Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the New York Islanders and their outlook for the summer.
The 2017-18 New York Islanders were a vast disappointment. They went 35-37-10 for 80 points on the season and finished 7th in the Metropolitan Division under head coach and former Islanders star, Doug Weight.
John Tavares is the hotly contested prize this summer on the free agent market– if he makes it to the open market by July 1st.
Meanwhile, New York’s owner Jon Ledecky did not “Weight” around as Garth Snow and Weight were removed from their positions with the organization last month.
After jumping ship from the Toronto Maple Leafs– having completed his three years as General Manager– Lou Lamoriello was hired by the Isles and ultimately promoted to the GM position. The search for a new head coach is ongoing after Weight joined the team midseason in 2016-17 and missed the playoffs both years with the club.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Lamoriello holds on to the 11th and 12th overall picks in the 2018 Draft currently.
If the Islanders are looking to move forward, they’ve got a few players to let go this offseason and a couple, like Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, that could be traded in a miracle maneuver by Lamoriello in an attempt to protect the future with guys like Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle as pending free agents in 2019 looking for a raise.
Evan Bouchard, Rasmus Kupari, Adam Boqvist, Isac Lundestrom, Joel Farabee, Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joseph Veleno will likely be availble around the 11th and 12th overall picks and by that point New York would be wise to select the best available.
It’s not a full-on rebuild, but Lamoriello has a bit of a mess on his hands– too much, perhaps, to fix in one offseason, but if Tavares is willing to stick around…
Pending free agents
New York has about $28.300 million to spend this summer with the 27-year-old Tavares likely to take up almost $10.000 million AAV on his next deal– if he re-signs with the Islanders.
Past that, Lamoriello has to contemplate where Chris Wagner, 27, and Nikolai Kulemin, 31, fit in with the organization (if they do) as pending-UFA forwards and Ross Johnston, 24, Brock Nelson, 26, Alan Quine, 25, and Shane Prince, 25, sort themselves out as pending-RFA forwards.
Johnson had six points in 24 games. Wagner had 16 points in 79 games. The former shouldn’t be re-signed if you’re expecting him to be an NHLer next season, whereas Wagner could hold his own on the fourth line.
Kulemin spent most of 2017-18 with an upper body injury that limited his totals to one goal and two assists (three points) in 13 games. He’s been stagnant around 20-points on a good year and could play a role as a bottom-6 forward, provided he signs for a lot less than what he was making ($4,187,500) the last four seasons.
While attracting another top-six forward would certainly sell Tavares on sticking around (hello, Ilya Kovalchuk), Nelson is a key part of New York’s top-two lines, having amassed 40-plus points in three out of his five career seasons in the league.
Yes, he only had 19-16–35 totals in 82 games this season, but the overall production of the Isles was down. Keep him around.
Quine and Prince present challenges to Lamoriello’s overarching plan for the organization. Both players had five goals and 13 assists (18 points) in 2016-17. Quine did so in 61 games, while Prince did it in 50 games played.
This season, Quine had three assists in 21 games and Prince had one goal and one assist (two points) in 14 appearances. Both players are 25-years-old and running out of time as NHLers that have never cracked the 20-point plateau. Make of that what you want.
Along with the Tavares decision, the biggest questions for the Islanders reside on the blueline and in net.
de Haan will see something around $3.300 million (what he made on his one-year bridge deal this season) despite injuries, while Hickey could rival Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy money (somewhere in the range of $5.000-6.500 million).
That could force Lamoriello to trade the aging Boychuk, if the 34-year-old would agree to waive his no-movement clause, or Lamoriello would have to send Leddy packing.
Brandon Davidson, 26, and Ryan Pulock, 23, are the only pending-RFA defenders. Pulock has to be kept while Davidson might see the door as a journeyman making the rounds between Edmonton and Montreal, then back and forth again before landing in Brooklyn.
So that’s the defense, then there’s the goaltending.
Jaroslav Halak, 33, is a pending-UFA coming off a 20-26-6 season in 54 games played with a 3.19 goals against average and .908 save percentage. Not great.
Thomas Greiss, 32, has two-years remaining on his current contract with a $3.333 million cap hit and a 3.82 GAA and .892 SV% in 27 games played in 2017-18. Also not great.
Halak’s four seasons with the Islanders have ranged in goals against average and save percentage with a 2.43 and .914 in 2014-15 (59 games played), 2.30 and .919 in 2015-16 (36 GP), 2.80 and .915 in 2016-17 (28 GP) and his 2017-18 results.
Greiss has posted similar numbers with New York with a 2.36 and .925 in 2015-16 (41 GP), 2.69 and .913 in 2016-17 (51 GP) and his 2017-18 stat line. His best season came as a backup in 25 games played with the then Phoenix Coyotes in 2013-14, compiling a 2.29 GAA and amassing a .920 SV%.
The answer is clear. Find a legitimate goaltender.
Despite brief stints as a starting goaltender, Greiss cannot maintain quality play over the course of a season and unless Lamoriello mends the wounds with Halak and rebuilds his confidence magically over the summer (while also providing him with a defense that limits shot attempts against), then Halak’s out of town and New York is desperate.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include: