Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 New York Islanders.
2022-23 New York Islanders
The first thing to note about the 2022-23 New York Islanders is that not much has changed this year. However, the things that did, can be really impactful. Fans aren’t happy with their general manager, Lou Lamoriello, and the morale is lower than seen in the past five years. After back-to-back Conference Finals appearances, last season was a disappointment no one saw coming. However, the goal for the new season is to bounce back and get their spot in the playoffs again.
Last season was a crazy rollercoaster ride of “This cannot be happening” and “What is wrong with them?”. After the two seasons prior to 2021, it was unbelievable that the Islanders had such a catastrophic fall from grace. And still, it happened and it was real.
However, it wasn’t all bad. Noah Dobson had an absolute blast of a year with a breakout not many saw coming. Oliver Wahlstrom continued to show signs of improvement even while averaging only 12:04 minutes of time on ice. And being fair, not having Ryan Pulock for almost three months really hurt the team and Mathew Barzal had an oddly bad year. The stars were against them and nothing worked.
The season ended with them missing the playoffs and head coach Barry Trotz getting fired out of nowhere, surprising everyone. From a logical point of view, he took the team to their first Conference Finals in 27 years and it was only one bad season. But Lamoriello said it was time for a change. And now, the fans hope he was right.
Once again, the Islanders did close to nothing during the offseason. They signed their restricted free agents in Dobson and Kieffer Bellows. They got involved in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, acquiring young defenceman Alexander Romanov. And promoted former associate coach Lane Lambert to head coach. That basically sums up their offseason.
Of course, acquiring a young defenceman in Romanov is super important and if everything goes right, it’ll be a big deal. However, to get him the team gave up their 2022 first-round pick in the draft. That pick went to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Kirby Dach trade, which eventually turned out to be Frank Nazar. If the Islanders had kept the pick, who knows if they would’ve picked Nazar but he is a good prospect and that’s something the organization is lacking.
But now, it is even clearer that Lamoriello is still looking to make a big push for the playoffs and acquiring a defenceman with NHL experience was the goal. And that will likely be the only big lineup change for this year.
Anders Lee – Mathew Barzal – Oliver Wahlstrom
Josh Bailey – Brock Nelson – Anthony Beauvillier
Kieffer Bellows – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Kyle Palmieri
Zach Parise – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Extras: Matt Martin, Ross Johnston
With the change in the coaching department, it feels safe to say that things will take a turn in the organization. With Trotz, guys like Wahlstrom and Bellows didn’t get big parts and that was a problem. Now with Lambert, it will likely not happen. While Bellows won’t be in the top six, Wahlstrom should get a spot in the top line.
The reason for this is: he’s good, he’s smart and he’s proven himself worth it. It’s the smartest choice out of the forwards they have. For the second line, Bailey and Bellows might split time depending on how things go, considering the older guy is not producing well. It’s a long shot but Bellows could benefit from playing with Nelson and Beauvillier.
Now, this is where things get a little tricky. Starting from the bottom, their “identity line” is not working anymore. It was surprising that Clutterbuck even got a new contract last year and well, here he is. But with a new coach in town, the identity of that line may be changed. Parise had 35 points in 82 games. Martin had seven in 71. He will get the spot for sure and it will likely be in a tentative to boost the other two with him. And if things start to go wrong, he could very well switch with Bellows and let the youngster try to fix the fourth line.
But for now, he could be a part of the new identity line. For the third line, there’s not much to it. Pageau is still pretty decent, Palmieri played some time in the top six and that didn’t work very well and Bellows has a lot to learn from the two veterans. End of story.
Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock
Alexander Romanov – Noah Dobson
Sebastian Aho – Scott Mayfield
Extra: Robin Salo
Yes, Romanov and Dobson together is unlikely to happen. Two young players that still have some stuff to figure out could end up badly. However, both players have a lot of potential and making Mayfield or one of the two play his offside is not a good idea. If one had to guess, putting Dobson and Romanov together to start the season would be good to see how well they can work together.
If it doesn’t work, they can always ask Robin Salo for help. Now, for the top pair: is there really anything to say? Pelech-Pulock is still one of the best pairs in the league. End of story. If Lambert tries to separate them, he’ll get into big trouble with the fans.
With Lambert taking over the team, it’s hard to predict what the bottom pair will look like. Mayfield is older and he’s constantly taking penalties. Last season, he spent a lot of time in the second pair – but they also had Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene on their roster. Now, he’s the older guy. And this probably means he’ll get demoted. Maybe he’ll see some time with Romanov or Dobson on his offside but if one had to predict, he’ll likely be paired with Aho or Salo in the third pair.
For the past two seasons, Sorokin and Varlamov shared the net and helped each other – this past season, Sorokin got more starts due to the older goalie getting hurt. But now, there’s no excuse to keep the split. Sorokin has proven he’s more than ready to take full responsibility. Last season, the Russian goaltender had a 2.40 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage, with a 26-18-8 record. He was one of the best goaltenders in the league and the team record is not his fault. He’s phenomenal and hopefully, everyone will get to see him pile up more wins this season.
Players to Watch
The youngster suffered under a coach that wasn’t really forgiving of mistakes. And now, if he gets a bigger role under Lambert, he’ll thrive. For two seasons now, Wahlstrom has been showing so much potential and he wants to get more responsibility. It’s up to the coach to give it to him – and up to him to take the opportunity and show he’s ready. Wahlstrom will probably do everything in his power to get more than 12 minutes per night and that has everything to be very entertaining to watch.
Barzal had a “you can do better” year last season. The All-Star talent played only 73 games due to injuries and had 15 goals and 59 points. Since his rookie year, the 25-year-old has struggled to reach more than 60 points – but to be fair, the past three years were very weird. However, during the 2020-21 season, he had 17 goals and 45 points in 55 games and the year prior, 60 points in 68 games. The centre will be looking to bounce back this year. And if he does find his game again, he’ll be once again a star for the Isles and it’ll reflect on the entire team.
Prediction for 2022-23 New York Islanders
Due to the coaching change, a prediction is hard to make. However, the main prediction is: the 2022-23 New York Islanders won’t make the playoffs but it will be a considerably better season. Hopefully, this prediction will be wrong and next year everyone will look back and say “you were wrong!”. But let’s be realistic, the Eastern Conference is harder than the West currently. It will not be easy. But if they adapt to the new system, a miracle could happen. Let’s wait and see what comes next for the Island.