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Game #51 – Islanders vs. Hawks Q&A: Dominik From LighthouseHockey.com

The Lighthouse Project may be dead, but LighthouseHockey.com lives on. Dominik is their maven, and he joins us today to fill in on the blue and orange. 

The Islanders sit atop the Metro. In your wildest dreams did you think anyone would say that this year?

At no point did I expect the Islanders could say in 2018-19 they are in first place in the Metro. I don’t expect it to last, but I am now convinced they should be a playoff team, and one others won’t want to face.

Brock Nelson and Anders Lee are both free agents after the year. If things had gone as expected they might have been trade bait. Are they both getting extended now?

I think everyone has long expected Lee would be extended, at least from the point where they named him captain. He’s a risk because he’s a big body heading into his 30s, but he’s also someone who has continually improved his game rather than peaked and declined. And obviously, he’s not someone who needed Tavares to set the table for him. He’ll get a deal that is probably a little uncomfortably long, but not in an Andrew Ladd way.
Nelson is more uncertain. I expected him to be trade bait, but Trotz has taken a liking to him, cracking the code that long frustrated Islanders fans. (Nelson seemed like yet another drafted center who ended up at wing, yet Trotz has found a way to make him productive at center.) The Islanders are also fairly thin at center in their system, which gives Nelson leverage. And Nelson has taken them to the wire on the previous two RFA extensions, including accepting a one-year deal to bet on himself last summer. So he won’t be traded, but how the rest of this spring plays out will determine whether both sides can feel good about the other’s terms.
Jordan Eberle is UFA too, and while it’s hard to see all three being retained, it doesn’t sound like they’ll be selling any rentals.

Help us with something. It’s easy to attribute the Isles surprise run to Barry Trotz being a really good coach. They are best in the league in goals against. But every other metric against–attempts, shots, scoring chances–has them middle of the pack at best. While that’s a massive improvement from last year, isn’t this just having two goalies playing really well?

On their surprising standing: No, it’s because Barry Trotz is a really good coach. The goaltending has been great — and certainly they were key to banking wins early on when those other metrics looked pretty bad. But look at the metrics after the first month of the season and a different story emerges, certainly a legit top-10 team right now. So Trotz did what he always does, locking down on defense first and then building from there. That organization and predictability has helped Greiss and Lehner, who both always had real talent, rediscover their games.
You remember how frustrating Trtoz’s Nashville teams were even when they had no talent? Well the Islanders have become like that — organized, robotic, suffocating — except they do have some talent on top of it. It’s fun to watch in a gawk-at-this-experiment kind of way. Finally calling up Devon Toews and using him regularly has helped, but Toews is one of several examples of decent talent finally organized and channeled into the right place.
Hell, Trotz has even figured out how to make a functioning team out of a roster that added Matt Martin, Leo Komarov and Valtteri Filppula (and extending Ross Johnston for four years) over the summer — a gluttonous helping of bottom-six acquisitions even Trotz admitted he wasn’t sure about until Lou “made the case.” Basically those guys are all still what they are, but under Trotz they have a role and are playing to their ceilings. I’m sure it’s helped that collectively the team has a post-Tavares chip on their shoulders. As we see so often in this sport, it’s easy for everyone to stay on the same page and do all the necessary but less sexy grunt work game after game when the perceived common enemy is outside the room.

Before the season it was thought the Isles would be something of a project. Is their current standing going to see them make a deal or two that might be considered short-sighted down the road?

As for the trade deadline, I have no idea what Lou will do, and it doesn’t seem like anyone ever does since he keeps a tight-sealed ship. But it’s even harder to figure now because this is Third Life Lou. In a lot of ways he’s the old ’90s GM with old-school ways and archaic priorities (e.g. no facial hair or high number because I said so), so I’d fear him adding some Grinding Veteran With Winning Experience. But in other ways he appears to have adapted at least a bit to the post-post-lockout-cubed NHL, and is realistically evaluating the team. Meanwhile, Trotz thinks they’re still a year away from being ready to contend and their lineup has been stable…so short-sighted moves seem unlikely.



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