The New York Islanders certainly had a memorable first season at the Barclays Center. They advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Despite the majority of the team having sub-par seasons, they somehow managed to reach 100 points for the second-straight year. New York’s team in Brooklyn now looks to take the next step with a bunch of new faces.
On July 1, Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin assumed majority control of the team from Charles Wang. Ledecky and Malkin had been minority owners since 2014. Ledecky has already endeared himself to the fanbase. The uncle of five-time Olympic Gold medalist Katie Ledecky promised that the team will spend up to the cap ceiling in order to reach their goal of a fifth Stanley Cup.
2015-16 Record: 45-27-10, 100 pts (4th in Metro, first Wild-Card spot)
Key Roster Additions:
- Jason Chimera
- Andrew Ladd
- P.A. Parenteau
- Dennis Seidenberg
Key Roster Losses:
- Matt Martin
- Frans Nielsen
- Kyle Okposo
- Brian Strait
- Marek Zidlicky
Andrew Ladd-John Tavares-P.A. Parenteau
Anders Lee-Mathew Barzal-Brock Nelson
Nikolay Kulemin-Ryan Strome-Josh Bailey
Jason Chimera-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck
Extras: Shane Prince, Alan Quine
The Captain’s Game six against the Florida Panthers in the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs is one for the ages. The Islanders were down 1-0 late in the third period. Tavares tied the game with 54 seconds left in regulation and sent the Barclays Center into a frenzy with his series-clinching wraparound goal midway through the second overtime.
Tavares, by his standards, had a down regular season. In 78 games, Tavares had 70 points. 16 fewer than the 86 he had in 2014-15. The four-time All-Star missed four games early in the season due to an illness. It took him until the second half to regain his form. Tavares had 40 points in the final 38 games.
The Mississauga, Ontario native spent the majority of the offseason answering questions about the possibility of signing with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs once his contract ends following the 2017-18 season.
I think I’ve always showed my commitment, my appreciation and my desire to play on Long Island. I’d love for that to continue for the long haul. I think you look at some of the greatest players in the game, they have been able to spend their entire careers somewhere and I hope I’m in that same position. – John Tavares
The Islanders can start negotiating with their captain on July 1, 2017. This coming season, Tavares will have new linemates. An old friend and a new one.
General manager Garth Snow aggressively pursued Ladd to replace Kyle Okposo. Snow gave Ladd the contract he was not willing to give Okposo, signing him to a seven-year deal worth $38.5 million. Ladd, like Okposo, has never scored 30 goals in a season. A two-time Stanley Cup winner, the 30-year-old was brought in for his experience and leadership. Tavares will lean on Ladd’s experience and leadership in the locker room. Ladd was the captain of the Winnipeg Jets before being traded back to the Blackhawks last season. He will likely replace Frans Nielsen on both special teams unit. He should eclipse the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career playing alongside Tavares, which was a factor in him signing with New York.
The Quebec native returns to the team where he had his greatest success. Parenteau played two seasons with the Islanders. In 161 games, he had 38 goals and 82 assists. Following stops in Colorado, Montreal, and Toronto, Parenteau signed a very team-friendly one-year deal worth $1.25 million. It’s a low-risk, high reward signing. Parenteau should fit right in once again with Tavares.
It’s Brooklyn-or-bust for the 2015 16th-overall pick. The 19-year-old is ineligible for the AHL. Barzal was the final cut in his first training camp last season. If he does not make the Islanders, he goes back to Seattle of the WHL. Barzal has nothing left to prove in juniors. He had 88 points in 58 regular-season games last season. He was just as impressive in the playoffs where in 18 games, he had 26 points. Barzal’s speed and play-making skills are what excites the Islanders.
One knock on him was his size. Barzal knew that and spent the Summer bulking up. Barring a disastrous camp, Barzal will likely get the nine-game tryout before the organization determines his future. The team has him centering the first line while Tavares is away for the World Cup in training camp. The team wants him to succeed. They also do not have to rush him like previous prospects in years past.
Travis Hamonic-Nick Leddy
Johhny Boychuk-Calvin de Haan
Thomas Hickey-Ryan Pulock
Extra: Scott Mayfield, Dennis Seidenberg
It was an eventful 2015-16 season for Hamonic. News broke that the defenseman requested a trade to be closer to home prior to last season. Hamonic wanted to be closer to home to tend to an ill family member. Hamonic said that he would not be a distraction and play the entire season with the team if he had to. He kept his word. It wasn’t even an issue following his November news conference.
Snow planned to grant Hamonic’s request but on the Islanders’ terms. Kudos to Snow for not making a rash decision on Hamonic. Following the season, the defenseman rescinded his trade request and is happy that he stayed with the team. So are the Islanders. Hamonic has a very team-friendly $3.857 million dollar cap hit for the next four seasons. Snow would not have been able to get a replacement as talented or as affordable as Hamonic. The Islanders top-six defensemen are an extremely solid bunch.
