Thomas Greiss

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Islanders look to keep improving in second year under Trotz

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. — The New York Islanders know about the moves other teams in the Metropolitan Division made in the offseason. It just doesn’t matter to them.

After finishing second in the division and reaching the second round of the playoffs, the Islanders return mostly the same roster and are confident they can be successful again in the second year under team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz.

”You look at our division, and you talk about teams definitely got better,” forward Jordan Eberle said Thursday at media day. ”The additions they made, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. The nice thing with our group, we know what to expect. It’s just a matter of putting in the work, playing the right way.”

Thanks to a defensive-minded system in Trotz’s first year with the team, the Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan at 48-27-7. They followed that with a four-game sweep of Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs when everything seemingly went their way. After a 10-day layoff to start the next round, nothing went New York’s way as the Islanders couldn’t rediscover their scoring touch and were swept by Carolina.

”I don’t think you ever really get over it,” captain Anders Lee said of the series loss. ”You learn from it and you take away from it what you can, but it’s always going to be there.”

The Islanders pursued forward Artemi Panarin in free agency to bolster the offense, but he decided to sign with the crosstown-rival Rangers. Still, the Islanders retained most of their own free agents, including Eberle, Lee and Brock Nelson

”I am not a believer in change for the sake of change,” Lamoriello said. ”We looked at our team and we felt the players that we wanted to bring back we were able to do that. … We’re happy with the people we have right now.”

After a different head coach in each of the previous three training camps, the Islanders have some continuity this year. They know what to expect with Trotz and look to replicate what they did well last season.

More things to know as the Islanders head into their first on-ice sessions on Friday:

GOALIES: One big change was made in goal, with the addition of veteran Semyon Varlamov to replace Vezina Trophy finalist and fan-favorite Robin Lehner. That gives Thomas Greiss his third goalie partner in three seasons. Greiss and Lehner were solid all season, sharing the William Jennings Trophy for the team allowing the fewest goals in the league.

Greiss enters the final year of his contract with Ilya Sorokin’s move from the KHL a possibility next season. Greiss was 23-14-2 with five shutouts, a .927 save-percentage and 2.28 goals-against average in 43 games last season. In four seasons with the Islanders, he is 85-51-13 with 10 shutouts, a .916 save-percentage and 2.69 GAA over 162 games.

Varlamov, who has started all but 17 of 448 games he’s appeared in over his 11-year career with Washington and Colorado, is coming off a 20-19-9 season with two shutouts, a .909 save-percentage and 2.87 GAA in 49 games for the Avalanche.

EYES ON DOBSON: A strong team defense was the Islanders’ blueprint last season, and they return seven defenseman in Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews. Noah Dobson will get a long look in camp, but is a long shot to make the roster – barring a major injury or trade involving one of the entrenched top-seven in the unit.

”There’s a lot of good defensemen,” Boychuk said. ”So it’s just the competition, pushing each other to be the best we can.”

Toews had a strong camp a year ago, but began the season with Bridgeport of the AHL before being called up in December. If the 19-year-old Dobson, selected 12th overall in the 2018 NHL draft, doesn’t make the opening-day roster, he must be sent back to juniors.

WAITING FOR BELMONT: The Islanders will be entering the second season of an expected three-year arrangement to split home games between the Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center while a new arena is built at Belmont Park. The target start is the 2021-22 season.

Construction at the new site hasn’t begun, and the town of Floral Park filed a lawsuit this week to stop the project. However, Lamoriello was confident the arena will be built on time.

”My understanding is … everything is on schedule,” Lamoriello said. ”I have total confidence it will be there when they say it will be.”

PHT Power Rankings: Eight NHL teams in danger of regressing this season

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A week ago we looked at the NHL teams that could be on the verge of a bounce back during the 2019-20 season.

This week the focus shifts to teams that could be on the verge of sliding in the opposite direction. Does that mean these teams will be bad or miss the playoffs? Not at all. It just means they may not be as good or go as far as they did a year ago.

Which teams seem to have the most potential to regress this season? To the rankings!

Potentially significant regression

1. Columbus Blue Jackets. They still have some great young players and a lot of reasons for optimism from a big picture outlook, but the short-term window looks questionable because they lost a lot from last year’s team, including their two best players, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky is the big departure that hurts because he was one of the best goalies in the league and they replacing him with two unknowns at the moment.

