Parker Michaels continues his NHL Season Preview series in reverse to first order according to his projected standings. Be sure to bookmark our Season Previews home base here where links to all 31 teams will appear as they’re posted. Today at No. 25, the New York Islanders.
The last time the New York Islanders hired a General Manager was in 2006 when they announced Garth Snow would replace Neil Smith – who had only been on the job for six weeks. It was a shocking announcement if for no other reason than Snow was still under contract as the Islanders backup goaltender just a day prior.
Snow retired as a player and immediately stepped into the role. Twelve years later, his tenure went about as expected with just four playoff appearances and exactly one series victory, in 2016, their only playoff series win since 1993. After completely missing the playoffs again the past two seasons, it was time for a change from the top down.
This time, Islanders ownership did their due diligence and in May brought in three-time Stanley Cup winner Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations, one of the most successful minds in hockey. Lamoriello helped transform the New Jersey Devils in the late 80s and more recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs over the past three years. Both those teams toiled near the bottom of the league in their respective times and lacked playoff success, something much in common with the current Islanders.
In early June, Snow was relieved of his position and Lamoriello also took over the GM duties. On the same day, Doug Weight was fired from the head coach position after just one-and-a-half seasons. Weight left with a record of 59-49-14 but after a successful finish to the 2016-17 season, seemed to lose the team last year and internal chaos took control with several players finishing the season unhappy.
On the day before the June Entry Draft, Lamoriello hired Barry Trotz as the new head coach, fresh off his Stanley Cup victory with the Washington Capitals and three days after resigning from his position as their head coach.
Trotz is an X’s and O’s guy with a very systematic approach, something the free-wheeling Islanders have not had in a coach for over a decade. The Isles were fun to watch offensively but a mess in their own end and after tightening up the Capitals on the backend and transforming Alex Ovechkin into a more responsible defender, Trotz will look to do the same here. He will not be alone though as associate coach Lane Lambert and goaltending guru Mitch Korn will come over with Trotz from the Capitals. The three also worked together during their time with the Nashville Predators. Goalie coach Piero Greco was hired and assistant coach John Gruden. The one thing in common with all the new hires – they are all winners. Lambert has won everywhere he has ever coached and Gruden won the OHL championship last season. Greco was with the Toronto Marlies when they won the AHL championship last season behind solid goaltending and Korn, well he is known around hockey circles as “the goalie whisperer” and will serve as the Director of Goaltending.
It is a time of change for the Islanders franchise. A change that has been needed for far too long.
Record: 35-37-10 (80 points), 7th in Metropolitan Division, 22nd Overall
Playoffs: Missed by 17 points
Even with a Calder winning season from electric rookie Mathew Barzal and an offense which scored 264 goals (3.22 per game), the eighth most in the league, a league worst defense giving up 296 goals (3.61 per game) and a league-high 35.6 shots per game saw the Islanders finish well below expectations.
It was a season of mostly confusion in their own end with defensive leader Nick Leddy losing his way and finishing dead last out of all NHL players with a -42 plus/minus rating, even while leading the blueline in scoring with 42 points himself. His partner Johnny Boychuk dealt with injuries throughout the season and arguably the Islanders best shutdown defender, the underrated Calvin de Haan, was lost for the season in December with a shoulder injury.
The underlying metrics though did not seem as bad with half of the regulars (Pulock, Hickey and Pelech) finishing with respectable shot differentials along with rookie Sebastian Aho who was decent in 22 games. Part of the issue can be attributed to Weight’s system which the players seemed to disengage with. Several players talked after the season about being unhappy and the general disarray in the locker room. It showed on the ice with their poor play.
New York’s new arena in beautiful Belmont Park will not be ready until the start of the 2021-22 season but fans will not have to suffer through games at the Barclays Center until then – at least not all of them. After the Barclays Center proved to be unsuitable as a full-time NHL venue, it was announced in January the Islanders would play 12 home games at the old Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum next season, their earlier home from 1972-2015.
