James O'Brien

Toronto Maple Leafs v Pittsburgh Penguins

Pens’ plan for now: Crosby starts as Kessel’s center


A lot can change between today and training camp, let alone the regular season, but the Pittsburgh Penguins plan on starting Phil Kessel out on Sidney Crosby’s line.

(Head coach Mike Johnston made note that the course could easily be altered.)

Under this setup, Evgeni Malkin would likely center a line including Patric Hornqvist. One would assume that Chris Kunitz would fill out the Crosby – Kessel combo, but again, this is pure speculation in August.

The biggest “loser” of this scenario may just be David Perron, at least if he was bumped down to the third line. Roster Resource’s depth chart really shows how much the Penguins’ roster has changed this off-season.

Back in July, PHT took an early look at the debate regarding pairing Kessel with Crosby or Malkin, pointing to some takes that “Geno” might work better with the sniper than No. 87.

You can find a succinct discussion of that argument from NHL.com’s Dan Rosen:

With Kessel and Malkin on the ice together, there would be constant movement and interplay between two threats able to score on virtually any possession in the attacking zone.

Crosby plays more of a north-south game of direct lines and quick puck movement. Crosby’s linemates have to think the game quickly, react quickly, and be ready in a hurry. He wants his wings to be predictable.

Scoring lines are generally fluid in the modern NHL, yet in late August, it’s fun to get an update like this. Which way would you lean if you were in Johnston’s shoes?

Barring bad injury luck, Kessel should be a happy man in either scenario.

New York Islanders ’15-16 Outlook

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Islanders

After years of slumming it in an aging building, the New York Islanders are moving to the snazzy Barclays Center in Brooklyn … and they’re bringing a stylish team with them.

Indeed, the Isles may boast the ideal mix of talent to resonate in The Land of the Hipsters, especially if head coach Jack Capuano sports these glasses.

Jack Capuano, Michael Grabner
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

(Sure, they’re not as natural a fit for Brooklyn as Dan Bylsma’s lids, but you can’t win them all.)

The Islanders’ potential seems like a mystery, at least beyond the likelihood of the team being fun to watch.

Could a division title be a possibility? Maybe a deep run?

You’d think that the group GM Garth Snow assembled should at least win a playoff series for the first time since 1993. The Isles boast a little of everything: an outstanding offense featuring John Tavares, a solid defense including Johnny Boychuk and steady goaltending.

If nothing else, maybe more casual hockey fans will realize just how special Tavares is. In the meantime, we have accounts like the one Jonathan Quick shared with The Players’ Tribune:

Just like with [Sidney] Crosby, Tavares doesn’t kill you with one thing, he kills you with how insanely balanced his game is in all aspects. Tavares can deke you, or roof a shot, or make a great pass, or if nothing is there, he’ll do the smartest thing and chip it in deep to live another day. He’s similar to Crosby in another way, too. He’s one of the most tenacious guys I’ve ever played against. A lot of guys that skilled might choose to work the perimeter and wait for their linemates to open up space for them. Tavares gets right into the dirty areas and mucks it up. You’ll see him score just as many greasy goals as pretty ones.

He could help the Islanders be a trendy choice in 2015-16.

Poll: Should the Isles trade Okposo?

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders - Game Four

With a $2.8 million cap hit and top-line skills, Kyle Okposo stands as one of the great bargains in the NHL … for now.

The 27-year-old’s contract expires after 2015-16, so the Islanders have to decide if they want to stick with Okposo, and incur all the costs that come with that.

Injuries have allowed the Islanders to get a couple glimpses at life without Okposo over the years; he was limited to 71 games played in 2013-14 and 60 last season.

Even so, he’s shown the kind of growth you’d hope to see from a winger who has frequently been John Tavares’ running mate. A blistering contract year wouldn’t be surprising in the least, especially if he’s still riding shotgun with Tavares.

So, what do you think GM Garth Snow should do, trade Okposo or keep him around?

Islanders’ biggest question: Will they finally make a deep run?

John Tavares

The New York Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since they foiled Mario Lemieux’s quest for a three-peat.

In case that doesn’t provide you context (or if you’re a Penguins fan, memories of a bloodied Kevin Stevens), that came back in 1993.

Let’s skip the “insert list of historical events/amusing Geocities references since 1993” portion of the post and merely note that the Isles have seen seven first-round exits and 14 failed postseason bids since they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Eastern Conference Final.

One would assume that Islanders fans have learned to be patient over the years, and GM Garth Snow’s steady approach is really starting to pay off, even if some fans might feel a little antsy.

“We have a lot of players that still have term on their contracts,” Snow told NHL.com recently. “We’re looking for our younger players to take another step in the right direction, guys like Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee … they’re all good, young players that had quality seasons and they’re just going to keep getting better.”

When you pour over the Islanders’ roster, it’s clear that the team boasts a little of everything. John Tavares is absolutely one of the best forwards in the league. Their defense may lack a Duncan Keith-type superstar, but Johnny Boychuk isn’t chopped liver. They may not have the most mainstream recognition, but Jaroslav Halak – Thomas Greiss ranks as one of the better goalie tandems in the NHL.

The possession stats were there, too, last season.

Just about every sign points to the Islanders possessing the tools to finally make a nice playoff run, now they just have to get there.

It could get a little messy if they provide an all-too-familiar feeling, albeit in a new building.

Under pressure: Jack Capuano

Jack Capuano

If nothing else, it seems like New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano seems pretty comfortable on the hot seat.

Well, judging by PHT archives, it’s at least a common location. Let’s peer through the headlines over the past few years:

2014-15: After the season – “(Garth) Snow says Isles will stick with Capuano”; back in November – “Isles’ struggles putting heat on Capuano”

2013-14: After the season – “Snow says Capuano will be back as Isles coach”there were Peter Laviolette rumors, but Capuano wasn’t considered “the problem.” His struggles were testing Snow’s loyalties. Hey, but he had John Tavares’ faith.

2012-13: After the season – “Islanders will keep GM Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano”

2011-12: He got the fabled vote of confidence

Jeez, quite the pattern for a guy who was bumped up from interim head coach back in April 2011, right?

Even with the vultures swirling over Capuano after each season, Snow remains loyal. After the Islanders fell to the Washington Capitals in that tightly played Game 7, he (mostly) praised Capuano’s work to New York Newsday.

“Our coaches did a great job, whether it was preparing our players or with the communication between coaches and players, which was outstanding,” Snow said. “There were some aspects of our game, whether it was with our penalty-kill that struggled early on and became a strength for us by the end, or our power play, which was a strength at times early on and we didn’t have one in the playoffs. That’s an area of concern. We’ll analyze all different areas of our team and try to get better.”

The Islanders have come along nicely over the years, yet you have to wonder how long the leash might be if they don’t generate a deep postseason run in the near future.

Could 2015-16 be Capuano’s last chance?