After a late run that ultimately fell a point short of the final playoff spot, there’s a lot of speculation over what went wrong with the New York Islanders this season. Was it the free agent signings, was it letting Kyle Okposo leave, was it the lack of a true stud winger for John Tavares, was it the still inconsistent play of Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, was it the injuries on defense, was it Halak’s struggles early?
I have quite a few thoughts on all of those things but in looking over the numbers compared to the last season, one number leaps right off the page for me.
It’s not the offense. Even after losing two gifted offensive players, the Islanders scored more goals in 2016-2017 than they did in 2015-2016.
They gave up 26 more goals though. In short, the defense and goaltending did not live up to expectations. They were among the worst teams in goals against in the Eastern Conference.
Last season, I thought the Islanders were basically the same team as the year before, just with a luckier first round match up. They didn’t improve as much as it appeared by getting their first series win in 23 years. Going in to this season, I thought the free agent signings would at least let the team tread water on offense for one season. (Chimera and Ladd’s age prevent it from being a long-term solution). They actually did that.
On the other side of the ice though, despite having essentially the same players on defense and in goal, they were significantly worse. I expect that end of the ice to see some changes this off season.
There is a problem with the Isles going into the off season though. They have 3 pending UFAs on the roster; Berube, Gionta and Seidenberg. The rest of the current roster is pretty much under contract. There’s not much cap room at all. The team might lose a player in the expansion draft, but I’m not even sure Las Vegas would take anyone the Isles would make available. (Popular opinion is they lose Hickey or deHaan, but really LV might have better or less expensive options on defense). I don’t really expect any of the 3 UFA’s back, which would just be the death knell to Garth Snow‘s infatuation with J.F. Berube that has resulted in a horrific three goalie system for two seasons.
If the Isles are going to improve the first line, or the defense, they’re going to have to do it through trade, or through youth.
We’ll see what June and July bring, but I don’t see big changes coming in Brooklyn, and that doesn’t bode well either. The hope for the Isles might just that Josh Ho Sang, Anthony Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier taking over roster spots for all of the third line talent on the current roster, and being the first and second lines, and Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, et al taking over the same spots and minutes of the under performing defense from this season. Most of all, they need a full season of good play from their goalies, which didn’t happen.