Times have been rough on Long Island in recent years, though there’s strong signs that a long suffering set of fans may have something to look forward too. The New York Islanders sneaked into the postseason last year, and gave a great account of themselves in just falling short against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Focus now should be on sealing a first playoff series victory since 1993, though a youthful roster should be given further time to develop.
Notable Ins: Cal Clutterbuck, Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Notable Outs: Mark Streit, Nino Niederreiter, Brad Boyes, Keith Aucoin
I’m not sure any skater is more essential to their team than John Tavares, and the former 1st overall pick been rewarded for his rise to the elite with the Islanders captaincy. Only Ovechkin and Stamkos had more than Tavares’ 28 regular season goals in 2013, next on his own team was Michael Grabner with 16. His partner-in-crime Matt Moulson will still be there on that premier forward line and Pierre-Marc Bouchard is an upgrade on Brad Boyes for the right side, though it’s the third time in three years Tavares and Moulson have had to develop chemistry with a new foil.
The new skipper may not be the only superstar for too much longer as the Isles seem prepared to introduce the jewel of their prospect pool, Ryan Strome is going to be fun to watch in the NHL. Capable of spectacular plays by virtue of his superb stickhandling, whilst being allowed to develop Strome has torn up the OHL. He could potentially fill the role earmarked for Bouchard on the top line or be given more of a deeper role, I can’t see the criminally underrated Frans Nielsen’s second unit being split up.
After they added Cal Clutterbuck into a lineup that already contains Matt Martin expect plenty of unsuspecting defencemen to get lit up, one of that pair has ended up atop the hitting totals in each of the last five seasons. Checking line energy is a fundamental part of Jack Capuano’s current system and with those already mentioned plus the likes of Casey Cizikas and Colin McDonald it’s there in abundance.
Persisting with Evgeni Nabokov between the pipes is a decision I don’t necessarily agree with. The Russian’s stats from the series versus the Penguins makes grim reading, a save percentage of .842 and an average of 4.44 goals against. To be fair looking at that in isolation is highly unfair when his regular season efforts in New York have been good, he’s just not a long term solution. Nabokov is now 38 so there must be some sort of contingency plan, although they’d like to avoid free agency or the trade market I’m not sure current backup Kevin Poulin is the guy for the future.
Losing Mark Streit removes an excellent puck moving defender, but at least Lubomir Visnovsky will be available from opening night this time around with no lockout wrangling. Travis Hamonic has a hefty new seven year contract and in the absence of Streit needs to supply more upfront. Anchoring the blueline is a job for the quietly excellent Andrew MacDonald, expect him to lead the team in minutes and a lead in points isn’t out of the question considering his stark growth in other aspects.
There’s a lot of uncertainties with this Islanders team that makes many sceptical about their chances, I think they’re exuberant enough to defy those and return to the playoffs.
Prediction: 4th in Metropolitan Division