Are the New-Look New York Islanders Stanley Cup Contenders?
What’s Happening: After a great showing in the playoffs, it was obvious that New York Islanders’ General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, was going to have a lot of work ahead of him during the offseason. In particular, key players Anthony Beauvillier (forward), Adam Pelech (defenseman), and Ilya Sorokin (goalie) were all due to become Restricted Free Agents (RFA) and just signing them under the salary cap —ignoring all other holes — would be a challenge. That is, if the team couldn’t clear some cap space...
But, surely enough, Lamoriello swooped in to save the day. While it’s somebody we’re sure they would have liked to have kept, the Islanders shed defenseman Nick Leddy’s $5.5 Million cap hit in exchange for forward Richard Panik at a 50% discount (to $1.375 Million from $2.75 Million) and a second round pick. Then, making the most critical move of them all, the team eliminated Andrew Ladd’s dead weight contract, clearing $4.375 Million more but losing multiple (conditional) picks in the process — picks well spent as far as we’re concerned. Finally, and somewhat unfortunately, the Islanders cleared even more space when they lost Jordan Eberle —and his $5.5 Million contract — to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft.
Major Moves: While the majority of the signings took some time to materialize, most everything Islanders fans could have reasonably hoped for came to fruition. First, veteran defenseman Andy Greene was extended for one year at a cheap $750,000. Next, while the eight-year term might have been a bit much, Pelech was re-signed at a cap friendly hit of $5.75 Million. Then, with greater certainty in place, four signings came at once:
1. Sorokin at $4 Million for three years; 2. Free Agent (FA) re-signing of center Casey Cizikas at an affordable $2.5 Million for six years; 3. Beauvillier at $4.15 Million for three years; and 4. FA re-signing of forward Kyle Palmieri at a reasonable $5 Million for four years. And finally this past week, FA forward Zach Parise was officially signed, but the terms of the deal are yet to be disclosed.
The Bigger Picture: On paper, one can argue that the Islanders are right up there among the best teams in the league. While their regular season numbers are respectable — finishing 5th in points in 2018-19, 11th (in points percentage) in 2019-20, and 12th in 2020-21 — where they’ve made their biggest and most impressive impact has been in the playoffs; since bringing in Coach Barry Trotz for the 2018-19 season, the Islanders made it to the second round in 2018-19 and the semifinals in each of the past two seasons. Talk about impressive. In fact, the only team with better postseason results during this time frame is the Tampa Bay Lightning. And that’s where the biggest problem lies...
While the Islanders may now be the deepest team in the league at forward and in net, they fall short of the Lightning on four major fronts (in this order):
1. high-end scoring; 2. high-end goaltending; 3. high-end defense; and 4. defensive depth. Simply put, the Islanders’ are lacking on the high-end; sure, they may be deep, but the Lightning are arguably just as deep with better performers on the high-end. That said, thankfully, the Islanders might stand a chance given that a “three-peat” hasn’t happened since, ironically enough, the New York Islanders won four straight from 1980 to 1983. But all of this ignores the fact that they still need to get past the likes of the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche, and Vegas Golden Knights en route to a Stanley Cup win; getting past the first and second round is hard enough.
So, will the Islanders win the Stanley Cup this year? It’s possible, but it’s going to be tough. With 14 NHL-calibre forwards of depth and (likely) a need for at least one defenseman, we have a feeling that Lamoriello won’t stop at the Parise signing. If he can parlay the depth into some upgrades, or depth can beat out high-end talent when it matters most, don’t be surprised if the Islanders end up hoisting the Cup.
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