This article continues the “NHL Silver Linings” series. A series that brings hope to the fans of the hockey teams that will not be playing past April 9 this season.
Despite making the playoffs three times in the past five years, the New York Islanders can hardly be considered a contending team in the Eastern Conference. Success wise, they have been mediocre at best. It also doesn’t help that they play in a tough Metropolitan Division, which includes the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
However, management hasn’t shown signs of being discouraged, as they have been aggressively trying to improve their team through trade, free agency, and drafting. Over time, they have assembled a decent defensive core, along with an offense that features one of the top centers in the NHL, in John Tavares. That is a good foundation in place, but many still wonder if the Stanley Cup is still a realistic goal for this current core, or does the organization require a major facelift without the likes of Garth Snow and John Tavares in the future?
New York Islanders’ Season Summary
The 2016-2017 season was literally a “game of two halves” for the New York Islanders. They had a horrible start to the year and quickly fell to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. By mid- January, head coach Jack Capuano was fired, and they looked like they were ready to call it a season.
However, the tides turned rather quickly when Doug Weight was appointed the interim head coach. Under his guidance, the Islanders went on an impressive 24-12-4 run to end the season, and missed the playoffs by just one point, to Toronto Maple Leafs.
John Tavares was his usual self, leading his team in scoring for the 7th time in his career. Anders Lee had an impressive year, putting up a career-high in goals (34) and (52) points. Josh Bailey followed suit, putting up a career-high in points (56).
On the flip side, big free-agent signing, Andrew Ladd had a very disappointing year, putting up only 31 points in 78 games. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak also had a very inconsistent year and was demoted down to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, in the American League for several months during the season.
Management also made a few questionable decisions, which may have hurt the team’s ability to win more games. For one, they had Ryan Pulock play in the minors for almost the entire year. He is a very skilled defender, with excellent puck-moving abilities. Quite frankly, they could have used him on the powerplay, as they held the 3rd worst powerplay in the league, with a 14.9% conversion rate.
It was also hard to understand why the Islanders kept Josh Ho-Sang down in minors for so long. With the team struggling early on, they could have a used a dynamic forward like Ho-Sang to give the team a boost. During his late-season call-up in March, his impact was very noticeable as he brought a lot of exuberant energy and excitement to the Islander’s offense.
How the New York Islanders stand money wise
According to Cap friendly, the Islanders have around $71 million allocated to 22 players next season. With only around $2 million of cap space, they have very little wiggle room to explore the free agent market this summer. Unless they are able to make changes through trade, we should see the Islanders ice a very similar team next season.
Impending unrestricted free agents include; veteran center, Stephen Gionta, and goaltender Jean-Francois Berube. Berube will likely get re-signed, while the team will probably move on from Stephen Gionta, as they have several young players looking to solidify a roster spot next year.
Calvin de Haan is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, but his case is more interesting. Ideally, the Islanders would like to bring him back but it might be hard, as the team is trying to stay under the salary cap. If both sides can’t agree on a deal, de Hann can quite possibly be traded, or exposed in the expansion draft.
Awaiting the prospects in the Islanders’ depth chart
The Islanders have quietly stockpiled a nice collection of high-end prospects over the past several years. Although they may have developed slower than many expected, many of them can still emerge and become quality NHL players very soon. As of now, the top prospects in the Islanders system includes; Mathew Barzal, Josh Ho-Sang, Michael Dal Colle, Ryan Pulock and Anthony Beauvillier.
Since Beauvillier secured a full-time spot last year, the organization’s next best up-and-coming player is Josh Ho-Sang. He is a dynamic offensive player, who can drive the play at high speed, and has incredible hands and offensive instinct. Although he didn’t put up overly impressive stats, during his 21 game stint last year. He has shown glimpses of brilliance and has potential to become a future 20-25 goal scorer in the NHL.
Offseason predictions for the New York Islanders
The New York Islanders will be hit hard in the expansion draft, as they will most probably lose a very good player to the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Going into the draft, it appears they will employ the 8 skaters approach, to try and protect their defensive core.
In this scenario, players to be exempt likely includes John Tavares, Anders Lee, Andrew Ladd (NMC), Johnny Boychuk (NMC), Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Ryan Pollock, Calvin de Haan (If re-signed), and Thomas Greiss.
Leaving the Golden Knights with a rather impressive list to choose from including Brock Nelson, Thomas Hickey, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, Adam Pelech, Casey Cizikas, and Jaroslav Halak.
Looking forward to the NHL entry draft, the Islanders own the 15th overall pick this year. Considering it isn’t an overly high pick in a weaker draft year, it is quite possible that it will be used in a trade to acquire assets that can help the team right away instead.
The Islanders won’t have a much room to improve through free agency, so if they want be considered a serious contender, they will have to be active in the trade market. One of the team’s biggest needs this offseason is a legitimate second line center, someone who gives them a solid one-two punch down the middle. Matt Duchene’s name has been on the trade block for awhile, so it is quite possible that the Islanders will try to go after him.
Another, huge off-season priority is for the Islanders to get John Tavares contract extended. Simply put, if they can’t get Tavares re-signed, their off-season game plan will have to change course quickly. As there is no way, Garth Snow and management will risk letting Tavares walk away for nothing next year.
Finally, the New York Islanders need more quality wingers who can put the puck in the net, especially at the right wing position. They had trouble filling the void, since Kyle Okposo’s departure last offseason. It will be interesting to see if they choose to acquire proven names like Jordan Eberle, T.J Oshie, Justin Williams, or James Van Riemsdyk. Or will they promote from within, and give some of their young players like Josh Ho-Sang, Matt Barzal, and Michael Dal Colle, a chance to grow into those roles.
A look forward to 2017/18
The team recently named of Doug Weight as the head coach, along with Kelly Buchberger and Luke Richardson as assistant. We should also see the New Islanders embrace a new style of play, under this new coaching staff next season.
Assuming that get John Tavares extended, we should see Garth Snow aggressively try to improve his team this offseason and capitalize on the prime years of his core players. As a result, the Islanders will likely be back the playoffs next year, looking to go on a deep run.
On the other hand, if Tavares does not get extended, we might see a very different team Islander’s team next year. They will likely have to trade Tavares sometime next season, and possibly other veterans on long-term contracts as well. Consequently, we may see a younger team that features younger players lead by the likes of Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Ho- Sang, Matt Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, and Ryan Pulock.
Do you think the New York Islanders can be playoff contenders in the east? If not should they trade John Tavares and break up the core? Let us know in the comment section below.
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