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Islanders Season Preview: The Year of John Tavares

This is a massive season for the Islanders franchise.

 

John Tavares is an Unrestricted Free Agent free agent in 9 months, and the Islanders will obviously do everything they can to keep their homegrown superstar in Brooklyn.

 

But at the same time, isn’t it about time the Islanders try and win? They’ve won just one playoff series since 1993, they went through a painful rebuild in the early 2010’s, and they moved to a basketball arena in Brooklyn. They’ve got to go for it at some point.

 

But that won’t happen if John Tavares isn’t around.

 

Last Season

The Islanders got off to an extremely slow start, but after firing Jack Capuano and replacing him with Doug Weight, the Isles came on strong, fall just one point short of a playoff spot.

 

Off Season

The Islanders were tagged as the “team to watch” this offseason. They certainly were active, but did they improve?

In: Jordan Eberle, Kristers Gudlevkskis, Seth Hegelson, Kane LaFranchise

Out: Travis Hamonic, Ryan Strome, J-F Berube, Carter Verhaeghe, Mikhail Grabovski, Jake Bischoff

The biggest move they made was a trade in which they acquired nobody. They traded their first round pick, a 2019 second round pick, prospect Jake Bischoff, and Mikhail Grabovski’s 5 million dollar cap hit to the Golden Knights in exchange for them not taking anybody from them in the expansion draft (UFA JF Berube) and Grabovski’s money. A steep price, but better than losing a key player… except they did.

 

One of the biggest storylines this offseason was the Islanders acquiring a winger for John Tavares. They did that, when they acquired Jordan Eberle from Edmonton for Ryan Strome. Strome didn’t work out with the Isles. He wasn’t happy, and the Isles were happy with his 30 points last season and 28 the year before. Eberle is the key guy though. It’s his job to make John Tavares happy. They played together at the World Juniors as teenagers, and they look to pick up right where they left off. However, if Eberle isn’t good, the Isles may have to look elsewhere to get a winger for “JT” or say goodbye to him.

 

To reacquire the assets lost in the deal with Vegas, they dealt Travis Hamonic and a 4th to Calgary for a 2018 first and second, and either a 2019 or 2020 second. What? I thought they were going for it. As a non-Isles fan, I don’t get this. I know they’re cap tight, I know they’ve got some younger replacements, and I know he had a bad season, but you get worse by trading him. They got a nice haul, and cap space, but they’re a worse team without him in a critical year.

 

Offense

Behind JT, the Isles have some work to do if they want this guy to stick around. Statistically, they weren’t that bad last year, they were 11th in the league with 2.91 goals/game. They’re powerplay was dreadful though, coming in at 28th in the league with 14.9% on the powerplay. Looking at the offense on paper, who is really scary with the exception of Tavares?

 

Eberle’s 51 points was a digression from his 63 and 65 the prior 2 seasons in Edmonton, but playing with Tavares and getting PP time, the 27 year old has a good chance to bounce back in his first season in Brooklyn.

 

Anders Lee really broke out playing with Tavares, scoring 34 goals. Look for him to be on the left side of Tavares and Eberle.

 

Josh Bailey had a career year last season. Primarily playing as the second line center, Bailey put up 43 assists and 56 points, 15 more points than his prior career high of 41 in 2015.

 

The big signing of 2016, Andrew Ladd had a disappointing first season as an Islander. The 23 goals weren’t bad, but just 8 assists gave him his lowest point total since 2008 when he played just 20 games for the Blackhawks. He played 78 games last season.

 

Brock Nelson and Jason Chimera had solid seasons primarily on the 3rd line, both putting up 20 goals. Chimera is 38 and could be looking at his last season, but is still productive and it’s fair to expect a similar season. Nelson had a nice 45 points last year, and is just 25 and could be looking at a breakout season. He’s missed just 1 game in the last 3 years and has put up 42, 40, and 45 points. Look for him to take the next step this year.

