You, the New York Islanders fans, are mad. You’re throwing things. You may even be pricing outdoor ad space on a certain stretch of Hempstead Turnpike.
The Islanders are in need of change, there’s no doubting that. We covered the difficulty of making a coaching change at the moment earlier this week and also the incredible difficulty of making a front-office change now — and since then, the Isles have blown two more leads and given up five power-play goals in two losses. Difficult does not mean impossible, so Lane Lambert’s seat is scorching hot right now.
Lou Lamoriello’s likely is not — not yet, anyway. For owner Scott Malkin to make that change, he’d need to have a general manager-in-waiting — and unless new minority owner and COO John Collins has one in mind, it’s hard to see how that would work now given that Malkin inherited Garth Snow and then turned the keys over to Lamoriello. Unless Malkin has been sizing up potential GMs in secret, he doesn’t have a deep bench to work from.
Also, if Lamoriello goes, so does his main assistant GM, his son Chris. The other AGM is Steve Pellegrini, who has only been hired by Lamoriello on two occasions. This would be a complete reconstruction of the front office and to do it now would mean this season is already over and a new GM would need to assemble a crew, assess the roster and possibly replace a coach all while the team is still trying to win games. That seems like frustration more than a plan.
Changing coaches is a different story and another loss or two might mean Lamoriello has no choice but to make a move. Whether it’s John Hynes or Bruce Boudreau or Jacques Lemaire, just to name three guys who are available now, the Islanders would still be faced with the same issues that have plagued them through 15 games.
So here are three things the Islanders can do now to try and shake things up — and three things that might seem appealing but that they absolutely should not do:
Bench the captain
Much as it pains everyone in the Isles world to say it, Anders Lee is a detriment right now. Still stuck on one goal and two points, he looks completely off his game. Lambert was quick to identify Josh Bailey’s decline last season and scratched the Isles’ longest-tenured player with some regularity; Lee holds a different place in the Isles’ hierarchy as captain but his game is in dire need of a reset.
Sitting him out for a game or two also sends a stronger message than Lambert did when benching Pierre Engvall last week. This is a team with the longest-standing core in the league, a large chunk of guys who have played together for a decade in some cases. Giving Lee a seat may be more impactful than scratching a relative newcomer in Engvall, despite his long-term contract.
Anders Lee’s struggles are new territory for him and the Islanders
Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock were not so long ago one of the best pairs in the league. Pelech has been hampered by injury early this season but his pairing with Noah Dobson hasn’t been strong — and it’s Pelech, not Dobson, who has been the main issue. Alexander Romanov and Pulock started the season strong but have faded a bit. Pelech and Pulock have gotten about 22 minutes of ice time together so far and guess what? Their metrics are best on the team, with 74.5 percent of the expected goals (courtesy Evolving Hockey) when on the ice.
It’s worth a try. Romanov-Dobson might be messy, and so might Romanov-Scott Mayfield, but the Islanders have to start getting back to the team they were just a couple years ago, the one that would chalk up two points any time it scored three in a game and the one that could hold a lead in the third. A good place to get that going is with Pelech-Pulock.
Move Oliver Wahlstrom to the top line
Wahlstrom has looked a bit more dangerous over the last 4-5 games. It’s understandable that Lambert wants balance but if the Isles are only good for one 5v5 goal a night, it certainly seems like Mathew Barzal-Bo Horvat-Wahlstrom makes sense, even if there’s a defensive lapse or two built in. Simon Holmstrom belongs with Jean-Gabriel Pageau on a checking line and Wahlstrom, the only pure goal scorer on the roster, belongs with guys who can get him the puck to do just that.
Make a trade
Lamoriello has depleted the Isles’ asset cupboard with his moves over five years and it worked for the most part. But because of where the team sits now, laden with long-term contracts and close to the cap, it would require another first-round pick or one of the precious few well-regarded prospects they have to shake this roster up.
If I’m Malkin I put my foot down on that. Lamoriello put this team together and ensured it would stay together, so trying to change it again speaks to a major error in philosophy that the owner should not allow at the moment.
Call up anyone from Bridgeport
This is gonna be a real shock, I know, but the Baby Islanders are having trouble scoring and winning games. Ruslan Iskhakov is off to a solid start and there are a couple of AHL vets (Brian Pinho, Dennis Cholowski) who have started well, but there isn’t anyone who would move the needle enough to warrant a recall. Iskhakov could fill a need if someone gets hurt but he’s a scoring forward who’d be coming to a team that has many, many holes to fill. It’s not time to rush anyone.
Bring in anyone but an interim coach
Again, if I’m the owner and I have doubts about Lamoriello, what would be the point of letting Lamoriello bring in a veteran coach as a permanent fix? Then you may stumble through the rest of the season, decide you need a new front office … and you’ve got a coach on the hook for another 2-3 years. If the Islanders are headed for a renovation, do it properly. Lambert may not survive this stretch but you can’t make his replacement a permanent one.
(Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)