With the 2023/24 regular season less than a month away and training camp starting this week, all eyes start to narrow in on the Islanders. One question that looms large: will the Isles be running it back?
The easy answer: of course not. Things are a bit more complicated than that, though. Take a look at the players on last year’s opening roster that are no longer with the Islanders: Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Keiffer Bellows, Nikita Soshnikov and (potentially) Zach Parise. That’s not too many pivotal pieces on their way out, so one could say the Islanders are trusting their core to regroup.
Now, though, take a look at the players who were not on last year’s opening night roster that are expected to be on it this year: Bo Horvat, Pierre Engvall, Julien Gauthier, Hudson Fasching, Samuel Bolduc and Simon Holmstrom (with the latter three starting last year in Bridgeport). Those are certainly some significant additions to the Isles existing core of Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Ilya Sorokin, Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech.
Want to get excited? Think about a full year of Bo Horvat and Mathew Barzal on the same line. Or a full year of that “Engvall – Nelson – Kyle Palmieri” line that proved to be one of the league’s best in their time together. Or the fact that Lou Lamoriello locked up one of the league’s top two goalies (and he’s not #2) in Sorokin for eight years.
“This is an Islanders group that has the chance to prove everybody wrong – which is a mentality this franchise notoriously thrives upon”
There’s definitely a few things that fans would have liked to see play out differently, like less term on the extensions for Engvall (7 years, $3M AAV), Scott Mayfield (7 years, $3.5M AAV) and Semyon Varlamov (4 years, $2.75M AAV). I think most would have liked an addition or two to the blue-line, which struggled mightily in waves throughout the season. The Islanders power play cost the team at least 10 points in the standings last season (it was 3rd worst in the entire NHL at 15.8%) – they’re bringing back the same group and staff to run it again.
As of right now, this is an Islanders group that has the chance to prove everybody wrong – which is a mentality this franchise notoriously thrives upon. There will certainly be some surprises. There will be plenty of ups and downs. There’s a massive amount of unpredictability and uncertainty surrounding this season.
One thing is for certain, though: this is not the same team that started last season. It may be closer to the same team that finished last season – that went 11-6-1 (that’s a 104-point pace) after the March 3rd trade deadline, that climbed their way into a playoff spot and left a lot of belief, disappointment and motivation behind a six-game defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs.
In Stefen Rosner’s latest article, Lane Lambert echoes the same sentiment: “‘I look at it as a new group. And I look at it also with how we finish the season in terms of our last stretch of games where we played very, very well heading into the playoffs … So, to me, it’s exciting to start fresh with that group that we finished with.”
The Islanders officially kick off the season on Saturday, October 14 at 7:30 p.m. when they host the Buffalo Sabres. After that, there’ll be 81 more games (and hopefully even more). For every single one of them, Hockey Night in New York has you covered. To stay connected, make sure to subscribe to HNiNY on Twitch, Youtube, and your preferred podcast providers before regular episodes beginning Sunday October 1st. Be sure to follow @hockeynightny on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok for even more Islanders content.