On the same day Trotz was hired in June, it was announced the Islanders would play an additional eight home games next season at the Coliseum, bringing the total to 20 for the 2018-19 season. With a new front office and bench boss in place and a return to their old stomping grounds for half the upcoming season, optimism was returning, and the Isles were ready for a big summer.
The new regime in New York continued to keep things rolling into the draft as the Islanders held the No.11 and No.12 overall picks. It was believed the Isles might be interested in trading one or even both picks but after projected top ten picks Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson fell into their lap, Lamoriello and company laughed all the way to the podium and selected the exceptional forward and defenseman.
Their good fortune did not end there, as projected first-round talent Bode Wilde plummeted down the draft board all the way to New York’s 41st pick in the second round. When it was all said and done, the Islanders arguably had the second-best draft of any team (behind the Detroit Red Wings).
Everything was coming up roses for the Islanders and all that remained was for long-time captain John Tavares to sign a max contract before the July 1 free agent window. And that is where things finally went sour for Lamoriello and company. When the midnight deadline came and went, and Tavares officially became an unrestricted free agent, fans knew it would not be a happy conclusion. Tavares ultimately decided to sign with the Maple Leafs, breaking the hearts of Isles fans.
With Tavares officially gone, it was time for Lamoriello to move on and get back to work. A series of questionable moves followed over the next few days, resulting in the free agent signings of veterans Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov and Tom Kuhnhackl, and a minor trade with Toronto to bring back former Islander Matt Martin. All are known to be quality character guys who will not provide much for the team to win now but will help rebuild the locker room and create the culture needed to win in the future when their top prospects arrive in a year or two.
Lamoriello then moved onto improving the team with a pair of players who could immediately help the team now. A new direction in net was taken after signing Robin Lehner to a 1-year, $1.5 million contract. He will replace Jaroslav Halak as the starting goaltender. And 28-year old center Jan Kovar signed a 1-year, $2 million contract after playing the past five years in the KHL with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
On the departures side, the most notable is obviously Tavares. The Islanders leading scorer in seven of their last nine seasons will be difficult to replace. Calvin de Haan is the biggest loss on the blueline after becoming a free agent and signing with the Carolina Hurricanes. Defenseman Nikolay Kulemin was limited to just 13 games last season due to a shoulder injury and the Islanders decided not to re-sign him. Kulemin signed a contract with Kovar’s former team in the KHL. Depth forwards Jason Chimera and Shane Prince along with veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg were also not brought back. (NOTE: A few hours after this was posted, the Islanders invited Seidenberg to training camp on a PTO)
Stanley Cup: +15000 (Bookmaker)
Eastern Conference: +7500 (Bookmaker)
Metropolitan Division: +5000 (Bookmaker)
Regular Season Points: 83.5 (-110) (Bookmaker), 83.5 (-115) (MyBookie)
Make Playoffs: YES +235, NO -300 (Sportsbook.ag)
Current odds as of September 7, 2018
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
*Predicting depth charts is often called a fool’s errand and can be as difficult as predicting where a team will finish in the standings. Nonetheless, I decided to undertake this impossible task and am confident (as one can be doing this task, anyway) with the below information heading into training camp. All attempts will be made to update these charts once camp is underway and head coaches change their mind a thousand times.
*Individual Player Ratings involve the base formula created by Justin Kubatko at hockey-reference.com. An explanation of how I use his methods can be found here with a more detailed methodology by Kubatko himself, here.
*Salaries in green denote entry-level contract
NHL RANK: T-21
Franchise center John Tavares is gone but the Islanders may have a new young center to apply the tag too. Mathew Barzal dazzled his way through a rookie season worthy of the Calder Trophy. In the salary cap era, only Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby have ever put up more total points in their rookie season than Barzal’s 85 last year.
Barzal is a premier playmaker but his ability to skate like the wind also means he can score goals. His ability to circle the net with control of the puck is very McDavid-esque while his puck possession metrics and shot differentials were off the chart incredible. Barzal dominated opponents as the number two center behind Tavares and that may be the only hesitation to naming him the new face of the franchise.