Hamonic has been logging first pairing defensemen minutes, averaging just under 23 minutes of ice time the past two seasons. He is a workhorse on the penalty kill averaging 2:16 last season. As physical as Hamonic is, he had only 35 PIM last season. The 53rd-overall pick in the 2008 Draft is entering his age-26 season. He is still on the rise.
The defenseman’s first year of a seven-year, $42 million deal failed to live up to his first year on the Island. Boychuk set career highs in goals (9), assists (26) and points (35) following the trade from Boston and was a beast on the power play in 2014-15. Five of his nine goals came with the man-advantage. Last season, only one came on the power play.
Head coach Jack Capuano did limit his power-play minutes in favor of added time on the penalty-kill unit. Capuano will likely keep Boychuk off the power play altogether this coming season in favor of rookie Ryan Pulock. As with all Islanders, Boychuk’s possession numbers were down last season. His 5V5 Corsi rating went from 55.2 percent in 2014-15 to 48.9 percent in 2015-16.
Boychuk suffered a shoulder injury against the Buffalo Sabres on New Year’s Eve that sidelined him for five weeks. He led the team in hits taken. The two combined seemed to have taken a toll on him towards the end of the season. The 32-year-old was held pointless and was a -7 in 11 playoff games. He was invisible. When asked following the season if he was healthy, Boychuk said he had no physical issues and was 100 percent. Is that a red flag or was Boychuk using the old adage that if you play you don’t complain about injuries? The defenseman will be 33 when the 2016-17 season ends. Any player can have a bad season. This upcoming season will be key in determining whether Boychuk is on the decline.
It was a tale of two seasons for the Minnesota native. Leddy struggled out of the gate last season, going pointless in the first seven games. The defenseman did not light the lamp until Jan. 2, the 39th game of the season. The goal light was not the only thing that turned on for Leddy. In the final 43 games, he had 28 points and managed to set a career high with 40 points. Leddy was one of only 26 defensemen last season to reach that mark.
The 25-year-old is one of the smoothest skaters carrying the puck from zone to zone. Something that Team USA could have used in the World Cup. Leddy had his worst Corsi 5v5 rating since his rookie season and still was above 50 percent (50.6). Expect Nick Leddy to take the next step in becoming an elite NHL defenseman.
The Islanders have gotten everything they could have asked for when claiming Hickey off of waivers back in January 2013. Each season the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft by the Los Angeles Kings has improved his game. After missing one game in the previous two seasons, Hickey missed 20 games last season. Even with missing a quarter of the season, Hickey set a career high with six goals. His most memorable one, an overtime winner against the Washington Capitals, clinched a playoff berth. He carried the heroics to the postseason as his Game three OT winner against the Florida Panthers gave New York a 2-1 series lead. Hickey tallied five points in 11 playoff games.
The Calgary native is not the biggest defenseman out there (6 foot 0, 189 pounds) and he often forgets that. He’s not afraid to get physical. The times he has gotten outmuscled in the last couple of seasons has certainly gone down. Although this is the second year of a three-year contract, this could be Hickey’s last season with the Islanders. A numbers game will likely leave him unprotected in the upcoming expansion draft. The Las Vegas franchise hired former Islanders senior adviser George McPhee as their general manager. He knows the Islanders organization very well.
The Islanders headed into the offseason with three NHL goalies on their roster. They entered training camp with three NHL goalies on their roster. While there was not any resolution to the issue during the Summer. It appears that the World Cup of Hockey could settle this dilemma.
Jaroslav Halak has led the potpourri of European players to the World Cup Final. The Slovakian-born netminder has been fantastic in the tournament. Heading into the World Cup Final, Halak is 3-1, with a 1.97 goal against average, .947 save percentage and he shut out Team USA. More importantly, he’s back to being 100 percent healthy. Halak’s 2015-16 season ended March 8 in Pittsburgh when he suffered a groin injury. Following the season, the goaltender has surgery to repair a sports hernia.
Filling in for Halak last season was Thomas Greiss. The German goaltender is currently backing up Halak on Team Europe. Greiss was arguably the Isles first-half MVP last season. Greiss had career highs in starts (39) and wins (23) last season. Besides the heroic of Tavares in the series-clinching game against the Panthers, Greiss was the reason why the team advanced. The 30-year-old has proven he can start in the NHL.
The final piece to this goaltender puzzle is Jean-Francois Berube, who was claimed off waiver from the Kings prior to the start of last season. Berube was claimed as insurance in case Halak was not ready for the start of the season. He was not and Berube made his NHL debut in the team’s second regular-season game. He would start six games last season. The Islanders are very high on him. They signed him to a one-way contract in the Summer.
