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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

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New York Islanders – Once More With Feeling

Two years ago I wrote that much of the Islanders season was going to depend on how well the group of young players developed and improved over the year before, because the Metro division wasn’t a place for learning on the job and the team had not made many changes in the roster.

Looking ahead at 2017-2018, the only thing different is the names of the young players. Truth be told, while the Islanders appeared to have a whirlwind of change around the draft in June, not much actually changed. Jordan Eberle is the only new Islander this season. The other 22 all played with the team at some point last season. Making the playoffs this season then is going to depend on the team simply being better than it was a year ago. Fans may be hoping that the improvement seen after Doug Weight took over as coach will continue, a full season of Matthew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang will bring an injection of talent into the lineup, and Jordan Eberle will be a goal scoring improvement over Josh Bailey on the first line. All of those things could happen, all of them may not happen, and the Islanders may or may not be a playoff team this season. Seriously, I could see anything happening with this team, from the kids being a huge shot in the arm to secondary scoring, Eberle brining a boost of offense to an already great pairing of John Tavares and Anders Lee, and the Isles riding into the top 3 in the Metro. I could also see them not getting off to a good start, the kids struggling with the responsibility, Eberle not scoring as much as we hoped, the arena situation and Tavares contract hanging over the team like Pig Pen’s cloud in Peanuts and everything falling apart.

So, like I normally do when faced with both of those possibilities, I look for the middle ground to see what’s likely. And what I see there, is simply more of last year.

Yes, Eberle should improve the offense, and Josh Bailey is an improvement over Ryan Strome back in the lineup, and truthfully is back where he belongs in the lineup.

Yes, a clear goaltending pairing should help improve play in net.

Yes, the kids on defense bring some different talents, especially Ryan Pulock on the powerplay.

But…

The Islanders aren’t the only team that didn’t make the playoffs last year, to make changes that should translate into improvements.

The teams that made the playoffs last year didn’t get any worse.

Injuries will play a major factor at some point. How will the kids hold up when there are 3 young defensemen in the lineup together?

The arena and Tavares situation are questions that will dog the team all year until they are resolved, and if they aren’t, don’t be surprised if there is a Tavares trade at some point, as devastating as that would be for the fans to take. The Islanders can’t afford to let him walk at the end of the year. They just can’t, and at the same time, if the Isles still don’t know where they’ll be playing in the future, I wouldn’t blame him for wanting to see what else is out there.

So my bottom line is this. The Islanders are starting out the season with a more talented team than they did last season. There are a lot of high draft picks up and down the lineup, a lot of potential. Maybe more potential than they’ve actually had in the last few seasons.

And, it may not matter. Because that’s life in the Metro. It’s wide open for the most part with a lot of talented players up and down the rosters of every team. The teams that can tap that potential, stay focused, and get on a roll will make the playoffs, the others will not. I predict the Islanders will be on the “not” side of that ledger, even though they’ll be fun to watch.

I hope I’m wrong too.

 

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Link – New York Islanders Need Contributions from the Kids

Haven’t we been saying this the past couple of years? The kids have changed, but the fact remains, they either develop into players, or the team will not make the playoffs.

“Let’s be clear the New York Islanders are not asking any of their talented youngsters to be stars this year. That would be phenomenal, of course. But the blue and orange just need each of them to contribute to this year’s team.”

New York Islanders Need Contributions from the Kids