This is the latest file in THN.com’s ongoing “Three Important Questions” feature. In this series, we ask three key questions for every NHL team ahead of the start of the 2022-23 regular season. We ask three important questions about New Yorkers in today’s issue.
Three burning questions for islands in 2022-2023:
1. Will the status quo bring the Isles back to the playoffs after the hugely disappointing 2021-22 season? Last season, the COVID-19 pandemic damaged islanders’ Stanley Cup aspirations. As the year approached, the islands were expected to be the favorites in the cup, but as the season began, it became clear that the islanders, healthy or not, had more problems than just their health. Coach Barry Trotz once again gave them a defensive structure, but in attack, they didn’t have enough elite talent to compete with the top teams in the highly competitive capital division.
For example, the sixth-placed Columbus Blue Jackets scored 31 more goals than the islands, and the seventh-placed New Jersey Devils scored 17 more. The islanders had only two players who scored more than 18 goals in a season; Only three players collected more than 50 points; No player scored more than 59 points. It doesn’t matter how good your defense and goalkeeping are if you can’t damage the ball, and so Isles general Lou Lamorillo moved quickly (and surprisingly) in the off-season to change his side’s appearance behind the bench, shooting Trotz and replacing him with long-time assistant Lyn Lambert.
However, when it came to the squad, Lamoreello stood out for the most part, acquiring former Canadian De Mans player Alexander Romanov, but other than that, he kept his squad the same. In some ways, this is a vote of confidence in his veteran group, but there are also questions about Lamoriello and the islands not being a favorite destination for NHL free agents and commercial candidates. Regardless, we’ll see how competitive the 2022-23 Islanders really are, and there’s no doubt Lamoreello would feel the heat if his group didn’t have what it takes to get into the post-season. Not to mention being a legitimate contender for the Cup.
2. Does the group of attackers on the relatively old islands have enough attackers in the tank to keep the islands in conflict? The Islanders’ group of top strikers is one of the oldest in the game: nine of the top strikers are 29 or older, and four are 32 or older. Lambert inherits a group of strikers who only had one player – winger Zach Barris – to appear in all 82 regular season games.
The islands simply don’t have enough depth of talent to thrive in the wake of yet another injury foul defeat, and Lamorillo is only $2.3 million in the salary cap space in which he can make moves in a season. He’ll be hard-pressed to make improvements without giving up draft picks and/or expectations, and even then, the Islands don’t have the deepest pool of young rookies to use as bait in the trade. For better or worse, it’s very likely that they are stuck in this band. And there is every reason to doubt that they have enough skill to beat the Bluejackets, Devils, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in one of the underground courts this year.
3. Is Matthew Barzal the number one spot? Since his first full season in the National Hockey League in 2017-18, Berzal has made his way into the hearts of Islanders fans eager to secure a legitimate top spot on their team. But after scoring 22 goals in his rookie season, Berzal was unable to score more than that – and last season, he scored 15 goals in the National Hockey League – a low – 15 goals in 73 games. While it is true that Barzal Adel had a career high of 44 assists in 2021-22, he is no longer remembered as one of the most dynamic talents in the game, and at the age of 25, this was worrisome.
So is the fact that this is Barzal’s last season under his current contract which carries an average annual value of $7 million per year. He’ll still be under the team’s control as a restricted free agent, but how do you justify giving Berzal a significant raise when he didn’t rise to the top of the sport in the way many thought he would just two seasons ago? According to CapFri Friendly.com, the Isles are expected to have more than $21.275 million in maximum space, so they have the means to keep Barzal, but what is the right price for a player whose development appears to have stalled? You can blame some of your Barzal teammates, but at some point, you have to demand more from the player himself.
The way that Barzal plays could determine how close the islands are to a playoff this year. If he returns to fame, Lamoreello will be happy to reward him with a great pay. However, if he continues to raise his profile as a talent who cares about crime, it will be very interesting to see what kind of contract extension he earns.