New York Islanders
41-29-12, 94 points, 5th in the Metropolitan Division
Offseason Analysis: Just as I was starting to think that Jordan Eberle trade rumors, much like the Loch Ness Monster and the state of North Dakota, were nothing but myths and stories, Garth Snow just waltzes right in and ruins all the fun.
The ever-entertaining (probably more-so for those of us without vested interest in the team) Isles GM can usually be counted on to make headlines somehow, so when he pulled the trigger on one of the offseason’s bigger moves just over a week before free agency, it raised quite a few hands in the peanut gallery. On top of the sheer rarity of a true 1-for-1 straight-up trade, a few questioned the move based on the Isles’ lack of quality depth at the center position and Strome’s potentially yet-untouched ceiling. But Snow seemed confident enough in young Brock Nelson‘s ability to anchor his second line to go ahead and finally try to acquire the extra firepower of Eberle to accompany world-class John Tavares on the top line.
Captain ‘Johnny T’ has been one of the best centers in the league for quite some time, and at just shy of 27 years of age, he certainly shouldn’t be slowing down any time soon. But year after year seemingly everyone around the league asks “When will they find him a legitimate top-flight winger?”. Well, I think it’s safe to say they’re as close now as they’ve ever been. Eberle brings serious skill and consistent 25-30 goal, 60-70 point production from a situation where he didn’t often play on a quality hockey team. Should the two find solid chemistry, they could easily be plastering opposing defenders on the receiving end of highlight-reel plays on a nightly basis.
The rest of the Isles forward corps is solid, if not spectacular.
A solid ’16-’17 season showed they should now be able to comfortably rely upon man-child Anders Lee to complete the top line and chip in ballpark 30 goals and 50 points. The 6’3″ 228lb Notre Dame grad adds a helpful heaping of size and physicality to the group, and should create plenty of time, space, and netfront havoc to give his ultra-talented linemates ample opportunity to set things up.
Things get a bit convoluted from there.
Brock Nelson will almost certainly center the second line, and while veteran Andrew Ladd would be a logical choice to fill the left wing position, young Anthony Beauvillier will be given every chance to supplement Ladd after a quiet but solid debut season in ’16-’17. The former Shawinigan Cataractes superstar chipped in 9 goals and 24 points in 66 games last year playing limited minutes and getting adjusted to the pro game. Now with a firm idea of the competition he’ll face, and a summer of NHL-caliber weightroom training, Beauvillier should make a strong case for an expanded role in ’17-’18.
The right side could very well go the way of another youngster in Joshua Ho-Sang. After impressing with 10 points in his first 21 NHL games last season, some immature behavior landed the former OHL standout in Bridgeport for the remainder of the year. As long as he can keep his head on straight, Ho-Sang could fill out a sneaky-dangerous second unit for the Islanders.
If we go ahead and slot Beauvillier into the 2nd line LW position (and we are, because this is my article and I get to do what I want) then that leaves a likely 3rd line of Ladd, Casey Cizikas, and Josh Bailey, all of whom can play in just about any situation, while the latter two are both natural centers, giving the line extra flexibility in the faceoff department.
The fourth line also seems a fairly sure thing, with fleet-footed Jason Chimera accompanying the versatile Alan Quine and human battering ram Cal Clutterbuck. I have Nikolai Kulemin and Stephen Gionta as the extra forwards, giving the Isles a bit of extra veteran versatility to inject when needed. The forward prospect pool isn’t terrifically deep, but does feature the likes of respective 2014 & 2015 1st round picks Michael Dal Colle and Mathew Barzal. I expect Barzal to be left in Bridgeport to get a year of pro hockey under his belt, but a strong camp from 6’3″ 200lb Dal Colle could potentially earn him a spot in the opening night lineup.
Moving back to the blueline, the unit looks to be completely unchanged from the ’16-’17 campaign. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk are set to anchor the top pairing once again, while Adam Pelech and Calvin de Haan, both fresh off of shiny new contracts, will likely fill the 3-4 slots. After impressing the Islanders’ brass enough in the World Cup to be offered a contract last year, German defender Dennis Seidenberg did not let them down and was given an extension through the upcoming season, once again looking to accompany Thomas Hickey on the 3rd pairing.
Ryan Pulock should nab the 7th defenseman slot, with the potential to supplement one of the top 6 should he have a solid camp (his right-handed shot benefits him on a New York depth chart littered with lefties) but will face plenty of competition from guys like bruising Scott Mayfield and former OHL offensive dynamo and Memorial Cup Champion Mitchell Vande Sompel (who I promise is not on this list simply because his name is fun to say).
In goal, we reach the bulk of the questions surrounding the Islanders chances this year. After a quite literally up-and-down season that saw him placed on waivers and eventually sent to AHL Bridgeport, Halak returned to the Isles after going 17-7-3 and rode that confidence to a solid 12-9-5 record in the NHL. Now, at age 32 and in the final year of his contract, the Slovakian goaltender must reclaim his previous form to both help his team and, likely, extend his career as a starter. The Islanders do have the luxury of career-backup turned solid performer Thomas Greiss, who stepped in and filled Halak’s duties admirably with a 26-18-5 record accompanying a 2.69 GAA and .913 SV% last year. Behind Greiss are solid AHLers Kristers Gudlevskis and Christopher Gibson, though neither currently projects as an NHL regular.
Basically, the short version of the goaltending situation (and potentially the Islanders season as a whole) reads as ‘Halak or bust’.
Offseason Grade: C
Snow accomplished what he’s been trying to accomplish for quite a few years in giving Tavares a legitimate top-tier linemate, but Eberle’s pricey contract may have limited his ability to go out and solidify the rest of his lineup (*cough* Matt Duchene *cough*). The top line will likely rely upon the young second unit to take some defensive pressure away, and should the youngsters faulter, it could cause serious offensive problems for the top-loaded Isles. Throw in a good-not-great D corps, and a shaky goaltending situation, and the Islanders could struggle mightily to make the postseason in a deadly-good Metropolitan Division.