This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the New York Islanders.
What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?
With a .500 or better record in just 7 seasons of their last 25 seasons, it’s really hard to put a positive spin on the New York Islanders outside of a select few (and very rarely occurring) bright spots.
John Tavares is one of those bright spots. The fact that he’s completed 5 NHL seasons make it easy to forget that he’s only 23 years old. Despite not being in his “prime” years yet, Tavares has already established himself as one of the elite scorers in the NHL. He only played 59 games last year, but still managed 24 goals and 66 points. He also played 21:15 per game, the 4th most of any forward in the NHL.
Following the trade of Matt Moulson, Tavares was in need of a new running mate. Enter Kyle Okposo. In his 7th NHL season, the former 7th overall pick finally had a breakout season. He led the Isles in goals (27), assists (42), points (69) and shots (195). 54 of his 69 points were scored at even strength, the 10th best total in the entire league.
While not as highly touted when he was drafted, Frans Nielsen was another player who had a career year for the Islanders. His 25 goals, 33 assists and 58 points were all career-highs. He’s one of the more underrated two-way centers in the NHL.
What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?
In 5 of the last 6 seasons, the Islanders have picked in the top 5 of the NHL entry draft. Somehow that hasn’t translated into a successful rebuild. With the exception of Griffin Reinhart in 2012, each of those picks has been a forward.
Considering that fact, it’s no surprise that the Islanders ranked near the bottom of the league in goals against, shots against, penalty killing and holding leads.
Their “shutdown” defenseman last season was Andrew MacDonald. Somehow, his -19 in 63 games was enough to earn him a gigantic 6-year, 30 million dollar contract with Philadelphia. He did lead the league with 242 blocked shots, but that’s probably more due to the fact the Islanders did not have the puck much.
After scoring 70 goals over his previous 3 seasons, Michael Grabner struggled to find a place in the Islanders top 6. He managed just 12 goals in 64 games and saw his ice-time dwindle to 14:12 per game, the lowest total since his rookie season.
Evgeni Nabokov had quite the resurgence on Long Island in his first two seasons there, posting a .910 or better save percentage and a 2.55 or lower goals-against average. His numbers last season (2.74 GAA and .905 SV%, his worst since 2005-06) probably cemented the fact the Islanders were going to go in a different direction in goal for 2014-15.
So what did they do to get better?
The Tavares injury made things very difficult on the Islanders last season.
The biggest overhaul was in goal however. Jaroslav Halak was signed to a relatively cap-friendly 4-year, 18 million dollar deal to bring his talents to Long Island. While it’s a little unrealistic to expect him to play at the unconscious level he did when he helped the Canadiens reach the Eastern Conference Final in 2010, he should be able to stabilize a position that’s been a problem for many years.
His backup will be 28 year-old Chad Johnson, who had a solid first NHL season in Boston last year with a .925 save percentage and 2.10 goals-against-average.
Player to watch
Former first round pick Brock Nelson didn’t exactly set the world on fire in his rookie season with 14 goals and 26 points in 72 games, but the 22 year-old has very good size (6’3″, 196 lbs) and has proven he can score at the pro level with 52 points in 66 games in the AHL two years ago.
He’ll battle some other young Islander forwards like Ryan Strome and Casey Cizikas as well as veterans Grabovski and Nielsen at centre for ice-time. If he earns those minutes and perhaps some powerplay time, a 50-point season is not out of the question.
Islander fans will need to be patient just a little longer.
They will make the playoffs if…
John Tavares wins the Hart Trophy. Yes it’s that simple, and yes it’s very possible.
They will miss the playoffs if…
History repeats itself and the defense/goaltending looks like swiss cheese once again.
What should we expect this season?
The Islanders have been in this rebuild for what seems like forever. They were fortunate to land one of the top franchise players in the game in John Tavares, but the young players they’ve surrounded him have been slow to develop so far.
Having said that, there is a lot of untapped potential here.
Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan and Reinhart have all the tools to form a pretty good top 3 on defense while Strome, Nelson and newly drafted Michael Dal Colle are some of the top young talents in the league.
Still, Islander fans will need to be patient just a little longer. The end is nigh, though. It has to be, right?
39-32-11 89 points, 5th in the Metropolitan Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference