Lou Lamoriello, embarking upon the third chapter of his remarkable career as an NHL executive as the Islanders president of hockey operations, does not believe his new organization is in rebuild mode.
“He wants to win now,” a league source said of Lamoriello, 75. “He took the job because he thought he had the assets.”
Still, Lamoriello has already begun a no-stone-left-unturned evaluation of the organization, including its player personnel. He will also decide the fate of current general manager Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight.
No doubt, Lamoriello, the general manager of the Maple Leafs the past three seasons and, before that, the president and general manager of the Devils since 1987, has some familiarity with the Islanders’ player assets, especially with his son, Chris, the assistant GM under Snow the past three seasons.
“First of all, if you’ve been in the league as long as I’ve been, certainly playing against teams, you know the other 30 teams very well,” Lamoriello said on a teleconference on Tuesday. “Being across the river (with the Devils), I know the personnel. I’m comfortable with the personnel. I don’t know enough about the ins and outs. That’s going to take time.”
There is certainly some validity to Lamoriello’s belief that the organization has some good assets. At the same time, it’s not a secret the organization is thin in spots.
Specifically, there’s a need for a No. 1 goalie, which could well come at the cost of one of the Islanders two first-round picks at Nos. 11 and 12, with those picks representing some of the organization’s most valuable assets.
There’s also the need for at least one, and quite possibly two, top-four NHL defensemen. The Capitals John Carlson — who grew up in Colonia, N.J. — will likely be the best available defenseman on the free agent market.
Two other top-flight players expected to be available as free agents also have ties to Lamoriello.
Left wing James van Riemsdyk, 29, of Middletown, N.J., had 36 goals and 18 assists last season, his sixth with the Maple Leafs. And left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, 35, is looking to return to the league after playing the last five seasons in his native Russia following his NHL “retirement” three seasons into a 15-year, $100 million deal with the Devils.
The positive for the Islanders is there’s strong talent up front, even if Lamoriello is unable to re-sign impending unrestricted free agent John Tavares.
Center Mathew Barzal, who turns 21 on Saturday, compiled 22 goals and 63 assists while playing all 82 games and is expected to win the Calder Trophy next month as the NHL’s best rookie. Anders Lee, 27, scored a career-high 40 goals last season, and is entering the final season a four-year, $15-million deal.
Dependable right wing Josh Bailey, 28, had a career-high 71 points last season with 18 goals and 53 assists and will be in the first season of a six-year, $30 million extension. Left wing Anthony Beauvillier, 20, had 21 goals and 15 assists in his second NHL season.
Defenseman Ryan Pulock, 23, had 10 goals and 22 assists as a rookie.
However, forward Travis St. Denis, the leading scorer for Bridgeport (AHL), is 25 and younger forward prospects Josh Ho-Sang, 22, the 28th overall pick in 2014, and Michael Dal Colle, 21, the fifth overall pick in 2014, have yet to prove NHL ready.
It will be interesting to see whether top goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin, 22, who has a KHL contract through 2020, signals his desire to come to North America with Lamoriello running the Islanders. A report out of Russia earlier this offseason suggested Sorokin wanted to see stronger management for the Islanders.