The New York Islanders are coming off their best season since 1993 after advancing to the Eastern Conference Final in 2020. They return a very similar squad for the 2020-21 season and have one goal: win a Stanley Cup. Let’s take a look at five bold predictions this season for New York to win a fifth championship.
Barzal Finishes Top-5 in Points
In Mat Barzal’s rookie season in 2017-18, the young forward finished with 85 points, which remains a career-high. He ended up 13th in the league in points but had two consecutive seasons finishing outside the top-30 in points. While it will definitely be a leap for Barzal to climb into the top-five, it is very possible with the skillset he has and the team around him.
The Islanders have two very talented top two lines consisting of Anders Lee, Barzal, and Jordan Eberle as well as Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Anthony Beauvillier. One of these lines will not have to face the top defensive pairing and could easily erupt with big performances, especially when the Islanders have the last change at home. Barzal has shown the ability to be one of the best playmakers in the league and has shown he is more willing to shoot than in his rookie season.
He has had more than 170 shots on goal each of the past two years. If Barzal can score 20 goals in a shortened season and contribute roughly 40 assists, he will definitely be in the running for the Art Ross Trophy.
Ilya Sorokin Wins Calder Trophy
If Ilya Sorokin lives up to the hype after coming over from the KHL, he has a chance to be a major front-runner for the Calder Cup Trophy. The one area that will certainly help him is his coach, Barry Trotz, and the defensive unit in front of him. Trotz came to the Islanders and transformed his defense into allowing the fewest goals in the league in 2018-19. That should certainly help out a young goaltender in Sorokin.
He has the ability to be a franchise goaltender, and it would not be surprising to see him take over as the number one net-minder late in the season and playoffs if he is having success. While he did not play in the bubble in 2020, he had the chance to practice with the team and made quite a name for himself.
However, his major competition may come from the Islanders’ cross-town rival in the New York Rangers and Igor Shesterkin, who can still win the award this season after playing parts of last year. With the upcoming schedule consisting of many back-to-backs, Sorokin and Varlamov will likely split the starts this season, and it may hurt Sorokin a bit in that area.
Power Play Above 20 Percent
Since the 1994-95 season, the Islanders have had only one year where they had a power-play convert above 20 percent. That came in 2017-18 when the Islanders missed out on the playoffs in John Tavares’ last year on Long Island. The man-advantage has held this team back for years as they have gone through various special teams coaches. This season might finally be a year where the power play has success.
The only payer that does not return to the power play from last season is Devon Toews, who was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in the off-season. New York still has one of the best quarterbacks on the man-advantage in Ryan Pulock. The young defenseman possesses one of the hardest slap shots in the league and was the lone bright spot in 2019-20.
Since they return so much of their team, there should be some chemistry from their run last year. The Islanders finished at 17.26 percent, but that comes with Lee, Barzal and Nelson scoring a combined ten goals up a man. It is almost certain that these three players improve from last year as Lee had 24 goals in his previous two seasons on the man-advantage.
Bailey Moves Into Top-4 in Assists in Islanders History
At the start of the 2020-21 season, Bailey sits ninth place all-time in assists with the Islanders. The veteran forward has 322 of them and can possibly pass Brent Sutter, Pat Flatley, John Tonelli, Tavares, and Clark Gillies this season if he has a strong year. Gillies currently ranks fourth with 358 assists, so Bailey would need 37 assists in 56 games to pass Gillies to move into fourth place.
Bailey is a player that will likely see over 18 minutes of ice time a game and will be on the power play. For most of the past two seasons, the Islanders’ top two goal scorers have been Beauvillier and Nelson, which will likely be Bailey’s linemates to start the year. While it hasn’t always been the easiest road for the former first-round pick, he has definitely improved his game over the past five seasons.
Islanders Win Division
With the realignment of the divisions for the upcoming season, the Islanders find themselves with an incredibly challenging schedule. Of the seven other teams in the division that they will play, five of the seven teams participated in the postseason in 2020. The lone two teams not to make it were the rebuilding New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres.
The Islanders have been one of the best teams in the NHL against the top teams and will 44 of their 58 games against the Rangers, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins. New York has come close the past two years to win the division, but the addition of Boston, it will make it much more challenging. However, they do end the regular season with back-to-backs against the Devils and the Sabres.
The Islanders’ ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup, and if they can accomplish some of these predictions this season, they will set themselves up very nicely for a long playoff run. The Islanders have gone through years where they had great seasons but lost in the playoffs. They can only hope some of their losses in the last few years will lead to the next dynasty on Long Island.