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John Tavares in Toronto – Isles Fans Can Decide For Themselves How to React

Sports is the one place where things can be very simple for fans. Yes, the sports world is a business and can be massively complicated, but for fans there is simply “my team” and everyone else. This afternoon John Tavares went from being captain of my team, to someone else.

I don’t wish him harm, or personally hate him for it. I don’t wish personal harm or hate any athlete just for being an athlete. But he simply no longer matters to me. I root for the New York Islanders, the crest on the front of the jersey, if you will. John Tavares plays for a competing team, so I will not feel happy for him if he wins, I’ll hate it, like I hated watching the Capitals win last month, or the Penguins win the last couple of seasons, because it’s not my team.

For nine seasons, I rooted for the Islanders and John Tavares. Now I’ll continue to root for the Islanders, and not John Tavares. I don’t want to see a video tribute, a classy bit of applause or any of that when the Leafs make an appearance in New York. I just don’t care, and I don’t care if he doesn’t like it. He’s a Maple Leaf, and I don’t really care about Maple Leafs.

If you want to have that classy response, go for it. If you want to hate JT, go for it. If you want to boo him, go for it. It’s sports, the one place we can have a complete us and them mentality and not really hurt anything.

Just try and keep that mentality otothe ice, and leave his fiance, family, and health out of it.

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Snow, Weight Out For Islanders – What Else?

As most of Islander fandom already knows, GM Garth Snow and coach Doug Weight have been relieved of their duties.

I can’t honestly say it’s a huge surprise. Someone was going to pay for the horrible defensive team the Islanders were last season, especially with the addition of Lou Lamariello as President of Hockey Operations. (Now GM too)

Now, of course, everyone wants to know what this means for the pending free agency of John Tavares.

I don’t think it means much of anything. You could look at these dismissals as a message to JT that the team is committed to winning, and being a professional organization. You could just as easily make the argument that Tavares enjoyed playing for Weight and wanted him back, and that Lou spent some time talking to him about what he’d like to see the team do and is now doing that, or that he’s given up on JT coming back and this is the sign of that.

I don’t see any of it, for one simple reason. Lou Lamariello is not the kind of guy who would let a player dictate to him if he really thought someone needed to go. I think he came in, and within a couple of weeks of meetings and discussions decided that the job Garth and Doug did wasn’t good enough, and he could find better people to do it. Period.

John Tavares can get on board with that, and come back, or he can not, and leave. He’s a free agent, he’s earned the right to do whatever he wants. Lou is a longtime professional, and he’ll put together a roster either way. I honestly believe that’s why he’s been rumored to have talked to Ilya Kovulchuk. If Tavares came back, I’m not sure how that would fit under the salary cap, or in the lineup. Without Tavares, it kind of makes sense. (My guess is Bailey moves to center, but that’s really just a guess.)

As Islander fans, we may have to get used to a GM who will do things his way, regardless of how the players might feel about it. He’s earned that with the success he’s had. That will be an adjustment for us.

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Islanders Post-Mortem – Closing in on 300 Goals Against

Hopefully, the Islanders will actually fall short of the 300 goals against mark. (There’s still one game left though, and 7 GA is not completely out of the question.)

The thing is, in order to truly evaluate players this season, we have to keep this fact in the back of our minds. The Islanders didn’t just give up the most goals in the NHL this season, they’ve given up the most in years. Approaching 300 goals against is quite an accomplishment in this NHL day and age. The last teams to actually make it to 300 were the 2006-07 Flyers, and the Penguins and Capitals the year prior. The last Islander team to give up 300 was the illustrious 95-96 team.

Those teams were absolutely awful. Most of them finished below 60 points on the season and wound up with top draft picks for their efforts.

The 2017-2018 Islanders, however, have 78 points. They’re much closer to a .500 team based on the odd NHL points system than any of those other teams. They’ve scored the 8th-most goals in the league. They’re not untalented, they are simply really, really, easy to score against.

That makes it difficult to evaluate the individual numbers. Yes, Tavares, Lee and Bailey are putting together a great season, Eberle has been more than we expected, and Barzal is doing things that only the most rarefied rookies have ever done. Guys are scoring at career-high levels across the lineup, all the while the team can’t stop anyone.

Is it the defense? Has the goalies been pretty bad? Is it the system?

Yes.

That’s the hard part of analyzing the team’s season. They were so bad we don’t know where the line between crappy defense, bad goaltending and crummy backchecking by the forwards begins and ends. It’s all of those things!

But, here’s my question. How much of the offensive production do we need to be skeptical about precisely because this team didn’t bother with playing much defense?

Earlier in the year, I started to look at the Islanders like the old Loyola Marymount college basketball teams. Their “strategy” seemed to be “We’re going to go out and score 100+ points, you have to keep up with that pace”. There wasn’t a lot of defense, or clock management, etc. At times I honestly thought the Isles strategy might be “Let them shoot so we can get the puck back that way”. I don’t have any other explanation for giving up 50 shots on goal over and over.

So, if the Islanders system required them to actually limit shots against, focus more on possession, etc. would the top two lines have still produced at that rate?

