Since the NHL expansion draft, the New York Islanders have made some moves over the last few weeks to slightly show many fans that the time to go further than just the first round is now and that the salary cap is a key factor heading into this season. There were some moves that I was expecting and then their were some surprises. So since we’re now into the middle of July and where down to what I like to call “water cooler” talk, there are two questions that need to be answered: Are the Islanders a better team than from season’s end? The second, do I think the Islanders are done trading? This article will cover items such as my thoughts on the expansion draft, the NHL draft, any trades that were made and the coaching staff additions and after going over all of them, you should have a better picture and maybe an answer or two concerning the season.
The Expansion Draft
The Vegas Golden Knights acquired Mikhail Grabovski, Jake Bischoff, the Islanders 2017 first round pick and a 2019 second round pick and they selected J.F. Berube in the expansion draft as part of the deal. Clearly this was a cap clearing move, but to be honest, I’ll be a betting man here and say Bischoff makes it to the NHL sooner than later. This trade stings a bit and I’m shocked that the Islanders got away with this trade without moving Devon Toews, who may be in the NHL sooner than Bischoff. Say a big thank you to George McPhee because as much as this move hurt, it could have been worse. Having written that, freeing up 5 million in cap space was essential in getting rid of a bloated contract and giving the Islanders leverage for future moves.
The NHL Draft
If you’ve followed Isles Talk, then you know I love covering the draft. It was essential when the rebuild started, but as the years went by I enjoyed working on it and this year was no exception. Unfortunately, time did not allow me to publish the five players I thought would have been available at the number 15 slot. The five players I believed to be available around the 15th pick were the following: 1. Timothy Liljegren 2. Cal Foote 3. Martin Necas 4. Lias Anderson 5. Michael Rasmussen To make it quick, this was a similar draft to 2013, the year the Islanders drafted Ryan Pulock. A few weeks earlier it had looked like Bo Horvat was going to be an Islander, but he had such a great junior playoffs and NHL combine that the Vancouver Canucks were going to do anything to get their hands on him. Horvat eventually went 9th, where the Devils were slotted, but Horvat was involved in the trade with Corey Schneider. This year it was Lias Anderson. Art Staple of Newsday almost had this one right as he predicted this pick about a month before the draft, but like Horvat, Anderson’s value went up and the Rangers traded up and picked Anderson.
Needless to say, Liljegren was available at 15 as the others were already taken. However, being a fan of the draft and someone who loves the concept of building a winning team through the draft, I really wanted the Isles to draft Liljegren. To put it simply, he’s a better defensive Mark Streit and there’s a possibility he could produce more points. Since I realized that losing this years first rounder was necessary, I didn’t really make a big deal about it. What really irked me was who drafted him: Lou Lamoriello of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Have you seen his draft history? Even lately? It doesn’t surprise me one bit that Liljegren just signed his 3-year entry-level deal with the Leafs and may not play over in Europe because he may be ready to play in the NHL as soon as the end of this season. So at this point of the article, the Islanders gained 5 million in cap space, but lost two probable future NHL defenseman.
Ryan Strome is traded for Jordan Eberle
This move I saw coming for some time. Did I know it was going to be Strome going to Edmonton? No. But there was enough chatter to convince me that Eberle was indeed going to be an Islander. A change of scenery was certainly needed for both players, but the Islanders get the better player while the Oilers get the cap relief they needed to resign a few of theirs. If we’re going to place Eberle on the top line with Tavares, you should expect 60-65 points out of Eberle and that’s an improvement over Josh Bailey’s 56. Bailey himself should be able to fetch around +40 points splitting time on the 3rd or 2nd line during the season, which is something Strome could not do after his first season with the Islanders.
Travis Hamonic is traded to the Calgary Flames for 2018 first & second round picks and a conditional 2019 second round pick
This move I did not see coming. Hamonic has been floating around the rumor mill for months, but to grab him for just draft picks was not on my radar, but because of Eberle’s 6 million dollar contract and the need to resign defenceman Calvin de Haan and Adam Pelech, this was again a necessary move. He was a heart and soul player who will be greatly missed, but there is now enough cap space to make the proper signings with room to spare.
The coaching staff is now complete with the hiring of Kelly Buchberger and new goalie coach Fred Brathwaite
Doug Weight, without his own coaching staff, took the Islanders to a 108 point pace for the second half of last season. Adding Buchberger and Brathwaite to a coaching ensemble that already included Scott Gomez, Greg Cronin (returning but in a different role) and Luke Richardson and you not only have a lot of player/coaching experience and adding a few Stanley Cup rings to the Islanders bench, you’re changing the culture of the organization back to the way many hope the older fans saw when they were growing up. It’s no longer going to be expected from the players, these coaches are going to demand excellence, because they’ve already done it. No more free rides and accountability will be in full force.
So with everything that has happened, we’re down to the two questions: Are the Islanders a better team than from this past season’s end? I believe so and that’s due to the coaching staff who will be able to develop the younger players while their in the NHL and not in the AHL. The addition of Jordan Eberle over Ryan Strome is more significant than many may think. In his time since Strome became a regular he had only missed 23 games, some due to injuries or demotion or he spent time in the press box for whatever reason. In those 23 games the Islanders had gone 15-7-1 which is good for a 111 point pace. Addition by subtraction. Plus the possible insertion of Eberle on the first line will give more of a scoring option for John Tavares. What remains to be seen is how the defense will be with a full season without Travis Hamonic and with younger players such as Pelech and Pulock, but that’s on the coaches as well as another article in itself.
As for the second question: Do I think the Islanders are done trading? No, I don’t. The Islanders currently have roughly 9 million dollars in cap space, more than enough for Calvin de Haan (who filed for arbitration) and Adam Pelech. It’ll leave the Isles with roughly 2-4 million in space, but because of the depth of the organization, you could see one or two moves made before the season begins that could improve the organization in some capacity. Who the Isles will pursue may depend on how training camp goes for a few players and the trades may not be made until days before the season begins. If this sounds familiar, look no further to a few years back when the Isles made trades for Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk. Could these trades be as impactful? I’m not counting on that, but you never know. Until next time……..