Lou Lamoriello spoke of making “hockey trades” this offseason to improve the Islanders. But the president and general manager executed only one, importing slick-skating, hard-hitting, 22-year-old defenseman Alexander Romanov from the Canadiens for a first-round pick.
Otherwise, the players that report for the opening of training camp on Wednesday — the first on-ice sessions will be Thursday — are essentially the same as last season when the Islanders missed the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
And the players are happy there was not a major roster upheaval, the biggest change being Lane Lambert’s promotion from associate coach to replace the fired Barry Trotz.
“What we did at last year’s trade deadline solidified that Lou believes in this group,” defenseman Adam Pelech said of Lamoriello not trading away players as playoff rentals while re-signing veterans Cal Clutterbuck and Zach Parise.
“Even the trade in the summer, a first-rounder for Romanov, it’s great to have that confidence from our general manager, that he believes this group can win and to be trading draft picks for assets that can help us right now. As a current player, that’s all you can ask for. It’s a great message from the general manager and I think everyone realizes that and that we’re in a win-now mode.”
The Islanders had high expectations last season after reaching the NHL final four in back-to-back years before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning. But COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the Islanders’ schedule and roster and the team was not able to recover from their sluggish play through December.
“Our group is a strong group,” captain Anders Lee said. “I don’t think it was the group. Collectively, we just didn’t put it all together last year and I don’t think it was a personnel issue. We had a lot going on that kept us from performing the way we needed to. We had to overcome quite a bit of a hole. We didn’t have time to stumble any further than we already had early on. When we did a couple of times later, it was kind of devastating.”
Of course, Lamoriello likely will not be able to remain patient if the Islanders again start slowly.
“I’m happy with the faith that he’s shown in us,” Josh Bailey said. “It’s up to us now to go out there and do something about it.”
Notes & quotes: Zdeno Chara announced his retirement on Tuesday during a news conference in Boston. The Islanders drafted the 6-9, 250-pound Slovakian in the third round in 1996 and he spent his first four seasons with the team before returning to the Islanders in 2021-22 for his 24th NHL season. Chara, 45, had two goals (including one in the last minute of his last game) and 12 assists in 72 games and he completes his career with 1,680 games, an NHL record for defensemen . . . Defenseman Isaiah George, a fourth-round pick this summer, was unable to participate in the final day of Islanders prospect development camp after hurting his leg in Monday’s session.