While teams around them wheeled and dealt over the summer, the New York Islanders remained largely unchanged.
Following a 2018-19 season in which they shocked the NHL world by finishing second in the Metropolitan Division before making it to the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Islanders have stood pat this offseason, opting for minor tweaks rather than wholesale changes.
Whether that was the initial approach by general manager Lou Lamoriello this offseason or not, the word “familiarity” was plenty prevalent during Islanders media on Thursday.
The Islanders have 24 returning members from last year preparing to suit up for the start of training camp Friday — the only changes of note being the departure of goaltender Robin Lehner in free agency, the signing of his replacement, Semyon Varlamov, and the acquisition of veteran Derick Brassard to center the third line.
“That goes a long way in the long run,” star center Mathew Barzal said. “Just building that bond and having core guys here all the time, just creating that camaraderie with your teammates… I feel good… I’m ready to get going.”
Team captain Anders Lee was quick to stress that complacency hasn’t set in.
“We’re starting over,” he said. “Even though it’s a similar group… it’s a whole new season and that just brings on day-one work ethics from the get-go.”
The Islanders offense hasn’t found the scoring punch that head coach Barry Trotz pined for toward the end of last season — they lost out on the Artemi Panarin sweepstakes to the Rangers in July — but the last year’s NHL-best defense is back intact.
That’s good news for Thomas Greiss, who is expected to platoon with Varlamov as he did with Lehner last season.
“For sure (it helps me),” Greiss said. “It helps the whole coaching staff, too. Everybody has a foundation and everyone knows what’s going on so it’ll help us right from the get-go.”
It seems as though the team’s best chance of having new talent infused with the roster will come from its youth ranks as strong pushes are expected from highly-touted prospects such as forwards Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, and defenseman Noah Dobson.
“I think having good depth and having good quality picks that are down there that puts backside pressure [on the roster],” head coach Barry Trotz said.
However, he alluded that his young forwards will likely start the year in the minors, at least.
“The good thing of having some depth is they don’t have to hurry the kids,” Trotz said. “You’re better off overcooking them a little bit.”