Roller-coaster year for the Isles. The Islanders had a lot of roster turnover this year, losing Okposo, Matt Martin, and Frans Nielsen while adding Andrew Ladd. I’m not sure what the Islanders were really thinking letting Okposo go, giving Clutterbuck a long extension, letting Nielsen go and not really helping Tavares out. Either way if I agree with the moves or not they happened and lets move on. The Isles struggled out of the gate and stuck with their Head Coach Jack Capuano for way too long. It took till January 17th for the Isles to fire Cap and while this mess was created by GM Snow Cap really isn’t a great coach. The team is now led by Interim Head Coach Doug Weight and the team has really responded. Since the coaching change the Isles are 11-4-2. Since December 22nd the Isles have gone from last in the East to the 2nd wild-card spot. Maybe it just took some time to mesh with line mates and maybe it was a little unfair to fire Cap but it happened.
On the season the Isles are a pretty average team, with a +2 goal diff led by a 7th ranking goals per game figure but an abysmal 24th in goals against ranking. Tavares has been the superstar everyone knows him to be with 50 points, 22 of which are goals. The rest of the scoring comes from Anders lee also with 22 goals and then a mix of guys like Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Andrew Ladd, and Jason Chimera. The forwards have played well while the defense and goal-tending have been sub-par.
Quick note on the goal-tending: Halak who was released after starting 21 games played extremely poorly. After a great showing at the World Cup of Hockey he posted a 3.23 GAA and a .904 sv%, not what you want from your #1 net minder. Thomas Greiss has stepped up nicely posting a 19-11-3 record in 34 games highlighted by his 2.50 GAA and .924 sv%. Greiss has really been overlooked by the league and just signed a nice extension with the Isles, which could turn out to be a steal.
On the backend there is no star defenseman. Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, and Dennis Seidenberg eat up the majority of the minutes as they round out the top 4. Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey both get at or under 19 minutes at game. De Haan was a touted prospect and still only 25 years old. Defensive players usually take longer to reach their peak and develop so their is hope that he can become a top pairing or top 4 defenseman in the future.
What are they? Developing Situation
Are the Isles buyers or seller?
As of this past off-season they would be buyers and I believe they still are, though more looking towards next year than this. They have very little chance of catching any of the big 4 in the Metro and will have to go up against either Pittsburgh or Washington in the first round of the playoffs, no easy task.
Their superstar Tavares has one year left on his contract after this one, and though he has spoken about staying on the Island the Isles need to surround him with the correct talent.
The off-season moves shows, to me at least, that Snow really doesn’t have a plan to do this. He let Nielsen and Okposo walk, he has blundered trades in the past, signed Ladd who seems to be declining and not the right fit, and it seems like he doesn’t have a clear vision for the future. The isles have young studs like Lee and Strome to build around but will they develop in time to give Tavares a cup run before or if he tests free agency.
I am curious to see what the Isles do at the deadline because they can do anything from acquiring a top D-man or Forward with their trade ammo to selling players to try and rebuild on the fly. Personally I think they go for it either now or in the off-season because they have a limited time window. They have plenty of cap space at the deadline but next years cap figure may be tight. De Haan will need a raise but Seidenberg will be gone so maybe that $ is spent on De Haan. Either way its a tough spot to be in.