Islanders face daunting task of rebuilding aging roster

As the Islanders sink deeper into their season of despair (Saturday’s victory aside), the cold reality Lou Lamoriello must face is that the team he built to win now and which is failing spectacularly at fulfilling that mandate, includes 11 players age 30 and older, seven of them on contracts that extend beyond this year

Cal Clutterbuck, Zach Parise, Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara are pending free agents and could be gone as rentals at the March 21 trade deadline. But Semyon Varlamov has another year at a $5 million cap hit, while Josh Bailey has two years to go at $5M per and Matt Martin has two years remaining on his deal at $1.5M per.

Brock Nelson has three years remaining at $6M per while Kyle Palmieri also has three years to go at $5M per. Anders Lee has four years to go on his deal at $7M per. And Casey Cizikas’ contract will have five years to run at $2.5M per.

There are younger pieces, including Mathew Barzal, Ilya Sorokin, Adam Pelech and Noah Dobson, who comprise part of the core, but it is going to be a challenge for Lamoriello and the Islanders to build back better around all those contract commitments to seniors.

Of course COVID-19 took its toll on the Islanders, perhaps creating longer-term repercussions than which we have been made aware for those who were infected. That cannot be quantified. But beyond that, it is extremely difficult to grind through an 82-game season that for the most part around the league is treated as a showcase of skill.

Lou Lamoriello
Lou Lamoriello
Getty Images
Brock Nelson celebrates after scoring against the Blues Saturday.
Brock Nelson celebrates after scoring against the Blues Saturday.
AP

Two years ago, before the first run to the semifinals, the season was cut off at 68 points, and, lest anyone forget, the Islanders wheezed into the pause on a seven-game losing streak (0-3-4) while having won two of their past 13 games (2-7-4). Chances are they would not have qualified for the playoffs had the season continued without interruption.

Last year, the schedule was reduced to 56 games that fit perfectly into Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz’s preferred style.

The Islanders took advantage of their circumstances. First in the bubble two years ago, when they took it to Game 6 against the Lightning. And then they were a third-period goal the other way of making it to the Stanley Cup finals last season against Montreal. They were that close to closing the Coliseum with a fifth championship.

But that moment is as much in the past as the strictest CDC guidelines. There is a lot of age on the Island and not enough speed. More skill has to be added to the club’s impressive will, which has featured either a lot of won’t or can’t through this inaugural season to forget at Belmont. And it is not likely to be easy. I guess I kind of get why the Rangers have held onto Alexandar Georgiev as insurance in case something were to happen to Igor Shesterkin, and now I will go wash my mouth out with soap for even suggesting such a thing.

But Georgiev’s save percentage has been under .900 in 18 of his 36 starts over the past two seasons, nine of 18 each year. If Shesterkin were to go down, the jig would be up anyway. Do you think the 1999 Sabres would have gone to the Cup finals with backup Dwayne Roloson replacing Dominik Hasek?

Alexandar Georgiev
Alexandar Georgiev
AP

So if there is a truly a market for Georgiev, who is expected to get at least one start on the Rangers’ four-game trip, perhaps even Sunday at Winnipeg, president-general manager Chris Drury should exploit it and jump on it. There is no looking back at all, is there, over the Devils’ decision to select Nico Hischier first overall in 2017 when the popular alternative was Nolan Patrick?

Fiasco averted.

Yes, Cale Makar, and yes, Miro Heiskanen, the defensemen who in a redraft would go 1-2, rather than 3-4.

But Hischier, displaying brilliance one night after another, would likely go third in a do-over as the first forward ahead of Elias Pettersson. Who would go next, Robert Thomas or Drake Batherson, maybe?

Nico Hischier
Nico Hischier
USA TODAY Sports

Health is all that has kept the Devils’ 23-year-old captain from gaining widespread recognition, the Swiss having played in just 75.2 percent of New Jersey’s games beginning with his 2018-19 sophomore season after repeated trips to injured reserve with myriad issues.

When he is healthy, as he is now, while recording eight goals in his past 10 contests, Hischier is an elite talent left behind as one of former general manager Ray Shero’s regime’s most glittering parting gifts. So the Habs were not just 6-1 in their past seven entering their match Saturday night in Edmonton, but also they had victories over heavy hitters Calgary, Toronto and St. Louis folded into the mix.

But did executive VP Jeff Gorton and the entire Montreal hierarchy expect Martin St. Louis’ presence behind the bench to elevate the Canadiens out of prime position entering the lottery, to the extent that they might enter with only the third- or fourth-best odds to presumably grab Shane Wright?

Before play on Saturday, the Canadiens were 31st overall, one point ahead of Arizona, but just four points behind Seattle and even just seven back of Philadelphia, and what does ownership and management think about that? Finally, the thought of Alex Ovechkin passing Jaromir Jagr for third place on the NHL all-time goal-scoring list at this moment in time is blasphemous.

The Great Jagr, with a career 766 goals, is the man who always wore No. 68 in honor of the Prague Spring that ended with the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Now, as owner-player of Kladno of the Czech Extraliga, he has moved the club’s final regular-season home game to an arena with triple the capacity size of the club’s home rink, with ticket proceeds going to Ukrainian families seeking refuge in the Czech Republic following the Russian invasion of their country.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, with 763 goals, is the man who is posing proudly with Vladimir Putin for his Instagram avatar. Even now.

Those fans who continue to wear Ovechkin’s jersey, those folks who chant his name after he scores a goal, what message do they think they are sending the world? Their ignorance is noted. Their behavior is sickening.