A lot has been made of the Islanders’ off season to this point- and with good reason. Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog ranked them the most improved team this off season. Therefore, I think it’s fair to ask the question- how good will the Islanders be next season?
Last year, the Islanders had one of the best top lines in the league for most of the season, skating John Tavares, Thomas Vanek, and Kyle Okposo together. Once Tavares got hurt at the Olympics and Vanek was traded to Montreal, it was abundantly clear that the team needed depth help. The players the team called up to help played very well, which surprised many people. Players such as Mike Halmo and Brett Gallant found a way into the conversation about future roles with the team. It’s safe to say that Garth Snow has helped the Islanders become one of the more deep teams in the league, offensively.
Snow added Nikolai Kulimen, Mikhail Grabovski, and Cory Conacher. Kulimen and Grabovski have great chemistry, noted by their time together in Toronto, and likely add a little humor to an already light and fun locker room. Conacher’s versatility makes him a valuable piece since he can play virtually all forward positions and play them well. He had fallen a bit last year, but on a one year contract, there’s virtually no downside to that signing.
While Garth didn’t bring in a new top line left winger (despite being a finalist for Vanek in free agency) the pieces are there to build a very good top line. Anders Lee and Brock Nelson both played very well in their time with the team, and one of the two will likely see themselves on that line come opening night.
Garth Snow made his biggest acquisition before the draft or free agency even started in acquiring Jaroslav Halak. Arguably his next best move was getting Chad Johnson, Boston’s backup to sign to a two year deal. That should be enough to describe how well these moves should be viewed.
If you’re confused, let’s go over this- the Islanders, while they have had solid goal tending in recent years, have yet to have a goalie that they can count on day in and day out for more than a few weeks at a time. Halak and Johnson give them that sense of reliability that fans have desperately pleaded for for years. The goaltending upgrades alone probably win the team, at minimum, five more games last year and make them much more competitive this year.
While the defense wasn’t upgraded tremendously from outside the organization, that might not be a terrible thing.
The Islanders have some good pieces to their defense that are young and cost controlled, such as Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, and more. It’s all but certain that Griffin Reinhart will likely make the team out of camp, who should be able to
make an impact. The team will also see the return of Lubomir Visnovsky, who should be healthy following his concussion plagued season last year, and the addition of TJ Brennan.
The Islanders defense will only be getting better as the younger players, such as Ryan Pulock, Griffin Reinhart, Scott Mayfield, Ville Pokka, Kevin Czuczman, and more will be getting ready to take the next step and become NHL regulars. Competition for a spot only helps these guys.
Cut to the chase- How good will the Islanders be?
Well, unfortunately the team disappointed many after their playoff season, but I don’t see that being the case again this year. They were by far the most improved team so far this off season, in a division that really has not improved all that much. While it’s fair to say that the Rangers and the Penguins will likely be tops of the Metropolitan Division, the third spot and potentially a wild card spot are up for grabs, and those positions could be really any team in the division. It will be a tough go of it for all the teams in the Metro, but I think the expectation for the Islanders should be to compete for a wild card spot at the very minimum.
This is a team that is on the rise, and their moves this off season reflect that. Now, it’s time for these off season moves to pay off on the ice.