Mathew Barzal

After missing on Gaudreau, where do Islanders go next?

Dave Sandford, Getty Images

The 2021-22 season did not go anywhere near as planned for the New York Islanders.

After back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Islanders entered the season with sky-high expectations, and reasonably so. They had a top head coach, two outstanding goalies, and a team that had shown it could win in the playoffs.

But everything that could have possibly gone wrong during the season did go wrong.

They started the season with a 13-game road trip while their new arena was completed. That road trip coincided with COVID and injury issues that absolutely decimated their roster. The end result was an 11-game losing streak that was part of a 5-10-5 start to the regular season. It put them in a hole that was pretty much impossible to climb out of in a top-heavy Eastern Conference.

Once their roster returned to normal and they actually had a chance to play some games at home, they finished the year with a much stronger record and at least a little bit closer to what should have been expected. But it still wasn’t quite good enough to get them closer than 16 points to a playoff spot. And even when looking at their final 62 games, where they went 32-27-5, that would still only be a 92-point pace over an 82-game season. That is still not at a playoff level.

That resulted in a pretty stunning head coach change that saw Barry Trotz get fired and replaced by Lane Lambert.

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

But the roster, for the most part, remains the same as we get go through the first week of free agency. The only major chance to this point has been trading the No. 13 overall pick in a three-team trade with Montreal and Chicago that saw the Islanders acquire Alexander Romanov. He is young and has potential and has shown flashes of ability in the NHL, but he remains a total wild card.

The Islanders should still be strong on the back end. They still have the goalies (Ilya Sorokin in particular is emerging as one of the NHL’s elite at the position) but they are desperate for offense and quickly running out of options to upgrade it as most of the top candidates have already moved.

Kevin Fiala went to Los Angeles. Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux went to Ottawa. Filip Forsberg stayed in Nashville while Evgeni Malkin remained in Pittsburgh. Vincent Trocheck signed with the Islanders’ top rivals in across the city. Andrew Copp and David Perron went to Detroit. Max Pacioretty went to Carolina for, quite literally, nothing. And Johnny Gaudreau? The player considered to be the best option? He chose Columbus. Even New Jersey managed to add Ondrej Palat.

The Islanders?

Complete silence.

Islanders
Friday’s sports cover of Long Island Newsday

In the short-term, it is concerning because the Islanders were already behind at least eight other teams in the Eastern Conference (including four in their own division) while several other non-playoff teams have made noticeable improvements (Detroit, Columbus).

They are quickly running out of time to find their own improvements.

Nazem Kadri is still available, and Vancouver still has not made a decision on J.T. Miller and whether or not to trade him or extend him.

Other than that, the options are already slim unless Lamoriello really pulls something out of nowhere.

Given the lack of options, it is difficult to see how the Islanders make up that ground to get back to the playoffs with what is essentially the same roster.

The long-term concern is that the Islanders are on a ticking clock with core players like Mathew Barzal and Sorokin.

Barzal is in the final year of his current bridge contract, and is one year away from potential unrestricted free agency.

Sorokin will be an unrestricted free agent at the same time. They already have 10 players on the roster over the age of 30, and several more that are quickly closing in on that number. And outside of Barzal and Sorkin, there is not really a difference-maker on the roster. There are a lot of really good players, and a handful of very good players. But nobody else that is going to keep an opposing coach awake at night going into a matchup.

If the goal is to get back to the playoffs and compete this season around Barzal and Sorokin, they really needed somebody like a Gaudreau, or a DeBrincat, or even a Pacioretty this offseason. They missed the boat on all of them. Now it looks like they are headed for a couple of years of hockey purgatory over the next couple of years.

Lamoriello’s career resume speaks for itself. He built a dynasty in New Jersey and deserves all of the credit in the world for that. But that was pre-salary cap days in the league, and his teams have struggled to maintain sustained success over several years in the cap era. And despite winning back-to-back GM of the year awards there have been some questionable moves the past few years (investing so much in the fourth line; trading Devon Toews for two second-round draft picks; missing out on everybody this offseason).

It has left the Islanders in a state of mediocrity and it is tough to see a short-term path for exiting it.

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    Was 2021-22 just a hiccup for Islanders, or did their window close?

