Risk Factors: New York Islanders edition

7 Comments

From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

New York Islanders

1. Defense – Even when they made the Pittsburgh Penguins sweat bullets in a thrilling 2013 postseason playoff series, the Isles weren’t exactly setting Jacques Lemaire’s heart aflutter with their ability to suffocate opposing offenses. On the bright side, the Islanders are far alone in seemingly being stuck with an “outscoring their problems” plan, as a porous defense corps seems to be the defining characteristic of most of the Eastern Conference’s bubble teams (example: the Philadelphia Flyers … assuming they don’t blow up altogether).

Still, when the unique trait of your team is allowing opponents to casually stroll into your zone and more than a few teams are expected to emphasize puck possession this season, having such a permeable defense can be a frightening proposition.

That’s especially true if John Tavares and the Islanders’ offense isn’t as explosive as it looks like on paper or Jaroslav Halak is plagued by injuries (which has unfortunately been the case for him quite often in his otherwise underrated career).While there’s a bright spot (Travis Hamonic) here and there, the Isles might find themselves on the wrong end of score-fests more often than they’d like in 2014-15.

Hate to say it, but it’s not as if this group was a Dan Boyle away from being elite, either.

Hey, at least they finally have goalies who could conceivably clean up a lot of these messes though, right? That’s pretty refreshing.

2. Coaching – Jack Capuano has been the Islanders’ head coach since going behind the bench for 65 of 82 games back in the 2010-11 season. In four campaigns with the Islanders, he helped them make the playoffs once and while they pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins in a thrilling series, he’s never advanced to the second round.

Is anyone outside of the Islanders organization fully confident in arguing that Capuano is a difference-making coach?

Granted, the talent base hasn’t exactly been that stellar for much of Capuano’s stay in Long Island, yet it’s difficult to make a passionate argument that this team merely goes as far as Tavares can take it under Capuano’s watch. At some point, Capuano needs to distinguish himself as a difference-maker.

Honestly, it’s easy to imagine the Islanders pondering the possibility of a midseason replacement if things don’t work out. Perhaps the organization was jealously taking notes while would-be rivals like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers made leaps from up-an-comers to contenders once they finally pulled the trigger and brought in a new voice behind their benches?

(Yes, those coaches are no longer employed in those places, but the Isles would probably be OK with that proposition if it means finally enjoying a deep playoff run again.)

This truly seems like a make-or-break season for Capuano with the Islanders.

3. John Tavares’ health and line – Medical science has come a long way in the last few years, so it’s tempting to assume that the Islanders’ best player in ages will be that same rapidly rising star. Tavares hasn’t exactly looked out of place so far, either, but can we be certain that he’ll be a dominant force off the bat?

The bright side is that Tavares suffered an MCL sprain instead of a more serious ACL sprain, so it’s not outrageous to assume that he could be “the same guy” who’s been tearing up the NHL. Even ACL injuries aren’t quite the same killers they once were, so perhaps this is just a case of excessive worrying.

Still, there’s a difference between playing and thriving, and the Islanders are clearly resting a lot of their hopes on a healthy Tavares despite some nice offseason depth additions such as Mikhail Grabovski. Obviously Erik Karlsson’s injury is related to a different and even more vulnerable area, it’s telling that his recovery isn’t really complete after all this time. It’s true that Tavares doesn’t rely on his speed and skating to the same degree as a player like Karlsson, but it’s reasonable to wonder if he might be hindered a bit (especially early on).

Interestingly, the Islanders’ top line faces questions beyond Tavares’ health.

For one thing, Kyle Okposo is coming off a significant jump in production last season. While there are some substantial reasons to believe that he’s going to remain a difference-maker, it could be difficult to avoid at least a slight dip in production.

Maybe most importantly, Tavares and Okposo might see a rotation of running mates. After a season of enjoying great complimentary work from Matt Moulson and then Thomas Vanek, Tavares and Okposo may find themselves carrying an inferior winger.