Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: New York Islanders
Last season: For the second straight season, the Islanders were on the cusp of making the finals only to be defeated by the eventual Cup champions. This time, the Isles managed to force a Game 7 against the Lightning after an overtime victory, only to suffer a soul-crushing one-goal defeat. It was yet another valiant season from Lou Lamoriello, who became the first executive to win the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award in consecutive season, and Barry Trotz, whose methodical system once again defied analytics and achieved success few had imagined. Despite a coming cap crunch with key players entering free agency, Lamoriello has kept most of his merry beardless crew together, and with the UBS Arena opening this season, there’s plenty to be excited about on Long Island.
Best option: Mathew Barzal, C
He’s their only elite player and projected to score 66 points to lead the team, according to THN’s Pool Guide. The only reason his numbers may not be as gaudy as similarly talented players is because the Isles force him to sacrifice some offense for good team play, and the Isles are Cup contenders because of it.
But there are still times where Barzal can simply take over, like his five-point effort against the Capitals, and that’s why he’s heads and shoulders above everyone else. Nobody else on the team possesses that kind of talent, and even though the Isles score by committee, Barzal is clearly their best option.
Trotz knows this, too; according to naturalstattrick.com, Barzal has started in the offensive zone over 72 percent of the time at 5-on-5, and he’s scored nine more points at home where the Isles have last change. Keep that in mind when drafting Barzal, knowing that the Isles have one of the toughest schedules in league history to start the season (more on that later).
Hidden gem: Noah Dobson, D
You know what you to expect from the Islanders, just as you know what to expect from Lamoriello and Trotz. But if there’s anything uncertain right now, it’s their power play, which ranked 20th last season and missing a premier quarterback. Nick Leddy led them in power-play minutes last season but he’s since been traded for cap reasons, which leaves the door open for Dobson, the 12th overall pick from 2018 who was a point-per-game player in the QMJHL.
Last season, the Isles tried Dobson and Ryan Pulock on the same power-play unit even though both were right-hand shots, and it remains to be seen if they will try to do the same again this season. They should have enough talent up front to form at least one unit with four forwards, and Dobson is the more logical fit due to his skillset, which also frees up Pulock to be played in other situations. THN’s Pool Guide is projecting Dobson to lead all Isles defensemen in scoring with 33 points, followed by Pulock’s 25, but in the right situation Dobson may be able to exceed expectations.
Goalies: Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin is about as good a tandem as you can get. The two Russians have five World Championship medals and an Olympic gold medal between them, and ranked sixth and 27th among 65 goalies in 5v5 GSAA/60 (min. 500 TOI), according to naturalstattrick.com.
Varlamov was very good and finished fifth in Vezina voting while Sorokin finished 15th in Calder voting, and combined to help the Isles finish second in GA/GP. If there’s a tandem that fantasy managers must have, it’s this one because they could have about 45-50 wins to be split between them, making them ideal snake-pick targets though Varlamov should have the slight edge as the incumbent. In all likelihood, Trotz will simply rotate the starts for most of the season unless one of them gets injured or goes on a hot streak.
Outlook: You’ll have to be patient with the Isles because they’re going to have a challenging start with 13 straight road games to start the season. UBS Arena is not opening until November 20, and the road trip will take the Isles through every single time zone and includes three back-to-backs. It could potentially put the Isles in a tough spot right away, but on the other hand, it means they will play a lot of home games for the remainder of the season and that should be more beneficial when playoff battles heat up.
The Isles have a talented roster, but it’s also an expensive one, and it has cost them depth on defense. The blueline might be their only weakness but otherwise they’re deep up front and with two solid goaltenders they trust, and it would not surprise anyone if they are contenders once again. Because of their style and the lack of high-end talent other than Barzal, the Isles will always be forced to grind out and win low-scoring games.
This will hurt the fantasy value of their forwards, but rather than having a concentrated group of talent at the top, it’s more evenly spread out, and as a result most of the Isles’ forwards will be good mid-round options. The Pool Guide is projecting five Isles forwards to score more than 40 points, but there’s a good chance Jean-Gabriel Pageau (38) and Oliver Wahlstrom (33) do so as well.