After their first 100 point regular season in over 30 years and a nail biting, too many sticks breaking 7 game series with the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders fans were looking for a big offseason to improve the club to take that “next step.” First came the draft, which many are not to concerned with, but they should be. After covering the draft and looking at what went down, here is a simple statement that sums up the Islanders draft year: If the players pan out, Islanders fans won’t have to worry about salary cap management or losing players to free agency because of the talent that have been drafted the last two years will make up for any kind of loses, it was that good.
So after a successful regular season and a stunning draft, fans were eager to see Islanders general manager Garth Snow pick up a top winger for John Tavares and another possible top 4 defenceman to put the Islanders over the top of every other team in the Metropolitan Division. The only problem was the fans are still waiting. Snow replenished the Bridgeport Sound Tigers farm system and has resigned Anders Lee to a contract extension, but that’s been the scope of activity since July 1st. Brock Nelson and Kevin Poulin are assumed will be signed before training camp begins. Many writers since have argued two strong cases for the Islanders standing pat: One, every other team save for the Rangers and Islanders have gone on and made major moves to upgrade in certain areas and it will come back and haunt the Isles during the season. Two, the Islanders should remain where they are because the kids will develop and improve. So let’s take a closer look at those two cases.
First off let’s take a look at what the Capitals did. They lost Mike Green, Troy Brouwer, and Joel Ward. They ended up getting T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. So Islanders fans lost out on the Oshie sweepstakes witch many believed when paired with Islanders Captain John Tavares, would have improved his scoring numbers and would have gotten Tavares to a 100 point mark, something that many fans feels he should’ve been doing for the last two years. But all Washington did was go from bulky to finesse. Look at those former players again, all three players were over 6 feet and a solid 220 pounds each. Oshie and Williams are both around 5’11 and barely make 190lbs. I’m waiting for the fourth line and Kirill Petrov and any other big body on the Isles (Hamonic will be back) to just have at this team. Plus here is another factor most people tend to forget: it took Capitals goalie Brandon Holtby 73 games to get Washington to finish with 101 points last year. So for those of you who are worried the Caps improved, my message would be this: “I dare you to do that again.”
The Penguins brought in Phil Kessel in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Another winger the Isles fans coveted for Tavares. There’s no question that the Penguins top 6 look impressive and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury should have another solid regular season. I’m just curious if fans have seen or can recognize Pittsburgh’s defense. Last year the Penguins gave up 210 last year thanks to Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff logging huge minutes and both are gone. Kris Letang hasn’t played over 70 games in a season since the 2010-11 season and everyone else just won’t intimidate the Islanders at this point.
So let’s take a look at the case of improving young players, specifically Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Calvin de Haan. When some people talk about improving you can say that Brock Nelson went from 26 points in his rookie season to 42 in his second. That’s an improvement yes, or that in his first full season, Ryan Strome had 50 points or that Anders Lee in his first 100 games has 35 goals so in a full 82 game season, he should improve from his 25 goal total. Calvin de Haan took a step back in his first full season after a promising extended call up the season before so his numbers should improve.
All true, but the real improvement most fans fail to remember is in their consistency. Yes 46 points is nice but when you score 7 of those (15%) in your first three games, that’s not helping the team too much over the long season. There was a period where Nelson had 1 point in 10 games for the Isles. Scoring 46 points is great and he may eclipse that, but he needs to be more consistent if the Islanders are to improve. Ryan Strome had 1 goal in 16 games and then another stretch of 1 goal in 12 games despite a 50 point season. If Strome finds the back of the net on a consistent basis, he’ll probably score more and that will only help the team improve. Anders Lee ended up being a scratch towards the end of the playoffs and has had two 10 game scoring droughts. Calvin de Haan with a few more games played, as I had written before, should see his consistency improve.
Here’s my point: The Capitals and Penguins made the bold moves because they’re looking to be as consistent as possible over a long 82 game season. They also have the Columbus Blue Jackets (who also made some big moves) to contend with and if they had just stood pat, it would’ve been ugly for those clubs. For years I have been harping on the lack of depth this team had and I was praising all of the depth the Islanders had last year. Now that depth needs to be turned into consistent hockey. If you get good, consistent hockey from young, growing players like I mentioned above then the Islanders will have improved in many aspects including the standings and it’ll go far beyond anything what Washington or Pittsburgh did this offseason. For the first time in a long time, at least during the regular season, it’s the other teams now trying to catch up with Islanders. It’s a good feeling.
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