2014/15 Season Preview – New York Islanders
2013/14 Season Record – 14th in Eastern Conference, 7th in Metropolitan
2013/14 Season Recap
n the shadows of the Rangers’ cup run, the Islanders finished the season in the unenviable position of propping up the Metropolitan division. Their fans had a lot to be unhappy over: pending arena moves, pending team sale, a long term injury to their Captain, and the awkward statistic of having a better road record than on home ice. Still, it’s credit to the team that they managed to find the way to a good set of wins after the Olympic break which saw John Tavares go down on Russian ice.
After a good start to the season, the Isles seemed to freeze during November and December pretty much blowing their chances to make the playoffs before 2014 even dawned. The concussion to Lubomir Visnovsky was particularly painful to the defensive core, and Andrew MacDonald couldn’t fill the gap.
While John Tavares’ season-ending injury was a major loss to the Isles, the biggest issue for the team last season was the performance in net, which was the worst in the league. The trade of Matt Moulson for Thomas Vanek, and then the loss of Vanek in a very cheap trade to Montreal, wasn’t a high spot of the season either. The positive however was the play of Kyle Okposo alongside JT, which at least gives some hope going forward.
|Brock Nelson||John Tavares||Kyle Okposo|
|Michael Grabner||Mikhail Grabovski||Nikolai Kulemin|
|Josh Bailey||Frans Nielsen||Ryan Strome|
|Matt Martin||Casey Cizikas||Cal Clutterbuck|
|Calvin de Haan||Travis Hamonic|
|Lubomir Visnovsky||Thomas Hickey|
|Matt Donovan||Matt Carkner|
Top Call-Up Options
1. Anders Lee (F)
2. Ryan Strome (F)
3. TJ Brennan (D)
- Jaroslav Halak (from WSH)
- Mikhail Grabovski (from WSH)
- Nikolai Kulemin (from TOR)
- Chad Johnson (from BOS)
- Thomas Vanek (trade to MON)
- Evgeni Nabokov (FA to TB)
- Andrew MacDonald (trade to PHI)
After the third straight season of sub .900 save percentage, the Isles desperately needed to address their netminding. The additions of Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson are a big improvement even if pre-season performances have not been as positive as the fans would have hoped. On paper at least, the addition of Halak, and a better quality back-up in Johnson, should improve on last season’s goal differential and the hope is that they will both settle down for the season ahead.
John Tavares is still the key player for the Isles, and could be looking at a career season if he can return from injury with no lingering effects. JT brings a fast offence, and has a very good winger in Kyle Okposo who had a fantastic year and will be looking to maintain that productivity. With the loss of Vanek there is an opening on the opposite wing that is not yet a lock. The fans have been hankering after seeing JT with prospect Ryan Strome on a line, but there’s some development left for Strome perhaps before that happens, although it may not be too far off given his performance in call ups last season.
The Isles have added much needed depth in their forwards, particularly at center. The other lines are built with strong fast skaters that are well-balanced in terms of offensive capability; Michael Grabner adds a lot of value as a very good defensive forward. Newcomers Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin will likely head up the second line, with Josh Bailey and a very useful Frans Nielsen on the third.
The Isles carry a lot of speed in their forward skaters, and a good up-tempo offence could serve them well, as long as they can build a stronger defence to back them up. The Isles have ability at the back, but not a lot of bulk, and were cursed by injuries in particular to Calvin De Haan. With concussions last season to Lubomir Visnovsky and Travis Hamonic there’ll be a few crossed fingers hoping there are no re-occurrences. There’s still room for improvement at the back, and we can only hope that there’s some work going towards fixing that – there’s certainly enough cap space left to splash out on a solid veteran to mentor the younger Ds.
John Tavares may be gearing up to a career season, and a big impact on the list of league leading scorers. He was on for a good season until the injury in Sochi, and chemistry with equally well performing Kyle Okposo meant the Isles top line looked promising. JT is coming into the new season back to full strength and will no doubt be looking to wash off the disappointment of last season. JT is being drafted quite high in fantasy leagues this year, which is perhaps indicative of the expectations weighed on him this coming season.
Jaroslav Halak, and back up Chad Johnson, may end up being the key players that impact whether the Isles make the post-season. If they can improve on the woeful netminding of last season it could be just the support the team needs to make the difference.
The hope is always for a playoff spot, however being realistic there is still some work to do by the Isles for them to get there. Even a short playoff run would be a very nice farewell to the Coliseum before moving into the Barclays Center for 2015/16 (although the less said about the off-center scoreboard the better!)
Where the Isles need to improve is their special teams. Pre-season games have shown some weaknesses on both the PP and PK units, and if they hope to raise themselves from the bottom of the Metro Division those units will need some work. If they can address the issues with the special teams there’s a good chance the Islanders will be in for a shot at a playoff spot, especially if the refreshed forward lines can gel and the changes in net improve the goal differential to give the forwards a chance to get the wins they’ll need.
The team is a work in progress, but there’s some good improvements in the roster, enough potential there for a winning record this season, and a sniff at a wildcard spot.
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