The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the New York Islanders.
2020-21 Season Review
• Record: 32-17-7 (71 points) fourth place in Eastern Division
• Postseason: Lost in Conference Final in seven games to Tampa Bay Lightning
• Offensive leader: Mathew Barzal (55 games, 17 goals, 28 assists, 45 total points)
• Free Agent Additions: Richard Panik (trade with Detroit Red Wings), Zach Parise, Zdeno Chara
• Free Agent Subtractions: Nick Leddy (trade with Detroit Red Wings), Andrew Ladd, Jordan Eberle (Seattle Kraken), Travis Zajac (retirement)
Biggest question facing the New York Islanders?
• Will Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara have enough left to help put them over the top?
The Islanders are bringing back largely the same roster from the past couple of seasons, and it is a roster that has had its share of success. While the regular season results have not always been great, they have been good enough to get in the playoffs, and once they get to the playoffs they have caused havoc for almost every team in the Eastern Conference.
Since the start of the 2019 playoffs they have won five postseason series and 28 total playoff games, the second most in the league behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning, of course, being the team that has stood between them and the Stanley Cup Final the past two seasons.
This Islanders roster doesn’t have a ton of star power beyond Mathew Barzal, but it also does not really have a weakness. Every line can contribute. There are no true liabilities on defense. Both goalies are sensational when healthy.
But they still just need a little more to get by teams like the Lightning. Their biggest offseason moves saw them bring in Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara. If this was 2016 those additions would seem significant. Now? It is a matter of whether or not they can fit into complementary roles and make an impact. The Islanders do not need them to be superstars. But anything they have left could be potentially significant. Add in a full season of Kyle Palmieri, the return of a healthy Anders Lee and it is a fairly deep roster.
What’s the salary cap situation?
The Islanders are pressed against the upper limits of the salary cap, even after shedding Andrew Ladd’s salary to Arizona.
They do not have any really mega contracts, but they have a lot of significant contracts in the $5-8 million range.
Ryan Pulock is going to need a new deal after this season as a pending unrestricted free agent, while Mathew Barzal only has two years left on his current bridge deal before he is due a mega contract. So there is some work to be done here and not a lot of long-term flexibility under a mostly flat cap.
Wahlstrom did not have a huge role with the Islanders for most of the 2020-21 season, but he did show a ton of promise and make quite an impact when he got an opportunity. Despite playing just 12 minutes per game he still scored 12 goals in 44 games and posted strong possession numbers in his first real taste of NHL action. He is still only 21 years old and is the best young player on the team outside of Barzal and has a real chance to be a top-line scorer given his talent and shot. A breakout season from him could be a game-changer for an Islanders team that needs another impact player.
At this point we should know what to expect from this Islanders team. They are going to get strong goaltending, they are going to be tough to score against, and they are going to frustrate a lot of teams on their way to 3-2 and 3-1 wins. The best case is that they keep doing what they do, get back in the playoffs, get a breakout from Wahlstrom, Parise and Chara find the fountain of youth, and they finally get the best of Tampa Bay in a seven-game series. This is a Stanley Cup contender. The expectation should be to go far.
If anything happens to the goalies, injury or sudden lack of performance, that would be a problem for a team that is fairly dependent on them. They do not score a ton of goals and while they are great at limiting chances, they do have a tendency to give up a fair number of shots. Any slip in goaltending could be the difference between home ice in the playoffs or an earlier than expected playoff loss. It is hard to envision this team missing the playoffs at this point, but it is a competitive division with a lot of really good teams that are not separated by much.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.