Once again, almost all of the talk about the New York Islanders won’t have much to do with what goes on on the ice. There’s going to be tons of stories about where they’re going to move, because clearly sticking in Brooklyn isn’t going to work (who knew a building built for basketball wouldn’t attract a fanbase that is still mostly based an hour away, nor could they generate a following amongst Brooklyn residents who are more concerned with finding a vinyl copy of that album with the girl who plays a theremin with cat). When it’s not that, it’ll be whether they’re trading John Tavares or where he might go as a free agent if they don’t. Or if he’ll stay (he won’t). And sadly for the twelve Islanders fans that are left, the product on the ice isn’t likely to be nearly enough to distract from all of this.
New York Islanders
’16-’17 Record: 41-29-12 94 points (5th in Metro)
Team Stats 5v5: 47.7 CF% (28th) 49.0 SF% (22nd) 46.0 SCF% (29th) 8.8 SH% (3rd) .918 SV% (24th)
Special Teams: 14.9 PP% (28th) 81.9 PK% (11th)
Goalies: Well here’s the most collection of “meh” goalies you could find just about anywhere. Thomas Greiss looks set to take the starter’s share, with Jaro Halak poised to either split or take over starts if Greiss falls apart again. Greiss was actually spectacular through December and January last year, posting a .930 and .935 SV% in those months which saw him take over as starter. But he absolutely ate it in February and March, with SV%’s of .890 and .895. The collapse pretty much shot the Isles’ playoff hopes in the face, and they certainly must be wary of that happening again. Greiss has always been a productive backup but this will probably be his last chance to prove he can take the #1 role. In reality, Halak has been a middling goalie for the past three years, as his even-strength SV% has gone .922-.919-.916. His performance in the World Cup seems to have fooled some into thinking he’s better than he is, but if the Islanders have to turn to him full-time at any point in the season, they’ll be lost in the abyss in Brooklyn, which I assume is soundtracked by The Shins or something.
Defense: The Islanders finally got around to trading Travis Hamonic, who spent years falling inches short of being a genuine top-pairing d-man and causing the Islanders a hole in the lineup when he didn’t get there. Unfortunately for them, they probably should have done it when he asked about two years ago to be traded, because they could only get picks back for him instead of anything tangible. And they still need someone to replace him and haven’t found anyone. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk look poised to take top assignments, which should never happen on team that has any intention of doing anything anyone would notice. Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey have been useful, down-pairing puck-movers for a while, but as my colleague McClure likes to say, “Who gives a shit?” It hasn’t really gotten the Isles anywhere except for one trip to the second round in the past 25 years. No seriously, that’s how it’s been. Boychuk and Leddy aren’t going to keep out the top scoring lines of the East, and Hickey and de Haan don’t figure to replace them or beat up bums enough to keep the Isles afloat.
Forwards: There’s a couple new toys here, or potentially. Jordan Eberle was another Oiler casualty. He was brought to the borough for Ryan Strome. Eberle is an immensely talented winger but seems like the type of player you have if everything else on your team is set and you can afford to let him freelance. The Islanders most certainly do not have everything else. Still, a top line of Lee-Tavares-Eberle should provide some fireworks… until Tavares is traded to Carolina (it makes so much sense which is why it won’t happen). The other one is Josh Ho-Sang, who looks likely to make the team and he’s got oodles of scoring talent as well. And the Isles are going to need it because after the top line there’s a whole lot of not much. The burned cinders of Andrew Ladd look to be on the second line. Brock Nelson has been here long enough for us to ask what it is he actually does. Anthony Beauvillier will hope to build on what at times was a promising rookie season at 19. Matthew Barzal will hope to jump from the WHL straight to the NHL. If Barzal can, and if Beauvillier can take a leap, and Ho-Sang can make an impact, the Islanders might have enough to at least make a pass at a wild card spot. But that’s a lot of ifs on a lot of young players.
Outlook: Even with the young forwards, the defense and goaltending here just isn’t good enough. They’re in the right division, as after the Pens and Caps there’s basically a muddle of the Rangers, Islanders, Canes and Jackets above the rebuilding Flyers and Devils. Anything could happen with those teams. Except all of them have better goaltending and defenses than the Islanders, save the Rangers on defense. If they keep Tavares, and if everything goes right, they’ll be in the chase until the end.
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