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Previewing the Metro: New York Islanders

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The Isles lost John Tavares and then doubled down hard on grit.

 Heather Barry  ©
Heather Barry  ©

Imagine losing your franchise center and former No. 1 overall pick for absolutely nothing. Quite the feat that the Islanders were able to accomplish here, but it does in fact get worse.

Not only did the Islanders lose their captain, but they just had to sign Valtteri Filppula on the first day of free agency. That’s not a typo, they didn’t wait until later on in the process, they actually needed to secure his services before the close of day one. After watching Filppula far too much last season, I can safely say that Lou Lamoriello has officially lost his mind.

But wait, Lou was always this crazy. Like how players can’t have high numbers or too much facial hair. Being forced out of Toronto didn’t have any effect on the old man, he even dragged Leo Komarov and Matt Martin with him to the Island —or Brooklyn or whatever. Lou got rid of some dead Weight and added Stanley Cup winning coach Barry Trotz to the fold, and somehow lucked into another franchise center in Mathew Barzal, so it’s not all that bad. But he’s added some bizarre pieces to an already odd roster and one that wasn’t very good a year ago anyways.

Additions and subtractions

New York Islanders 2018 offseason moves

Additions Subtractions
Additions Subtractions
Barry Trotz John Tavares
Robin Lehner Calvin de Haan
Valtteri Filppula Jaroslav Halak
Leo Komarov Chris Wagner
Jan Kovar Dennis Seidenberg
Luca Sbisa Brandon Davidson
Matt Martin Nikolay Kulemin
Tom Kuhnhackl Shane Prince
Matt Lorito Alan Quine
Mike Sislo Eamon McAdam
Travis St. Denis Kane Lafranchise
Ivan Kosorenkov Connor Jones
Evan Buitenhuis Kyle Schempp

No doubt you’ll hear how much adding Komarov and Martin makes the Islanders “tougher to play against” in every game they play this season. Remember when Martin tried to kill Travis Sanheim? Wow, what a guy. Hey Robin Lehner might actually make the Isles’ putrid .903 save percentage go down next season. Buffalo was so bad that Lehner actually wanted to join the Islanders, so there’s that for you Sabres fans out there.

Jan Kovar has been a point producing machine in the KHL over the last few years (286 points in 285 games), but had just 35 points in 54 games last season. He’s 28 so it’s not like the wheels could fall of age-wise, but it’s something to note that his play dropped off pretty sharply last season after a slew of really strong seasons in the world’s second-best league.

Calvin de Haan is a solid second-pair defenseman in the league but the Islanders are ready to roll with more youth on the blue line. De Haan also priced himself into a nice free agent deal with the Hurricanes after being drafted and developed by the Islanders. Speaking of drafted and developed and leaving in free agency: John Tavares.

The loss of JT can’t be overstated, and while Barzal is easily one of the NHL’s rapidly ascending stars, he’ll have a lot more eyes on him this season with Tavares gone to make life tougher.

Strengths and weaknesses

As far as things the Islanders do well, they can really fill up the net with pucks. Even without Tavares, they still return four 20-goal scorers. Among them is Anders Lee, who potted 40 last season. There’s also young talent up front like Anthony Beauvillier, who could jump from the 20’s to 30’s in goals real easily this season. If Josh Ho-Sang can stay out of Trotz and Lou’s doghouse, he could be another young player to breakout for the Islanders, too.

Offense doesn’t only come from the forwards, though, as Nick Leddy and Ryan Pulock can really bring it from the blue line. Leddy is a great puck distributor and Pulock has an absolute rocket of a shot with 10 goals in 68 games a year ago.

But despite averaging 3.18 goals per game —good for a tied for seventh-best— the Islanders finished seventh in the Metropolitan with just 80 points a year ago. The big reason why? Their shortcomings in their own zone and in the crease.

The Islanders’ team save percentage of .903 was among the four worst in the league with the league average was .912. That helped qualm the slew of goals the Islanders were scoring at the other end as Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak were truly terrible in net. Being a middling possession team (47% Corsi For) allowed the suspect goaltending to be tested far too often and they were clearly unable to hold up.

With a pair of solid veteran defenders in de Haan and Dennis Seidenberg gone and more youth injected, it could be a long season for Robin Lehner once again.

One big question

People are definitely wondering just what in the hell the Islanders are doing. Lamoriello didn’t opt for a full rebuild after the Tavares saga, but rather doubled down with a slew of veteran additions to try and compete sooner rather than later. There is a ton of young talent all over the roster and organization, but also a bunch of veteran dead weight like ridiculous contracts like Andrew Ladd, Cal Clutterbuck, Johnny Boychuk, and Komarov.

Much like the Flyers didn’t do much to improve their dreadful penalty kill in the offseason, the Islanders didn’t do much to ease concerns about their goal prevention. The defense is actually worse, and the goaltending is the same with Greiss back and Lehner still largely unproven as a starting caliber netminder. So they’re not really going forwards or backwards, more staying the same and that’s no-mans land that can be pretty frustrating for fans.

2018-19 outlook

Expect more of the same from the Islanders as a year ago. There’s talent there but too many weaknesses that weren’t addressed for them to improve much if at all. Barzal is a stud and will ease the loss of Tavares, but he’s not a defenseman or a goaltender, which would be two parts to greatly improve New York’s chances to return to the playoffs under the new regime.

But Trotz is a good coach and Lamoriello has put together a team that will hang around and be competitive at the very least. They need a lot to go right in order to vault up the Metro standings, though, and I can’t see them jumping over anyone but the Rangers next season barring any catastrophic injuries to other teams’ stars. The Islanders will likely be a pain to play against, but seeing them towards the bottom of the Metro and the deep Eastern Conference is likely.