My Point Shares projection is ultra conservative with him, projecting him as only the 17th best center right now (he finished last season with a rating of 8.2 and 18th overall at the center position. Remember, Point Shares takes defense into consideration, as well, and not just offensive totals).
Personally, I think he is much, much better than that but with just one year of NHL data to go on and the expectation of being in a tougher role, a slight regression to the number makes sense from a mathematical standpoint. He should see an increase in minutes overall and a bigger role on the powerplay but will also be the sole focus of opponents this year and will go up against the best defenders in the league every night. There is no more shelter behind Tavares.
Still, Barzal is the real McCoy and I expect him to surpass this current projection which would mean the Islanders could gain another point or two in the standings.
The second line is going to be extremely important to take some heat off Barzal. The wing positions are all but locked in, but the middleman is up for grabs between Brock Nelson and KHL-import Jan Kovar. The battle during training camp will decide the order they slot but for our purposes here, I am going with the Czech Republic native to win that battle.
Kovar is 28-years old so he will not be considered a rookie by NHL standards (age cut-off is 26). He played in the Russian-based KHL league with one of the best teams for the past five years and on one of the best lines with Denis Zaripov and Sergei Mozyakin, playing in three Gagarin Cup Finals and winning twice (the Stanley Cup of the KHL). He was a very successful point per game player over 285 games (286 points) while also producing in the playoffs with 91 points in 83 games.
Kovar is excellent in the face-off circle which will be a welcomed bonus (only Casey Cizikas was above 50% last year), but he is known for being a finisher. He is a true center in every sense of the word and drives play straight down the middle. A big worry about Anders Lee and Josh Bailey this year (the expected second line wingers) are they will suffer without having a driver like Tavares between them. Kovar’s ability as a centerman should go a long way to help alleviate those fears and with his ability to win draws should give him the edge to hold the spot.
Nelson was the third line center for most of last year although the consensus among Isles fans is they would rather see him as a winger. That might be where he ultimately ends up if his game does not rebound from a subpar year. Nelson is a career 45% face-off winner and has never finished a season above 50% while also routinely getting smoked in shot differentials. He does not seem capable of driving his own line which is why he fits better as the third center.
Casey Cizikas will hold down the spot on the fourth line in a checking and energy role. He does both well although is coming off a down season where he was limited by injuries. Cizikas makes a lot of money for a fourth line grinder ($3.35 million) and the Isles need his healthy production to return.
NHL RANK: 19
Third-year player Anthony Beauvillier will be given a chance to build on his solid finish to last season after being moved to Barzal’s side in January. Beauvillier struggled early in the season with just seven points over his first 31 games but after an injury to Andrew Ladd, Weight moved the 21-year old up onto the line with Barzal and Eberle. The result? 29 points in 40 games. Beauvillier and Barzal were childhood friends so it was no surprise to see them have instant chemistry.
Anders Lee set career highs in goals (40), assists (22) and points (62) last year while becoming the first Islander in over ten years to score 40 goals. He thrived on the top line beside Tavares and will be a solid 1(b) option for the top line if for some reason Beauvillier falters. The concern is if Lee can replicate this kind of production without Tavares. If Kovar earns the second line center spot, his ability to drive play should really help Lee but if not, Lee is still a solid net-front presence and should have extra motivation this year entering the final year of his contract.
Andrew Ladd should remain in the top-nine and take the third line spot. Ladd spent a lot of time on the second line with Barzal and Eberle last year before an upper-body injury knocked him out for the month of January and despite struggling to put up points with this combo, his underlying metrics were still solid. Once he returned though, Beauvillier was not about to give him the spot back. Ladd bounced around in the bottom-six but found a home on the third line with Nelson where he provided a noticeable spike to Nelson’s numbers. Another reason Trotz will try this combo first during camp. Ladd had one of the lowest shooting percentages and fired the lowest number of shots on goal per game in his career. There might still be something left in the tank for the 32-year old and slotting him back with Nelson might be a good start.
