Brooklyn Boro

Lamoriello filling the void for Islanders

Begins re-stocking roster following Tavares defection to Toronto

July 3, 2018 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
John Tavares looks down at the ice in what turned out to be his final game as an Islander, New York’s 4-3 overtime victory in Detroit on April 7. AP Photo by Paul Sancya
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Lou Lamoriello knew he had a massive rebuild and reshape project ahead of him in Downtown Brooklyn when he assumed command of the New York Islanders in May.

It just became more massive.

With the defection of team captain John Tavares to Toronto on Sunday, the Islanders’ new team president and self-appointed general manager lost the one player he could build around.

Now, he is getting busy building without him.

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While Islander fans mourned the loss of their franchise player, one that had provided hope for a better future for the organization since his selection with the first overall pick back in 2009, Lamoriello turned the page quickly.

Not that he had any other another choice.

“The New York Islanders would like to thank John Tavares for everything he has done for the franchise throughout the past nine seasons,” Lamoriello noted after Tavares refused a potential eight-year, $100 million deal from New York to accept a front-loaded seven-year, $77 million pact in Toronto.

“John has achieved great individual success on the ice, as well as devoting a tremendous amount of his time and energy to the community. We wish him and his family all the best.”

The Hall of Fame executive and architect of three Stanley Cup titles in New Jersey, who is coming off an impressive three-year franchise-turning stint in Toronto, quickly signed veteran free agent forwards Valterri Filppula and Leo Komarov, re-inked defenseman Thomas Hickey to a four-year pact and put some faith in back-up netminder Christopher Gibson with a two-year, two-way (NHL/AHL) contract.

Of course, none of these moves, which were sprinkled with a slew of other one-year, two-way deals for some up-and-coming prospects, were what Islander fans were wishing for in advance of Sunday’s free-agent deadline.

But Tavares was eager to go home and play for his favorite team growing up in Mississauga, Ontario, about a half hour ride from the Air Canada Centre, where Maple Leafs fans have been waiting not-so-patiently since 1967 for Toronto to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup once again.

“It’s time to live my childhood dream,” he said after tweeting out of a photo of himself fast asleep as a 10-year-old draped in a Maple Leafs bed spread.

“I knew it was a little bit of the uncomfortable thing to do,” Tavares admitted at his first press conference in Toronto. “But I didn’t want that to hold me back from taking a chance at a great opportunity.”

Lamoriello must now turn his attention to finding a top-shelf goaltender, rebuilding a defense that yielded the most goals and shots in the NHL last season and making the most of Mathew Barzal’s talents.

The reigning Calder Trophy winner as the league’s top rookie, Barzal flourished on a line without Tavares last season, but will now be counted on to create opportunities for the team’s No. 1 offensive unit and power play.

Returning forwards like Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle and Anthony Beauvillier will doubtlessly provide the Isles with scoring punch.

But it’s the other end of the ice that cost New York a chance to return to the playoffs last year after getting off to an impressive 15-7-2 start before its extended post-Dec. 1 malaise.

Neither Thomas Greiss nor Jaroslav Halak could contend with the flurry of pucks that were fired on them from virtually every angle throughout the campaign, resulting in New York’s league-worst 3.57 goals-against average.

Though it’s hard to admit with the pain of Tavares’ departure still panging, the Isles can probably still be productive on the offensive end without their 27-year-old franchise player, who amassed 84 points last season.

But the back line and the goaltending situation are two areas that must be fixed in a hurry if 2018-19 is the season the Isles return to postseason form.

On Monday, Lamoriello picked up defenseman Seth Hegelson, a former Devil who flourished with the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, Connecticut last season.

He also added veteran winger Tom Kuhnhackl, who won a pair of Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh.

But none of these moves appear to be of the impact variety, like grabbing Senators blue liner extraordinaire Erik Karlsson would be.

Lamoriello certainly isn’t done dealing or signing free agents.

He won’t be until he’s confident the Isles have the pieces going forward that will make them legitimate Cup contenders going forward.

Losing Tavares was a huge step backwards for an organization that is relishing the opportunity to fill a new state-of-the-art arena in Elmont, N.Y., in three years.

Having Lamoriello at the helm for the foreseeable future and Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz behind the bench should soften the blow of Tavares’ departure to a degree.

But only a winning product on the ice, one that brings back memories of the halcyon days of the 1980s, will make Islander fans forget their former captain.

Isle Have Another: The Islanders won’t see Tavares until after Christmas, when they visit Toronto on Dec. 29 in their first match-up against their former leader. But things should be much more interesting when Tavares returns to Brooklyn for the first time as a Maple Leaf next Feb. 28. He will also re-visit his original NHL home at the Nassau Coliseum on April 1 during the final week of the regular season, a game that could hold playoff implications for his old franchise.

Speaking of old franchise, the Islanders completed a trade with Toronto on Tuesday afternoon, acquiring forward Matt Martin in exchange for goalie Eamon McAdam. Martin spent his first seven season with the Isles before playing the last two years for the Leafs. 

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