The NHL is less than 31 days away from the beginning of the 2017/18 season. Over this period we’re diving into the 31 NHL teams in alphabetical order, take a look at their previous standings and upcoming season predictions, as well as their key additions and subtractions. Today we stay in the Metropolitan division and head to Brooklyn, (temporary) home of the New York Islanders.
2016/17 record: 41-29-12
Key additions: Jordan Eberle
2017/18 prediction: 6th in Metro (Signs of life, but just miss playoffs yet again)
From goalie demotions to contract unease and from a less than desirable building to a failing head coach – it was a tumultuous season for the Islanders in 2016-17. Despite what felt like a lost year, New York nearly snuck into the playoffs – missing out by one point. It was just the second time this millennium that an Eastern Conference team tallied at least 94 points but failed to make the playoffs.
Much of the “near” success from last season can be attributed to the long-time-coming removal of stubborn Jack Capuano as head man in favor of assistant coach Doug Weight. The Islanders finished the season 24-12-4 under the interim head coach which bodes well for 2017-18. Weight also demonstrated a willingness to play younger stars and enjoys a healthy relationship with team captain John Tavares. (more on that later)
Unfortunately, the GM is still Garth Snow and despite the nifty Ryan Strome for Jordan Eberle swap, his track record of bad trades and worse contracts doesn’t instill a ton of confidence. There is still time for Snow to bolster the lineup with a much-needed second line center (eh-hmm, Duchene) but he already traded away one of his biggest bargaining chips when he sent Travis Hamonic to Calgary for more draft picks.
Two major hurdles are in play right now for the Isles and they are related: 1) sign John Tavares; 2) sort out the arena situation. Tavares – the biggest priority at the moment – continues to say the right things and there is optimism of him re-signing. However, he is looking to the organization to see what they do to provide him with help to win now as well as what the long-term plans are for where the Islanders will call home. The Barclays Center has been a disaster for new and old fans alike, but if the Islanders are able to secure approval for a new building in Belmont Park, it would go a long way to helping lock up Tavares and satisfy the fans.
On the ice, the Islanders enjoy a bevy of young prospects but who is ready to step up and contribute this season? Up front, Anthony Beauvillier and Joshua Ho-Sang have had moments of brilliance while the Islanders are hoping Mathew Barzal is ready to make the jump, as the center position behind Tavares is pretty pedestrian and/or unproven. The Islanders certainly have capable wingers with no less than three 20-30+ goal scorers on the top two lines.
On defense, the Islanders have put a lot of stock in Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. The blue line is anchored by Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk but the success of the club might depend heavily on how those two youngsters fare with elevated minutes.
In net, the Jaroslav Halak-Thomas Greiss partnership almost has an Antti Niemi–Kari Lehtonen feel to it. Two aging netminders who are top quality backups but mediocre starters. With some luck, one will emerge from the competition because the cupboard is a bit bare for at least another season or two while the organization waits to see if prospects like Linus Soderstrom or Ilya Sorokin pan out.
There’s nothing I’d like more than to predict that it all comes together for New York and they manage to get into the mix for a 7-8 seed in the playoffs but looking at some gaps in the current lineup, I don’t see it. They won’t touch Washington, Pittsburgh or Columbus. Even beating out the Rangers or Hurricanes seems iffy at this point. This begs the question – do the Islanders show enough (on and off the ice) to sign Tavares and in turn set themselves up for a big step forward in 2018-19?