Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.
35-37-10, 80 pts. (7th Metropolitan Division; 11th Eastern Conference)
Calvin de Haan
This off-season could very well stand as the most pivotal in the history of the New York Islanders, a team that’s been in the NHL since 1972.
(Deep breath) naturally, the move that towers above them all is a franchise-altering relocation, as John Tavares opted to sign with the Maple Leafs rather than sticking with the Isles.
Such a rattling decision would already make this summer one of big changes for the Islanders, yet while that was the main course, there were plenty of other crucial changes.
[Under Pressure | Building off a breakthrough | Three questions]
After a brutal 2017-18 season from a defensive standpoint, the Islanders seemed to be the only franchise to offer reigning Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz a deal within range of his market value. It would be tough to believe that Trotz won’t be able to provide the structure that the Islanders sorely lacked under Doug Weight, who was relieved of his duties.
Former Devils and Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello ended up making the decision to replace Weight, and also stripped such powers away from Garth Snow, who certainly received plenty of opportunities to put his stamp on the Islanders during 12 years as GM.
The Islanders struggled mightily in their own end, and were often porous in net, with the greatest measure of blame being a chicken-or-the-egg argument. How bad were their goalies, versus how vulnerable were they made by a Swiss cheese defense?
Either way, Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss struggled mightily in 2017-18, putting up the sort of save percentage stats that only would have been endearing during the Islanders’ dynasty era, when sub-90-percent was generally the standard. (Today it’s … uh, not.)
While Greiss stands as one of the NHL’s immovable goalie contracts, Halak is now out in favor of former Sabres starter Robin Lehner. It’s a one-year deal for Lehner, so he ranks as one of the leading wildcards for the Islanders.
As grim as it might feel to look at many facets of the Islanders’ season and summer, there are some good sides.
Most obviously, it sure seems like the Islanders unearthed another star center, one they’ll hopefully surround with better talent than Tavares enjoyed. Mathew Barzal took the NHL by storm last season, generating 85 points on his way to winning the Calder Trophy, the most generated by a rookie of the year winner in more than a decade.
Barzal supplemented all that substance with oodles of style.
For all of Snow’s struggles as GM, Barzal ranked as just one of the examples of his shrewd moves.
The trade that landed the Barzal pick looked like another punchline for the Islanders over Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli, something that was accentuated by the Isles winning the Jordan Eberle – Ryan Strome deal. Chia wasn’t the only person who maybe shouldn’t have taken Snow’s calls, as the Travis Hamonic trade looks like another victory for the Islanders, as it helped them land successive promising-looking picks during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft (more on them in a moment).
The mixture of good and bad is dizzying, although it may also be crucial to soothe some of the agony that comes from losing a foundational talent like Tavares.
Can Trotz and Lamoriello lead this franchise out of some dark days? We’ll begin to find out in 2018-19.
- Oliver Wahlstrom, W, 18, US NTDP – 2018 first-round pick
- Noah Dobson, D, 18, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL) – 2018 first-round pick
The Islanders selected Wahlstrom at 11th overall and nabbed Dobson one pick later at 12, impressing critics with each pick, as you could argue that both could have gone earlier. It’s likely a matter of debate regarding which player should have been selected first, not to mention if Dobson or Wahlstrom actually ranks as the top Isles prospect.
The similarities end there, aside from both being 18.
Wahlstrom is touted as a potential 30-goal scorer in the NHL. He’ll get a year of seasoning with Boston College in 2018-19, but whenever he makes the jump, Wahlstrom is expected to be a lethal sniper who can bring some other nice scoring skills to the table.
Oh yeah, he also generated quite a sensation at age 9.
Dobson, meanwhile, ranks as one of the most promising defensive prospects once you get beyond Rasmus Dahlin and Quinn Hughes. Dobson scored 17 goals and 69 points during a smashing 67-game season in the QMJHL, so the production was certainly there for the intriguing blueliner.
At least two outlets have compared Dobson to Blues star Alex Pietrangelo.
- Ilya Sorokin, G, 23, CSKA Moscow (KHL) – 2014 third-rounder
It remains to be seen when the Islanders could even coax Sorokin to the NHL, as he’s under contract in the KHL for quite some time. Regardless, he ranks as one of the team’s most important prospects, as the Islanders clearly need an answer in net.
Sorokin’s shown promise overseas, generating no lower than a .929 save percentage in KHL competition since 2014-15.
Consider Josh Ho-Sang and Kieffer Bellows as the lead Islanders prospects who should be considered “honorable mentions,” at least if you still label Ho-Sang as a prospect (as he’s enjoyed quite a few – though not quite enough – NHL reps).
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.