New York Islanders: Can Fresh Faces Lead To Better Start?
For the New York Islanders, 2016-17′ began as a mess. A team coming off their first playoff series win in a while couldn’t get anything going and found themselves in the NHL basement before Thanksgiving. That eventually led to a restless fan base, wondering if they’d seen the best their team had to offer. General manager Garth Snow was forced to make a tough decision. Did he allow Jack Capuano to stick around or was it time to move on? He ultimately decided the team needed a change, canning Capuano and promoting assistant Doug Weight to interim coach in mid-January. The transition worked, as the Weight-led Islanders tore through the season’s second half. They ended up one point shy of making the playoffs, leading to the notion that a better start would have landed them in the postseason.
With new faces on the roster and behind the bench, the biggest question this season is whether the Islanders can avoid another slow start. The talent is there, but can they execute beginning with Game One?
Entering a contract year, John Tavares will be looking to up his stock after a subpar season by his own standards. At 28 goals and 66 points, he landed outside of the top 10 in both categories for the first time in a while. In fact, the last time he finished with such abysmal numbers was during an injury-riddled 2013-14′ campaign. To help ease his load, the New York Islanders traded 2011 first rounder Ryan Strome to the Edmonton Oilers for winger Jordan Eberle. That should pay dividends, with Eberle notching 51 points and a plus-3 rating in 82 games last season.
Meanwhile, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee hope to continue their ascension to top player status. Both experienced a significant leap in production from the previous season. Each one saw a near 20 point leap and showed improvement defensively, going from minus to plus players in a years time. That is every coaches dream, as the ability to play in multiple situations can benefit teams immensely.
Defensively, the Islanders traded Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for a few draft picks. That shouldn’t be a huge loss though, with Calvin de Haan, Johnny Boychuk, and Dennis Seidenberg coming off fairly good seasons. Add in Thomas Hickey who, despite a down year, has shown the ability to be a top defender and you have a relatively solid top four. They then turn to prospects Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech. All three saw limited time with the big club a season ago but will be counted on to help out in a larger capacity now.
In net, the Islanders have to hope Jaroslav Halak can return to form after last seasons rough start. He was 12-9-5 with 2.80 goals against average in 26 starts before being assigned to AHL Bridgeport after Christmas. That left Thomas Greiss carrying much of the load. He did pretty well, compiling a 26-18-5 record in 49 starts. The young J.F. Berube received a few looks behind Greiss, but that move didn’t work out too well. He was promptly selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in June’s expansion draft, leaving them thin at hockey’s most important position.
Can the New York Islanders hit the ground running this season? While unknown, a fast start should all but guarantee this team returns to the postseason.