    Was 2021-22 just a hiccup for Islanders, or did their window close?
    David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how surprising was that fall? Are there signs that things might go right next season? This series tackles those questions, and more. In the latest edition of “What Went Wrong?,” PHT breaks down the 2021-22 New York Islanders.

    When it was abundantly clear that the 2021-22 Islanders wouldn’t make the playoffs, Barry Trotz hammered home the point that there were “no excuses.”

    Yet, if the Islanders want to put a positive spin on this failed 2021-22 season, wouldn’t it be best to write off worries by blaming, say, a 13-game season-opening road trip? One person’s “excuse” is another person’s reason.

    Ultimately, it’s crucial for the Islanders to assess their failed 2021-22 season properly. Was this a hiccup, or did the window close on an act with a small margin for error?

    2021-22 Islanders’ larger failures (and bad luck?) hides elite season from Sorokin

    If there’s one thing that snuck under the radar about the 2021-22 Islanders, it was how impressive their goaltending was.

    Look at the Goals Saved Above Average ranks, and Igor Shesterkin‘s historic 44.85 leads all goalies, but Ilya Sorokin was second with an outstanding 29.8. There’s a very valid argument that Ilya Sorokin (26-18-8, .925 save percentage, .712 quality start %) should finish as a 2022 Vezina Trophy finalist.

    While Semyon Varlamov wasn’t as dominant, he also generated a positive GSAA (4.65).

    Although stats like GSAA attempt to account for the defenses and structures in front of them, you might surmise that Barry Trotz’s schemes boost the numbers of his goalies. That’s probably true.

    But it’s reasonable to wonder if the Islanders will enjoy the same elite goaltending next season after tremendous work in 2021-22. Conceivably, they could see a drop-off there while cleaning up more messes than usual on defense.

    Look at a variety of defensive metrics, and you’ll note that this team wasn’t locking down opponents to the same degree. This Hockey Viz heat map captures some of the story. This wasn’t about allowing a ton of volume, but protecting the high-danger areas. Instead, the Islanders bled chances from the high-priced real estate in 2021-22:

    Like others, I’d assume that Trotz & Co. will tighten some or all of these issues up next season. If not, things could stay ugly.

    2021-22 Islanders season: fluke or sign of things to come?
    (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    Islanders face key offseason questions

    Heading into the offseason, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are, however, some important questions to answer.

    Add to some strengths on defense and in net?

    There’s a solid chance that the Islanders unearthed a real find in Sorokin, who’s merely 26, and who carries an appealing $4M cap hit through 2023-24.

    They’ll need to hash out an RFA deal with rising 22-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson. Once they do that, the Islanders can find some comfort in their “trident” of Dobson and a strong pairing of 27-year-old defensemen in Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock.

    Beyond re-signing Dobson, the Islanders’ offseason questions begin to form around the rest of that defense. Aging blueliners Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene are UFAs, and retirement is a strong possibility for one or both. Aside from Scott Mayfield, the Islanders lack much in the way of clear depth defensemen. They’ll need to decide if prospects can fill the void; if not, trades and free agency will need to do the trick.

    Cap Friendly estimates that the Islanders will have about $12.26M in cap space, with 18 roster spots covered. After a 13-goal, 51-point season, Dobson figures to eat up a healthy portion of that room.

    If there’s an urge to create more space, would the Islanders try to trade Semyon Varlamov, a 34-year-old whose $5M cap hit expires after next season? (Not an outrageous question to ask if you think Barry Trotz can prop up a cheaper goalie.)

    How much is left is in the tank for veteran forwards; Will they extend Barzal, and find him some help?

    Offensively, it’s difficult to imagine the Islanders hanging with the rising tide of NHL scoring juggernauts.

    Really, the hope is likely just that an old-but-not-ancient group doesn’t get too creaky.

    All of those questions are interesting, but the most interesting forward-related question for the Islanders revolves around Mathew Barzal. In 2022-23, Barzal carries a team-friendly $7M cap hit, setting him up for restricted free agency (with arbitration rights).

    Do the Islanders believe they can extend Barzal at an affordable clip? Would that be better than waiting out a contract year?

    Also, can they find Barzal some help in free agency? You’d think it would be almost certain that he’d put up bigger numbers (59 points in 73 games) if he had more help. To say nothing of the daydream of Barzal in a more dynamic offensive system.

