NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the New York Islanders.
The New York Islanders know they won't be sneaking up on teams this season. The element of surprise has evaporated after a second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division and a trip to the Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Now it's up to the Islanders, who had home-ice advantage in a playoff series for the first time since 1988 and swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round before being swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, to prove what they accomplished last season wasn't a fluke.
"Expectations will change and the bar will be raised," said Islanders captain Anders Lee, a forward who signed a seven-year, $49 million contract July 1. "Good teams have to be able to handle that and all those things that go into becoming a championship team."
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Barry Trotz, who coached the Islanders to a 48-27-7 record in his first season with New York, won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year after fixing a defense that went from allowing the most goals in 2017-18 (293) to the fewest (191) last season, highlighted by an Islanders-record 11 shutouts.
General manager Lou Lamoriello, also entering his second season with New York, said he's confident Trotz and the Islanders can build off what they accomplished last season, when they finished in the top five in the NHL standings for the first time since 1985-86.
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"We know other teams will take us maybe more serious than they did last year," Lamoriello said. "But that's where we have to grow and that's where our character that I have tremendous confidence in comes through, plus the coaching staff that we have.
"This is the first time that a lot of our players have ever gone through the playoffs, first time they experienced success, and then the lack of success in the second round and how it's approached. You learn by experience. You never know what experience is until you acquire it."
One of the few changes the Islanders made to their roster was a drastic one. Goalie Semyon Varlamov, who played the past eight seasons for the Colorado Avalanche, signed a four-year, $20 million contract July 1 to replace Robin Lehner, who was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season. Lehner signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.
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"Even [before last season] when we were looking for goaltenders, he was on the radar for the organization," Trotz said of Varlamov. "He's obviously been someone that I think we have a lot of confidence in. With Robin's [contract] situation, when that didn't materialize, [Varlamov] was the No. 1 guy that we were going to go after."
Varlamov said the Islanders' structure under Trotz gives him a great chance to win.
"It's very hard to play against the teams he's coaching because of his system," Varlamov said. "Every team playing against a Barry Trotz-coached [team] is going to have a hard time because all the teams he's coached, they play very well defensively. They play very tight in front of the net."
The Islanders have time to upgrade their forwards (particularly at center after Valtteri Filppula signed with the Detroit Red Wings on July 1) before the season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 4, and training camp will present an opportunity for Michael Dal Colle, 23, Joshua Ho-Sang, 23, Kieffer Bellows, 21 and Oliver Wahlstrom, 19, to make an impact.
Trotz said he's particularly excited to see Dal Colle, who was the No. 5 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and had seven points (three goals, four assists) in 28 games last season.
"Right now, there's some spots open," Trotz said. "I think last year, Michael Dal Colle was a guy that a lot of people were saying, 'You know, I don't know if he's going to be able to play in the National Hockey League.' Now, I think he's getting it. He's looking like a player that's going to play in the National Hockey League and be very effective. He's got good hands, he's a big body (6-foot-3, 204 pounds) and I think he's got his confidence back."
The Islanders will again split their 41 home games between Nassau Coliseum (21) and Barclays Center (20) as they inch closer to their new arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, which received final approval to begin construction Aug. 13. It is scheduled to open for the 2021-22 season.
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New York was 12-7-2 at the Coliseum (2-0 in the playoffs) and 12-6-2 at Barclays Center (0-2 in the playoffs) last season.
"We know we can be successful," forward Tom Kuhnhackl said. "[We] have the same group of core guys that we had last year, we know the system, what we've got to do, what we have to do to be successful. We did a good job with that last year and hopefully we can do it again this year."
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