There will be bigger moves to come, but at the moment for the New York Islanders and their fans, a plan does seem to be in place with Lou Lamoriello calling the shots.
After losing the franchise superstar and captain John Tavares on Sunday, Lamoriello made a few moves that started phase one of the process, one hopes that won’t take long. Now, none of these acquisitions were going to take the sting away or make up for what the franchise lost in Tavares, but bringing back Thomas Hickey, signing forwards Leo Komarov and Valtteri Filppula was done for a purpose.
With Hickey, the Isles retain a familiar face and dependable defensemen that new head coach Barry Trotz can rely upon as Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield continue to hone their game. Hickey staying you can say, also provides that presence in the locker room that the team was going to lack after losing Tavares as captain. The addition of Komarov is a questionable one based on term, but he’s got bite — a characteristic that the roster has been lacking for over two years. Komarov also is known to be a good penalty killer and a bit of a pest, and despite only having 19 points in 74 games a year ago, he’s got something to prove.
The same goes for Filppula.
Even at 34 years old, Filppula can still produce and is another solid penalty killer. And for just $2.75 million for one season, it’s another one of those low risk, high reward type acquisitions that can really benefit the Islanders. So it’s easy to see here what Lou is doing. He’s taking one of the major flaws in the system that played a part in the Islanders downfall last season and plugging in guys who can turn that into a positive.
And then came yesterday, not the biggest deals to be made, but the right ones for several reasons. Those deals came in trading for former fan-favorite Matt Martin and signing 27-year old netminder Robin Lehner.
“Coming back to the Islanders is exciting for me,” Martin told reporters earlier. “In my heart, I was hoping for this. I do think I can contribute in a similar way that I contributed before. I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been. Last year wasn’t a lot of fun for me in a lot of ways. To get another opportunity with this team is unbelievable for me. I bleed orange, white and blue.”
One crucial aspect of the Islanders that has been somewhat lost over recent seasons is toughness. Lamoriello reacquiring Martin not only brings that element of toughness back into the Isles lineup but also establishes some grit and if you want to say, heart, back into the organization. In his seven seasons on Long Island before signing with Toronto, Martin was the heart and soul of the team and liked to hit anything in sight. He was the quintessential fourth liner Islanders fans would come to adore with his rough and tumble style and overall ferociousness.
Speaking of the fourth line, Martin returning re-establishes the Don Cherry dubbed trio “The Best Fourth Line In Hockey History” along with Casey Cizikas in Cal Clutterbuck. So in Martin, Lamoriello finds a guy the fans love, a player who still has something to prove, and a player who can instill some pride back to the crest on the front of the jersey.
As for the other nice pickup, Lehner, Lamoriello brings in a young, but talented goaltender who also wants to show the critics they were wrong.
Think of one of the keywords associated above with Lehner: youth. It’s hard to believe, but the last time the Islanders had a starting goaltender not beyond the age of 30, it was Rick DiPietro in 2007-08. Taking in Lehner on a one-year contract for just $1.5 million is an absolute steal.
Lehner’s numbers weren’t the greatest for the Sabres, but they were better than a lot of people expected with a very bad team placed in front of him. And as advertised, he might be a bit of a nut, but maybe this is the type of guy the Isles really can get a lot out of. The fact that Lehner services might just only be one season benefits in two ways: 1) He is the perfect bridge to prospect Linus Soderstrom finally taking the reins as the future starter a year from now, 2) If things do work out, the Isles can look toward him as the long-term solution as their man between the pipes.
Another thing to keep in mind, if goaltending coach Mitch Korn does decide to leave Washington to join Barry Trotz here on Long Island, Lehner will be tutored under the guy who turned both Pekka Rinne and Braden Holtby into the Vezina Trophy-winning goalies they are today. One could only imagine what Lehner could turn in to with Korn by his side.
There still a whole lot left on Lou’s checklist this summer if the Isles are going to be a good team this season.
Another top-flight center and top-four defensemen (cough Erik Karlsson) would do wonders. But so far, he’s found a number one goalie for the time being, brought in players with some edge to their game, and found pieces to make the team harder to play against.
This is only the start of the transformation of the Isles under the Lamoriello regime, but some of what needed to be fixed has already come to fruition, and that fans should be satisfied to see.
Happy Independence Day to everyone.
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