Halak expressed his displeasure over the three-goalie system. Halak’s World-Cup play has given Snow exactly what he was hoping from this tournament, a chance to prove he is healthy as well as a showcase for his goaltender. The Islanders could shop him or they could realize that having Halak and Greiss together gives them the best chance to win on a nightly basis. They will not carry three goalies to start the season, meaning that the team will try to pass Berube through waivers with hopes he does he goes unclaimed and he can be sent to Bridgeport of the AHL.
Player With The Most To Prove: Ryan Strome
Big things were expected from Ryan Strome in 2015-16. In his first full season with the Islanders, Strome had 17 goals and 50 points in 2014-15. The Islanders move him to the wing to play alongside Tavares to start last season. In his first 12 games, Strome had one goal and four assists. He was struggling so much that the team sent him to Bridgeport for three weeks. The move seemed to energize him once he returned as he had five points in five games. The spark was short lived as he struggled the rest of the season. The 2011 first-round pick was a healthy scratch towards the end of the season and three of the eleven playoff games.
Following the season, Snow admitting the team made a mistake by playing Strome on the wing.
Probably to our own fault in handling Ryan, he was drafted as a center, I personally believe he’s most effective as a center. But the way our team is built … we really didn’t have the opportunity to play him for extended periods of time at center. With the loss of Frans Nielsen in free agency I think you’re going to see Ryan Strome do the things he did two seasons ago. – Garth Snow
Strome, who signed a two-year, $5 million deal right before training camp, is the not the same two-way player as Nielsen. If he reverts back to the way he was two seasons ago, though, it can certainly soften the blow of losing the long-time Islander. The team also needs Brock Nelson and Anders Lee to have bounce-back years. Lee, who saw his goal decrease from 25 in 2014-15 to 15 last season, was starting to come around before breaking his leg against the Rangers last April. Nelson set a career high with 26 goals last season but had only 12 goals in the second half. Three of them came in the same game. After scoring a goal in the first game of the series against the Panthers, Nelson was invisible for the remainder of the playoffs. The Islanders need some consistency from Nelson.
Breakout Player: Ryan Pulock
The defenseman made his long-awaited NHL debut back in February and played 15 games last season. He finished the season with two goals and two assists. The reason why the Islanders took their time with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft was that they wanted Ryan to develop the defensive portion of his game. Pulock will be a superior offensive defenseman in this league. The team did not want his defensive play to be a liability. The team was satisfied with his play that he not only made the postseason roster, he was a member of the top six. Pulock made his presence felt in Game three against the Panthers. His blast from the point sparked the comeback win. Unfortunately, he got injured the following game and did not return until Game five against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He received high praise from his captain comparing his talents with Shea Weber.
Pulock will likely begin the season quarterbacking the second power-play unit. Don’t expect him there too long. He has the ability to get that 102 MPH shot to the net as well as pinch in the offensive zone. As with any young defenseman, you’ll have to deal with the occasional bad turnover or being out of position. Although he will begin the season getting third-pairing minutes (15:44 last season). His point total should be right up there with Leddy.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) September 13, 2016
First Player To Be Called Up: Adam Pelech
The Islanders will likely go into the season with seven defensemen on their roster. Pelech is currently eighth on the depth chart. It does not help his development by sitting in the press box. He needs to play, plain and simple. The Islanders surprised everyone when they called Pelech up over Pulock. Pelech got the called over the right-handed Pulock because he’s lefty. The 2012 third-round pick plays a very steady, smart game in his zone. Pelech got the call in January when both Boychuk and Hamonic were injured. Pelech played in five straight games and recorded the first two points of his career.
Unfortunately, the defenseman came down with an illness and missed three months. The team would not disclose what the illness was. After months of speculation, it was revealed that Pelech suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome. It was the same illness that struck Lightning center Steven Stamkos. Pelech returned for the final two regular-season games. Healthy and ready to go, there will not be any drop off when Pelech is called up and inserted into the lineup.
Barring a rash of injuries to their forwards, 2014 first-round pick Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang will likely spend the entire season, their first professional ones, in Bridgeport
Making the playoffs is no longer a goal for the New York Islanders, nor is simply winning just one round. This team took a major step forward last season by winning a round. Head coach Jack Capuano needs bounce-back seasons from Nelson, Lee, and Strome. This team is solid on the blueline and between the pipes. Questions still remain whether they have replaced Frans Nielsen yet.
New York will reach the 100-point total for the third-straight season for the first time since before winning their first Stanley Cup. Are the Islanders better than last season? It’s too early to tell.
Season Prediction: 47-26-10 (2nd in Metropolitan Division)
Noel Fogelman is a 5-time Emmy Winner and started his career working on the Buffalo Sabres Pre and postgame shows for the Empire Sports Network. He then went to Bristol, CT to work at ESPN on NHL2Night and its coverage of the Stanley Cup. Follow me on Twiter @thefirstnoel19