2014/15 Season Preview – New York Islanders

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Travis_Hamonic_2013-05-09.JPG

2013/14 Season Record – 14th in Eastern Conference, 8th in Metropolitan

W

L OT PTS

GOAL DIFF.

34 37 11 79

-42

2013/14 Season Recap

In what was obviously a disappointing season following a fine showing in the 2013 playoffs, the New York Islanders’ rebuild just keeps on going.  John Tavares looked to be enjoying the finest season of his career before succumbing to a bad leg injury at the Sochi Olympics, but in truth the team wasn’t any better before his injury than they were after it.

An inexperienced lineup, injuries to key players and, yet again, poor goaltending doomed the team to another bottom-5 finish, unable to replicate their surprising 2012/13 season in any way, shape or form.

Projected Roster

LW C RW
Brock Nelson John Tavares Kyle Okposo
Cory Conacher Mikhail Grabovski Ryan Strome
Josh Bailey Frans Nielsen Nikolai Kulemin
Matt Martin Casey Cizikas Cal Clutterbuck
LD RD
Thomas Hickey Travis Hamonic
Nick Leddy Johnny Boychuk
Griffin Reinhart Brian Strait
G
Jaroslav Halak
Chad Johnson
EXTRAS
Lubomir Visnovsky (IR)
Calvin de Haan (IR)
Michael Grabner (IR)
Colin McDonald
Matt Donovan
Eric Boulton

Top Call-Up Options

Forward Anders Lee
Defense Ryan Pulock
Goal Kevin Poulin

Top Prospects

1. Griffin Reinhart

2. Ryan Strome

3. Michael Dal Colle

Key Additions

  • Jaroslav Halak
  • Mikhail Grabovski
  • Nikolai Kulemin
  • Chad Johnson
  • Cory Conacher
  • Johnny Boychuk
  • Nick Leddy
  • Kent Simpson

Key Subtractions

  • Evgeni Nabokov
  • Anders Nilsson
  • TJ Brennan

Roster Thoughts

Who would have thought it – Garth Snow has actually put together an NHL-calibre roster!  The team’s depth down the middle is excellent – a 1-2-3-4 punch of Tavares, Grabovski, Nielsen and Cizikas provides a wonderful blend of slick offensive talent, two-way ability and puck possession skill. Tavares obviously leads the way, being one of the league’s best offensive talents, but Grabovski and Nielsen are also incredibly talented in their own rights.

On the wings, the story is much the same. Offensive skill, some size, some grit, some two-way ability. Players like Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson have the versatility to perform at centre if injuries occur, affording the team great depth at the position.  Cory Conacher could make for a nice little reclamation project, while Nikolay Kulemin was a brilliant pick-up to improve the team’s two-way ability.

Defense has been a question mark for years, beyond the under-rated Travis Hamonic at least.  Snow recently made some smart maneuvers, acquiring Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk from top teams looking to shed salary, bolstering the top-4 considerably. Thomas Hickey will likely be playing above his level of ability to start with, as the team will have to weather injuries to puck movers Lubomir Visnovsky and Calvin de Haan, but he enjoyed a solid season last year and with the improved depth in all areas could indeed nail down a top-4 spot.

Griffin Reinhart looks to make his NHL debut, having spent the two seasons since his draft seasoning with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL.  His offensive game hasn’t really developed as hoped, but at least at the WHL level he was a truly outstanding defensive defender (with some puck moving ability) and leader, captaining his team all the way to become Memorial Cup Champions in 2014. Still, he is a 20-year old rookie, and the team better be smart enough to shelter him accordingly, and send him to the AHL should he struggle.

In net, the team is vastly improved.  Jaroslav Halak brings with him a wealth of NHL experience on good teams, including a stunning playoff run in 2010 and sharing the William M Jennings Trophy in 2012.  He has never been a true starting goalie before, having shared the crease in more of a 1a/1b situation, but now is his chance to shine.  Still on the right side of 30, there is little reason to believe Halak can’t at least be league-average, if not better.  Joining him is Chad Johnson, who enjoyed his first extended NHL season last year, playing 27 games for the Boston Bruins and winning 17 games in the process.  His 37 total NHL games is a small sample size, but he’s done very well in that sample, and he should get a chance to prove himself again this season.

Key Player

The Islanders need key performances from so many players – Tavares, Okposo, Grabovski, Hamonic, Boychuk etc. – but I’m opting to go with the man expected to fix what has broken the Islanders for the last several seasons – Jaroslav Halak.  Acquired from Washington for a 4th rounder, the team didn’t give up a lot to get him but the pressure is certainly on for him to perform, and there’s little reason to expect he won’t.

Halak will no longer be playing in front of a stifling defensive system as he was in St Louis, but he has been solid-to-good pretty much wherever he’s played, and the Isles are improved on defense, on paper at least.  If Halak plays well, the Islanders could well be in the mix for a playoff spot – after all, this lineup is better than the one that made it in 2013 playing in front of an awful Evgeni Nabokov.

2014/15 Expectations

Playoffs, playoffs, playoffs.  After a decade of rebuilding, the team finally appears to be headed in the right direction – they acquired highly useful veterans in the primes of their careers, they have their superstar and his highly capable supporting cast, they have their solid role players, they have an experienced (and not at the tail-end of their careers) goaltending tandem, and they have a strong pipeline of prospective talent looking to make an impact.

I would be very surprised if this team isn’t in the mix till the very end, provided they can stay healthy.  You can debate what Garth Snow has given up in assets to acquire his pieces, but the players brought in undoubtedly make the team better today, and by a significant amount.  I believe they make it in, and could surprise in the first round.

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