As the Islanders officially embark on there final season at Nassau Coliseum, there has not been a more important training camp in recent memory this one. Rebuilding the organization via the draft was completed this past summer with the selection of Josh Ho-Sang. This summer saw the goaltending and team depth completed through free agency. There are still some questions, but the answers will be coming in a short few weeks with the completion of training camp. All the cards are out on table, no more aces, no more tricks, it’s all or nothing. While the offseason reminded some New York Islanders fans what happened over a decade ago with the acquisitions of Yashin, Peca, and Osgood, the feelings are the same as it was in 2013: It’s all up to the players.
Before I go into the players, let me remind folks that I have ZERO sources in the Islanders organization. None. The closest thing I have is Gary “I’ve got Garth on Sunday!” Harding and I don’t think he knows either. I don’t know who is being kept or sent down. Not an inkling. This piece is to see if I truly understand Snow’s philosophy and if he’ll stick to his guns. I just write stuff that has some logical hockey sense and I’m not one who has to appease the fans of the Islanders, though my intention is not to aggravate them. I’m simply writing another perspective and asking fans, at the very least, to keep an open mind about what is about to be written. Having said that, let’s continue.
This preseason schedule has the Islanders playing 6 games. For Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang and any other junior prospect, let them play the first three games and after Brooklyn, send them off on their merry way back to Juniors to allow further development. Let the try-outs come in and really show what they can do to earn a contract with the team or get picked up by some other club.
The final three games will determine a lot of things. As I wrote in July, I still think that the Islanders will send both Ryan Strome and Anders Lee down to Bridgeport to start the season. Many fans will probably understand Lee being sent down, but are balking at the thought of Strome going to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. I was also called an idiot by a few with such a notion and that’s okay, but hear me out. If Ryan Strome makes this Islanders team, it’s because a trade will be made before the season begins or someone gets injured. Why did Strome come up last year? Because he was “tearing it up” in the AHL? No. He came up because there were injuries to the team and the Islanders were out of the playoffs by New Years or Thanksgiving or the day they traded Matt Moulson depending on which fan you talk to. That was his role, to be called up when the Islanders needed him. For now, it looks like his role is not changing at the start of the season.
To be honest, both Lee and Strome going to Bridgeport isn’t going to be as bad as it was last year. If they are sent, they’re going in with a “Let’s win the Calder Cup” mentality and not “I’m here to develop and mature.” There is no doubt the expectation of the Sound Tigers haven’t been this high since they went to the Finals back in 2001-02 when then rookies Rick DiPietro and Trent Hunter were on the team. maybe it’s time that the young players realize that they have to earn there spots and come up when the Islanders want them to and not when they want to.
Josh Bailey has been rumored to be on the trade block, but is still here. With Frans Nielsen finally moving to third line center, a position he prefers and where he should have been from the get-go, why would Bailey not be given a chance to play with two legitimate top 6 forwards in Grabovski and Kulemin. If Islanders head coach Jack Capuano is gonna put Bailey on the third line to start the season, then it’s a waste of space. There are no excuses for Bailey and should produce out the gate. He knows his time is short and must take this last chance. If he does not, then he knows Strome is just a call away.
The bottom six will be very interesting to watch. Someone has to go. You have Jack Skille, Corey Conacher, Colin McDonald all battling for a shot. I like the thought of a Clutterbuck-Cizikas-Martin line, with Boulton as an extra forward. Boulton brings more of a locker room presence but who will be the third line winger to compliment Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen? I think Conacher’s back checking, speed and feistiness has the edge. Let that battle begin.
For the defense, it’s all about Griffin Reinhart. Does he have the skills to make the club? I think so. Should he be a top 4 defenseman? Not to start the season. Nothing would please me more than to see Garth Snow pick another free agent gem and watch T.J. Brennan succeed. Will Matt Donovan show enough to remain on the team? The battle will be between the two and the winner should be paired with Reinhart. My pick? Brennan. Will Brian Strait stay healthy? Also, don’t play Lubomir Visnovsky until the final two games. He’s a vet and he’s ready to go, just make sure the games count. For now, if there was an odd man out, it’s either Strait or Carkner.
For the goalies, it’s just playing their games and staying healthy. Give Poulin a few more games if you have to, but get Halak and Johnson ready at the start of the season. The same can be said for the top line. Let Brock Nelson get his chance and just keep him, Tavares and Okposo healthy and ready in two weeks.
From here on out, there is no point in over-analyzing training camp. If certain players make it, they made it for three reasons: First, they blew the coaching staff out of the water and earned their spot. Second, the veteran player who was supposed to be there failed to “show up” to camp. Finally injuries do happen and they happen often when it’s the Islanders. May the best man win.