The Islanders have established themselves as an upper-echelon team under the Lou Lamoriello-Barry Trotz regime, having compiled the NHL’s fourth-best record since the GM and coach signed on to save the franchise before last season.
Indeed, only the Caps, Blues and Bruins have recorded more points and only the Caps and Blues have registered more victories than the Islanders since the start of 2018-19.
Which means that this team’s measure will be taken by how far it advances in the playoffs. Lamoriello has never been one of those guys to hope to finish eighth and put his faith in the alleged randomness of the postseason. He has never been one to merely spin the wheel without looking for an edge over the house.
Lamoriello’s Devils rented Phil Housley. They traded for Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk. They acquired Alex Mogilny and leased Vladimir Malakhov. Oh, and once upon a time, Ilya Kovalchuk, too. When the Cup beckons, the GM (President/Chief Hall Monitor/Director of Quality Control) goes big.
This is why the Islanders, who were prepared to lavish many, many millions on Artemi Panarin before the electric free agent winger chose to take somewhat less from the Rangers last summer because Manhattan, should be in on Taylor Hall, the singular rental prize in the Cracker Jack box.
If the price is too high on Hall — Ray Shero, who succeeded Lamoriello as GM in New Jersey, may feel the need to hit a grand slam in any deal with his predecessor and could demand that 19-year-old defenseman Noah Dobson be featured in the package going back to the Devils — then what would it take for the Islanders and Rangers to pull off their first significant trade ever, with Chris Kreider the rental target?
But let’s say that the Islanders can’t/don’t get Hall or Kreider to aid the attack. In 2003, the Devils were in need of an offensive jolt heading into the playoffs. Of course at the deadline, Lamoriello acquired a pair of depth defensemen in Oleg Tverdovsky and Richard Smehlik. That team may have had the weakest group of forwards to win a Cup this century, but nobody had more depth on the blue line than the eight-deep Devils.
So maybe Lamoriello will look to reinforce the team’s approach and bolster the roster at the same time. In that case, the Islanders could be interested in Travis Zajac, the 34-year-old center who is in the seventh year of the eight-year deal for $5.75 million per to which Lamoriello signed him in 2013.
Zajac — three goals, six assists and nine points this season off a 19-27-46 in 2018-19 — and pending free agent defenseman Andy Greene are the only two Devils remaining from the 2012 club that beat the Rangers in the conference finals and lost to the Kings in the Cup final. In other words, Zajac and Greene are the only current Devils to win a playoff round in a New Jersey uniform.
Engineering a reunion would not be unprecedented for Lamoriello, who brought a horde of players back to New Jersey for second acts. That included Mogilny, Malakhov, Bobby Holik, Brian Rolston and Scott Gomez.
The Islanders likely need more pop to get through four playoff rounds. They probably need to add a scorer in order to beat Washington in what looms as a second-round confrontation. But if they can’t get that, there is every chance that Lamoriello will double down on players who suit Trotz’s system. One of those folks is in New Jersey wearing No. 19.
Checked in with Mathieu Schneider, who has held an executive position with the NHLPA since 2011, and with Glenn Healy, in his third year as executive director of the NHL Alumni Association following a stint with the PA late last decade, whether they had ever received a complaint from a player about coach abuse.
The answer from both was: “Never.”
This, of course, does not mean that unreported abuses did not occur. This also does not mean players mistrusted union leadership to take action.
You must remember that players on the wrong end of abuse are also on the wrong end of the power structure. No one wants to be labeled a troublemaker in a professional sports world that does not take kindly to boat-rockers.
This does not only attain to the coach-player relationship, but the one between management and labor. This is one of the reasons players either opt not to file grievances or choose to settle cases for dimes on the dollar. Case in point: Jake Dotchin after his contract was terminated under suspicious circumstances by Tampa Bay.
The cool kids seem to think that “tandeming” in goal is a new thing. It is not. The 1960-61 Red Wings gave 36 starts to Terry Sawchuk and 34 to Hank Bassen. The 1962-63 Maple Leafs gave 42 starts to Johnny Bower and 28 to Don Simmons. The 1965-66 Rangers gave 34 starts to Ed Giacomin, 27 to Cesare Maniago and nine to Simmons. The 1966-67 Black Hawks (that’s what they were then) gave 41 starts to Denis DeJordy and 29 to Glenn Hall.
Those were the Original Six days of Original Tandeming.
Five-on-five goal check.
Four forwards with at least 385:00 of full strength have scored only one five-on-five goal, and they are Jonathan Toews, Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and Mikael Backlund. Among the 11 who have scored just two are Hall, Jamie Benn, Johnny Gaudreau, Bo Horvat and Ryan O’Reilly.
Finally, Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov slew foots Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi, the Finn suffers a concussion after landing on his head, and the alleged Department of Player Safety remains mum.
Won’t someone please change the name of that department?
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