    Replenish for the future, or keep selling for today?

    During previous trade deadlines, the Islanders traded away significant draft capital (and allotted substantial cap space) to land Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kyle Palmieri.

    Though debatable in terms of sheer value, those moves were understandable: the Islanders were going for it.

    Then comes the bill. From at least two pundits’ perspectives, the Islanders farm system only ranks ahead of the nascent Seattle Kraken prospect pool.

    The full context of the Islanders’ situation presents a conundrum. Do you try to rebuild that prospect pool by making a better-than-usual draft pick, or do you explore packaging that pick to try to improve for the present?

    The logic of possibly going for it extends beyond the aging elements of the Islanders’ core (not to mention 59-year-old Trotz and 79-year-old Lamoriello). It’s unclear how much Sorokin will cost after 2023-24, but the Isles have a chance to take advantage of two more seasons of an elite goalie at $4M per year. With that in mind, this may represent their last great window to contend under this current setup.

    Naturally, that’s assuming that the 2021-22 season was a mere blip, and not a sign that the Islanders may no longer have the stuff to be elite defensively.

    Overall, there are signs pointing both ways, including the mantra of “At this point do you really want to doubt Trotz?” Of the teams who missed the playoffs, the Islanders may face some of the most daunting long-term challenges, but they rank alongside the Golden Knights as teams most likely to rebound back to the postseason. They may even be Stanley Cup contenders again.

    Or maybe their window already closed.

    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.

    NHL discipline: Canadiens’ Pezzetta suspended 2 games; Barzal fined

    NHL Discipline
    NHL

    The NHL’s Department of Player Safety had a busy Monday announcing a suspension to Montreal’s Michael Pezzetta and a fine to New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal.

    Let’s start with the suspension to Pezzetta.

    The DoPS announced that Pezzetta has been suspended two games for an illegal check to the head of Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie over the weekend. The hit took place late in the third period of the Capitals’ 8-4 win and resulted in Pezzetta being assessed a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head.

    You can see the play here as well as the NHL’s explanation.

    As for Barzal, he was fined $2,500 for an unsportsmanlike conduct incident in the Islanders’ 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night.

    As Marner was standing on the ice next to the Islanders’ bench, Barzal reached over and grabbed Marner’s jersey and held on to it for a few seconds.

    You can see it here, as well as Marner’s response where he hoped for Barzal to be fined.

    NHL Power Rankings: Maple Leafs climbing; Kings struggling

    NHL Power Rankings
    Andrew Lahodynsky, Getty Images

    In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings the Toronto Maple Leafs make a significant jump into the top-three thanks to an offense that is lighting up the scoreboard and a historic goal scoring season for Auston Matthews. They are 15-5-2 in their past 22 games (even with their goaltending issues) and are in a strong position to secure home-ice advantage in the First Round. They have also played extremely well against their potential playoff opponents, owning a 4-1-0 record against the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning.

    In the Western Conference things are starting to get interesting in the Pacific Division where the Los Angeles Kings have taken what looked like a guaranteed playoff spot and fallen back to the bubble thanks to their recent stretch that has seen them lose 10 of their past 16 games. That includes their current three-game losing streak.

    We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s rankings.

    Where does your team sit this week?

    To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

    1. Colorado Avalanche (Last Week: 1). Does not matter which top player you take out of the lineup, they just keep winning and steamrolling over the league.

    2. Florida Panthers (LW: 2). The good news: The only thing that could hold them back right now is goaltending. The bad news: That is a bad thing to have as your potential weakness in the playoffs.

    3. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 7). The sentence above for Florida also applies here.

    [Related: Matthews leads Richard race; what are his MVP chances?]

    4. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 3). They are still probably the most complete team in the East. Florida and Toronto are just playing a little better at the moment.

    5. Calgary Flames (LW: 8). Johnny Gaudreau is going to make some serious money this offseason.

    6. New York Rangers (LW: 10). They have looked great since the trade deadline even though Igor Shesterkin is not playing at his best. Great sign. Shesterkin can be better, and now the supporting cast around him is better.

    7. Minnesota Wild (LW: 6). One of the most exciting teams in the league now has one of the most exciting goalies in the league. And Marc-Andre Fleury is off to a great start with them.

