With rumors about off-season moves swirling like a tempest, the uncertainty cloaking the New York Islanders season is compounded by the many moving parts shaping how it plays out.
Lane Lambert, a veteran behind the bench but a rookie NHL Head Coach, will perhaps be the most impactful. Lambert has his work cut out for him — a task of filling the shoes of one of the best coaches in the NHL after his firing while changing the system but not enough that the defensive style of play the Islanders are so well known for collapses. That is no easy task for anyone, much less a first-time head coach replacing Barry Trotz and facing extra scrutiny. If anyone can do so, it’s Lane Lambert, who was Barry Trotz’s right-hand man. Lambert’s short stint as acting Head Coach during Trotz’s absence for personal issues last season showed that he is willing to expand his horizon beyond those set by Trotz, changing the power play structure and players and allowing younger skaters a longer leash in terms of offensive creativity. These are all attributes that could serve players like Mat Barzal well. However, if offensive performance does not improve and defensive performance remains stagnant or regresses, the season will not be easy for fans to sit through.
Another comes in the form of Nazem Kadri, who is reportedly officially coming to Long Island — not his direct impact on the ice but the ripples caused by his addition to the roster. As a center, Kadri joining the lineup means that one of the current top six centers, be that Mat Barzal or Brock Nelson, will likely be moved to the wing. While there is certainly a possibility that this will work out for the better, the Islanders’ best skater or best goal scorer changing positions could have the opposite effect.
Nazem Kadri’s projected signing also implies that a regular forward from last season will be left out of the lineup, though who exactly that will be is nothing but speculation at this point. While some rumors talk about trading away Josh Bailey or Anthony Beauvillier, it is also probable that a winger like Kieffer Bellows finds himself in the press suite. Ideally, Matt Martin would lose his spot to Zach Parise, whose energy and work ethic would be able to provide some much-needed balance to a fourth line that often found itself lacking life last season. There is also the question of who will play third pairing left defense. With Robin Salo, Sebastian Aho, and Grant Hutton all back with the team, the expectation is for them to compete to fill the role.
This all means that, as the Islanders have been prone to do under Lou Lamoriello, fans and analysts alike will have trouble visualizing how the team will fare this coming season. Only as the pieces fall will we get more than a rudimentary picture of what we can expect regarding changes and their impact.