It is never an easy task to sustain after a breakout season but that is what the New York Islanders are trying to do. They did swing for the fences on the first day of free agency but it mostly backfired. Also, Robin Lehner, their starting goalie, signed in Chicago for a season.
On the plus side, Anders Lee, their captain is back, after inking a seven-year, $49 million contract. Then, they signed Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20 million deal to share goaltending duties with Thomas Greiss. Both players received no-trade clauses for all but the last two years of the deal and modest signing bonuses.
Despite missing out on Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, the Islanders can build on the 2019-20 season in five ways.
First, hope Mitch Korn can fix Semyon Varlamov
Again, Varlamov was once a very good to almost elite goaltender. Then, the groin injuries became more frequent and the inconsistencies crept into his game. The good news is that he played 49 games last year and that workload may be about the same this season (maybe slightly less). This all comes down to can Korn find the flaws in Varlamov’s game and fix them enough. At even strength, the former Colorado Avalanche goalie looked all out of sorts too often.
He looked nothing like he did the previous season. The number one priority for Varlamov is staying healthy and then it is working within the Korn system and Barry Trotz’s system as well. If the goaltender can do that, then maybe the Islanders do not regress too badly.
Second, they need Anders Lee to bounce back a bit goal production wise
It was not a terrible season for Anders Lee but like Mathew Barzal, there was a drop and it was noticeable. The difference is Lee had so many positives last year despite that 12-goal dip in production. The question becomes how do you maintain the other positives while crossing the 30-goal barrier once again? Players like Lee must draw more penalties to get more power-play opportunities. They started to last year and it yielded amazing results in the Pittsburgh and even Carolina series.
That power play momentum needs to continue. It will help the 5-on-5 play going forward as well. The captain leads after all and his play will impact others.
Third, remember the positives
Absolutely, for all that went wrong on July 1st and the series against Carolina, the New York Islanders should remember the positives and what worked last year. This was a team that rode incredible goaltending numbers and timely scoring to a playoff spot. Their bottom six kept a nice balance which helped as well. Defensively, they completed one of the biggest turnarounds in league history.
Again, teams figure other teams out and the Islanders will be tested there. However, the New York Islanders know what works and expect a few subtle tweaks in their methods. They will have to adjust to keep ahead of the league which a mindful look to again what worked last season.
Fourth, use the cap room left as needed
That is correct. Anthony Beauvillier and Michael dal Colle should not cost a ton of money leaving the Islanders with maybe $4-5 million in cap space left. Granted, they will have to pay Mathew Barzal next year but that is next year. If there is a trade that can improve the Islanders before the season starts, New York must at least explore that option.
Finally, figure out what to do with Joshua Ho-Sang
Yes, this is the elephant in the room so to speak. If they decide to keep him, then yes, their cap space goes down more but that may be worth it. Ho-Sang can provide offense but he must stay motivated. There is talent and yet he needs more of a chance to prove that ability. Again, if management feels that the player is beyond repair, then it Is time to walk away already.
This has been a tightrope walked for too long with the now 23-year old forward. Again, few expect the New York defense to be quite as good as last season, so goals need to come from up and down the lineup. Maybe a motivated Ho-Sang helps there or the cap space can be used to acquire a player.
By Chris Wassel