to elevate and move up in the lineup a little bit.”
While Tavares departed for the Maple Leafs, Lamoriello signed unrestricted free agent Robin Lehner to a one-year, $1.5-million deal to potentially address the Islanders’ need for a No. 1 goalie. The Islanders allowed an NHL-worst 293 goals last season.
Lamoriello said the figure “astonished” him but added, “I do know with Barry and I’s style and philosophy, that’s not going to be too difficult to take care of.”
“I think Robin Lehner is a unique case,” Lamoriello added of the 6-foot-4, 245-pound goalie who went 14-26-9 with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage for the Sabres last season. “He has something you can’t teach: Size and talent. Hopefully our coaching staff can get him back to the form he was at.”
Lamoriello also acknowledged overpaying for UFA center Leo Komarov, who left the Maple Leafs for a four-year, $12-million deal, but said teams must overpay for most free agents and that the 31-year-old Russian will help change the Islanders’ culture.
“He’s going to bring intangibles that you can’t teach,” Lamoriello said.