Lou Lamoriello mum on Islanders’ Mathew Barzal negotiations
The Monday afternoon a few days before the Islanders officially open training camp brought with it that rarest of sights: Lou Lamoriello in public without a suit, speaking on a veranda with a picturesque golf course providing a backdrop.
“When I stop getting excited, then I’ll know it’s time,” Lamoriello said, donning a polo shirt and zip-up jacket that qualified as downright casual for the Islanders general manager. “That’s the feeling. It’s the most exciting time getting ready.”
A month from turning 80 and amid an avalanche of criticism and questions, Lamoriello is still excited, and every bit as optimistic as you would expect. As for the criticism, Lamoriello joked that his granddaughter once froze him out for three weeks over not re-signing a player. He’s content to deal with it.
Regarding the player he does need to re-sign at some point before this time next year, Mathew Barzal, Lamoriello declined to provide details on negotiations, but asked about wanting the star center to be around for the foreseeable future said, “I don’t want to say it’s a foolish question, but without question. Let’s be honest.”
For now, though, the Islanders come into training camp with exceedingly few question marks regarding the makeup of their roster and a great many about what it can do.
The belief within the organization is that last season’s shipwrecked maiden voyage for UBS Arena will prove to be an anomaly brought on by circumstance. A normal 2022-23, the logic goes, should bring with it a return to contention.
Captain Anders Lee said it was no surprise to see a healthy majority of last year’s roster back, with defenseman Alexander Romanov being the only major addition.
“I don’t think it was the group — collectively, we just didn’t put it all together last year,” Lee said. “I don’t think it was a personnel issue. We had a lot going on that kept us from performing the way we needed to and we had to overcome quite a bit of a hole.”
Predictably, the refrain is about last year being in the rearview mirror. Lee did admit, though, that he was surprised to see Barry Trotz let go, to be replaced as head coach by Lane Lambert. It’s hard to say yet how that will change the way the Islanders play, but it seems unlikely to result in a wholesale philosophical shift. Lambert, after all, was the lead assistant on Trotz’s staff for the duration of his time on Long Island.
“I think just having that familiarity off the bat, it’s really nice,” Lee said. “We’ve all played for Lane and he knows our group. He’s gonna be able to get out of us what he needs. We’ll know where he’s coming from right from the start.”
Though the Islanders’ prospects have been on the ice since last Thursday, the veterans won’t report for physicals until Wednesday, and they’ll begin camp in earnest the following day. Of the group that’s been working with AHL Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson, it’s likely that only three — Robin Salo, Dennis Cholowski and Grant Hutton — have a realistic shot at the NHL roster, competing for the sixth and seventh defenseman spots with Sebastian Aho also in the mix.
Lamoriello said that all three were not obliged to show up at rookie camp, doing so of their own accord.
“They wanted to come get a head start, get in the best shape they could,” Lamoriello said. “It’s a good indication of how serious they are.”
The Islanders, though, have most of their roster well set enough that Lamoriello didn’t feel a need to bring in any players on tryout contracts, because there wouldn’t have been much chance for them to make the team. Top prospects Aatu Räty and William Dufour, he added, are unlikely to be ready for the NHL at this point.
It takes no reading between the lines to see that the Islanders are quite content with their roster.
“We’re very comfortable with the group we have, I’ve said it [all] along,” Lamoriello said. “Certainly everyone was waiting for something to transpire [in free agency], but you don’t do something unless you can get better. Whenever you add, potentially you have to subtract. And right now, we’re in a good situation with our cap, with our group. I am extremely comfortable with what anyone might think.”
Even in this most casual of settings, that message remained consistent.
“Remember,” Lamoriello said, “we’re in this to win.”
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