So we’ve reached the quarter mark of the NHL season and for many (including myself this early in the year), the New York Islanders are exceeding everyone’s expectations with a 12-9-2 record. Many have asked what should the Isles do at this point of the year? Do/Can they make a trade for more veteran experience to improve the team now? Is bringing up a prospect a good idea after 20+ games? Usually at this point in the season we have a better idea of what our teams look like and so it’s these kinds of questions that usually are brought up after the American Thanksgiving holiday. I don’t think this is going to be one of those years. With new Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz still getting a feel for what kind of identity this team resembles, it may take more patience from Islanders fans as both will extend the evaluation process a little longer. But how much and can the Islanders afford to do such a thing? Lets find out.
So these are the pro-rated (point pace) Eastern Conference standings as of 11.27.18 before tonight’s games:
1 Tampa 120
2 Sabres 116
3 Leafs 112
4 Caps 106
5 Bruins 103
6 CBJ 103
7 Isles 93
8 Habs 92
9 Rangers 92
10 Canes 89
11 Pens 86
12 Panthers 82
13 Wings 79
14 Devils 78
15 Flyers 78
16 Sens 72
So at this point in time, what does this version of the standings tell me? First, the Ottawa Senators have about a week and a half to start winning or I can officially eliminate them. Because of their slow starts, I (for fun) am sticking with the numbers and saying that the Flyers, Rangers and Panthers will miss the playoffs. The Flyers are ready to open up shop, which could be a good or really bad idea; The Devils are struggling with goaltending and may not have enough depth; The Red Wings are right where they should be, but unless a few teams fall from the Atlantic, they’re not getting in right now; This pretty much leaves the Hurricanes and Penguins as threats to the Isles and Montreal.
As far as the 93 point pace is concerned, it’s where I had expected the Islanders to be, just not this early in the season. With the Islanders battling for third in the Metro division, I’m not expecting them to climb over teams like the Capitals or Blue Jackets now, so where does this team go? Have the Isles reached their peak or pinnacle point? The Islanders know this and it’s because of these standings that you just might see Lamoriello and Trotz maybe extend the evaluation of the organization to possibly 35-40 games. Would I expect to see some moves made? Only if there are injuries, which fans have already witnessed. Over the next 20-25 games there are a few questions that should get answered and we’ll all get the same impression and clearer picture.
Will this team keep up this 92-97 point pace?
Does Brock Nelson deserve a contract extension?
Who becomes more of a trade candidate?
Does Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock show some signs of growth as they are still getting acquainted to the system like Nick Leddy has?
Could this be a second half team that improves over the first with more home games at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum?
Can Trotz figure out who works on which PP unit?
Will we see continued growth from Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal?
So after 20+ games what team do the Islanders remind me of? This is easy for everyone: The Washington Capitals. There are some similarities: Barzal reminds me of Nicklas Backstrom; Scott Mayfield has that Karl Alzner mold to him; I’m not yet ready to anoint Pulock as the next John Carlson, but the potential is there. Noah Dobson may be better than Dmitri Orlov and I think Oliver Wahlstrom could have a similar playing style to Alex Ovechkin etc. The Islanders certainly have pieces, just not completely there yet. Which is why I believe Trotz and Lamoriello will remain patient with both the Islanders and Sound Tigers for as long as they can so that when there comes a time to make a move, it will be to benefit the system and the team’s overall progression towards more winning. If you had the Isles finishing below the 85 point mark, sit back some more and enjoy this ride. They might come back down, but knowing what the Isles have accomplished so far and what is eventually coming into the fold is more important than any kind of instant gratification for people who want changes now when they already had this team written off.
Don’t forget to come join myself and others for the Isles Talk Live Chat on Fridays at 7pm. We discuss the Isles, NHL and I take your questions during the show. You can find me on twitter at @P_Kreischer