My sincere apologies for not getting this out earlier as I’ve missed this party of discussions by a week at least, but I wanted to briefly go over the Islanders season and do this in one blog and not analyze each player on the team as I feel there is just no need to do so anymore. As I wrote back in 2014 after the drafting of Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang, the Islanders had completed their rebuild of the franchise. It was then time to improve on the depth of the organization and see what kind of talent the Islanders had. Starting last year, some of those draft picks ended up turning into getting players like Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk who improved the talent of the team and the Islanders went on to a seven game series loss with the Washington Capitals. Last summer, the Islanders traded another depth defenseman draft pick and got forwards Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, both of whom look to be future NHLers. This year it was the expectations of many that thought the Islanders would compete for a possible division title or at the very least home ice advantage in the first round. The Islanders did neither. So let’s take a look at how this season shaped out.
The team as a whole finished with back-to-back seasons of 100 points, something that hasn’t been done in 30+ years. I had them in my “Core” category that despite injuries, the Islanders had enough depth to still make the playoffs. Prediction was correct. Now this is where expectation met reality. As I’ve written before, I always take the last three years of each players NHL season and I turn it into an average. As a team (including Bernier who ended up sitting for most of the year, but did not include Prince) the team averaged 223 goals at the start of the season. What did the Islanders offense end up totaling for the year? 227 goals. Right on their average. What the expectation from the fans was to witness closer to 240-245 goals, particularly more from Anders Lee, Ryan Strome and probably a few others. Didn’t happen. What was the Isles saving “Greiss?” It was the goaltending, who were on average (again over three seasons) to allow 208 goals and with the combination of goalies this season only allowed 211. So this tells me that the goaltending is certainly a strength and there is enough depth to sustain a long haul of a season. It also showed me that despite the setback in goals, the Islanders can still come up with a 100 point season with defense and goaltending and without a true first line, no matter how painful it was to watch the offense.
The playoffs are always a different beast and to be honest, despite the Islanders getting one less point than the Rangers in the standings, the Isles were the better team because they got to choose who they wanted to play in the first round by resting their injured players for the last game or two. It was a luxury they have never received and kudos to them for making the correct tactical move. The Islanders had more playoff experience than the up and coming Panthers and they took advantage of the momentum swings and they did something that hadn’t been done in over 20 years, win a first round series. The Islanders shot themselves in the foot multiple times and lost to a Tampa Bay team that has been through the trenches of long playoff runs and they took advantage of momentum just like the Isles did in the previous round and sent John Tavares and company packing sooner than we wanted them to. They are still the Eastern Conference champions until they’re beaten. Simple to write, harder to digest.
Was it a successful season? Without question. New memories were made and 1993 is in the rear view mirror. Period. So now that the season is over, what happens now? Well it’s certainly going to be a season of transition for the Islanders as I wouldn’t be shocked if Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin, Frans Nielsen, Marek Zidlicky, Brian Strait, Eric Boulton, and Steve Bernier will either move on to other teams or retire. I could see Nielsen coming back and Strait taking a two-way contract and become another Matt Carkner for Bridgeport. For now, let’s eliminate all of these players. From a scoring perspective, that’s 73 goals to make up. Ouch. But, for fun, if the Isles were to not make a move again like they did this summer, the Islanders lineup may look like this:
I threw Petrov in there just in case the Islanders guarantee a roster spot for him this season. Again, it’s the offseason so I’m having fun with this for now. Just from the looks of this, the Islanders have some work to do at forward. Tavares just doesn’t need a winger, he needs a line. When hockey fans went from the “4th line” to the “Casey Cizikas line” it meant that it was a complete line for the team and purpose. There needs to be a “Tavares line,” not Tavares and (insert winger). I think Strome, Lee, Prince, Quine, Petrov would all improve on their goal production and increase their totals by 10 goals each, which isn’t asking a lot, maybe it is. Even Nelson has a shot at 30 goals if he can play a full season. Grabovski scares me for medical reasons so we’ll see what transpires in the next few months. Overall the Islanders will be demanding to see improvement from their younger players and that could be risky. So the current offense would lose about 20 goals (Hello Frans) as of this blog.
As far as the defense is concerned, let’s take a look at what the Islanders have:
I agree with some that the Islanders may get a veteran defenseman for depth purposes, and I think Pelech will receive the Detroit Red Wings treatment and start the season in Bridgeport. If he’s not going to get the minutes in the NHL, may as well send him down so he can continue to play. That’s what the AHL is there for. Mayfield will get the Berube treatment as we may see him sporadically during the season, but he’ll be practicing more than getting in some game time, but he’ll get better as the season goes on. Zidlicky and Strait combined for 5 goals. Pulock will do that in half the season if given enough time. With the Islanders defense scored 35 goals this season, I think the goal production goes up with Pulock in the mix and a slight revival from Leddy.
But we’re still talking about a loss of 15-20 goals for this upcoming season and that’s IF the younger players get out of their regression, slumps, new surroundings, what have you. As I’ve stated before, that is taking on a lot of risk. That’s where the winger for the “Tavares line” comes in. I think if the Islanders can bring back Nielsen for the third line, that would be a welcomed sight. Heck, even putting Kulemin down to the Cizikas line sounds enticing and creating a better, more experienced, two-way third line for Nielsen. There’s still enough depth in this organization to sustain a full season. But, unlike last year, there’s not enough talent now that convinces me to make the Isles a “Core” team.
Once again as in previous summers, there may be some depth that needs to be traded away to bring in the talent. That’s why I’m looking ahead to the draft to see what depth could be traded for right talent. Who goes? Who cares. I say that because this is no longer a rebuilding club. They’ve gone beyond the first round already with the players they are letting go of and they did it without help for Tavares. Yes, this will be a transition year, but the goal is to make it as quickly as possible. The Isles will still draft the best player available and build up the depth in the organization, but they need to continue to draft players who will have the talent when they reach the NHL and prosper with the Islanders. Another side to trading for the right talent is that the player(s) must be an inexpensive one if they wish to keep Tavares for the long-term. So this is not going to be as easy as I write this. The Islanders will be doing their due diligence in retooling the team and getting help for Tavares, the defense and goaltending. How quickly depends on what happens first at the draft.