For those of you who came back after reading the Isles Talk Eastern Conference Preview, thank you. For those of you who are new? Welcome!! This will be an odd year for me because I’m stuck when it comes to predicting how far the Isles can go this year because if you go back in time on this website, starting with my season preview from last year, my writings been on par (close enough) with what the Isles accomplished, including the draft. So I just can’t turn on my own work and this year I feel like “I’m going down with my ship” mentality. I don’t think the Isles will drop, but if they do, I’m ready to get the tongue lashing from all of the Isles fans. As you may have already read, many have the Isles below where they were last year or not making the playoffs at all….again. Here’s why I’m going completely against the grain and “I’m going down with my ship.”
OVERVIEW OF EXPECTATIONS:
This Islanders team is essentially returning everyone from last year, save for two or three players. Last year at this time everyone was a free agent. What do I mean by that? New general manager, new (just won the Stanley Cup) head coach, new coaching staff, new philosophy, new everything. The players did not know what to expect and they were all put under a microscope. Sometimes a free agent comes to a new place and he needs some time to get acclimated to everything before the numbers begin to show on the ice and the winning from the team improves. That’s exactly what happened with the Isles last season. Now this management brought everyone back and their expectations are no longer a guessing game or a go-with-the-flow approach. The players summer training changed, their preparations changed and after what they experienced in the playoffs, you know the players want more.
So where did I come up with 100-105 points? It’s basically the same range they finished last year, even if the division (on paper) improved. Since the Isles really didn’t do anything on paper to improve the team, many (including fans) have the Isles dipping, dropping, falling, and collapsing. The Islanders just improved on their strengths and are allowing their weaknesses to be taken care of by the players and the coaching staff. So what is their strength? Defense, goaltending & coaching staff. We’ll include the offense so they don’t feel left out. Let’s start with the teams expectations.
DEFENSE AND GOALTENDING
Folks, you may not want to believe this but there many NHL scouts out there that feel Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech could be a dominate first pair defensive unit for years to come. Pelech’s second half evolution and his chemistry with Pulock improved in that span and over the course of this full season, Isles fans should see the same if not better results from the two of them. Adding rookie Noah Dobson, a future first-pair defenseman in his own right, already makes the defense faster and smarter because according to Barry Trotz, Dobson has a very high hockey IQ. With Dobson and Nick Leddy getting together, you should see Leddy’s overall game improve and watch Dobson grow into an eventual top defenseman in the near future (Hello Belmont!). My expectations for the defense is for all of them to play the same amount of minutes, stick to the system and try to duplicate the goal total allowed from last year. They’ll need a little help from the goalies though….speaking of which.
Moving on from free agency and what was lost and brought in, I love the tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss. Before last season, If you were to ask me who I would rather pick between Varly or Lehner, I’d choose Varly. He’s also a former Vezina finalist and he has a style to him that fits the Isles. I would expect a 55-27 split between the two goalies, but if Griess can rack up a decent winning streak, maybe a 50-32 could happen. For those concerned about injuries, I’ve seen enough of Christopher Gibson to me more than comfortable with seeing him play through 10 games if he makes it here. So if we play the law of averages (I never use advanced stats in my predictions) and based off the last few years, the Islanders goalies should average out to give up roughly 219 goals. That’s 20 more goals than last year, but Varlamov was on some bad Colorado teams in the past and so was Greiss back in 2018.
Since the Isles gave up 199 goals last season, I’m going to split the numbers down the middle and set my expectations for the defense and goaltending by writing they’ll give up somewhere between 207-212 goals, at most. That could still be a top 5 defense folks, and just for the record: The Isles gave up 217 goals a year or less seven times in their franchise and they’ve made the playoffs every single time.
I warned most of you not to expect any major moves during the summer. You guys wasted your summer praying for Laine, Ehlers and especially Marner. Is the offense a weakness? Maybe, depending on what you’re expecting. My expectations for the Isles offense is 240 goals. Why that number? If the Isles hit the 240 goal mark, the Isles have made the playoffs 19 out of the last 24 times. That’s just under 80% folks. The other 5 years had a nasty defense to them (2018 ring a bell?) and prevented the number to improve. So where do I find an extra 12 goals from? You’re really asking each player to score half a goal more than last year. Some could do that like Eberle, Dal Colle/Ladd, Uncle Leo and even guys on defense like Pulock or if Dobson gets his first goal, it’s one more than what Thomas Hickey scored! It’ll be up to the coaching staff to get those numbers up. Nice timing….
THE COACHING STAFF
I said this last year that the Barry Trotz system reminded me of an upgraded version to former Isles bench boss, Jack Capuano. When Capuano had the players needed to play his system he had an overall pro-rated season of 96 points…..Read that again. Capuano’s overall pro-rated record put him at 88 points a year…..Read that again. So people are trying to tell me, in a Barry Trotz system with almost EVERYONE COMING BACK FOM LAST YEAR WHO FITS THE SYSTEM, is going to be less than 88 points? Nope….96 points? Unless there’s a rash of injures, I can’t see it. The Isles also brought in powerplay coach Jim Hiller, who most know got Toronto’s powerplay going. However, what most forget is that he followed Toronto head coach, Mike Babcock over from the Detroit Red Wings. Back in 2014 the Wings scored 50 goals on the PP, which was average for the year. The next year when Hiller took over the Wings racked up 70 goals where the average was 47 and took the Tampa Bay Lighting to a first round, seven game series on the backs of the powerplay. Hiller will work his magic, the coaches will get the offensive system in check, and I think they should be able to coach the Isles players to 100-105 points this year.
Isles offense: 240 goals
Isles Goalies/Defense: 212 goals
Metro finish: 2nd
I’m going down with this ship. If I’m wrong, you can have your fun with me. If the Isles rack up 80 points, you can tell me you told me so. If the Isles rack up 95 points and no major injuries, you’re allowed to poke fun at me. I had the Isles between 92-97 points last year and many called me crazy and the Isles proved me and everyone else wrong for the better. Is it crazy to predict a 100-105 season again this year? Maybe but I’m done with putting low expectations on this team. I want playoffs every year for the next ten years, with a Stanley Cup somewhere in there, maybe two. I want my craziness to turn into a standard that everyone will fall in line with. The Isles have a chance this season to make not just another statement year, but to bring back this old standard that older fans were once used to seeing year in and year out and something that the younger fans can soon appreciate and love so that they’ll have stories to tell to the next generation. Let the puck drop and get the Islanders season started. Welcome back everyone.
Tune in Thursday Oct 3 at 7pm as I’ll be doing my first Isles Talk Vlog Cast live on YouTube. We’ll talk about the season review and we’ll have a short water-cooler talk and discuss a few topics. Follow Isles Talk on twitter and Facebook for all the latest updates.
Twitter: @IslesTalk @P_Kreischer