With summer activity at a crawl, we have a chance to take a more in-depth look at the state of each team around the NHL. Now, we’ll look closer at the New York Islanders and provide some insight of what they could expect going forward.
The 2014/15 season was the last one the New York Islanders would call the Nassau Coliseum “home.” The team played in the outdated building since 1972, and after years of political wrangling, the Islanders will move to Brooklyn and the state-of-the-art Barclays Center.
On the ice, the New York Islanders finished with 101 points, good for third place in the Metropolitan Division. They earned a playoff berth for the second time in three seasons. Unfortunately for the Islanders, they were ousted by the Washington Capitals in a physical, seven-game series. It was a familiar ending for the Islanders as they failed to win a playoff round for the first time since 1993 (yes, that is 22 years and counting.)
Was it a successful season? Well, it depends on who you ask. The 101 points represented the New York Islanders’ first 100-point campaign since the 1983-84 season and gave the fans some much needed excitement. While a first round playoff exit was disappointing, the team was down three regular defensemen by the end of the playoffs. However, some view the season as another failure. In a league where more than half the teams make the playoffs, is a first round loss anything to cheer about? Personally, while I don’t consider it a “failure,” I’m also not pounding my chest after a quick playoff appearance.
With that said, let’s look closer at some of the different aspects of the New York Islanders:
The organization has stuck by general manager Garth Snow through some dark days, and it finally appears that the team’s faith in Snow (or just refusal to bring in a more veteran voice) is paying off. The New York Islanders and Snow have been the butt of many jokes over the past decade, many with good reason, but the one thing that one can never say is that the team doesn’t stand by its convictions. Snow learned the craft on the job, and even his biggest critics (raises hand) has to acknowledge that he appears to have improved his ability to acquire better talent and negotiate market-value deals for his players.
However, Snow is also stubborn to a fault, including his infatuation with coach Jack Capuano. Capuano has been the man in charge since he took over for Scott Gordon in 2010. In that time, Capuano has amassed the second most coaching wins in New York Islander history (more of an indictment on the team beyond Al Arbour‘s tenure.) But, people who watch this team on a daily basis will tell you that Capuano should hardly be considered a great coach. His teams have been amongst the worst in holding onto third period leads, a testament to his perceived inability to make proper adjustments. His player usage is often questionable, and his affection for some players (Brian Strait) is head-scratching.
After a 101-point season, it was doubtful Snow would have moved on from Capuano this summer. However, if the team gets off to a slow start, the organization must act swiftly and bring in a better coach.
There is no debating the New York Islanders are a talented bunch. They are led by Hart-nominee John Tavares, who at 24, is the leader of this young group. While the team doesn’t currently possess another high-powered forward, Kyle Okposo is close to that label and put up 51 points in 60 games last year. Forwards Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee are expected to take steps forward with their games after impressive 2014/15 seasons. With the team yet to add any impact forwards this summer, that trio is expected to carry a greater offensive burden going forward. If that trio can continue to progress, along with Tavares, Okposo, and the rest of the Islanders’ depth up front, they should be able to maintain their position as one of the league’s best offenses (fourth in goals per game in 2014/15.)
At this point last year, the defense was a huge question mark as it lacked any true top-pairing players. However, the team was able to add Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk a week before the season began, and the duo instantly became the Islanders’ best and most reliable pairing. The Islanders’ big step forward was largely due to their acquisition.
The New York Islanders’ top four defense, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan to go along with Leddy and Boychuk, is solid and can match favorably with many other teams’ top four. However, beyond that the blue line is filled with questions. Thomas Hickey has made the most of his opportunity, but is one injury away from top four minutes. As of now the rest of the potential third pairing- Brian Strait, rookies Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield– are huge question marks at this point. The team would be wise to add another depth option on defense. For as competitive as the Metropolitan Division appears it will be, injuries will play a huge factor in who will make the playoffs. After suffering through significant injuries in the playoffs last season, the Islanders should recognize the benefit of quality depth on defense.
In net, veteran Jaroslav Halak was able to stabilize the position for the Islanders and even made the All Star Game after a strong first half. He tailed off in the second half, but proved his worth in the playoffs and was one of the few Islanders to show up for game 7 in Washington and keep his team in the game. Halak and newly-acquired Thomas Greiss gives the Islanders a solid tandem between the pipes.
Overall, there is plenty of talent at the forward position, even if there isn’t a true game-breaker after Tavares. The defense is solid, but thin, and a rash of injuries could be disaterous for the blue line. My sense is the team is still one more key piece away from being a championship contender.
For the first time in a long while, the New York Islanders are close to being a cap-ceiling team. That’s a good thing, as it is the way most successful teams do business. With that though will come difficult roster decisions. The team is under the cap for 2015/16 (and the only relevant restricted free agent that needs to be re-signed is Brock Nelson) and will have some flexibility in-season. However, beginning in 2016/17, the organization may need to say goodbye to several key members of the team as they look to re-sign its young core.
Even if the roster sees some key departures, the Islanders are seemingly in position to withstand any loss of personnel. Recent draft picks Michael Dal Colle, Mathew Barzal, and Josh Ho-Sang are expected to be key contributors in the near future and if they can live up to their lofty draft status, the Islanders should be in good shape. Besides Pulock, prospects Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield have the potential to be contributors to the blue line soon. Their development led to the Islanders feeling comfortable enough to part with former prospect Griffin Reinhart. And while the Islanders do not have a young goaltender on the cusp of making the NHL team, long-term prospects Ilya Sorokin and Linus Soderstrom have potential to be regulars in the future.
More from Puck Prose