    8. Boston Bruins (LW: 5). They have been great lately, but there is a small concern: They are beating up on non-playoff teams and struggling with top teams.

    9. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 4). Imagine winning your division and getting this team as a wild card opponent in the First Round. Might happen for Florida or Carolina.

    10. St. Louis Blues (LW: 10). They have assembled an outstanding, deep, and balanced offensive team. They have scored at least four goals in eight consecutive games.

    11. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 12). The coaching change has done wonders for this team. But is it enough to make up for the shortcomings on defense and in net?

    [Related: Playoff goalie confidence rankings]

    12. Washington Capitals (LW: 14). Just when it looked like they were fading a bit they beat Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Boston in three consecutive games. Goaltending is still something to watch here.

    13. Dallas Stars (LW: 13). Jason Robertson is one of the best players in hockey. Get used to hearing that.

    14. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: 9). They have only won three of their past 10 games and Tristan Jarry has a sub-.900 save percentage during that run. Not the time of year for that. Plenty of time to turn it around. Also the talent to make it happen.

    15. Vegas Golden Knights (LW: 15). With the Kings sliding they might actually pull this off. The rest of the Western Conference better hope they do not.

    16. Nashville Predators (LW: 17). Their playoff spot should be okay, but they are not playing their best hockey at the moment.

    17. Los Angeles Kings (LW: 16). A month ago they looked like a playoff lock and were gaining ground on Calgary at the top of the Pacific Division. They are just 6-7-3 since then and have Vegas breathing down their necks. Not great.

    18. New York Islanders (LW: 18). They need more offense next season, including from Mathew Barzal. He has been good. He has the potential to be great.

    19. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 22). They have been better under Bruce Boudreau, but his future with the team is not known beyond this season and they have some salary cap issues to work through. No idea what to project for them next season.

    20. Winnipeg Jets (LW: 19). Kyle Connor‘s push for 50 goals is the thing to watch for here.

    21. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 20). Jakub Voracek has five goals and 47 assists. Just a wild stat line for a forward.

    22. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 21). They are finishing strong, seem to have done well in the Jack Eichel trade, and get to see a glimpse of Owen Power this season. By recent Sabres standards this is a decent year.

    23. Detroit Red Wings (LW: 26). Mortiz Seider should win the Calder.

    24. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 24). Cole Caufield probably would have won the Calder with a full season of Martin St. Louis as his coach.

    25. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 28). Trevor Zegras might not win the Calder but he is the most exciting rookie (and one of the most exciting players) in the league.

    26. San Jose Sharks (LW: 23). Doug Wilson‘s departure creates a lot of questions for the direction this team takes with new leadership.

    [Related: Wilson steps down as general manager of Sharks]

    27. New Jersey Devils (LW: 27). Seeing what Jack Hughes is capable of over a full season is something to look forward to here, even if things do seem far away.

    28. Ottawa Senators (LW: 25). With Josh Norris having a breakout season and Tim Stützle looking like a cornerstone player the Erik Karlsson trade is working out nicely here.

    29. Philadelphia Flyers (LW: 29). Difficult to see a path here for this team to be dramatically and meaningfully better next season.

    30. Seattle Kraken (LW: 31). They played like an expansion team. They had opportunities to be better than a typical expansion team and missed them.

    31. Chicago Blackhawks (LW: 30). Everything must go this offseason. Everything. The next cornerstone building block does not currently exist on this roster.

    32. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 32). The only thing you can say about this season is that it went exactly the way everybody expected it go for them.

    Pro Hockey Talk Year In Review: Best NHL goals of 2021

    Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best NHL goals, saves, stories, players and more as we remember 2021.

    Goals. In a given NHL season, there are thousands of them. In the grand scheme of things, many of us would prefer even more.

    But, leafing through what the NHL provided in 2021, it’s clear that there were many, many great goals. Inevitably, this best NHL goals of 2021 will miss some. Hopefully, nothing too iconic. Either way, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments, via Twitter, or some other means.

    (To keep this post from being too unwieldy and tough on browsers, we’ll skip blooper goals. So feel even freer to share those.)

    Why it’s dangerous to throw out the phrase ‘that Connor McDavid goal’

    Truly, it’s easy to lose track of jaw-dropping Connor McDavid goals. Again, this post is likely to miss some other great NHL goals from 2021, and the same could be said for McDavid specifically.

