Graziano: With Camp Approaching, Questions Loom For Islanders

Andy Graziano
August 30, 2019 - 1:17 pm
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Stop me if you heard this before ... The New York Islanders face questions as training camp for the 2019-20 season begins in two short weeks. 

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I always think of the famous exchange between Ted Striker and Rex Kramer from the slapstick comedy, ‘Airplane!’ when I reference Islanders fans - ‘Do you know what it's like to fall in the mud and get kicked... in the head... with an iron boot? Of course, you don't, no one does. It never happens. It's a dumb question... skip it.’

Oh, but it has happened to Islanders fans and plenty. Ownership follies, arena squabbles and a less than desired product on the ice over the past 30 years have led them to be an easy target for hockey fans. 

Things have turned around somewhat in the past two years, beginning with ownership stability in Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, a respected general manager Lou Lamoriello and a Stanley Cup and Jack Adams award-winning coach Barry Trotz. On the ice, Mathew Barzal leads after the departure of John Tavares and some defensive studs are waiting in the wings, champing at the bit to join Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. 

After a 2018-19 season that ended in disappointment, given the fact that so many top teams exited the playoffs early, seemingly opening the door for an extended run, Trotz stressed the need for more offense.

Since the Islanders scored two goals or less in half their games, I think everyone knew that already. But, so far, Lamoriello has only been able to sign his own while adding Derick Brassard to replace Valterri Filppula as third-line center and Semyon Varlamov to replace Robin Lehner.

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Given the fact that so many restricted free agents remain unsigned as we barrel towards September, there is still ample time for Lamoriello to make a noteworthy move. Mitch Marner, Mikko Rantanen, Brayden Point, Patrick Laine, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser, Kyle Connor and Charlie McAvoy are just some ridiculously insane talent who remains without a contract. 

New York is not rumored to be ‘in’ on any of them, however, to sign anyone you need cap space. And those players are not going to command small contracts. Activity is expected to heat up once they begin to be removed from the playing field and teams look to free up money. As it stands today, the Islanders sit with $6.3 million in available spending power, removing Ross Johnston and Tanner Fritz from the current listing on CapFriendly.

The wrinkle?

Barzal, Pulock and Toews all need new deals next summer. And with a potential lockout looming, don’t expect any conversations to take place for a while. The likely candidates to be moved in any deal involving the Islanders would be Nick Leddy ($5.5m AAV) and Thomas Hickey ($2.5m). However, that would just give them breathing room for the three aforementioned players, not necessarily allow them to bring in a coveted top-six winger who can score goals. 

Seriously, if you’re Barzal and Pulock, are you accepting a bridge deal or taking a lower AAV? Why should they? They have proven themselves to be NHL stars and likely will command as such. Toews appears more a candidate for a moderate one or two-year bridge to his next payday. 

It could end up being another season of ‘what you see is what you get’. And what you see is a lot of third and fourth line talent on one-way deals with no improvement to the goal-scoring woes of a year ago. What you see is a new goaltender with questionable durability taking over for a Masterton winner, shared Jennings trophy winner and Vezina finalist. 

Could Anthony Beauvillier provide the pop? Does Michael Dal Colle improve? Does Brock Nelson continue to thrive under Trotz? Can Noah Dobson help the power play? What does Brassard have left in the tank? Can Varlamov stay healthy and provide the consistency Lehner did? Does Casey Cizikas have another 20-goals in him?  Do they get the same ‘puck luck’ they did last year? 

All teams have questions heading into camp. There aren’t many who are ‘set’ per se. It just seems like the Islanders have more major ones than most, and with the most regularity of them all. We shall see shortly how the questions get answered.

Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyGraz_WFAN