2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 23. New York Islanders

Part 9 of 31 in our NHL previews where Waind, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. Starting from the worst, we’ll be giving you the reasons why we ranked each team where we did.

Check out the other parts to this series: #31. Colorado Avalanche#30. Vegas Golden Knights, #29. Vancouver Canucks, #28. Detroit Red Wings, #27. New Jersey Devils, #26. Arizona Coyotes, #25. Buffalo Sabres, #24. Winnipeg Jets

2016-17 Recap

Record: 41-29-12 (94 Points) 5th in the Metropolitan Division (17th Overall)
GFPG: 2.94 (10th)
GAPG: 2.95 (22nd)
PP%: 14.96 (28th)
PK%: 82.38 (11th)
Corsi For %: 47.5 (27th)

The New York Islanders of 2016/17 had aspirations for another playoff run after coming off of a 2015/16 season that saw them win their first playoff series since 1993. But those aspirations quickly proved unattainable after poor performance in the early going that ultimately did them in. Despite the losses of Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin in the offseason, they believed the additions of Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera would sufficiently replace their production.

But a terribly slow start from Ladd in the goal column, coupled with a dramatic goaltending carousel involving three goalies contributed to the eventual firing of head coach Jack Capuano. This team never really figured things out until the year turned to 2017 and it was too late. They ended 2016 with a 15-15-6 record, but followed it up with a 7-2-3 January, their best month of the season. Andrew Ladd began to score again, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey began piling on points to what would be their career years to date, and the Islanders found themselves back into a playoff hunt.

It was pretty impressive seeing the Islanders fight back to put themselves back in the playoff conversation. But in the end it was too little, too late, and they finished one point shy of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The worst place to be.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Jordan Eberle

List of Key Departures: Travis Hamonic, Ryan Strome, Mikhail Grabovski, Jean-Francois Berube

There are some optimistic arguments to be given for the 2017/18 Islanders, I just don’t particularly buy them. It could be said that this will be the first full season that Doug Weight will be in control as head coach so there should be an improvement as a result. Or that the second half of last season was a more accurate representation of what the team actually has in them.

But my perspective on this team is that it is a fringe playoff team with weak goaltending and a lack of secondary scoring. The acquisition of Eberle should help, but John Tavares really will need to shoulder a massive load of the offense once again. I just don’t see how entering the season with the likes of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss as their goaltending duo could inspire confidence in a potential Islanders playoff return.

X-Factors

Team MVP: John Tavares

Since Tavares was selected first overall in the 2009 draft, this team has been his to lead. Unfortunately for him, the Islanders and their management have failed to surround his elite talent with a solid supporting cast in order to compete. This is a main reason why Tavares and the Islanders have been held to just one playoff series victory over the Captain’s eight-year career.

If you look at Tavares’ production over the span of the seven seasons since his rookie year (2010/11-2016/17), he is the fifth highest point producer in the NHL in that time behind only Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Claude Giroux. His 211 goals and 272 assists in those seven seasons speak volumes as to how elite he is. Now Tavares is entering the final year of his contract before entering unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. It really wouldn’t be surprising to see him move on from New York given the lack of success the Islanders have experienced, to the recent turmoil regarding where the hell the team will actually play home games due to the failed Barclay’s Center experiment.

Tavares has always had the ability to bring his linemates’ offensive production above their heads, and it has certainly made some former teammates a bunch of somewhat undeserved money (*cough* Matt Moulson). But this season, the Islanders have finally brought in a proven offensive talent in Jordan Eberle to flank Tavares on his right wing. It’ll be interesting to see how this affects Tavares, and if you buy the “players play more motivated in their contract year” theory, then get out of this guy’s way, he’s about to go off.

Team’s Strength: The Blueline

I know it may be odd to say defense is a strength for a team that gave up the 9th most goals per game in the league last year, but there are reasons behind that. For one, the goaltending situation was awful from day one and mediocre production in net is going to result in goals allowed. Also, top-four guys like Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk missed extended time due to injury last year which certainly hurt the team. In spite of all this, the Islanders still had the 11th most effective penalty kill in the league. Now, the loss of Travis Hamonic stings for the immediate future but the Islanders still have a collection of solid NHL defenseman that won’t wow you, but are definitely reliable. Guys like Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Calvin De Haan and Dennis Seidenberg all have the ability to step in and eclipse the twenty-minute mark in ice time. Another encouraging note on the D corps, prospect Ryan Pulock (15th overall, 2013) looks like he’s finally be ready to crack the lineup out of camp and make this team.

Team’s Weakness: Goaltending

The goaltending mess that transpired last season still hasn’t completely worked itself out for the Islanders quite yet. There was actually a point in time where they were carrying three goalies with the big club because they didn’t know what to do with them all. This didn’t help at all as egos started to flare up between the trio, especially with Jean-Francois Berube. The only difference today between that situation is one of the those three headaches is now gone, and that’s Berube. But the issue still remains that the goaltending duo of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss is still there and still not all that good. So we should expect to be a fairly even split of starts between these two goalies, but an impressive performance from either that spans the season would be a bit of a surprise.

Rookies/Farm 

The Islanders are a team that we should expect some heavy rookie content from heading into this season, which is exciting for them and their future. Players like Pulock, Josh Ho-Sang (28th overall, 2014) and Matthew Barzal (16th overall, 2015) can almost certainly be penciled into the opening night roster already. Ho-Sang already played 21 games with the Isles last season, but technically is still considered a rookie.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Michael Dal Colle, the 5th overall pick of the 2014 draft that still doesn’t appear to be ready to make the jump to crack the team. While Dal Colle’s progression is a bit disappointing, it’s not time to give up on him quite yet. Looking at recently acquired prospects, the Islanders didn’t have a 2017 first round pick but their 2016 first rounder Kieffer Bellows has made the switch from Boston University of the NCAA to the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks for his first season of Canadian Junior Hockey.

 

Key Player:  Nick Leddy

Ever since arriving in New York following a trade with Blackhawks, Leddy has been a leader on the backend for the Islanders. He’s averaged over twenty minutes of ice-time in each of those three seasons and led the team in ice-time averaging 22:43 per game last season. Much of Leddy’s effectiveness as a defenseman can be attributed to his offensive play and comfort with the puck on his stick. These traits give him the ability to take control on the power-play for an Islanders team that tends to have trouble on the man advantage. Now that minutes-eater Travis Hamonic has been shipped off to the Calgary Flames, there are going to be some shoes to fill in the Islanders defense group. It’s to be expected that Leddy will take another step forward in leading this Islanders team from the blueline and it’s a key for them that he does.

Our Rankings

  1. Ballantyne: 25th
  2. Burgess: 20th
  3. Waind: 25th

 

The Islanders are a team that have shown they can catch fire and go on a run, and the prospect is there for that to potentially happen again. But for that to happen, there would have to be a lot to break the right way for them this season. I apologize for the harsh words, but hey’d better hope the breaks go their way, because if not, it may turn out to be their last season with John Tavares on their side.

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