The fourth spot could be one of a few players between Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov or Matt Martin but regardless of which player slots here, it is going to be a black hole for New York. Filppula will also be in the running for third line center if Nelson gets moved to the wing. I was surprised when seeing his projection of 1.5 Point Shares as I view him as a negative player due to having some of the worst shot differentials across the league. Offensively though, aside from his rookie season in 2006-07, Filppula has somehow managed to put up a 30+ point pace every year of his career. That might make him a better candidate for the third line right-wing spot as he should be considered an upgrade over what Komarov provides, but I am placing him here (you will see why below).
In the pipeline, Kieffer Bellows is the top prospect at this position and will get a look during camp. The son of former NHL player Brian Bellows is a pure sniper with an incredible shot. He moved up from Boston University to the WHL last year and scored 41 goals in 56 games. He also dominated at the World Juniors with Team USA in December with nine goals in seven games. Most prospects need work on their defensive game before jumping into the NHL, but Bellows is also strong in this area. He could be ready for an NHL spot this year but it will be difficult to jump over the veteran additions the Islanders made to the bottom-six. Look for Bellows to be the first call-up in the event of injuries.
NHL RANK: T-25
Much like the Islanders center and left-wing position, the right-wing side looks strong in the top two spots, but overall rating is dragged down thanks to its porous bottom-six outlook (tied with the Ottawa Senators as the lowest projected bottom-six in the league).
Jordan Eberle will join his linemates in a move to the top spot. He put up a solid season in his Islanders debut, with 59 points and 49 of those coming at even strength (t-38 in the league at even strength points). Eberle has always had strong shot differentials but his 5-on-5 on-ice differentials compared to his teammates were the best in the NHL last season among all players with at least ten games played (Barzal was 5th). Moving up to the top line and facing the best of the best this year, the same difficulties will present itself as with Barzal, but with more expected time on the top powerplay unit and an increase in ice-time (only averaged 16:04 last year), Eberle should be able to hit the 60-70 point mark.
Josh Bailey will join Anders Lee on the second line and had a career season alongside Tavares last year. Bailey also set career highs in goals (18), assists (53) and points (71) although there is greater concern with his production as 31 of those points came on the powerplay. Avoiding a drop-off without the dependency on Tavares and improving his 5-on-5 scoring will be a major key to the Islanders scoring this season.
I have Leo Komarov slotted in at the third spot right now but am expecting someone else to steal the spot before the season begins. Komarov’s best days are behind him and struggled offensively after just a 19-point season, a 0.26 point per game rate compared to the 0.45 rate he averaged the three previous seasons. Where he really fell off a cliff though is with his defensive numbers where he was still regarded as being effective. His negative shot differentials were the worst among regular Maple Leafs players by a large margin.
The fourth spot is solid in terms of stability with Cal Clutterbuck, but he is another fourth line option making over three million dollars per year ($3.5 million) who only provides 15-20 points and was caved in on shot differentials last season. Like Cizikas, Clutterbuck will need a rebound year to justify his price tag.
The Isles bottom-two on the right-wing is projected to be the worst in the NHL and therefore, the spots should be considered open if a prospect shows he deserves it. That prospect could and should be Josh Ho-Sang who will get a long look in camp and who I expect will open the season as the No. 3 right-wing, but he is going to have to earn it. If Ho-Sang can step in here, it would be a sizeable uptick worth over two additional points in the standings for the Islanders. From comments made by Lamoriello, the third line spot will belong to Ho-Sang if he really wants it, meaning if he earns it.
Ho-Sang earned a spot out of camp last season and put up 12 points in 22 games, showing the speed and offensive creativity he is capable of, but his aggressiveness was too overboard and his responsibilities on the defensive end suffered. He was sent back to Bridgeport mid-December for the rest of the season and seemed to struggle compared to his previous stint in the AHL.
Comments surfaced from Ho-Sang saying he felt unfairly treated by the organization and blamed for some of the team’s defensive issues. With a new set of eyes on him now, he will get his fair chance again but needs to show he can make a better commitment to defense.
NHL RANK: T-16
Nick Leddy had a 2017-18 season to forget. The usually reliable defender was on the ice for more goals against than any other Islander and it was not even close. Of course, Leddy was also on the ice longer than any other skater and that was not even close either. He has been incredibly consistent over the past three years, playing between 22-23 minutes per game, scoring between 40-46 points and finishing with positive shot differentials relative to his teammates up until last season. There is no good explanation for why Leddy struggled so much over the second half other than to say everyone on the Islanders struggled. Leddy should be a strong candidate for a nice bounce back season under a better defensive structure from Trotz.
The Islanders rate well on the left side and a big reason is thanks to second pair defenseman Thomas Hickey who became the Islanders most reliable defender last year. As extreme as Leddy’s plus/minus was on the negative end, Hickey was on the ice for more goals for than any other player at +20, with the second best Islander clocking in at +11. Plus/minus is a misleading stat but being +20 on a team having a -32 goal differential is interesting. Hickey also set a career high with 25 points, all at even strength.
Adam Pelech is penciled into the third slot for the moment but will face stiff competition. Pelech was steady over 78 games, putting up 19 points and was the only defender other than Pulock to finish on the positive side of goal differential and relative shot differentials. He will have to hold off a couple of strong prospects who could be ready for a full-time roster spot. Sebastian Aho (not to be confused with the Carolina Hurricanes forward by the same name) is a strong puck mover and held his own during 22 games with the team last season. His skating ability and transition game should play well in a system like Trotz can implement and has a chance to make the roster as the seventh defenseman, at the very least, with top-four upside. He is still a bit small in stature and will not play every game but a platoon role with Pelech and even relieving Hickey occasionally will give New York needed depth.
Devon Toews is another NHL-ready defenseman who will compete for the seventh spot. Another strong skater and puck mover, Toews was a final cut during last year’s camp but would have spent the end of the season in New York if not for a shoulder injury which required season-ending surgery. Toews may have a slightly higher upside than Aho but with not having played since December they may want him to start in the AHL. If he has a strong camp and shows he is fully recovered and ready, he earns the spot.
NHL RANK: 28
For the third consecutive season, Johnny Boychuk saw his offensive game slip with declining point totals and shots on goal. He has also dealt with serious injuries in each of the past two seasons and is on the wrong side of the age curve at 34-years old. Boychuk is expected to begin the season on the top pair but he is no longer the best option on the right side for New York.
That distinction now belongs to Ryan Pulock and his booming slapshot. Pulock recorded 32 points in his first full season with excellent relative shot differentials. The Islanders have taken their time in bringing him along at the NHL level, but he has now arrived and is proving worth the wait. With an increased role expected on the top powerplay unit, Pulock could become the next 50-point defenseman.
Scott Mayfield is expected to start in the third spot and is a steady enough third pair defender who brings a needed physical element. He should see the bulk of the time in this slot unless Pelech, Toews or Aho are able to play on their off-side. Or unless Noah Dobson, the Isles 12th overall pick in June’s draft, has an unbelievable camp and forces his way onto the team. Dobson has the future potential to be a true No.1 defenseman and had a fantastic showing at this summer’s World Junior Showcase. The Isles are more likely to give Toews or Aho the seventh spot but watching Dobson during camp will be interesting.
NHL RANK: T-24
(Starter – t-18, Backup – t-49)
Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss had a tough go last year with the lack of defense in front of them, but they did not exactly do themselves any favors either, with the combined fourth-worst save percentage in the league. Upon the end of the season, Halak walked to free agency where he signed with the Boston Bruins and Lamoriello took a flyer on former Buffalo Sabres goalie Robin Lehner with a 1-year, $1.5 million “show me” deal.
Lehner had a rough year himself with a .908 save percentage but had posted .924 and .920 his prior two seasons. It is a fairly risk-free move by the Islanders to see which version of Lehner they get. His combined three-year total with Buffalo worked out to .916 which aligns with the five-year average of .914 he posted with the Ottawa Senators earlier in his career. The Islanders would gladly take around a .915 save percentage this year. Lehner also seems very committed to having a better season. He has spent the summer in New York working with the new goaltending staff, a much earlier start to his summer training than usual.
