At any given moment on #isles Twitter there are a decent amount of fans hashing and rehashing every move that has been made by President and GM, Lou Lamoriello. I don’t blame fans for obsessing over what’s been done so far. It is undoubtedly a side effect of watching 10 plus years of Garth Snow operate with what seemed like little to no accountability. The laundry list of unexplainable moves, non-moves, hires, and draft picks with zero explanation and even fewer results culminating in the exodus of the team’s star and captain, John Tavares is enough to make anyone invested in the Islanders desire transparent explanations for every little thing.
Of course, as we all know, transparent explanations are not what we received from Lamoriello.
Known league-wide for running an extremely tight ship when it comes to rumor, innuendo, leaks, etc., watching him do little press he’s done is an instructional exercise in the tight-lipped stoicism that would make Marcus Aurelius proud. In lieu of mapping my own wants and desires onto the things that Lamoriello has done to the Islanders roster, this series will look back to Lou’s successful days with the Devils in an attempt to decipher if he’s trying to recreate that magic, to adapt that style of play to the modern game, or something else entirely.
We begin this analysis with the 1994-95 team – the first Devils team to ever win the Stanley Cup.
Much like the Islanders, the Devils were coming off a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals as they entered the strike-shortened ’94-’95 season (coincidentally, 2020-21 is the only other time the NHL regular season extended into May). What I find interesting about the change in the team between ’93-’94 and ’94-’95 is that they went from 3.64 GP/G (2nd in the league) to 2.83 GP/G (15th) and from a stingy 2.62 GA/G (2nd) to an even stingier 2.52 GA/G (5th). The shift in those numbers shows a clear move toward a defense-first attitude, or in the parlance of the larger hockey world, a more “boring,” game.
Nowhere is this shift more apparent than in the stats of their two best defensemen – Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermeyer.
In 1993-94, Stevens led the team with 78 points in 83 games and Niedermeyer was seventh on the team with 46 points in 81 games. The very next year Stevens amassed a much more down-to-earth 22 points in 48 games, good for fifth on the team, while Niedermeyer had 19 points in 48 games, down one spot to eighth.
The boring, defensive style of hockey that the Devils patented under Lamoriello is all too familiar to Isles fans. This year’s Islanders currently sit at 2.53 GF/G (23rd) and 2.2 GA/G (4th), and the team’s overall numbers during the regular season since Lamoriello took the reins are 2.73 GF/G (24th) and 2.51 GA/G (3rd). The blueprint is clear: sacrifice goal scoring for a more complete defensive shell.
While the Islanders don’t have the same brand of high-powered offensive defensemen that the Devils had, the shift in focus from point production is clear if you look at the total points the rosters put up. The ’93-94′ campaign, the Devils averaged 9.7 points per game. That fell to 7.5 one year later. The Islanders were at 8.6 points per game the year before Lamoriello. During Lou’s tenure that number went to 7.2 in 18-19, 7.4 in 19-20, and currently sits at a meager 6.9 for the current season.
Before this deep dive, I would have said that Lamoriello had no other choice than to shift the Islanders in a defensive direction given the available personnel following the disastrous 2017-18 season. However, given what seems like a deliberate shift away from what was a high-powered Devils offense to a Cup-winning defense has me second-guessing that thought.
I hope that a similar analysis of the other championship Devils teams that Lamoriello was in charge of will give more insight into some of the moves he’s made on the island.
Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericsvogel