Lou Lamoriello believes the Islanders are a “good team.” He also knows his club still has to prove it’s good enough to make the playoffs.
“I have a lot of confidence in this group because they’ve shown it; they have a lot of confidence in themselves right now,” the president and general manager said on Thursday in East Meadow as the Islanders resumed practicing after their combined eight-day All-Star break and bye week. “But we have to respect the schedule that we have coming up. We have to respect that we’ve been healthy, reasonably, up to this point.
“But we’re a good hockey team right now,” added Lamoriello, in his first season with the Islanders after winning three Stanley Cups with the Devils and spending the previous three seasons as the Maple Leafs’ general manager. “I don’t want to deny that because we’ve had to earn where we’re at and they deserve the credit. But we have to sustain it. It gets tougher and tougher and tougher.”
The Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders (29-15-5), seeking their first playoff berth since 2016, will face the NHL-leading Lightning (37-11-2) on Friday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
While Lamoriello said he has confidence in how the Islanders are currently constructed, he could look to make improvements before the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25.
“Right now, we’re still going through some stages where we have to see who we are, and we’ll know a little better in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
By then, the Islanders might have a better idea of when defenseman Thomas Hickey, out with an upper-body injury since Dec. 18, and left wing Andrew Ladd, sidelined with a lower-body injury since Nov. 15, can be activated off injured reserve.
Lamoriello said both are skating on their own and will be able to join their teammates for optional practices.
“It’s just a case of them getting into condition so they’re ready to play,” he said. “As far as the injuries, they’re in the past. It’s just getting into hockey shape.”
The upcoming trade deadline also might be a factor regarding the Islanders’ impending unrestricted free agents. That includes captain Anders Lee, center Brock Nelson and right wing Jordan Eberle — the team’s top line — as well as goalie Robin Lehner. He went into the break leading the NHL with a 2.02 goals-against average and tied for first with a .931 save percentage while on a one-year, $1.5-million deal.
Lee is on an expiring four-year, $15-million deal, Nelson is playing on a one-year, $4.25-million pact and Eberle is on a six-year, $36-million contract. Third-line center Valtteri Filppula (one year, $2.75 million), spare forward Tom Kuhnhackl (one year, $700,000) and seventh defenseman Luca Sbisa (one year, $1.5 million) also will be UFAs.
“We’d like to keep them all,” Lamoriello said. “Each one of the free agents has done an exceptional job for us. I don’t look at them as free agents. I look at them as Islanders players today. We’ll deal with that at the appropriate time.”
He quickly added, “I have no definition of ‘appropriate time.’ ”
When it was noted to him that UFAs might be a touchy subject for the Islanders after losing ex-captain John Tavares to the Maple Leafs, Lamoriello replied, “Whatever is in the past is in the past.”
He also repeated that no decision has been made about whether the Islanders will play postseason games at the Coliseum or Barclays Center if they qualify for the playoffs.
“I’d like to get in before I worry about that,” he said. “That will also come at the appropriate time and the NHL will be involved in that.”