Amazingly, Thomas Greiss went 13-8-2 last season despite posting some of the worst overall numbers in the league. An .892 save percentage (third-worst for goalies with at least 15 starts), 3.82 goals-against average (dead last with at least 15 starts) and -17.85 GSAA* (65th out of 69 qualified goaltenders).
Greiss changed up his summer routine, attending a camp run by a sports performance coach who also works with Connor Hellebuyck and Devan Dubnyk. Greiss will also get to work with Korn now, who is widely acclaimed in hockey circles around the league. Korn’s first project in the NHL was with Buffalo and a goalie by the name of Dominik Hasek. He has also worked in Nashville where he helped develop Thomas Vokoun and Pekka Rinne and in Washington with Braden Holtby and Philip Grubauer. Oh, and Barry Trotz was the head coach for those last two stops, as well.
That last point might be key, as well. A better defensive system under Trotz hopefully sees Greiss rebound closer to his career .912 save percentage.
Of course, Islanders fans are just hoping someone can step up and get them through the next two seasons before KHL superstar Ilya Sorokin makes his way over to North America. Sorokin is highly regarded as one of the best goaltending prospects in the world and is just 23-years old. He has completely dominated the KHL over the past three seasons, posting save percentages of .953 (1.06 GAA, 28 games), .929 (1.61 GAA, 39 games) and .931 (1.59 GAA, 37 games). He is under contract until the end of the 2019-20 season at which time he is expected to join the Islanders.
*GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) – An advanced stat metric created at hockey-reference.com. Like any advanced stat, GSAA has its flaws, but does an excellent job of equalizing goaltender performance across the league and, in my opinion, aligns much better with actual on-ice performance and results than the GSAA found at Corsica.hockey. Of the past 17 Vezina winners dating back to the 2000-01 season, 12 winners have been the leader in hockey-reference GSAA at the end of the regular season and finished second in three other years.
Per the hockey-reference definition, GSAA is “the goals this goalie prevented given his save percentage and shots faced vs. the league average save percentage on the same number of shots. Min. 4 shots faced per team game needed to qualify.”
The Second Line
As I discussed above, the Islanders bottom-six is going to be a wasteland this year. The additions of Filppula, Komarov and Martin will help change the culture in the locker room but drag the offense down in a huge way. Last year, the Islanders were carried by the top line of Tavares-Lee-Bailey with outstanding secondary support from the Barzal-Beauvillier-Eberle line and it looks like it is going to have to be the case again this year with a heavy dose of top-six offense if the Islanders hope to fight for a playoff spot.
The worry this year is without Tavares, the top line is going to be a prime focus of opponents and if they can shut that down, the Isles are doomed. Barzal is a special talent and I honestly believe he can carry the top line no matter who the opponent might be, but it would be a lot easier if he had a great secondary support line just as he provided for Tavares last year. Brock Nelson is a decent third line center but does not offer much faith that he can drive the offense needed from a second scoring line.
Enter Jan Kovar. He was an outstanding player in the KHL who posted numbers better than Evgeni Dadonov who came over last summer and had a successful 65-point season with the Florida Panthers. Kovar will need to have a similar type season to prevent teams from loading up on Barzal. It is not all rosy with Kovar’s projection though as there are a couple of potential red flags to keep in mind.
Kovar’s offense took a steep decline last year with just seven goals and 35 points in 54 games, well down from his usual point per game clip. For those who do not follow the KHL, superstar Denis Zaripov was banned prior to last season for using an illegal substance. As I mentioned earlier, Zaripov was one of Kovar’s linemates which formed one of the best lines in the league. Without Zaripov last year, Kovar’s offense struggled. Despite Kovar’s ability to drive offense down the middle, it is possible he may need strong linemates to help boost his point totals. Lee and Bailey are both coming off career seasons and should provide solid support on the wings but if Kovar struggles to adjust to the NHL game early on, they are going to have to show all their success was not simply due to having Tavares between them.
