BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello’s mandate was to improve this team as quickly as possible. Free agency would have served as a way to achieve his objective. It would have made Islanders fans feel good that he has his eye on the prize of making this team back to being a Stanley Cup contender.
Lamoriello acted like he had a plan when he addressed the media after the firing of head coach Barry Trotz. He said he had an idea of what he can do to improve the team. He felt this team was good enough to be a Stanley Cup contender.
Two days have passed since free agency started, and the Islanders have been the only NHL team to not sign a free agent. Understandably, Islanders fans are questioning what exactly is Lamoriello doing.
It was unrealistic to think the Islanders were signing Johnny Gaudreau, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Lamoriello was not going to overpay to get him there. He is not a believer in overpaying guys that he is not familiar with to play for his team, which goes back to his days as the Devils general manager.
Still, for the Islanders to do nothing, this should be concerning. The least they could do is sign Lightning sharpshooter Ondrej Palat, but they did not as he signed with the Devils for a five-year, $30 million contract.
It says here this team is not any better than it was last season. It’s the same roster with players only going to be a year older. Oh, and no one knows if Ilya Sorokin will be back if Russian dictator Vladimir Putin decides the Islanders goaltender needs to serve in the military in the war against Ukraine. Oh, and their competitors in the Metropolitan Division keep getting better. Right now, it’s hard to fork up the money to go to UBS Arena and watch this product next season.
The Islanders don’t have that many goal scorers, to begin with. It was a struggle for the team to generate offense all season long. Their power play has been atrocious for a long time. They needed a playmaker who can complement Mat Barzal’s passing skills and tap Anthony Beauvillier’s talent.
They just needed anyone at this point. Even Palat would have been a help. So what if he or anyone is overpaid. That’s the price a team has to pay to get that guy.
The purpose of free agency is to provide a quick fix for a team that is desperate to upgrade. The opportunity was there for the Islanders general manager. He clearly didn’t believe much in the guys out there for him to sign. It just could be Lamoriello needs to hope he can get a player like Patrick Kane in a trade for this offseason to be salvageable. If not, it’s going to be hard to take this team seriously as a Stanley Cup contender, let alone a playoff team. Coming up short is not going to cut it after firing a popular head coach in what was a disappointing season.
The Hall of Fame general manager decided not to speak with the press these last two days. Maybe he’s busy. But at some point, the Islanders fans need to get answers from him about what’s next. They have to feel secure that he has a plan and that he knows what he is doing. They need him to do something rather than speak to the media if we are being honest.
And that’s the problem. Islanders fans lost faith In Lamoriello. They feel the game passed him by, and they also think at his age, he may not have the stamina to keep up with talking to agents. Let’s disagree on the latter here. That’s a little too much. The former could be a talking point.
Lamoriello feels defense and goaltending win championships. He is not wrong, and he saw this with his Devils teams winning three Stanley Cups. But hockey is a different game now. It’s more offensively oriented. Yes, defense and goaltending matter, but scoring wins games, too. Go back to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last year when the Islanders played well defensively yet they could not score a goal against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in that game, which had them eliminated. It does not matter how great the goaltender and defensemen are if a team does not score goals. The object of the game is to score.
There’s still time for him to get it done. It’s hard to count him out. He earned the right to get the benefit of the doubt. He knows he has to get something done.
It would have been nice if the Islanders traded the No. 13 pick for a scorer rather than for a defenseman in Alexander Romanov. It wasn’t meant to be. Make no mistake that It wasn’t for lack of trying. It sure wasn’t because Lamoriello lost his magic touch. It takes two to tango. There’s a chance that the other team may not like what Lamoriello offers, which probably explains why the Islanders were never in to acquire Max Pacioretty or Brent Burns.
There in lies the rub – Trades are hard to make. That’s why he should have at least signed a couple of free agents, even if he did not believe in free agency. It would have provided the Islanders with some insurance to address the offense.
Make no mistake. There’s pressure on Lamoriello to improve this team. Forget the fans. He has to answer to Islanders owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, too. He fired a great head coach with the pressure on him to improve the team. If he comes up short, not only he must deal with the fans, but he has to deal with his bosses.
Ledecky and Malkin are patient, but there’s a limit, too. They want to win as much as the Islanders fans.
Let’s not forget that Lamoriello is in the final year of his contract. He either could retire in Dave Gettleman style as in being forced out or his contract won’t be renewed.
Right now, he is not helping his cause.
This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6
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