NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, three important questions facing the New York Islanders.
1. When will Mathew Barzal sign?
The Islanders’ No. 1 center the past two seasons, Barzal became a restricted free agent after helping them reach the Eastern Conference Final. The 23-year-old led New York during the regular season with 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 68 games and then scored 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in 22 postseason games.
Barzal was one of two key restricted free agents; defenseman Ryan Pulock agreed to a two-year contract Nov. 4. Forward Matt Martin and defenseman Andy Greene are unrestricted free agents.
“Right now, all I’m doing is focusing in on communication with each and every one of our restricted free agents, and also unrestricted free agents, and seeing exactly what we can get done,” Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said Sept. 29. “We did not have any communication during the playoffs intentionally, and right now we’re talking. I feel that we’ll get all our players signed in due time.”
2. Is Ilya Sorokin the real deal?
Sorokin has finally arrived in New York after being one of the better goalies in the Kontinental Hockey League the past five seasons. The 25-year-old agreed to terms on a contract for the 2020-21 season July 14 and was with the Islanders in Toronto and Edmonton during the postseason despite being ineligible to play. Sorokin was 26-10-3 with a 1.50 goals-against average, a .935 save percentage and nine shutouts in 40 games for CSKA Moscow last season. He was tied for second in wins, third in GAA, tied for fourth in save percentage and first in shutouts among KHL goalies to play at least 20 games. His 16 shutouts are the most in KHL playoff history.
The rookie is expected to replace Thomas Greiss on the Islanders roster; Greiss agreed to a two-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 10.
“He’s a really hard-working guy,” Islanders forward Michael Dal Colle said of Sorokin. “Obviously when he got here, he didn’t really know anyone. … I think he’s adjusted really well.”
3. Can they be as solid defensively?
New York, which tied for fifth in the NHL during the regular season with 193 goals against and allowed two goals or fewer in 14 of its 22 postseason games, will have a different look at defenseman after Devon Toews was traded to the Colorado Avalanche for two second-round draft picks Oct. 12 and Johnny Boychuk announced Nov. 25 he is ending his playing career because of an injury to his left eye. It opens the door for Noah Dobson, the 20-year-old who played 34 games last season, to land a full-time role. Greene also is an option, but the 38-year-old has yet to sign after being acquired in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 16.
“That’s a very strong option, because he did play with Noah for a good period of time,” Lamoriello said of Greene. “We’ll just have to see how things go. But there’s a strong chance that Andy will be back in some role, yes.”