These are the new Islanders.
Or at least that’s the plan.
Many of the veterans who will report to training camp on Thursday will be the same – the huge absence of former captain and franchise face John Tavares notwithstanding. But Lou Lamoriello was brought in as president and general manager and Barry Trotz was hired as coach to change the organization’s culture and fortunes.
The Islanders, who allowed an NHL-high 293 goals last season, have missed the playoffs the past two seasons and have won just one playoff series since 1993. Lamoriello won three Stanley Cups as the Devils’ boss from 1987 to 2015, and Trotz led the Capitals to their first Cup in June.
The first on-ice sessions of training camp take place Friday, and the first of eight preseason games is Sunday against the Flyers at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum at 1 p.m., the start of a stretch of six games in seven days.
“The next couple of days will be the foundation,” Trotz said. “Six games in seven days, we’ll be getting a lot of teaching in but it’s going to be a little difficult. We’ll give concepts, which guys can absorb it and implement it and maybe which guys are a little more challenged. We’re looking for the players’ ability to perform as a group and with a group, showing off what they do within a team concept.”
Two of the biggest questions entering training camp will be how the Islanders respond to the loss of Tavares after he signed a seven-year, $77-million deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs on July 1 and whether the Islanders can show defensive improvement.
The Islanders signed former Sabres and Senators goalie Robin Lehner, 27, to a make-good, one-year, $1.5-million deal after he went 14-26-9 with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage last season with Buffalo. The expectation is Lehner will replace Jaroslav Halak – signed as a free agent by the Bruins – in a tandem with Thomas Greiss, who went 13-8-2 with a 3.82 goals-against average and an .892 save percentage in his third season with the Islanders.
The Islanders lost defenseman Calvin de Haan to the Hurricanes via free agency but return six blue-liners from last season with the hope that Ryan Pulock, 23, will continue his strong development after notching 10 goals and 22 assists in 68 games as a rookie.
But the hope also is that some of the organization's young defense prospects can push for a roster spot through training camp. Devon Toews, 24, had eight goals and 14 assists in 30 games for Bridgeport (AHL) last season before suffering a shoulder injury. Sebastian Aho, 22, had a goal and three assists in 22 games with the Islanders last season and Bridgeport teammates Mitchell Vande Sompel and Parker Wotherspoon, both 21, also will be in camp. Noah Dobson, the 12th overall pick this June also will get a look.
Tavares’ absence leaves the Islanders, who have 10 forwards returning, looking for a No. 1 center and a captain. Mathew Barzal, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie after scoring 22 goals with 63 assists, is the obvious candidate to move up to the top line after centering the second line last season.
Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Johnny Boychuk are some of the veterans that could garner consideration as the next captain, if Trotz elects to name one.
Josh Ho-Sang, 22, and Kieffer Bellows, 20, should be among the forward prospects pushing for a spot, potentially among the top six. Czech-born Jan Kovar, 28, who played in the KHL the past five seasons, is also in the mix among the top nine.
There does seem to be a glut of bottom-six forwards after Lamoriello brought in ex-Penguin Tom Kuhnhackl, 26, ex-Flyer Valtteri Filppula, 34, ex-Maple Leaf Leo Komarov, 31 and re-acquired popular fourth-liner Matt Martin, 29.
“I’m excited about the players we do have,” Lamoriello said in August. “There are no preconceived notions going into camp.”