The New York Islanders enter 2022/23 keen to prove that last season was an outlier for a team who were much fancied as Stanley Cup contenders previous to it.
New York finished fifth in the Metropolitan Division with a 37-35-10 record, missing the playoffs completely after two straight years where they made the Stanley Cup semi-finals, being beaten by eventual winners Tampa Bay Lightning each time.
|What||NHL Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||7th October 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||Premier Sports & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100
The Islanders have kept faith with the much of the team who came within a game of making the Cup Final twice, and are the only team in the NHL yet to sign an unrestricted free agent.
Defenceman Alexander Romanov was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the number 13 pick in the 2022 NHL draft, giving the Islanders a much-needed left-shooting top-five defenceman.
The Russian scored 13 points (three goals, ten assists) last season, which was his second in the NHL.
Romanov immediately signed a three-year contract with New York, who also extended emerging defenseman Noah Dobson (three years) and forward Kieffer Bellows (one year) over the summer.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello has insisted the Islanders won't veer from their well-established defensive identity which likely played a part in his decision to replace Barry Trotz with four-year assistant Lane Lambert.
60-year-old Trotz coached the Islanders from 2018/22 and brought Lambert with him after working together for 11 years at Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators.
How Lambert transitions from second in command to boss is an intriguing story for the Islanders, but there's unlikely to be too much of a change in style on ice.
Lambert will need to try and improve New York's offence after they averaged just 2.79 goals-per-game last season which was tied with the Buffalo Sabres for 22nd in the NHL.
But to do that, they won't sacrifice the defensive system which has served them so well, giving up an average of 2.56 goals against per game since 2018/19, second best in the NHL to Boston Bruins (2.52).
Lamoriello commented; "Our team is built a certain way. I don't apologise for it...I'm a goal-differential type of a person. You win hockey games by scoring more goals. It doesn't any matter how many, it's differential that allows that to happen."
The Islanders were forced to begin last season with a 13-game road stretch while waiting to move into their new home UBS Arena. They then went on a 0-8-3 stretch from the beginning of November to the start of December, as the calendar became more and more congested.
Not an organisation who likes to use excuses, they didn't have the easiest ride and the new season will feel refreshing, now settled in their new arena and with a far more normal 82 game schedule.
Centre Brock Nelson will be looked upon to lead the Islanders offence again after he scored a career high 37 goals last season. Anders Lee is also expected to take another step after returning from ACL surgery in March 2021 to hit 28 goals in 76 games.
Matthew Barzal has expressed his excitement at being led by a new voice and now at 25 is set to enter his prime. He can become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and so will be motivated to perform to his very best and seal a rise on his already hefty $7-million per-year.
In goal is where the Islanders can find most comfort with one of the stronger tandems in the NHL.
27-year-old Ilya Sorokin posted a 26-18-8 record and .925 save-percentage and 2.40 goals-against-average (GAA) in 52 games last season which was his second in the NHL.
He will share the crease with Semyon Varlamov who also performed well in his 31 games last season posting a .911 save-percentage and 2.91 GAA, albeit with a 10-17-2 losing record.
The Islanders were a team riddled with injuries as well last season. If it could go wrong, it did for them.
The new season brings intrigue as to whether they remain genuine contenders for the cup or whether their two near appearances in the Final were as close as this group is ever going to get. The Islanders are -140 to reach the playoffs and +3300 to win the Stanley Cup.
On top of their sturdy defensive foundation, Lambert will no doubt aim to improve their offensive numbers and how successfully he strikes that balance and manages from the top will prove pivotal in what truly is a crossroads season for the Islanders.