Lamoriello optimistic Isles will stay mostly intact

New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello is hoping he can keep his roster mostly intact while knowing he still must re-sign star forward Mathew Barzal, despite having limited room under the NHL’s flat salary cap.

In saying he is exploring every possible option, Lamoriello on Tuesday wouldn’t completely rule out what he called “a last resort” of having to part ways with a core player or two.

Without going into detail, he added: “But I’m reasonably comfortable that we’ll be able to accomplish what we want to accomplish and have the team that we want to put on the ice once the season starts.”

It might take some juggling for the NHL’s GM of the year.

The Islanders, coming off their first conference finals appearance in 27 years, are projected to be about $10 million under the $81.5 million cap, which remains unchanged from last season. Barzal, meantime, is a restricted free agent and expected to command a hefty raise after recording 19 goals and 41 assists in 68 games to reach the 60-point mark for a third consecutive season. The 23-year-old then put on a dazzling display with five goals and 12 assists in the playoffs.

Aside from Barzal, defensemen Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock are also unsigned restricted free agents. The Islanders also stand to lose other contributors with forwards Matt Martin and Derick Brassard, goalie Thomas Greiss and defenseman Andy Greene — a late-season addition –eligible to become unrestricted free agents on Oct. 9.

Lamoriello said he has had discussions with his restricted free agents since New York was eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sept. 17.

“I feel we’ll get all of our players signed in due time,” he said.

The Islanders took a major step forward in their second season under Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz. New York advanced past the first round for just the third time since 1993, and it did so in consecutive years for the first time since a seven-year run spanning 1979 to ’85. In finishing seventh in the East when the regular season was paused because of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, the Islanders were the only team to compete in the best-of-five preliminary round to reach the conference finals. New York eliminated the Florida Panthers (3-1), Washington Capitals (4-1) and Philadelphia Flyers (4-3) before running out of gas against the Lightning.

The Islanders featured a balanced scoring attack in which nine players finished with 10 or more points. Though Semyon Varlamov had the bulk of the goaltending duties in finishing 11-7, Greiss contributed with two wins, including a 16-save outing in New York’s 4-0 victory over the the Flyers in Game 7.

Lamoriello was impressed by what he saw, and said he expects the Isles can build upon the experience.

“There’s room for improvement internally,” he said. “If we can get better externally, we’ll certainly try doing that. But right now, we’re going to focus in on trying to keep our team together.”

Also Tuesday, Lamoriello said forwards Casey Cizikas (retina) and Tom Kuhnhackl (upper body) and defenseman Adam Pelech (wrist) all had successful surgeries and are on track to be ready for the start of next season. Kuhnhackl is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent.

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