Metropolitan Division Preview: New York Islanders

Coach- Doug Weight
2016-17 Record and Standing : 41-29-12 (5th in Metro, 9th in Eastern Conference)

Key Additions

– Jordan Eberle

Key Subtractions

– Ryan Strome

 – Travis Hamonic

Preview

A team in a transitional state with an unstable arena situation and a GM who is more commonly seen in the lists of those most likely to be removed, a relatively quiet offseason from the Islanders will help to provide some stability to a team in desperate need of some.

The Islanders arena issues have been widely noted, with their current lease in Brooklyn expiring in 2019 and having been seen as an experiment gone wrong around the league. With neither side happy with how the experiment went and the lack of a suitable arena for the Islanders to move to, there is an air of uncertainty surrounding the Islanders organization.

This uncertainty is compounded by captain and franchise center John Tavares’ contract expiring after the conclusion of the 2017-2018 season and all reports of an extension have been to note how little discussion has been had.

What the Islanders do have going for them, however, will be the play of young forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Ho-Sang. Both are very young at age 20 and 21 respectively. They showed the potential to be contributors for the Islanders going forward. Beauvillier spent the season on the NHL roster, playing in 66 games and scoring 24 points while being used in primarily a bottom 6 role. Ho-Sang got called up part way through the season, scoring 10 points in 21 games. Expect both of them to make strong arguments for top 6 time coming out of camp.

There is also hope from the Islanders’ front office that Mathew Barzal can make the leap from dominating the WHL straight to the NHL. One of Canada’s best players at the 2017 World Juniors, Barzal is primarily a playmaker with a good two-way game who has the skating and solid enough size to make a very good claim to make the Islanders’ NHL roster out of training camp.

While the forwards are of good quality, albeit with players like Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck overpaid for what they provide, the Islanders issue will rest with their defense and goaltending.

Acquiring Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome was a good move for the Islanders. But their other trade of the offseason is one that created a hole on their blue line. Moving Travis Hamonic for a 1st round pick and two 2nd round picks is a very good deal from a value perspective, but it created a hole in the top-4 of the Islanders defense that they haven’t addressed in the offseason.

With Thomas Hickey now being penciled in for a top-4 spot, the Islanders will be hoping that one of Sebastian Aho, Devon Toews or Ryan Pulock can earn a spot in training camp and hopefully provide some young puck moving ability to the blue line that got worse in the offseason.

The Islanders also enter the season with Thomas Greiss as the starter once again and Jaroslav Halak as his backup. Despite spending $7.83 million on their goaltending position, the Islanders have yet more uncertainty in the net. Greiss, who Penguins fans may remember from his disappointing 2014-2015 season as the back-up, had a very good 2015-2016 but suffered from the inconsistency that has plagued his career in 2016-2017. He put up below average numbers. In spite of this, the Islanders committed to him as at least a part time starter by signing him to a 3 year, $3.33 million AAV contract extension in January 2017. This commitment is at odds with the handling of Halak, who put up similar numbers to Greiss but found himself on the wrong side of a 3-goalie rotation in 2016-2017. This led to Halak demanding a trade and subsequently being waived and demoted to Bridgeport for the majority of 2017. With Halak’s contract expiring after the season, expect Greiss to remain the starter for better or worse.

Prediction

I see the Islanders having a very similar season to the one they just had. They may receive an offensive boost with the acquisition of Eberle, but the uncertainty of the blue line and the goaltending will negate any positives that come from that move. Expect another season of being in the running for a wildcard spot. But due to the competitiveness of the Metro division, the Islanders will always struggle to gain that spot. They also lack the overall team to be that competitive in the playoffs unless several young players make huge leaps. They may also commit to being sellers if they are dwindling at the deadline and Tavares looks unlikely to re-sign.

Doug Weight has a tough task ahead of him in his first full season as a head coach and it will be incredibly interesting to see if he brings a new energy to the young players of the Islanders.

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