New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello knows a thing or two about losing his best forward. It happened to him in 2012 when he ran the New Jersey Devils and Zach Parise signed with the Minnesota Wild. It happened again earlier this month when Lamoriello’s current team lost John Tavares on the open market to his former club, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Lamoriello also knows about the challenges of joining a new franchise that, on paper, is nowhere close to being championship calibre.
The 75-year-old joined Gord Stellick and Rob Simpson on Sirius XM’s Stellick & Simmer where he discussed how the Islanders move on from Tavares, plus the similarities and differences between the Isles’ and Leafs’ rosters.
“We did everything, I think, we possibly could to keep John,” Lamoriello said. “He’s been an exceptional player for the Islanders. He’s a quality player but he now is with another team so that’s the past. What we’re doing right now is trying to get knowledge of who we are…and learning more about each and every one of the players we have here and we’ll get, [new head coach Barry Trotz] and I, and our staff will get prepared for next year.”
Although many Islanders fans might think the sky is falling, Lamoriello has plied his trade long enough to where panic never sets it.
“Individual players win games but teams win championships,” Lamoriello said. “I don’t think we have to go any further than what Las Vegas did this past year as far as the job that they did and how they were able to accomplish the success they had by a group of individuals coming together and having success. So, that certainly is the foundation but it certainly is a lot easier when you have players that have been together and have extra talents.”
It would seem the Islanders are longshots to make the playoffs in 2019 but Lamoriello suggested the task of turning this team around isn’t as daunting as the one he faced in Toronto when he was named GM of the Maple Leafs in 2015.
Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Leo Komarov, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner were the only Leafs roster players to remain on the team for the entirety of Toronto’s Lamoriello era—from Day 1 to the day he left.
Lamoriello said he doesn’t expect there to be nearly the amount of roster turnover with the Islanders as there was during his time with the Maple Leafs.
“This is different for two reasons,” he explained. “In Toronto…we had to really break it right down and get to the core [of the roster] and just see who wanted to be a part of it for a lot of difference reasons. There’s more talent here than at this given time from the original core, so I think it’s different. It’s not a breakdown. It’s really finding out exactly how high the level is of the players that you do have here.”
The Islanders have five forwards under contract through at least the 2021-22 campaign and that doesn’t include youngsters Mathew Barzal or Anthony Beauvillier, both of whom are still on their entry-level contracts, nor current restricted free agent Brock Nelson, who could eventually sign a long-term extension.
Despite losing Calvin de Haan in free agency, the team also has five defencemen locked up for at least the next three seasons.
Among the first of Lamoriello’s moves as Isles GM was bringing in a couple familiar faces from his time in Toronto, signing Komarov to a four-year, $12-million deal and acquiring Matt Martin. Moves he feels will help the team transition to its next chapter.
“There’s no question if you look at [Komarov’s] contract you might say ‘you’re overpaying for a player.’ I haven’t met a player that we haven’t overpaid for,” Lamoriello said with a chuckle. “Leo, I’ve had the opportunity to work with him now three years. What he brings to the locker room is not seen. What he brings to the ice is his work ethic and versatility in all different areas and also he’ll be able to go in the room and be an example for a lot of players on how to act, how to be a pro. … Leo’s going to bring something special. He’s going to bring intangibles you can’t teach.”
Martin, of course, is a former fan favourite with the Islanders after representing one third of the consensus best fourth line in hockey during his time on Long Island when he played with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. Lamoriello said it would be unfair to assume that trio will have the same results as it did a few seasons ago and added it’s unclear if Trotz will even play the three forwards together.
Lamoriello acquired Cory Schneider in New Jersey and Frederik Andersen in Toronto. The move with the biggest potential impact Lamoriello has made so far with the Islanders was signing former Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.
“I was astonished when I heard that the goals against last year was the worst not only in the National Hockey League but was the worst over the last 10 years,” Lamoriello said. “I do know with Barry’s [coaching] style and philosophy we both have that that’s not going to be too difficult to take care of.”
If Lehner can help the team do better than allowing 3.57 goals per game like they did in in 2017-18 it will be a small first step in getting the franchise back on track. And if Lamoriello is to be believed, there’s no need for Islanders fans to be in full-blown panic mode. As evidenced by his time with the Maple Leafs, a little patience goes a long way.