    McDavid is referred to as a video game cheat code come to life because he often makes this all look too easy.

    So, when you say “that Connor McDavid goal,” you risk confusion. In this calendar year, or even just this chunk of the 2021-22 season alone, he’s served up a veritable buffet.

    Blame recency bias, but McDavid shredding through the Rangers defense — basically by himself — currently slots in as “that Connor McDavid goal” for me.

    It’s not just blazing speed that allows Connor McDavid to score so many coast-to-coast goals. His ability to pull off high-skill plays at warp speed is what separates McDavid from fast players whose hands can’t always keep up with their feet.

    With McDavid, his brain, feet, and hands create a symphony of destruction for opposing defenses. Which might explain why “that coast-to-coast McDavid goal” isn’t even always specific enough. Why, just earlier this calendar year, McDavid tore through the Maple Leafs defense in a similar way.

    That Zegras – Milano goal

    Speaking of moments that unleashed John Tortorella’s grumpiest side, there’s a moment where you can just say “that [blank] goal.”

    At least for now. Assuming Trevor Zegras brushes off Torts tirades in the same way McDavid (hopefully) does, it wouldn’t be surprising if the ultra-creative Ducks forward authors more moments of true brilliance.

    But, goodness, his lacrosse-style assist to Sonny Milano remains one of the best NHL goals in recent memory, let alone 2021.

    Barzal, and other top goals from the 2020-21 season

    Simply put, it’s easier to maintain context by calling the previous season the “2020-21 season” even if it began in 2021. But, yeah, if you just want to call it the 2021 NHL season, that’s reasonable enough.

    Either way, that shortened campaign wasn’t short on great goals. The NHL conveniently packed 10 great goals from the 2021 (2020-21) season in this video:

    If you want some personal favorites from that video:

    • Number eight, Tyler Toffoli vs. the Canucks, starting at the 57-second mark. It’s nifty, and also captures the bitter taste of Toffoli scoring against a Canucks team that sure seemed like it could have re-signed him at a reasonable clip. Ouch. Extra ouch after all that’s happened, and with Jim Benning no longer running the show.
    • Number six, T.J. Oshie vs. the Penguins, around the 1:57 point. I’m a sucker for diving goals, and Oshie finished it one-handed.
    • That was followed by two great Blue Jackets goals (Jack Roslovic and Patrik Laine), as well as another shot of McDavid burning the Leafs. Brent Burns‘ celebration after his goal was almost as good as his stickwork.
    • Finally, Mathew Barzal‘s tremendous goal against the Sabres took the top spot. Even if you want to mock Rasmus Ristolainen, that’s still a beauty.

    Goals that stand out from 2021 because of context like history

    In some cases, there are some top NHL goals of 2021 as much for history-making as their singular beauty.

    To me, Yanni Gourde‘s shorthanded goal (the lone one of Game 7) vs. the Islanders felt like possibly the most important of the past playoffs. Maybe that’s a mark against an anticlimactic Lightning – Canadiens 2021 Stanley Cup Final series, but still.

    Ryan Donato ended up scoring a fairly nice goal for the first in Seattle Kraken history.

    Obligatory Ovechkin section

    In 2021, Alex Ovechkin climbed the all-time goals list, and reached various milestones. In November, Ovechkin passed Brett Hull for fourth all-time in goals with his 742nd tally.

    Might as well include Ovechkin reaching 750 goals early in December, too, eh?

    Ovechkin added two more before the end of 2021, giving him 752 goals. Here’s where he sits all-time:

    1. Wayne Gretzky – 894 goals.
    2. Gordie Howe – 801 goals.
    3. Jaromir Jagr – 766 goals.
    4. Alex Ovechkin – 752 goals.
    5. Brett Hull – 741 goals.
    6. Marcel Dionne – 731 goals.

    The burning question, then, is where will Ovechkin rank in all-time goals through 2022? Could he pass Jagr and even Howe? Don’t be surprised if Ovechkin doesn’t just climb the list some more, but scores his goals in best-of-the-year-level style.

    (As a bonus in this post, enjoy the top 10 shootout goals from 2021, at least by Sportsnet’s choosing.)

    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.