The New York Islanders are young, led by a major scoring talent in John Tavares and they finally picked up a solid starting goalie in Jaroslav Halak this summer. But will they be a playoff team? We don’t think so and are predicting them to finish sixth in the Metro.
2013-14 record: 34-37-11
Acquisitions: Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Harry Zolnierczyk, Cory Conacher, Jack Skille, Chad Johnson, T.J. Brennan, Jaroslav Halak.
Departures: Evgeni Nabokov
Top five fantasy players: John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Mikhail Grabovski, Josh Bailey.
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: John Tavares was having himself yet another tremendous season until he got crunched in an Olympic win over Latvia, wrecking his knee and losing out on the rest of the Islanders’ schedule. Although the team had already begun losing ground before the Olympic break, the loss of its captain was a death knell. But GM Garth Snow fortified several trouble spots in New York’s lineup, and things are looking positive for the last hurrah before the team moves to Brooklyn.
Jaroslav Halak is the new No. 1 netminder and has proven in the past that he doesn’t need a lot of support to steal games. He gives the club stable netminding, a welcome change for a franchise that endured Rick DiPietro and much turnover in goal.
Mikhail Grabovski and good buddy Nikolai Kulemin are getting the band back together, and both will do so with a chip on their shoulders. If they channel their passion correctly, the Islanders just got themselves two-thirds of a solid line. Youngsters Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart are ready to contribute as well.
Bust: Every year it seems as if this team is short at least one blueliner. Even though Andrew MacDonald had worn down the fans’ patience, he was a warm body who could play a lot of minutes. With the veteran joining former Islander Mark Streit in Philadelphia at the trade deadline, New York lost depth in a weak area.
Are there intriguing faces in the pipeline? Sure. Calvin de Haan showed excellent flashes as a rookie, and T.J. Brennan may have just needed the right situation to prove he’s more than an all-star at the American League level. But Lubomir Visnovsky is by far the most experienced blueliner in town and he’s 38. Travis Hamonic needs some more backup there.
Despite past heroics, Halak was deemed expendable by St. Louis, where the potent Blues may have been covering up some regression in the Slovakian’s game. New York will prove to be an acid test for the goalkeeper.
Bottom Line: As with most teams in the Metro, the Islanders could find themselves almost anywhere in the final standings, but bet on them falling short of the playoffs. There’s depth up front and stability in goal but not enough of either to overcome a dreadful group of defensemen. The ‘D’ looks like it was assembled by way of an expansion draft, populated mostly by reclamation projects. It’s a group that is, quite simply, not playoff-caliber.
Prospect Watch: Over the past few years, the Islanders’ forward unit has been overtaken with a young core of players that seems on the verge of breaking through and capable of leading the Islanders back into the playoffs in an 82-game season. Now, the same kind of transition is happening on the back end. Last year, 2009 first-rounder Calvin de Haan played in 51 NHL games and this year, Isles fans will be interested to see if 2012 first-rounder (fourth overall) Griffin Reinhart makes the team out of camp. Reinhart was a big piece of the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, who won the Memorial Cup last season and at 6-foot-4, 217 pounds, he already has NHL size. He’s one to watch closely in the pre-season.
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Sixth in the Metro Division
Contributors: Ryan Kennedy, Rory Boylen