On behalf of myself, Gary, and John we’d like to welcome you back to another season of NHL hockey, and of course the New York Islanders. We hope that you have enjoyed your summer and hope that you are looking forward to another exciting season as much as we are. I know the regular season does not start for another month and training camp is even closer, but I wanted to give you my personal thoughts on what we should be expecting out of the Eastern Conference and how it will impact the Islanders. Many people in the media do not like to predict the future of their because if they get it wrong, the fans will let them hear about and hold a grudge for a decade, so I can’t really blame them. I however take pride in making educated guesses because it allows me to research the teams along with finding out what their fan bases are saying about the upcoming year. Now this is not a “16 in 16” type if article, this is more of a gut feeling of how this Conference will play out during the season based on my research. So here we go!
1. The least point total to make the playoffs will be close to 95 points. Last year it took 93 points to get into the playoffs and because there has been improvements made by many clubs, 95 seems like the right number to get into the dance. Islanders fans shouldn’t have to worry about that as I feel they’ll be better than that.
2. No team in the Eastern Conference will be under 70 points. Welcome to the new Western Conference folks. No I don’t think we’ll see a team like Buffalo of two years ago with 50 points, nor will you see a Toronto team finish with less than 70. The competition will be that good.
3. Every team (save for Toronto) in my opinion, is considered a playoff threat. The leafs getting over 70 points is one thing, but that’s it. Let’s face it, the Leafs still have ways to go. The Hurricanes and Devils definitely have a shot if they can stay healthy and with enough cap room, make some trades to improve their clubs during the season to make at the very least a statement.
4. There will be four teams from each division making the playoffs. Last year, Philadelphia made the playoffs over the Boston Bruins and the Metro division ended up with five teams going. The Atlantic has greatly improved to the point that if you’re an Isles fan, you’re better off shooting for at least third and not have to worry about the wild card, because the Atlantic’s will stay there this year.
5. Do not be surprised if you see the Isles (or any team for that matter) move from 3rd place in the Conference to 10th within a week during the holiday season. It’s just going to prove how tough the Conference will be this year. So please, keep the “Fire everyone!!” comments at bay unless the Isles are really out of it. Remember, I always use a point pace system when doing my standings. So if I say the Isles are on pace for 95 points and they’re in 10th, just relax a bit.
6. Not sure if Detroit makes it to the playoffs this year because of the improvements to Buffalo, Toronto and a healthy, physically tougher Montreal team. Going to write this now, when Kyle Okposo comes back to the Barclays Center the first night, you can give him all the love you want. After that, learn to hate him during the season because Buffalo looks like a real threat to make the playoffs and the Isles cannot stumble because of it. I’ve already talked about Toronto improving, but the Canadiens are a revamped team, maybe not a better one, but with a healthy Carey Price, Detroit is in serious trouble.
7. The NHL trade deadline will be more like an NHL trade month in February. With competition as close as it will be in years, don’t be surprised if teams start making moves after Martin Luther King Day to improve or to prepare for the Expansion Draft.
8. By the end of March, there may still be 8 teams fighting for 2 playoff spots. This is also guessing that a team not named Toronto does not get hit with a plague of season ending injuries to certain players (see Montreal last year and Columbus the year before). Now, there will be a team that concedes by the trade deadline, but I refer to the Flames and Senators as recent out-of-nowhere teams that got hot at the end and made the playoffs.
9. Tampa Bay will be the team to beat in the East, not Pittsburgh. I’ll probably get some heat for this, but Pittsburgh got hot at the right time and won the Cup. Tampa Bay is built for a longer haul and with a refocused, full-time NHLer in Jonathan Drouin, the scale is tipping to the Lightning’s favor.
10. The Islanders have a legit shot at the Metro Division title this year. If everyone comes to camp signed and ready to go, the Isles could very well challenge and possibly win this division. If there’s a catalyst who could make this happen it’s Ryan Strome, but I’ll get into that later. For those who think I’m crazy, I accept that compliment whole heartedly, but I see what’s about to happen with this franchise and I just feel it will be this year.
As a fan, this is going to be one crazy, drama-filled season. I will be watching as many games as possible and you should also. Every team must have a decent record after the first 10-15 games or so, but that doesn’t mean anyone is going away any time soon.
Don’t forget, Gary and John will have Islanders assistant Doug Weight and Jiggs McDonald Sunday night on sportstalk1240
— Gary Harding (@GHardingWGBB) September 9, 2016
Again, welcome to the new 2016-17 season everyone. Buckle up!