The New York Islanders are ready to drop the opening faceoff on their final season at the Nassau Coliseum. With several off-season acquisitions by General Manager Garth Snow and changes within the front-office, the Islanders look to return to the playoffs just as they did in the 2012-13 season. The Isles had missed the playoffs last season, finishing at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. With the official drop-of-the-puck a month away, here is my Islanders season preview.
One change that will make-or-break the team this season is the changing of the guard in net. It’s been a long time since the Islanders have had a solid goalie tandem in net . With the addition of veteran starting goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, 29, the Isles will now have a go-to rock in net. With a 144-85 record and 2.38 goals against average in nine NHL seasons, the Isles finally have the solid presence they have been seeking between the pipes.
The signing of veteran goaltender, former Boston Bruin and New York Ranger Chad Johnson as the team’s backup, rounds out the new-look goalie tandem. Johnson has worked his way up to being a top-tier backup goalie in the league. He played in one-third of the Bruins’ games last season compiling a 17-4 record and 2.10 goals against average. When Head Coach Jack Capuano gives Halak a rest, the team will have a solid backup in net. This will give the team an extra confidence boost on the ice, knowing that there will be a dominant force in net on any given night. Having two dominant goaltenders will give the whole team a positive peace of mind, especially the defense.
The Islanders have had better offensive success in recent years than defensive success. This year, the defense may finally catch up. Having a young and healthy defense, in addition to the veterans, will only help the team grow as a whole. The return of defenseman Travis Hamonic, 24, helps in that regard. This season will be his best yet defending the blue line; look for a possible breakout season from the former second-round pick. Calvin de Haan’s mature playing style will be key in the defensive success as well, as long as he can stay healthy. The re-signing of de Haan to a three-year deal by Garth Snow was a smart move. On top of de Hann and Hamonic, the Islanders also have a plethora of up-and-coming talented defensive prospects such as Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock, who will fight to make the roster out of training camp.
The offensive side of the bench also received some help this offseason. The acquisition of former Toronto Maple Leaf Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin will bring experience to a relatively young group of forwards and team as a whole. The addition of Cory Conacher, who was a Rookie of the Year candidate with the Tampa Bay Lightning and a former Ottawa Senator, will also add an extra spark to the team with his speed. If Conacher can reach his potential then it will help the Islanders in the long run. His one-year contract for $600,000 is a seemingly low risk-high reward situation for the team.
Michael Grabner, one of the core offensive players for the Islanders, will hopefully have a better season than last year. Josh Bailey will be the odd-man out if he cannot improve this season. Frans Nielsen had a career season last season, scoring 25 goals and tallying 33 assists for a total of 58 points. If he can keep up the point-scoring at that pace, he will only add on to the goal scoring the Islanders will have this season. Kyle Okposo also had himself a career season scoring 27 goals and tallying 42 assists for a total of 69 points. The bottom of their lineup is solid as well. The Isles arguably have the best fourth-line in the NHL consisting of NHL league-leading hits leader Matt Martin, all-hustle forward Casey Cizikas and heavy-hitting veteran Cal Clutterbuck. I approve of re-signing of Cizikas, 23, to a two-year deal. Cizikas’ hustle during every shift is the spark-plug the team needs.
The Islanders have elite offensive prospects as well. Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee are three that come to mind. Strome, a former fifth overall pick, has tremendous upside.Two very important prospects the Isles possess are Forwards Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang. They were picked fifth overall and 28th overall, respectively, in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Both have tremendous upside and could make the Islanders a very scary team in the next few seasons.
Last but not least, the heart and soul of the New York Islanders is set to make his return, the captain, John Tavares. The former first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft is an absolute force to be reckoned with on the ice. With 136 goals and 179 assists for a total of 315 points in 350 NHL games, he is nearly a point per game producer. Tavares had missed all of the post-Olympic portion of the NHL last season due to sustaining a torn MCL and torn meniscus in his knee while playing for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Having John Tavares back will be an immediate boost for the Islanders.
Even though there was no acquisition of a huge star, every member of the Islanders will bring depth and talent in their own way. Before they call Brooklyn and the Barclays Center their new home, I know that the blue and orange will not let the Islanders faithful fans down for their final season at the Coliseum.