2. Winnipeg Jets. The Jets’ regression started last year as they were nowhere close to the team they were expected to be in the second half of the season. They are bringing back much of that same roster, minus a few players on defense (including the big loss, Jacob Trouba). Patrik Laine should be better and more productive than he was this past season, but their salary cap situation is about to get messy and this team still has some real flaws.

3. New York Islanders. This season will be a big test to find out how much of their turnaround was Barry Trotz magic, or unbelievable goaltending from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. The Islanders were not a great offensive team and did not really address that this offseason, while they may have taken a step back in goal with Semyon Varlamov replacing Lehner.

Potential for a noticeable regression 

4. Calgary Flames. The Flames were one of the biggest surprises in the NHL a year ago, climbing to the top of the Western Conference standings. A lot of things went right along the way to help them get there. But there are a lot of questions that need to be answered heading into this season. Will Elias Lindholm be a point per game player again? Does Mark Giordano, now age 36, have another Norris caliber year in him? Will the goaltending hold up? How much will they use Milan Lucic? This should still be a playoff team, but it is probably not the top seed in the Western Conference again.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins. The core is getting older and the supporting cast is not what it was a couple of years ago. The wild card here is Evgeni Malkin. If he is able to come back with a huge year it might be able to make up for some of the shortcomings elsewhere. The forwards are still good, but trading Phil Kessel for Alex Galchenyuk and signing Brandon Tanev may not be an upgrade. They have a great top pairing on defense but nothing but question marks behind them.

6. San Jose Sharks. It is actually a testament to how good this team was a year ago that it won as many games as it did and went as far as it did with the goaltending that it had. That same goaltending situation is still in place, but will the rest of the team be as good? Re-signing Erik Karlsson was a huge win during the offseason, but losing Joe Pavelski to the Dallas Stars could be significant.

Nowhere to go but down

7. Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning had a pretty good offseason, and even though they traded away J.T. Miller for salary cap reasons they still found some nice bargains in Kevin Shattenkirk and Pat Maroon that could be nice depth additions. But let’s be real here, they are probably not going to win 62 games and be a 128-point team again. Funny thing is, no one in Tampa Bay will care if they end up getting handed the Stanley Cup at the end of the playoffs.

8. St. Louis Blues. The exact opposite situation as the Lightning. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that the Blues end up having a significantly better regular season, especially if Jordan Binnington proves to be for real in net. But history has proven time and time again that winning the Stanley Cup two years in a row is a brutally difficult task and has only been done three times since 1990.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sustainability, Ho-Sang’s development are top questions for Islanders

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.

Pondering three important questions for the 2019-20 New York Islanders.

1. Can they do it again?

After losing John Tavares and not really doing anything significant to replace him on the ice expectations were understandably low for the 2018-19 Islanders. They ended up shattering all of them, made the playoffs, advanced to the second round for the second time since 1993, and were one of the biggest surprises in the league.

The question, then, is obvious: Can they do it again and build off of that success?

The most shocking part of the turnaround was that the Islanders went from being the worst defensive team in the NHL to the best in just one season. That is where the question of sustainability comes in. While it is easy to point to Barry Trotz and his defensive system as the cause of the turnaround, the reality is the Islanders were blessed with an outstanding goaltending performance from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss that masked a lot of flaws. Can Greiss repeat his performance? Can Semyon Varlamov stay healthy enough and be good enough to match what Lehner did? If the answer to those questions turns out to be no, it could put a pretty significant dent in the Islanders’ ability to prevent goals.

This season will be a big test for just how much Trotz’s system and approach really improved the Islanders because they are bringing back largely the same team, except with a potentially lesser goalie.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure]

2. Who is going to score the goals?

It was a good thing for the Islanders that they were so good defensively last year because their offense was not particularly good. They finished the regular season 22nd in goals scored, 29th in shots on goal per game, and 29th on the power play. Among the 16 playoff teams no team was worse in those same areas.

What did the Islanders do to address that this offseason? Nothing.

They did manage to retain all of their top free agent forwards (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle) but they did not add a significant piece from outside the organization while several teams around them in their own division made significant additions.

There is reason to believe Mathew Barzal can have a bigger season, and that will certainly help. But Valtteri Filppula‘s 17 goals walked out the door in free agency and it seems possible, if not likely, that Casey Cizikas will regress after a completely unexpected 20 goal performance.

