In hockey there are five “seasons,”; the preseason, regular season, playoffs, Stanley Cup final, and offseason. Each has its own elements that fans around the hockey world get excited for. As we transition back into the beginning of this cycle, it’s important to recap what happened over the past few months.
Immediately after the season ended, the Islanders made their first big announcement. The team stated that they had removed “interim” from head coach Doug Weight’s title, giving him the job full time. The former Islander captain helped the team to a 24-12-4 record after being named head coach and the Islanders fell only a point short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team made some other changes behind the bench as well. Luke Richardson and Scott Gomez were hired as assistant coaches and Fred Brathwaite was named goalie coach. It’s important to note, additionally, that Gomez was brought in to improve the power play, one of the Islanders’ greatest struggles this past season. All four are able to help the Islanders’ players achieve their full potential.
The Islanders, to the dismay of some fans, did not pursue any “big fish” free agents this summer like they did a season prior. Instead, they choose to develop from within and attempted to keep the roster as in-tact as possible. Their first transaction was the resigning of Dennis Seidenberg to a 1-year, $1M extension. I praised the signing back in May as Seidenberg had the best +/- rating on the team and scored 22 points. It seemed like the cap hit also set the bar for many veteran role players around the league this offseason. The Isles’ also signed goalie prospect Linus Soderstrom to a 3-year entry level contract. Following that a few months later was the long anticipated Expansion Draft. The NHL’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, had the opportunity to select one player from each team to comprise a roster. The Islanders were at the center of the action this summer. The team had too many quality defensemen that would have to be protected, meaning that losing one of them would be likely. GM Garth Snow shocked the hockey world when he opted to protect five defensemen and leave all forwards besides John Tavares and Andrew Ladd up for grabs. Ultimately, the team made a deal with Vegas, sending them a 1st-round pick (Erik Brannstrom), Mikhail Grabovski’s contract, Jake Bischoff, and a 2nd-round pick in 2019 in exchange for them laying off our top forwards. The Golden Knights ultimately selected goalie J.F Berube, lowering the NHL goalie count to just 2. We would then bring back RFA’s Adam Pelech and Calvin de Haan on four and one-year contracts, respectively. The Islanders were not done yet.
The 2017 Entry Draft was fairly uneventful for the Islanders. The team had traded their pick to the Golden Knights so no activity was made on day one. Day two was interesting, though. Our first draft pick was Robin Salo, a defenseman from Finland. The young blueliner seems like a stay-at-home defenseman, and projects to make the roster within the next three years. Another notable pick the team made came in the 5th round when they selected another defenseman. Sebastian Aho (not to be confused with the Carolina Hurricanes’ forward from Finland) is projected to be more of a puck moving defenseman. Both players are at training camp this month. The biggest news of the day, however, was made over the phone. The team traded Travis Hamonic and a 2019 4th-round pick to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a 2018 1st-round choice and either a 2019 or 2020 second-round pick. The two upcoming drafts are projected to offer high end talent, so our picks can turn into highly skilled players down the road.
The Islanders were also involved in some trades during the rest of the summer as well. Before the expansion draft, they traded former 5th overall pick Ryan Strome to the Oilers in exchange for Jordan Eberle. The Oilers were in need of cap space but still wanted high-end talent to play alongside either McDavid or Draisaitl. They hope he can revive his game to what it was a few seasons ago. The Islanders, on the other hand, are hoping that Tavares and Eberle can rekindle the chemistry that they had a few years ago at the World Junior Championship. The star right winger does come at a cost. He will be getting paid about $4M more than Strome, an issue which could lead to an inability to sign free agents down the road. Additionally, the team acquired goalie Kristers Gudlevskis from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Carter Verhaeghe. The former 5th-round pick should give the team some depth at the goaltender position after losing JF Berube in the expansion draft. Lastly, the Islanders were aggressively pursuing Avalanche center Matt Duchene for much of the offseason. The team was hoping that he would slot in as the number two center behind John Tavares and form a tandem similar to, say, Kopitar and Carter in Los Angeles. Having two high-end centers is crucial to being a Stanley Cup contender but unfortunately, the team will have to wait to get theirs. Avalanche GM Joe Sakic was unwilling to budge on his demands for a defenseman and prospects. Many argue that he should’ve taken Hamonic when he was offered. Unfortunately, however, he did not realize the value the defenseman had and lost him to Calgary. It is still very possible Duchene will be moved before training camp, but to where and for what is still up in the air. For now, either Mathew Barzal or Brock Nelson seem to be the candidates to fill the second line center position, something Doug Weight and his staff will decide before the season begins.
As much as we have accomplished this offseason, the team still has one more important task to complete. Since July 1st, our captain, John Tavares, has been eligible to sign a contract extension. Carey Price, Marc-Edourad Vlassic, and Martin Jones are among the many to have already signed 8-year extensions this offseason. Tavares has plenty of time, but can not afford the process to become a mid-season distraction. Tavares has stated his loyalty to the team but is in no rush to sign a contract. When he will sign and for how long is anyone’s guess by now. I wrote an article taking my own guess so feel free to check that out.
Like the Stanley Cup Final and regular season, the offseason has a champion too. Many give that title to the Dallas Stars this year for bringing in Ken Hitchcock and Ben Bishop, among others. While agree with this distinction, I don’t believe the Isles’ were far behind. We did not make many trades or player acquisitions, but rather are retooling the roster from within to make the playoffs once again in 2017-2018. Only time will tell what could’ve or couldn’t have been done better but Isles’ fans should be happy about the offseason that just was.
I know there are plenty of minute details that I may have left out, including PTOs and other minor developments. These however, were the storylines that dominated over the past few months. Some are still to be closed and others are just opening. Exciting things are still to come for this franchise. The team has been practicing in and will play a preseason game at the Nassau Coliseum this Sunday September 17th. Tickets are still on sale and it is sure to be a great event. With the start of preseason comes the start of training camp. Players are beginning to report after their summers with family and friends and are already holding informal skates. The possibility of another trade or PTO signing is still alive, with Jaromir Jagr still not having found a team and Matt Duchene unhappy with his current situation in Colorado. In the meantime, Islanders fans prepare for Sunday’s preseason opener in Nassau Coliseum and for the start of the regular season on October 6th in Columbus, Ohio. Drive4Five will be sure to keep you up to date will all Islanders developments and headlines throughout the season and we hope you’ll join us on this always-entertaining ride.