Kovar will also have to watch his temper in North America. He averaged nearly two minutes per game in penalties and received two single game suspensions last season, including one for checking behind the neck and head area. He will quickly find those antics will not be put up with in the tougher NHL but if he cannot clean up his act and stay out of the box, he will negate any offensive edge he brings.
Finally, some might worry about his endurance as the KHL season is also considerably shorter. The most games Kovar played in a regular season is 60 with an average of 57 over his five years. However, Kovar also averaged 16 playoff games per year which would almost equal a full NHL season, especially considering the Isles are unlikely to play past the 82-game regular season.
The Kovar (or Nelson) combination with Lee and Bailey is going to be of extreme importance for the top-heavy Islanders. A season above expectations could result in a playoff spot or if the second line falters, a spot in the bottom three is entirely possible.
It seems as if everyone outside of the Islanders fan base has already wrote this team off before the season even begins, with most publications I have seen ranking them in the bottom five or six teams in the NHL. I am not much higher myself, projecting the Isles for a 25th place finish but this is the first season preview where I might disagree with the projection, believing the Islanders could be better. Not playoff team better but closer to playoff bubble better.
I currently have the Islanders projected for 80.6 points, about three points lower than the 83.5 being offered at offshore sportsbooks. The Islanders recorded 80 points last season, so sportsbooks think the Isles will be better this year while I have them about the same. On paper, it makes sense to believe they will take a step back. Tavares and de Haan were important players and losing their value is hard to make up. The addition of the veterans in the bottom-six, Kovar up front and a small uptick with Lehner over Halak, still do not add up to those two major player losses. For my own ratings, the difference was brought back to about even when taking the defense into consideration and projecting for a small bounce back for several of the young blueliners. As I mentioned in the depth chart, I expect Barzal to outperform his rating and if Ho-Sang earns a full-time role, that adds about another two points to the overall total so anywhere in the 80-85 point range seems reasonable.
With current Stanley Cup Futures, the Islanders are listed on average from 24th-28th overall, so my projection for 25th seems in line there, as well.
Things like intangibles are hard to predict and there are always going to be a few teams who are the exceptions to what projections say about them. The Islanders seem like they could be one of those teams this year.
A lot of players are on record saying how last year was really no fun in the locker room and how changes were needed. Well, the Islanders certainly made changes from the top of the organization down to ice level.
Several players have already expressed how much better their summer was and how excited they are to get back on the ice with the fresh staff in place. Numbers-wise, the Isles may not stack up well with other teams, but they are going to be playing with a ton of enthusiasm and that can go a long way – at least early in the season.
For that reason, the Isles may be undervalued early but it will be interesting to see how long the new optimism can last and if the team starts to fall out of the playoff picture by Christmas, how the dynamic will change. On the other hand, we saw a young team in New Jersey last year who were well aware of how disregarded they were in preseason rankings (including my own), carried a huge chip on their shoulder into the season and rode early success all the way to a playoff spot.
If Lehner and Greiss rebound under the new goaltending coaches, if the second line carries their own weight, if the bottom-six does not completely drag them down and if Trotz’s systems bring the defense back to respectability, the Islanders could be this year’s surprise team. That is a lot of ifs but not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
The Islanders are unlikely to make my final list of Futures but with odds of +15000 for the Stanley Cup, they would certainly warrant a look over teams like Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa who have similar odds.
In regard to player props, no single player is currently on my radar for any potential awards. Lee and his 40 goals last year were in the running for the Rocket Richard but is unlikely to duplicate that number. Barzal for the Art Ross as the league’s top scoring player might be the most realistic to look at after finishing 13th with 85 points last season (and seeing how he appears significantly mispriced as the 36th favorite at +7000 at the one place I found Art Ross odds) but is still pretty unfathomable as long as Connor McDavid decides to still play hockey this year.
In the end, the Islanders project to be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season and if nothing else, a season full of highlights like this (warning to Oilers fans – DO NOT watch the first 30 seconds without a loved one nearby and put away all sharp objects).
Salary numbers from capfriendly.com, stats from hockey-reference.com and naturalstattrick.com