Nov. 05, 2016
Islanders Offseason Moves Failed to Address Major Need
When John Tavares ended 25 years of postseason failures with an OT goal that pushed the Islanders into the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, fans got a small glimpse of what the magic of their heyday in the early 1980s was like when the Islanders dominated the NHL winning 19 straight playoff series and 4 straight Stanley Cups. Names like Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Clark Gillies, Billy Smith and Denis Potvin all wound up in the Hall of Fame. Other players like John Tonelli, Bob Nystrom, Stefan Persson, Bob Bourne along with Brent and Duane Sutter were key role players that netted countless numbers of playoff goals and assists.
The 2016-17 Islanders entered the season having replaced a three very good secondary players in Kyle Okposo, Franz Nielsen and Matt Martin. Again, notice that I used the term "secondary" players. In most NHL locker rooms along with hockey analysts, they would agree. The only locker room and front office that wouldn't would be the Islanders. In losing those 3 players, they lost their 2nd and 3rd leading scorers, along with a player that finished 6th on the team with 10 goals at even strength and was one of the mainstays of the best 4th line in the NHL along with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. To the Islanders, Okposo, Nielsen and Martin were all prime time players.
That characterization of their roster from 2015-16 gives you a better idea of how the Islanders talent spaces out on their roster. Perhaps no team in the NHL has a stronger group of players top to bottom. With a roster filled with names like Josh Bailey, Nikolai Kulemin, Brock Nelson, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Anders Lee, Johhny Boychuck and Ryan Strome, the Islanders have perhaps the deepest roster in the NHL. Jack Capuano can fill out his roster with all of these players putting up 20 or more points no matter if they are on the first, second, third or fourth line.
In order to replace the 64 and 52 point totals of Okposo and Nielsen, the Islanders signed Andrew Ladd (25 G, 21 A) and Jason Chimera (20 G, 20 A). They also brought back popular P.A. Parenteau, who had 38 goals and 120 points in 2 seasons opposite John Tavares from 2011-13. However, in a shocking development, GM Garth Snow cut Parenteau on the eve of the season opener, instead choosing to promote a pair of rookies Anthony Beauvillier and Matthew Barzal.
The early results for the Islanders have not been promising. The big-time free agent they spent $38 million on over 7-years (not a bad contract actually), has not collected a point in his first 4 games opposite John Tavares. Jason Chimera has collected 2 assists, but has yet to find the back of the net. Such is the problem for the Islanders. While Ladd and Chimera are solid players, they possess something the Islanders have in abundance. Quality players that make up terrific 2nd, 3rd and checking line guys, but are not big-time scorers that this franchise desperately needed to put along side of Tavares.
Islanders fans screamed with anger when the Devils were able to trade for budding superstar Taylor Hall. Hall, who has dropped off the last 2 seasons since totaling a career-high 27 goals and 80 points in 2013-14, would have been the perfect fit at age 25 to put along side Tavares. While everyone in the NHL seemed to understand this about the Islanders, the only one who didn't was GM Garth Snow.
While Snow has done an excellent job at building a generic roster filled with very little weaknesses, the Islanders don't really have overwhelming strengths either. Their penalty kill ranked 4th in the NHL last season, which was their best asset. Their power play however, was anemic, as only 5 teams finished with fewer than the Islanders 42 goals. This year has seen no improvement through their first 4 games, as they have converted just one of their 11 power play chances, tied for worst in the NHL.
That is what you going to get with this current group of Islanders. A team that will come at you with 4 consistent lines, possess an elite player in Tavares who can raise his play at big moments and a terrific 1-2 goal tending combo in Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. They are coming off back-to-back seasons of 100 points. Only one other time in franchise history have they posted 3 straight 100-point seasons, when they posted 4 straight from 1975-1979.
What the Islanders are counting on is that their young nucleus of Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Anders Lee step up and become the big-time snipers and 70-100 point producers. However, that is a big leap of faith for a group of players that all struggled in their sophomore seasons. After totaling 17 goals and 50 points in 2014-15, Strome only scored 8 goals while totaling just 28 points last season. After scoring 20 goals and totaling 30 points in the first 48 games of last season, Brock Nelson only found the net 6 times in his final 33 games last season. finishing with just 10 points over that span. Anders Lee scored 25 goals in his first full year with the Islanders in 2014-15, but struggled mightily his first 47 games last season, only scoring 6 goals, including a span where he scored just once over 25 games.
While the talent is there, the Islanders roster is routinely filled with players that are on scoring droughts of 15-20 games. The fact that they totaled 100 points and qualified for the postseason in each of the last 2 seasons is a bit of a miracle. However, in a tough Eastern Conference, not knowing who you are going to get consistent scoring from can bury you quickly.
The Islanders have a very bright future beyond their current roster of young players also, as first round selections Joshua Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle are waiting in the wings at Bridgeport. Don't forget about Beauvillier and Barzal, whose immediate future still might be in juniors (each can be returned to their junior teams before their 10th NHL game without triggering the first year of their NHL contract).
However, the fact still remains that without a sniper to help John Tavares, the Islanders - as good as they are every where else - could finish as poorly as 75-80 points or as high as 100-105 points. That unpredictability did not have to happen this season. Garth Snow has PLENTY and I do mean PLENTY of quality players he could have shipped off for a sniper and you have to think that somewhere along the line - if the Islanders continue to struggle offensively and fall behind the pack in the Metropolitan Division - that Garth Snow will be forced into shopping for a offensive upgrade. If the Islanders get one - Like one of the Sedin Brothers or Corey Perry - who knows what will be available and I might be totally reaching with those names, but those are the type of players that pairing with Tavares and the rest of the Islanders roster, would make them a major contender.
Unfortunately for the Islanders, until that happens, they risk boring people to death with their anemic power play and generic roster of 2nd and 3rd line players.