The New York Islanders’ playoff dash ended two wins shy of the Stanley Cup Final, and the players have returned home, reunited with families they have not seen in over two months, and begun the wait for word on when the 2020-21 season will begin.
Contracts need to be secured for three key restricted free agents, and general manager Lou Lamoriello needs to figure out how to add more scoring punch to a team that struggled mightily in that area for stretches and on the power play.
Today, we begin our off-season content by taking a look at how the forwards performed individually over the course of the season and bubble playoffs. After their performance evaluation, we will give our opinion on whether they are back with the team or not when the puck drops on the new season after Christmas.
Mathew Barzal: Many firsts came for Barzal this year, and he certainly will pick up some valuable lessons from his experience. He’s not there yet, but the effect head coach Barry Trotz has had on his two-way game is evident. Will sign a short-term deal and continue to be the star that drives the offense.
Anders Lee: The captain led admirably, and by example, game after game. Sure, his contract will not age well, as they never seemingly do for players of his ilk, but Lee is a keeper and loyal soldier. Just pray that when the crash happens, it isn’t to below 20 goals on a team that badly needs each one.
Jordan Eberle: Eberle has a full-no trade clause, so he’s not going anywhere, barring an apocalyptic chain of events. Is he the winger to keep up with Barzal? Hard to say. Prior to the shutdown, was having a solid year (16-24-40 in 58 games), but he gripped the stick way too tight in the bubble and couldn’t find his touch.
Brock Nelson: The Islanders’ best forward in the bubble, having taken his game to new, consistent heights under Trotz. Will be a mainstay around what New York is striving to accomplish as an excellent C2.
Josh Bailey: Was on pace for a fourth-straight 50-point season and was a prominent part of the Islanders' most consistent offensive and defensive forward line in Toronto and Edmonton. Terrific playoff where he battled the league leaders in assists. Could he be traded? Not likely, but not impossible, either.
Anthony Beauvillier: Got the team through Florida and Washington with timely goals, but ran out of gas, along with the rest of his teammates, late against Philadelphia and certainly versus Tampa. Along with Barzal, can take many lessons from the experience this season and be a force moving forward.
J.G. Pageau: Two words for you – as advertised. A terrific two-way player who exemplifies exactly what Trotz is trying to do with this team. Faceoff machine. Timely goals. Playoff tested. Well worth the cost Lamoriello paid, both in draft picks and contract.
Derick Brassard: Did not score or produce enough on a consistent basis for the Islanders when the stars were more closely kept in check. Will not be back.
Leo Komarov: ‘Uncle Leo’ is beloved in the locker room, but nothing is translating on the ice that screams the Islanders need to keep him. Getting rid of him is a problem, with an almost unmovable contract and not much buyout savings. Lamoriello needs to get creative here, like Dion Phaneuf creative.
Casey Cizikas: Heart and soul of the fourth unit, one that played like their old selves in the bubble and showed the Islanders their true worth. Cizikas only has one year left on his deal, so unless Lamoriello needs his $3.35 million dollars, he’ll be back for at least one more journey.
Cal Clutterbuck: Two more years at $3.5mm for Clutterbuck and his injury prone playing style. Yeesh. Love Cal and his contributions, but it's all about dollars and cents in the flat cap years coming. The bigger question is, can Lou get anyone to bite?
Matt Martin: Wants to be back. Islanders want him back. But, not at $2.5 million, that’s for sure. He will, and should, test the market before circling back to Lamoriello. Does Lou wait? He’s not known to be the most patient man in these instances.
Andrew Ladd: The Islanders tried. Ladd tried. This marriage has been a disaster from the start. There is no picture I can paint that has him in the frame. Bury, no buyout.
Other forwards who we simply didn’t observe enough of to give an evaluation include Ross Johnston (who could replace a departed Martin), Michael Dal Colle (can be effective in a third line role vacated by Brassard) and Tom Kuhnhackl (won’t be back).
Next week we take a look at the defenseman and goaltending. Much work to be done, not much money to do it.
All should have gotten back to work. Like yesterday.
Follow Andy Graziano on Twitter: @AndyGraz_WFAN