Over and over during their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders kept saying that the strength of their team was in their group. And of course, they’re right, in that there’s no one star who carried the team to a 103-point regular season and a stunning sweep of Sidney Crosby and Co.
But that doesn’t mean Barry Trotz’s team wouldn’t be able to function around a transcendent star, Islanders president and GM Lou Lamoriello said Tuesday on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio. Any notion that the Islanders are better off because John Tavares chose to sign with his hometown Maple Leafs instead of re-upping with the Isles last summer is mistaken, he said.
“Absolutely not,’’ Lamoriello said when Kay asked him if there was any truth to speculation that he preferred to let Tavares go, rather than pay him what it would have taken to re-sign him. Tavares signed with Toronto for seven years and $77 million.
“He would have been an asset to this team, there’s no question,’’ Lamoriello said, adding that the Islanders would not have tried to sign Tavares if they didn’t want him. “But that didn’t work out. He had every right to make the decision he made, and he’s in Toronto. But you go forward. You don’t allow anything to get in the way.’’
On the day after the Islanders closed out their series against the Penguins with a 3-1 victory Tuesday in Pittsburgh, Lamoriello did radio interviews with both Mike Francesa and Kay.
On WFAN, Francesa asked Lamoriello about the raucous atmosphere at Nassau Coliseum, and whether playing the rest of this spring’s home playoff games in Brooklyn, at the Barclays Center, would be a negative.
“We knew we’d be going into the Barclays Center [for all but the first round of the playoffs],’’ Lamoriello said. “We played there half-a-season. We’re not going to allow any change to get in the way of what we’re doing, at this point.’’
On both shows, Lamoriello praised the Coliseum, and compared it to some of the hallowed rinks in NHL history, like the Boston Garden, the Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. But, he said, an NHL team cannot survive, financially, in the Coliseum, with its small (less than 14,000) capacity and lack of luxury boxes.
But he admitted on Kay’s show that if he had his choice, he’d have kept all the playoff games in Uniondale.
“Probably. I wouldn’t kid you,’’ he said.
With Tampa Bay, which won a league-record 62 games in the regular season, being eliminated by underdog Columbus, Kay asked Lamoriello if he thought it might open the door for the Isles to perhaps get to the Stanley Cup finals.
“I don’t look that far ahead,’’ Lamoriello said, saying the Islanders are taking it one day at a time. “I think that whoever we play next round is going to be more difficult than the last round, because it gets tougher and tougher.’’
“Washington is still the team to beat, in my opinion, and has been the whole year,’’ he said. “They’re the defending champions, with the same team. And Carolina has just been a Cinderella team the whole year, and I think they’re going to give Washington a little run with the way they’re playing because they’ve been getting tremendous goaltending, and they have a good defense.’’