In hockey, like in real estate, it’s about location, location, location. The New York Islanders know this all too well. Off the ice, the club is in search of a new locale from its haunt in Brooklyn. Plus their record from last season, which was identical to the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators, wasn’t good enough to squeak into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
After a 17-17-8 start, the organization jettisoned head coach Jack Capuano and replaced him with Doug Weight. The Isles responded with a 24-12-4 record down the stretch. Hence, the big question headed into this campaign is if they can sustain the latter level of play in what again appears to be a stacked Metropolitan Division.
Team 2016-17 Record: 41-28-8-4 (94 points) (5th in the Metropolitan Division)
Key Roster Additions:
- Jordan Eberle
- Kristers Gudlevskis
- Seth Helgeson
Key Roster Losses:
- Ryan Strome
- Travis Hamonic
- Mikhail Grabovski
- Jean-Francois Berube
Key Organization Changes:
The Islanders removed the interim tag and named Doug Weight Head Coach No. 12 in franchise history. Luke Richardson, Scott Gomez, Fred Brathwaite, Kelly Buchberger, Greg Cronin and Chris Terreri were all added to the coaching staff. A veritable who’s who of 90s Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils.
- Anders Lee – John Tavares – Jordan Eberle
- Andrew Ladd – Brock Nelson – Josh Bailey
- Anthony Beauvillier – Matthew Barzal – Josh Ho-Sang
- Nikolay Kulemin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
One could make the argument for Henrik Lundqvist as the face of New York area hockey but Tavares is by far the most talented. Where the Islanders’ future home is located may signal whether or not their star center will remain.
The two-time Hart Trophy finalist thrived under Weight, tallying 34 points in 35 games down the stretch. An equally fast start by the captain and the club would quash any potential distraction surrounding contract talks. The focus on a new contract could yield a monster year of more than 30 tallies and 90 points.
In a classic change of scenery swap, the Islanders landed Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Strome. The hope is Eberle and Tavares, who teamed up to capture the gold at the 2009 World Juniors for Canada, will click in Brooklyn.
While his 51-point season may have been considered a down season for the Regina, Saskatchewan native, it’s still more than anything Strome has attained in his young career. The 27-year-old is durable too, playing in all 82 contests last season.
At 6-3 the sizeable Lee is becoming quite the presence as a top 20 left winger. The Notre Dame product netted a team-high 34 markers last season. Lee’s 17.8% shooting percentage was also best on the squad. If he remains consistent and clutch, the Islanders will be well positioned up front this season.
- Nick Leddy – Johnny Boychuk
- Calvin de Haan – Ryan Pulock
- Thomas Hickey – Adam Pelech
Take hard shots, block hard shots, hit, defend, you name it and Boychuk will take care of business. He may be a notch below the league’s elite defensemen but he plays the game the right way and does everything well. One could tell the Boston Bruins missed his intensity when they dealt him back in 2014.
The same could be said for the Isles when he was plagued by an upper-body injury early last season and missed more action after blocking a shot against the Chicago Blackhawks. Blocking 133 shots and delivering 160 hits, his presence makes a difference and could make or break a claim on a postseason spot.
Calvin de Haan
From a top prospect, de Haan has developed into a fixture on the Isles’ blue line. The 2009 first round pick is also fearless, blocking a club-high 190 shots last season. Among returning defensemen, he’s tops in defensive point shares. Last season, de Haan registered career highs in games played with 82, five goals, 20 helpers, 25 points and was a plus-15.
With the departure of Hamonic, the club will rely on the 2013 first round pick to generate some boom on the power play. After posting two double-digit goal campaigns, including 15 tallies last season with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the team will get a chance to see if his game translates at the next level.
Goaltending: Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak
After helping backstop the team to the postseason two years ago, they had enough confidence to enhance the workload of the late bloomer Greiss, placing him between the pipes for 51 games. His quality start percentage jumped to .612 but conversely, his save percentage dropped to .913. The three shutouts were a career-high for Greiss.
Following a spotty start to his season, Halak was demoted to the AHL, where he put together an impressive streak of 17-7-3. Upon his return, the team reeled off six consecutive victories. He should be extra motivated to play for a new contract beyond this season.
Breakout Player: Josh Ho-Sang
After finding his game with the Sound Tigers, Ho-Sang played with moxie down the stretch for the Islanders. Donning No. 66, the 2014 first round draft choice registered 10 points in 21 contests. If he carries his confident play and energy into this season, the Islanders will gladly take the boost.
Player(s) with Most to Prove: Jordan Eberle
As mentioned, there are big expectations on Eberle. He’ll want to show his old team and more importantly his new teammates what he can do. One of the criticisms against him is that he seemed to play well on a poor Oilers team but took a step back on a solid playoff team last season. He’ll be playing on the top line in a big market with a playoff contender, so he’s going to need to play with a chip on his shoulder.
First Players in the ‘Call-Up’ Line:
Waiting in the wings with the AHL Sound Tigers, the Islanders hope Michael Dal Colle asserts himself in accordance with his frame. The organization would love for the 6-3 left winger to become another Lee, after notching 15 goals in 75 games last season. On the other side of the size spectrum, 5-11 right winger Tanner Fritz potted 19 markers in 63 games with the Sound Tigers last season.
On defense, Scott Mayfield and Seth Helgeson provide size and a physical element if need be. Conversely, Parker Wotherspoon lacks size but has great skating ability and can lead the rush.
In net, the organization brought in AHL veteran Gudlevskis, who has size and has proven his worth in parts of four seasons with the Syracuse Crunch, which also included a few cups of coffee with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Playing in the Metropolitan Division isn’t getting any easier. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t going anywhere. Despite their playoff flaws, the Washington Capitals are always in the mix for the Presidents’ Trophy. Plus the Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers don’t appear to be slowing down and a lot of folks expect the Carolina Hurricanes to surprise. The Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils drafted Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier respectively.
Where do the Islanders factor into this jumble, not to mention the clubs in the Atlantic Division?
It all depends on which team you believe will show up. Was the second half enough of a sample size to figure the Islanders are a team harkening back to their second-round run of two years ago? Can they carry the late season stretch the entire distance in 2017-18?
In my opinion, the Islanders have the talent to earn a Wild Card spot. The challenge with this squad will be maintaining a consistent level of high play in a division where one cannot afford to take a night off.
Team 2017-18 Record Prediction: 44-30-8 (96 points) (5th in the Metropolitan Division)
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Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.