The “Second Half” of the season begins for the Islanders tonight against the Florida Panthers after the completion of this past weekend’s All-Star festivities. With the Isles completion of the their 50th game a few days ago, we’ll go through the pro-rated standings, talk a little bit about what the Isles may do at the trade deadline (which is now less than a month away) and I’ll give a few more thoughts on the team moving forward. So let’s get on with the pro-rated standings:
1. Tampa 119 Pace
2. Bruins 115 Pace
3. Caps 105 Pace
4. Leafs 98
5. Devils 96
6. Columbus 95
7. Phil 94
8. Pitt 92
9. Isles 90
10. Rangers 90
11. Canes 87
12. Wings 79
13. Habs 77
14. Panthers 77
15. Sens OUT
16. Sabres OUT
1. So let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. Montreal, Red Wings, and the Panthers are on the verge of being eliminated by the 60 game mark, if not sooner. Watch for all of those teams to fully enter the rumor mill by next week.
2. For the Islanders fans that want Erik Karlsson at the trade deadline: I don’t see it happening. The Sens are not going into a full rebuild and with news of a step towards a brand new arena in downtown Ottawa, you need a face to get you to that new arena and Karlsson is that face. Let’s revisit him come the draft.
3. For those that want Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Niklas Hjalmarsson at the trade deadline: I also don’t see that happening, but for a different reason. That reason is Rasmus Dahlin, the projected number one defenseman and overall pick in this years draft is the real deal and make no mistake, is being heralded as a possible generational pick. Trading OEL or Hjalmarsson now would hinder the best kind of development for both Dahlin and Arizona. You want him learning from those two players next year and possibly add another experienced defenseman to solidify the Coyotes defense. Here’s the catch: the draft lottery. If the Coyotes do not get the first overall pick, then you could see one or both traded around the draft because whoever lands at number one, will not be trading that pick.
4. I’m wondering if the there’s any team in the Metro right now that can beat either the Bruins or the Lightning in a seven game series? I don’t think so. The Metro just doesn’t look intimidating and for that fact, the East looks wide open. If it weren’t for the way the standings are fixed, 4th through 11th looks wide open, but because of the standings, the maple Leafs look to be locks to play either the Bruins or Lightning in the first round. Yikes!!! Having written that…..Islanders segway
5. I purposely put the Isles ahead of the Rangers in the standings because I haven’t had the Rangers in the playoffs since game 10. I still feel that the Carolina Hurricanes don’t have enough offense or goaltending to make a proper push, but they’re on the right path to being a better team soon.
6. So Let’s play this out. It appears for now that the Isles are on pace to finish no worse than 9th in the conference again and as I stated before, the Metro just isn’t as intimidating as it was supposed to be. The Devils are slipping, Columbus doesn’t look like the team of last year with their injuries and lack of scoring, the Washington Capitals are on cruise control but can someone tell me who else is scoring for them other than Ovechkin? Can the Isles score there way into the playoffs?
7. How far up can the Flyers go? Do they have enough to overtake New Jersey? Can they continue this trend over the rest of the season? I had the Flyers finishing between 87-92 points, but with everyone struggling this year you could see the Flyers finish anywhere between 87-97 points. Will their goalies continue this hot streak? The Penguins will certainly be making a move for a third line center so that they can move Jake Geuntzel back to the first line with Sidney Crosby. However, Both Pennsylvania teams have been inconsistent all season so can the Isles play a more consistent game for the rest of the year to overtake them?
8. With the standings being as close as they are and with the Isles doing no worse than 9th as of this writing, don’t expect the Isles to trade John Tavares by the trade deadline. Yes, Tavares signing an extension is all on him, but the Isles need to make the playoffs and to do that they need their captain. So for those who want him traded: If he doesn’t give an answer before the trade deadline, you’re not going to be happy.
9. Speaking of the playoffs, if the Isles do not make any moves at the trade deadline and they get into the dance, it’s more of the other teams sinking to the bottom quicker and the Isles getting lucky than it is about them being good. They need help on goaltending, defense and help on that third or fourth line and I can’t see Snow standing pat on February 26th.
10. Speaking of the third and fourth line, Jason Chimera looks like he’s just done, Tanner Fritz hustles, but is looking like he’s not going to be an answer to help with Brock Nelson. Alan Quine isn’t either and Prince is injured again. With the new second line of Beauvillier, Barzal and Eberle not changing anytime soon, you need someone who has enough talent and play-making abilities to play with Andrew Ladd returning and Brock Nelson. Segway…..
11. The Islanders must make a decision about Josh Ho-Sang and I don’t mean in June at the draft or as a trade bait at the deadline. The Isles must decide where he’s going to finish this season, either with them in the NHL or with the Sound Tigers of the AHL. Let me be clear, having interviewed Brent Thompson in the past and getting to know the great people in Bridgeport, it take A LOT to get benched by him. If Ho-Sang gets benched, it’s because he deserves to. This is a career changing moment for him and if the Isles give him another opportunity, he must succeed and never look back. Don’t take anything for granted ever again. Give the Isles a reason not to give depth players like Quine, Fritz and even Shane Prince a chance anymore on the third line. Having written this, I believe we’ll see Josh up and playing before the trade deadline on a regular basis and I don’t think he’ll go down again.
12. If the Isles do decide to keep Ho-Sang down in the minors for the remainder of the season, it’s time for a few trades. Do I see a home run swing by Garth? Not when the rest of the Metro is dropping as they are. How far the others drop folks will determine what kind of trade(s) will be made. If the Isles are close or in a playoff spot by the end of February, you’ll probably see a minor move for a 3rd line winger or a defensive rental who could be better than Thomas Hickey and Dennis Seidenberg but the Isles will put more responsibility on players like Mayfield or Pulock. If the Isles struggle to get in and the other teams don’t fade as fast as the Isles had hoped, then I don’t think Garth will have much of a choice and he must swing for the fences at the expense of a first round pick to improve the club.
13. It’s early, but something to think about: Would a big trade get the Isles up to the level of the Bruins or Lightning? I don’t think so. Could a few subtle moves and (currently) the second best offense in the League beat anyone in the Metro come playoff time? Maybe, but don’t forget about Pittsburgh. I think the goal would be to go the subtle route and keep as many first-rounders’ as possible in a very deep draft just in case the worst should happen.
14. Whatever the Isles do, they should keep Ross Johnston up here. He’ll at least keep the opponents honest and a physical presence now and then always helps.
There’s no where else for the Isles to go at this point but up. I can’t see them finishing around 85 points and seeing them in the low 90’s appears to be the path so far. They must continue to win and they’ll get to the playoffs because the other teams just don’t have enough to get them through the rest of the season. Make no mistake, the Isles will need help to get in, both internally and externally. Whether it’s luck or skill, the Isles must have a lot of both if they want to make the dance this year. They’ve put themselves in this hole, but there’s a way out. It’s lucky for them that other teams are helping by digging bigger holes of their own. One thing is for certain, the Isles should not be idle by the trade deadline. Getting to see players rewarded for their efforts is good and nice to see, but I think fans and hopefully management have seen enough of most and not enough of the others once regular players come back from injuries. Decisions that need to be made should be made and choices followed through. The arena situation is done, the summer is not for a while and shouldn’t be a focus. Time to climb up the ladder now with whatever tools are needed and get out of this hole and like Ho-Sang, never look back.