Mathew Barzal’s Islanders future could hinge on bounce-back season

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The opening of the Islanders training camp is near, so the game is about to start all over again trying to make the most of Matthew Barzal. And this time the stakes are high.

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It’s not just because Barzal, 25, is coming off a season in which he scored just 59 points in a career-low 82-game season, as he struggled to click with any combination of linemates and The Islanders struggled to put together a coherent offensive. That’s because it would be the last season of Barzal’s three-year, $21 million bridge deal, after which he would hit restricted free agency for only one year to go before eligibility for unrestricted free agency.

Barzal has said he wants to remain an Islander for the long haul, but as the franchise is well aware, a change of mind may occur. And even if Barzal intends to, there is always the reality that a one-year bridge deal could give him more leverage than signing a long-term contract next summer. Much of that calculation – at the end of general manager Lou Lamorillo as well as Barzal – will come down to how he performs this season under the auspices of new coach Len Lambert.


“We need him to do his best every night for success,” Lambert said on Tuesday, before the Islanders opened rookie camp. “One thing I have definitely learned about Matt over the last four years is his growth as a player. As an overall player. And his point production may be a bit low, but it is in other areas of the game where he has improved. ,

Matthew Barzali
Corey Sipkin

While waiting to see what changes from former coach Barry Trotz to Lambert, who was associate coach under Trotz, it’s an interesting message to emphasize about the team’s greatest offensive talent.

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It may be true that Barzal has become more responsible for defense as he has spent more time in the league, and that is certainly what the islanders want from all of their centers. But the underlying numbers support the top-line claim that last season was a blow to Barzal.

Not counting his two-game stint with the Islanders in 2016-17, Barzal’s expected goal percentage of 48.72 on five-for-five last season was the worst of his NHL career, per natural stat trick, and compared to eight percent. More fall by 2020-21. Exactly the same for its 48.08 high-threat probability percentage, up from 60 percent a year ago. He supports eye exams. Barzal looked for long stretches like he was trying and failed to open holes for teammates instead of letting the whole group better each other.

“For him to help us, he’ll be that dynamic person,” Lambert said. “The guy who is pushing the pace and using his teammates and making his teammates better around him.”

Going into the off-season, a scoring winger – possibly to play alongside Barzal – was at the top of the Islanders’ wish list. That didn’t happen, so the Islanders will go to camp with the same need as last season – a winger who can replicate Jordan Eberle’s chemistry with Barzal – and the same group of players to fill it in.

Of the Islanders wingers who played more than 100 minutes with Barzal last season, only two had an expected goal rate of more than 50 percent with him, per natural stat trick – Anders Lee and Kyle Palmery. Lee, who has seen chemistry with Brock Nelson at the end of the season, is far from a lock to play next to Barzal when the season opens on October 13.

Anthony Bouvillier and Oliver Wahlstrom both have talent and it needs to be put together. Josh Bailey played long parts of last season with Barzal and Lee with no motivational result, and Zack Parris seemed to work for the parts to Barzal’s left. But of course it would be better for all involved if the islanders could find a younger, more dynamic combination.

“I feel very comfortable that we have players here who complement Matt and Matt,” Lamoriello said last month.

However, the exact answer of who those players are cannot be given yet.

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