The 2023 NHL season is officially over. After a five-game series, the Vegas Golden Knights have won the Stanley Cup over the Florida Panthers. There were 16 teams entering the postseason, including the New York Islanders, but only one was able to accomplish the ultimate goal. With the offseason beginning, teams can take notes on what went wrong in an effort to improve. However, in the case of what the Golden Knights did, what can the Islanders learn from the Stanley Cup champs?
Invest in Depth:
When Lou Lamoriello took over as Islanders’ general manager, he said, “Individual players win games, but teams win championships,” and that mantra has been the Islanders’ motto in this era. One way to invest in this philosophy is to build up quality depth that can step up when the core isn’t performing. That area has consistently been an issue, as depth could never really step up when the likes of Mat Barzal, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson went cold. Meanwhile, Vegas’ roster boasts names like Chandler Stephenson, Nic Roy, and Ivan Barbashev, all names who can make an impact at any time. As a result, quality depth means everything in the playoffs, and while the Islanders have depth options, you can never have enough of it when contending, and improving can be vital as well.
The Importance of Structure:
While the Islanders have always been a structure-based team under Lamoriello, that structure lapsed a bit under new coach Lane Lambert. It could show flashes of the old form, but there are instances where they’d give up shots in bunches and leave goaltending out to dry. Meanwhile, Vegas took head coach Bruce Cassidy’s structure and embraced it. Vegas blocked the most shots in the NHL with 1,233 this regular season, an average of about 15 per game, along with a postseason total 363, an average of 16.5 per playoff game. While the Islanders statistically didn’t finish too far behind in the playoffs, averaging 15.5 blocks per game, they sat a ways behind in the regular season with only 1,057. As a result, considering how far they went with a philosophy of defense and shot blocks, making structure a bit tighter could go a long way.
Having Quality Goaltenders
Ilya Sorokin is a Vezina-caliber talent in net, there’s no denying that. The Islanders have also found success splitting time in a goalie tandem, see what Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have done together. However, the Golden Knights found success using a similar formula, pushing their goaltending depth in dire situations. Starter Robin Lehner was out all season with a hip injury, his backup Logan Thompson got hurt during the regular season and Laurent Brossoit suffered an injury in Round 2. Adin Hill took the reins from there and got the Knights to the top of the mountain. While of course goaltending is the least of the Islanders’ issues, supplementing the depth is paramount in case of an emergency. With Varlamov a pending free agent, it is important to either keep him around or find a viable replacement, as well as bolster their organizational depth in net.
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