Islanders focused on results, not predictions in new-look Metropolitan
Expect to remain playoff contenders despite quiet offseasonby Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders are well aware of what is being said about their chances in the Metropolitan Division after the abundance of moves made by teams around them during the offseason.
It's similar to what they heard 12 months ago, when they were predicted to finish at or near the bottom of the NHL standings. Instead, the Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan and fifth in the NHL standings, and advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"You know what? They said that last year, and we did OK," coach Barry Trotz said at the Islanders Children Foundation Golf Outing at Bethpage State Park on Tuesday. "I'm not too worried. The one thing you learn is that everybody's an expert when they're not in the fight. Everybody has an opinion, and they're not really worth anything, they're just opinions. [It's] like me having an opinion on Wall Street; I don't have any expertise there.
"But I know we just worry about ourselves. If we worry about ourselves, we're going to win hockey games. This team is strong, it has a strong foundation, it's got strong character. It's got a lot of the good pieces that good teams have. We've had success."
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The Islanders don't have to look far to see where improvements in their division were made; the New York Rangers acquired top pair defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets, selected forward Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and signed unrestricted free agent forward Artemi Panarin. The New Jersey Devils selected center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick in the draft, then acquired defenseman P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators and forward Nikita Gusev in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights. The Philadelphia Flyers hired Alain Vigneault as coach and signed center Kevin Hayes.
The Islanders, meanwhile, return a similar roster. They lost Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner to free agency (Chicago Blackhawks) but signed goalie Semyon Varlamov to a four-year contract July 1. Center Derick Brassard signed a one-year contract on Aug. 21 to replace center Valtteri Filppula, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings.
"Look, we think that we got better as well," said Islanders captain Anders Lee, who signed a seven-year contract July 1 to remain in New York. "Whether it's within ourselves or our own training or our own personal gains and all those things, we look at it as we got better as well. But it's always going to be tough.
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"Our division's always been tough since we've been here. The last five, six years, it's been a grind and we expect nothing different."
The Islanders will have their first official practice when training camp opens Friday. They will use the next three weeks to evaluate younger players, particularly defenseman Noah Dobson, the No. 12 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. If Dobson, a two-time Memorial Cup champion, stands out, there's a chance they'll have to shake up the roster to make room for the 19-year-old. But general manager Lou Lamoriello said he's not concerned with the potential improvements made within the division.
"As far as what other teams do, all we have to do is go down history as far as predictions and what their success has been," Lamoriello said. "You look at a team like [the Tampa Bay Lightning], they're going to be a great team again this year, and they could have won the Cup last year. They got beat in the first round of the playoffs. You have to be very, very careful.
"You take the next step with improvement, but you have to also be very careful with where you were and, I don't want to say how close you were, [but] the parity in this league is real. You have to be careful of what you do and what you subtract and what you add to make sure you're better. You'll never be 100 percent sure, so we felt, especially in the forward situation, that the best people available were the people we had. That's the best way to look at it."
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The Islanders begin their regular season against last season's Metropolitan champions, the Washington Capitals, at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 4. They may not have made drastic changes, but Trotz said he likes their chances.
"A lot of people are saying, 'Hey, you're not going to have that success,'" Trotz said. "Yeah, everybody around us got better, but we got better too. It's not necessarily names. Adding pieces to your team doesn't necessarily make you better. Sometimes, it doesn't. It just changes dynamics in rooms and all those intangibles that you don't know about that affect your hockey team. There hasn't been a lot of change, so the intangibles shouldn't change for us a whole lot.
"Last year, we were probably the only ones thinking that we could do what we did. Now, I think we've opened people's eyes and they're saying we can't do what we did. It may be harder to get to that point because everybody around you has gotten better, but it doesn't mean you can't be a playoff team and contend for the Cup."