EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- Lou Lamoriello did his due diligence in the past few days and weeks leading up the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday, but his confidence in the New York Islanders and his unwillingness to part with key assets ultimately led him to stand pat.
He believes his players should view it as a compliment.
"I would like to think so, and I would hope so because that's exactly what it is," Lamoriello said at the Islanders practice facility about 20 minutes after the trade deadline passed. "Because if not, then something would have been done."
New York (36-18-7), led by coach Barry Trotz, has been one of the surprise teams in the NHL this season and entered Monday in first place in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the Washington Capitals with two games in hand. This is Lamoriello's and Trotz's first season with the Islanders, who missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past two seasons.
"To be perfectly honest and frank, I don't think anybody standing here could have put on a piece of paper that we'd be standing here at the trade deadline at a position that we are in the League," Lamoriello said. "I think that certainly your play, that is the play of the team throughout the year, determines what your actions are at this time of the year.
"But I think the consistency of play and how different people rose to different occasions, and probably most important is there are players that can raise their level. They haven't reached the level of what their potential is, which is what you need at this time of the year."
Video: Discussing the Islanders standing pat at the deadline
However, the Islanders could receive a boost as early as Tuesday when they host the Calgary Flames at Nassau Coliseum (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, SNW, NHL.TV). Left wing Andrew Ladd, who has been out since Nov. 13 because of a lower-body injury, and defenseman Thomas Hickey, who sustained an upper-body injury on Dec. 17, are likely to return.
"It'd be pretty tough to add those two types of players at a trade deadline right now," Lamoriello said. "There's no question it helps.
"You have to be extremely careful at this time because whenever you add somebody, it takes away from somebody else and somebody moves in a different spot. You have to make sure, and in our opinion, whatever we potentially could have done would not have been the best thing."
Perhaps what makes the Islanders' success this season even more remarkable is they've done it without center John Tavares, the former face of their franchise and captain who signed a seven-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018. Left wing Anders Lee, who was named captain on the morning of the season opener (Oct. 4), expressed his belief in the players within the locker room a few hours before the deadline arrived.
"We're extremely comfortable," Lee said. "We've done a lot as a group, and it's been everyone from top to bottom. Whether it's guys that have played a couple of games or all of them, we've all made a positive impact on each other and stuck together. Everyone's role is equal."
Lee is one of four key players on New York's roster who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, along with center Brock Nelson, right wing Jordan Eberle and goalie Robin Lehner. Lamoriello said keeping each in the fold post-deadline reaffirmed the Islanders' desire to re-sign them.
Video: Lehner earns Saturday's Pepsi Zero Sugar Shutout
"It's our responsibility to try to get our free agents signed who we feel very good about," Lamoriello said. "I think this is certainly an indication of what we think of them, and also what we think of our own team. But we have a lot of work ahead of us, there's no question.
"Right now, we just have to focus and get ready for the next game. The trade deadline is behind us. I don't think too many of our players were uncomfortable because when you play well, you get rewarded for playing well. Our team has done that. Hopefully they see the trust and also the confidence that we have in them."
With 21 games remaining in the regular season, the Islanders are in a position to have home-ice advantage in the playoffs for the first time since 1988. Twelve of those remaining games will be played at Nassau Coliseum, where they are 6-1-2. Their other 20 home games were played at Barclays Center, where they went 12-6-2 and would return should they advance to the Eastern Conference Second Round.
"Our players can't get comfortable; things don't happen by accident," Lamoriello said. "Our coaching staff, Barry and his group, have done a tremendous job of putting in a system and holding people accountable, and not only that, the players holding themselves accountable to what has to be done. That's the way you have success.
"We went into this trade deadline with several areas that if potentially we could address, we would. But we weren't going to get into a situation where we sacrificed what our plan is, because we feel very good about this hockey team."