“I will sign John Tavares,” said New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello to the franchise’s owner, Scott Malkin. Those five words sealed the deal for Malkin to hire Lamoriello as President of Hockey Operations in May 2018.
New York was coming off a roller coaster 2017-18 season where they scored a lot but couldn’t keep the puck out of the net. Their captain, John Tavares, had not even begun contract negotiations. In June, Lamoriello relieved Garth Snow to take over the current general manager role but kept Snow as an advisor. That same day, Lamoriello also parted ways with head coach Doug Weight.
Just before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Lamoriello made his most important addition by hiring head coach Barry Trotz. Trotz had just won the Stanley Cup but decided to step away from the Washington Capitals after Ted Leonis would not pay him what Trotz thought he was worth. Trotz brought along two of his most trustworthy assistants in Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn.
One cannot argue how well the Islanders drafted in 2018, selecting two young studs in Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson. Lamoriello did not necessarily lead the draft, as he allowed for Snow and his scouts to lead the way. It was considered to be a solid draft for New York.
2018 Free Agency
Just after the draft, the Islanders had decisions to make. Jaroslav Halak was out the door, heading to the Boston Bruins. Key guys in John Tavares and Calvin de Haan, another 2009 first-round pick, were unrestricted free agents. This was Lamoriello’s prime chance to make his mark on the roster. On paper, it was a disaster. In reality, good coaching made this better than expected.
Robin Lehner signed a safe one-year deal and became a fan favorite after his story came out. Lamoriello traded for Matt Martin after Tavares left, trying to put Islander fans in a good mood. In came Tom Kuhnhackl, Leo Komarov, and Valterri Filppula, three reliable bottom-six forwards with extensive postseason experience. New York improved a bit.
Trotz used training camp as a way to build on the Islander defense. What he noticed quickly was a team that was willing to work. It took until December for New York to thrive with his system.
This season, Lamoriello gave up on prospect Josh Ho-Sang about midway through after Ho-Sang missed a key meeting with Barry Trotz. While Ho-Sang had a clean slate heading into the Lamoriello era, Lou failed to provide him the support that he needed. When given options to guide Ho-Sang to the professional level, he balked and said, “We don’t do that here.”
The Islanders traded offense for defense which led to a first-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. After two strong home games against the Carolina Hurricanes, the offense mustered one goal and was swept a week later.
Lamoriello was patient during his first season with the Islanders, believing no changes needed to be made at the time.
2019 Islanders Draft
Last year’s Draft in Vancouver had the Islanders focus more on depth than present needs. New York added five quality prospects in Simon Holmstrom, Samuel Bolduc, Reece Newkirk, Felix Bibeau, and Cole Coskey. Holmstrom signed with the Islanders and went straight to the AHL.
2019 Free Agency
Lamoriello had his eyes set on Artemi Panarin, as did the entire organization. To get Panarin to the Islanders, New York decided to move on from Robin Lehner, believing that Panarin and Semyon Varlamov were who the Islanders needed to take the next step. Lamoriello wanted a mentor for Ilya Sorokin in the future too, which Varlamov was probably more able to provide.
The Islanders made an offer to Panarin that would have had a higher salary cap hit than what Panarin signed for but less take-home pay because the deal did not have a signing bonus. After Kevin Durant shutout the Knicks announcing he was heading to Brooklyn, Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton, who originally ruled the team out of the Panarin sweepstakes, received an order to go hard after Panarin. Panarin took that offer straight to the Islanders and said, “do this and we have a deal.” Ownership approved but Lamoriello walked away.
Throughout the 2019-20 season, the Islanders needed more scoring help. Having Panarin playing with Mathew Barzal or Brock Nelson as his center could have made a difference in a few games. Lamoriello severely hurt the Islanders, focusing instead on winning one-goal or lowing scoring games.
New York added Derick Brassard to the fold later that summer, a smart signing. Brassard just could not replicate his success from earlier in his career.
The Islanders started their campaign with a strong preseason. After going 1-3-0 in their first four games, they went on a 22-6-3 tear heading into the Christmas break.
Adam Pelech injured himself on January 2 in a pregame soccer ritual and the Islanders began going downhill from there. When the season stopped on March 12, New York was on a 7-game losing streak.
Lamoriello made his first in-season trade on February 16 when he acquired Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils. 10 days later at the trade deadline, he traded for JG Pageau and immediately signed him to a long-term deal. Both players had expiring contracts. Pageau resulted in a first-round pick and two seconds heading to Ottawa, a solid return for the Senators. But here’s the thing, draft picks are usually a hit or miss, whereas Pageau is an established player who immediately recognized that the Islanders franchise is a family-oriented organization.
In the playoffs, the Islanders were a hungry team. While it appeared the Washington Capitals, aside from Alex Ovechkin, did not want to be in the bubble, the Islanders dismantled them in five games, costing Capitals Head Coach Todd Reirden his job. New York took a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round, but the Flyers pushed them to a Game 7 where the Islanders shut them out in a primetime Saturday night slot. Despite falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games, which was probably a miracle, Lamoriello was awarded the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award.
The Islanders did not pick until the third round of the Draft. None of these players seem to be destined for the NHL anytime soon. So far, there really is nothing to say about this class.
2020 Free Agency
With the Islanders in cap hell, Lamoriello traded defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche for two second-round picks. With no other trade in place, the move makes no sense for the Islanders. Lamoriello was certainly looking to move Johnny Boychuk. Trading Boychuk would free up the necessary cap room to sign Mathew Barzal. It took arbitration to get a deal with Ryan Pulock.
New York has failed to make a splash this offseason and are having trouble navigating a flat salary cap as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lou Lamoriello walked away from players the Islanders needed. New York has needed scoring for the past two seasons. He has not managed the salary cap as well as he has wished. Lamoriello still has the old school NHL approach. Probably the only thing he has done well was hiring Barry Trotz as head coach.