Despite positive messages, the Islanders pulled out this summer.
Other than acquiring defenseman Alexander Romanov from the Montreal Canadiens in the 2022 NHL Draft, the Islanders have done next to nothing to their roster. And on the coaching front, Lou Lamoriello has decided to fire decorated head coach Barry Trotz and promote assistant Lane Lambert to the big chair.
Lamoriello and the Islanders can say they love their team as much as they want and may not have felt the need to revamp a roster that was competitive less than two years ago. But in those two seasons, the Islanders haven’t been any quicker. And they have certainly not found a solution to relaunch the career of striker Mathew Barzal. He should be an NHL superstar by now. But I don’t think he has the skills on his side to make it happen.
It’s laughable to think the Islanders went into this offseason planning to make so few moves. There’s no way the team wants to go back with a few tweaks and a new head coach in 2022-23. I understand that Lamoriello publicly supports his club. Every NHL general manager should do it.
But the reality is that the Islanders failed to develop the skills necessary to become an elite team. Free will was a disaster. And while the Romanov deal helped cement a blue line that will be without Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara next season, the trade cost the Islanders a first-round draft pick.
Goaltending is not an issue on Long Island. And neither is the team’s work ethic and ability to defend. But I don’t know how they plan to find points. And there are far too many inflated contracts for the middle class.
I think there’s a good chance the Islanders will struggle this coming season.
Phil Kessel will score 15 goals next season for the Vegas Golden Knights averaging 13 minutes of ice time per game.
At 34 and after a bad season with the Arizona Coyotes where he scored only eight times, I was surprised to see the Vegas Golden Knights sign the two-time Stanley Cup champion. Granted, the deal is low-risk for Vegas. Kessel is expected to earn just $1.5 million over the one-year deal. It’s a godsend for a player who had 52 points last season for the Coyotes.
But I can’t help but look at Kessel’s plus minus rating over the past few seasons and wonder where he fits in head coach Bruce Cassidy’s roster. I know stats aren’t always the best indicator of a player’s performance. But during my goaltending career, I was nervous when the team’s minus point guard stepped onto the ice. It was palpable.
I’m not saying Kessel is going to blow up the Golden Knights defensively. I just think Cassidy will be very selective in its use. During the 5v5 game, I would be surprised to see Kessel playing above the third line. And I don’t expect to see him on the ice for many defensive zone matchups.
But I think if Cassidy uses Kessel wisely, the results should be favorable. I see it’s mostly on the power play. It’s been three seasons since Kessel played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but during his time with the ultra-talented organization, he posted solid numbers with the man advantage. 42 points. 36 points. A dozen goals in two separate seasons. When he had the horses to run, Kessel was dangerous.
On paper, the Golden Knights should offer Kessel a similar opportunity. Forwards like Mark Stone, Jack Eichel and Jonathan Marchessault should give Kessel the chance to operate. And Cassidy has power-play expertise. During his tenure as head coach of the Boston Bruins, Cassidy’s teams consistently featured one of the NHL’s best power plays. I expect that to continue in Vegas.
With salary cap losses to Max Pacioretty and Evgenii Dadonov — both were traded in the offseason — the Golden Knights needed to add a cheap offense. And while I’m not sure Kessel would have been the first choice, its reasonable price and durability are worth the bet. Kessel hasn’t missed a game through injury since the 2009-10 season.
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