3. Will this be Josh Ho-Sang’s year?

One thing that could really help the Islanders’ offense? Josh Ho-Sang putting everything together and becoming a regular in the lineup. Ho-Sang’s young career with the Islanders has been a tumultuous one to this point as he’s never fully gained the trust of any of his coaches (or the organization as a whole) despite having a ton of talent and potential.

His offensive skills have never been in doubt, and he’s actually produced at a pretty solid rate at the NHL level. He has 24 points in 53 career games, a per-game average that comes out to around 37 points over 82 games. It may not seem like an eye-popping number, but keep in mind that only four Islanders recorded more than 37 points last season, and Ho-Sang has produced those numbeers despite getting limited minutes in his brief NHL action.

But his all-around game has never seemed to develop enough for the organization to fully commit to him. He just re-signed on a one-year contract on Monday and can not be sent to the American Hockey League without passing through waivers, so this is probably a make-or-break year for him with the Islanders.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Goalies sign: Islanders choose Varlamov; Mrazek sticks with Hurricanes

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Apparently, when the post-Sergei Bobrovsky goalie dominoes fall in free agency, they fall fast.

Along with the Chicago Blackhawks taking a one-year flier on Robin Lehner, we have two other significant decisions.

[More on Chicago adding Lehner]

The New York Islanders decided to hitch their future to Semyon Varlamov, whom they signed to a four-year, $20 million contract. The Islanders are rolling the dice with a 31-year-old who hasn’t enjoyed his strongest work lately. Clearly, the organization believes in his potential. This is a medium-sized gamble, if not a big one.

Varlamov started 49 games last season and saw his even strength save percentage dip from .923 to .916. Injuries opened the door for Phillip Grubauer to assume the No. 1 role and put an end to Varlamov’s eight-season tenure with the Avalanche.

The battle for the net on Long Island will be between Varlamov and Thomas Greiss after negotiations with Lehner failed to end with an agreement.

“It’s really tough to see Robin go,” said Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello. “We’re all disappointed it didn’t work out but we wish him nothing but the best in Chicago, he’ll do great there.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes brought back Petr Mrazek, the 27-year-old goalie who helped them break their playoff curse. It’s for $6.25 million over two years, which translates to a $3.125M cap hit in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Between Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, who inked a two-year deal with the Lightning, the pair helped solve an issue for the Hurricanes this past season and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in a decade. Mrazek boasted a .927 even strength save percentage in 40 starts.

“Petr took a chance on himself with the deal he agreed to here last summer, and we were all rewarded with the tremendous season he put together,” said Hurricanes GM Waddell said in a statement. “This solidifies our options at the goaltending position moving forward.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders keep captain Anders Lee with $49 million deal

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The New York Islanders will not be losing a captain for the second straight summer after all.

Anders Lee is staying in New York after agreeing to a seven-year, $49 million deal. He was not eligible to get an eighth year since he did not re-sign before July 1.

It was no secret that Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello courted Artemi Panarin, but with the forward deciding for Broadway and the New York Rangers, bringing back Lee was the clear option. Lee, who was named captain last October following John Tavares’ departure, scored 28 goals and recorded 51 points in 82 games during the 2018-19 NHL season. 

Negotiations between Lee and the Islanders were mainly about term. Lee, who turns 29 on Wednesday, wanted term and the team did not want to go that long on a new deal for the captain.

“I didn’t think we’d get to this point. The process hasn’t … I haven’t enjoyed it, but it is what it is,” Lee said last week of the free agent interview period. Despite that, he remained confident that a deal with the Islanders would get done.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Reports had the Montreal Canadiens interested in Lee, with a potential cap hit coming in around $9 million, but the Sebastian Aho offer sheet situation put a monkey wrench into that plan.

The $7 million cap hit is a huge jump from the $3.75 million his previous deal signed in 2015 carried. Lamoriello now has a little over $13 million in cap space, per Cap Friendly, to spend and decisions needed on restricted free agents Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle. The other move that is needed to finding a goaltender to share the net with Thomas Greiss. Robin Lehner appears to be headed elsewhere, so has the door swung open for Semyon Varlamov to head to Long Island as good pal Ilya Sorokin waits in the wings?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.