We may never know.

What we do know, is that those top two lines produced at a fabulous rate, and everything else about this team was, generally, abysmal.

So where do we go from here?

Well answer number one depends on John Tavares. He let this linger all season and didn’t really say anything one way or the other about his impending free agency. That’s his right, and it’s his right if he wants to sign elsewhere come July 1. It’s also our right as fans to hate him if/when that happens. I have zero qualms about any of that.

The second part of the answer will come in goal. Jaroslav Halak is also a UFA. I don’t see a lot of fans clamoring for him to be brought back. That’s understandable given the way this season has gone. But the Islanders need a goaltender. If they go into next season with Greiss and Gibson, look out. How they get a quality starter though, is an open question. There’s no sure-fire free agent to go after. It’s going to require making a deal.

Defense kind of looks the same way. There are a lot of questions back there. Is deHaan going to stay healthy or do they let him leave via free agency? How well will Boychuk hold up as he gets older? Will Hickey be back? What options are out there to improve the defense? What would it take to trade for a top pair defensemen? Clearly, Nick Leddy can’t play against the top lines, someone needs to.

Lastly, what about those 3-4 lines? There was not a lot of quality hockey going on there. How many of those players have any trade value?

As I said though, this all starts with Tavares, and his salary. If he leaves, the Isles have plenty of cap space to go after some serious upgrades in other areas, and I’d expect a very different looking team next year. If he comes back, they have less cap space, but still flexibility to make some changes through trades and incoming prospects.

Either way, this team needs to look different. What’s on the ice, behind the bench and in the front office didn’t work this year. You can’t swap out a couple of 3rd liners and expect that it’ll be much different next year.

 

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The Islanders Have Some Serious Free Agent Problems Coming Up, and it’s Not Just Tavares

As I write this, the New York Islanders are in the midst of dropping their third straight game, and none of them have been competitive. Fans are giving up hope, and calling for Garth Snow‘s head again. I’ve spent some time recently looking at the John Tavares free agent situation and noticed something that will not make Isles fans feel better, unless you want to take solace in the fact that this team will, by necessity, look different next year, regardless of what happens with Tavares.

Here’s the Isles large scale problem. They have a little over $40 million in contracts already counting against the salary cap for 2018-2019, but that only represents 12 players. Now, Bettman expects the cap to increase next year, which is somewhat good news, because the Islanders have some potential problems coming up.

As it stands right now, they have 8 pending UFAs and 5 pending RFAs.

UFA:

John Tavares

Josh Bailey

Nikolai Kulemin

Jason Chimera

Calvin deHaan

Thomas Hickey

Denis Seidenberg

Jaro Halak.

RFA:

Brock Nelson

Shane Prince

Alan Quine

Ryan Pulock

Scott Mayfield

See the problem here is even if Kulemin, Chimera and Seidenberg walk away, and my money is that they do unless Kulemin wants to sign a short term deal for much, much less money, you have a limited pot of money from which to sign not just your franchise player, but your second best player this year, 2 of your top 5 defensemen and a starting goalie. On the open market, Tavares could easily get a contract in the neighborhood of $10-11 million per year. Bailey could get $6-7, deHann could easily get $5.5-6, and starting goalies easily run you $6-7. There’s another $30 million in cap hits. And you only have 16 roster spots taken. Sign Hickey, and re-up Nelson, Pulock and Mayfield for 10% increases at the very least, and you’re tying up $7-8 million more, and only have 19 contracts. (If you’re keeping score where in the neighborhood of $72 – 74 million for those 19 contracts)

That can only mean that either they’re going to be a bunch of kids playing on ELC salaries next year, or some of these guys are not going to be signed. I know a lot of fans want to see a big splash trade to improve the Islanders defense this season, but the truth is the Islanders, lacking a definitive answer on Tavares and Bailey re-upping,  can’t really take on a big salary.

Personally, I see the offseason going one of two ways. Tavares comes back and the Isles hope for more improvement from their kids and keep the team relatively intact. Some role players get changed out but the core of the team is pretty much the same. Or, Tavares doesn’t sign, and the team turns into a full rebuild, again. I say that because if he doesn’t I think Bailey leaves as well, Halak is allowed to leave, and barring some big time free agent signing, the team has no choice but to turn it all over to the kids.

The bottom line is that unless Islander management can get some team to agree to take on some of these contracts, there’s not a lot of cap space to play around with in a trade. We’re going to find the Islanders fighting to create cap space next season, or become a cap-floor team again when everyone abandons ship. Either way, I don’t see where this team gets remarkably better next year.

Can we get anyone to take a Clutterbuck or Griess contract? I don’t know about that.

What do you think will happen? Where would you create cap space?

 

 

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Link – Islanders’ confidence playing at Barclays building

The fans might hate Barclays but you can’t argue with the results.

Despite past complaints about location, poor ice and attendance, the Islanders are 52-23-13 since moving to Brooklyn to begin the 2015-16 season.

That’s seriously good. Like 117 points over 88 games good. Nothing to complain about there. 😉

https://www.newsday.com/sports/hockey/islanders/islanders-barclays-center-success-1.14788052