The New York Islanders are a team to fade in 2023. Although the Islanders managed to be the first wild-card team in last season’s playoffs, their first-round matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes showed exactly who this team is. The Islanders had every chance to win this series against the Hurricanes and found themselves down two games to none before heading home to UBS arena. The Isles went up against a shorthanded Hurricanes team, missing arguably two of their best three players. Frederik Andersen missed the first round of the playoffs for a second year, leaving Anti Raanta to start in net. The ‘Canes were also missing top forward Andrei Svechnikov.
The Isles needed more discipline, defensive awareness, and scoring in this series. The lack of discipline was surprising from the Isles, a top-three team in the league in power play opportunities against and a top-ten team in penalty kill percentage. The Isles lost game one 2-1, giving up two power-play goals on four chances. Game two was the same; they gave up one goal on six opportunities. While their penalty kill played better as the series went on, the Islanders continued to limit their even-strength manpower. They lost abilities to build momentum offensively on special teams themselves. The Isles could not score on the power play themselves, scoring one total goal on twenty-one opportunities in the series.
The Isles scoring problems didn’t begin in the postseason; they ended it. Expected top scorer and captain Anders Lee finished the postseason with one goal and zero assists in six games against Carolina. Recently acquired and signed deadline blockbuster Bo Horvat finished the first round with one goal and one assist. Playmaker Mat Barzal finished the first round with two goals and zero assists. The three top players for the Isles finished with four goals and one assist. The Isles finished bottom eight in the league, scoring 242 goals on the year, good for less than three goals per game. The Isles finished the season with only three 20-goal scorers. Scoring has continued to be a problem for the Isles, with little being done. This offseason was no different. Lou Lamoriello’s only moves this offseason were to re-sign both netminders, Scott Mayfield, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Pierre Engvall. Josh Bailey and his contract were also shipped off to Chicago, where he was eventually DFA’d.
Expect no different from the Islanders this season offensively. The Isles will be a mediocre two-line team up front. Oliver Wahlstrom is healthy after missing the final 42 games of the season, plus the playoffs, and should flank Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal on the top line. On the second line, the unsung hero of the Isles, Brock Nelson, should center Anders Lee and Kyle Palmieri. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has failed to reach twenty goals in a season since being acquired by the Isles and should find himself on a third line with Pierre Engvall and Hudson Fasching. Pageau hasn’t found a way to elevate his game to become that 25-30 goal scorer his skills suggest he could be. The Isles 4th line returns with Matt Martin between Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas. As a fan, it’s been time for Cizikas and Clutterbuck to go. While the fourth line has become a fan favorite and a staple of their identity over the years, they’ve taken up potential spots for draft picks to grow. With Aatu Raty now gone in the Bo Horvat trade, there isn’t much left in the system to rave over. Lou Lamoriello has not only failed to improve this Islanders team offensively over the years but also failed to draft someone in the first round for the past four years.
Going into the ’23-’24 season, the Isles are stuck in purgatory. Barry Trotz was the best thing to happen to the Isles, and Lamoriello fired him after back-to-back Easter Conference Finals appearances. Before Trotz turned this team around after missing the playoffs from 2016-2018, the Isles cycled through mid to entry-level coaches with minimal experience at the top level. The Isles are back there with Lane Lambert at the helm. The Isles lacked consistency throughout last season, losing must-win games against low-level teams. What bodes well for the Isles this year is the lack of depth the Eastern Conference should have. I would argue that the top teams in the Metro got stronger (Carolina, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, New York Rangers), and the top teams in the Atlantic got weaker (Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Florida). This should allow the Isles to compete again this year for a wild card spot, but it won’t be pretty. Nothing indicates the Isles are in a place to make any leaps and bounds this season. The Isles should finish as a bottom 8 team in scoring offensively, with their goaltending keeping them in the playoff hunt.
With Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin signed for the next four and eight years, the Isles can rest comfortably in net. The Sorokin-Varlamov tandem is one of, if not the best, tandem in the league. Varlamov’s willingness to stay on the Island is a surprise to me. Varlamov is a guy I believe could help bring a team like Toronto or Edmonton to the next level, but he’s made it very clear that he loves being on the Island and playing behind Sorokin. These two will be why the Isles stay competitive this year and allow them to win some games they shouldn’t. Regarding betting expectations for the Isles, no lines are being offered that have enough value for me to take. The Isles are even money to make the playoffs, and there’s no realistic shot for them to win the division over the aforementioned teams. The only bet worth making for the Isles would be for Ilya Sorokin to win the Vezina trophy at +600. Sorokin currently sits as the favorite. I don’t like this play for the reason I believe he lost the Vezina last year. The Isles are not a team that plays well enough in front of him consistently enough. You can argue that Sorokin played better skill-wise than Linus Ullmark last year, but the Boston Bruins set records in the standings. In my opinion, the Isles as a team will lack the wins needed for Sorokin to stand out above guys like Igor Shesterkin and Frederik Andersen, but is worth the stab.