 

After that, then what? They’re certainly looking for some young names to step up. Though he’s had his off-ice issues, Josh Ho-Sang was dynamic in his 21 game audition with 10 points. Anthony Beauvillier made the team full time out of camp, but the 2015 first rounder scored just 24 points in 66 games. They’re certainly looking for the now 20 year old to take a big step in his development. Finally, they’re other 2015 first rounder Matt Barzal is expected to not just make the team but make an impact. He played just two NHL games last year, but followed it up with an excellent World Junior and 79 points in 41 game with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds. He’s definitely a Calder candidate and could make an impact on Tavares’s big decision.

Canada’s Jordan Eberle (L) and John Tavares celebrate the team’s first goal during their Group H game Canada vs Switzerland of the 2012 IIHF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, Wednesday May 9, 2012.

 

Defense

Now without Travis Hamonic, the Isles will be looking to improve on their 2.90 goal against per game. It’s a big loss, even though he didn’t have a great 2017 season. His -5.7 CF% rel is what they would call “bad” in the analytics community, but his ceiling is at least a top 3 or 4 defenseman.

 

The Isles failed to commit to Calvin de Haan this offseason, giving him just a one year deal, which is strange considering he played in all 82 games, had 25 points and played on the PK and PP. He’ll be UFA after this season and the 26 year old will be looking to cash in.

 

Johnny Boychuk has digressed in his 3 years with the Islanders compared to his years in Boston. He’s 33 and still puts up 20 minutes a game, but his possession number have dropped below 50% CF the past 2 years. That could be a result of playing on a worse team than the he was with the Bruins, or it could be age, but he’s locked up for 5 more years at 6 million, and the Isles need him to play like he did in his prime days in Boston.

 

Adam Pelech is a guy the Isles crew is looking for to take a step up this season. He played 44 games last year and wasn’t particularly great, but he’s just 23 and they clearly see potential in him.

 

It’s a key season for Ryan Pulock, as he looks to establish himself as a pull time NHLer. The once first rounder has played just 16 NHL games and will get a longer look this year.

 

Dennis Seidenberg had a nice bounce back season after being bought out by Boston. He had 22 points and was a +25 (+/- whatever), and he looks to continue that after his 1 year extension.

NEWARK, NJ – FEBRUARY 18: Johnny Boychuk #55 and Nick Leddy #2 of the New York Islanders in action against the New Jersey Devils on February 18, 2017 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 3-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Goalies

If the Islanders are going to be a playoff team, they’re goaltending is going to need to be better than expected.

 

Thomas Greiss was a starter for the first time in his career, and was very average. His .913 SV% isn’t great and isn’t what a playoff team’s starting goalie should look like, but he has the potential to get hot, and a hot streak from your goalie at the right time can do wonders.

 

Jaroslav Halak had a season to forget. He was waived and sent to the minors in January, and wasn’t recalled until March. He played just 28 games with an OK .915 sv%. He’s a solid starter at his best, and the Isles will need him to be that this season.

 

Kristers Gudlevskis was acquired from Tampa this summer. The Latvian best known for his 50 save performance against Canada in the 2014 Olympics but has yet to crack the NHL full time; That could change if Halak or Greiss falters.

 

Outlook

Man, this year is so huge. Either you have a good season, make the playoffs, and get John Tavares to stay, or you don’t, and things could go downhill quickly if he decides to walk.

 

Unfortunately for Isles fans, I don’t see them making the playoffs. Does that mean Tavares doesn’t sign? No, but it doesn’t help the cause. In a division that features the Penguins, Blue Jackets, Capitals, Rangers, Hurricanes, and possibly the Flyers as all teams probably better than the Isles, it’s going to be tough. They came on strong at the end of the year last season, and if Doug Weight can coach a repeat of their second half then they may have a chance, but I look at their depth chart and don’t see any position that scares me, or is even above average with the exception of Tavares. Sorry Isles fans, but I see them finishing 7th in the Metro.

 

Please yell at me in the comments and on my Twitter @jlabruins

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