Once again, things have changed for the New York Islanders. New coach, new management, new players, a bizarre arena situation, and no captain. With all these changes comes doubt, but also some optimism. Do fans have high expectations for this team? To answer this question, here is what you, the fans, should expect this season.
If there is one thing that fans should feel confident about is how many times the Islanders are going to put the puck in the net. Sure, the team lost 37 goals, and 84 points (Thanks John), but this team can no doubt put up anywhere from three to five goals a night. Mat Barzal has 22 goals, and 85 points to lead the team last season. And he didn’t even lead the team in goals. Anders Lee led the team with 40. And if he is playing with Barzal, who had 63 assists last season, he should come close to scoring 40 again. And on Barzal’s right side will probably be Jordan Eberle, who scored 25 goals last season. Not only will Eberle be able to score goals, he should expand his game back to being a playmaker, and will likely be moved up to the first power play unit.
When talking about the team’s offensive abilities, Anthony Beauvillier should in the conversation. Beauvillier scored 21 goals last season, 16 of them came after January 5. Beauvillier has a chance to become the Islanders second line center, if new head coach Barry Trotz sees it will help the team. Beauvillier has played wing for his entire nhl career, but played center in junior where he was averaging over a point per game in the Quebec Major Junior League. But there is a slight concern when it comes to bottom six forwards. For example, the diminishing Andrew Ladd scored only 12 goals last season. Now for a guy who gets paid 5.5 million dollars, that is horrible and makes fans want to wear bags over their heads to games. But quietly, ladd did get off to a good start last season. Nine of Ladd’s twelve goals last season came before is injury on January 5th of last season, which would have put him on pace to score at least twenty goals. So, if Ladd decides he would like to actually earn his money this season, he will have to stay healthy.
Another key component to the goal scoring is going to be the famed fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck. When this trio was last together in the 2015-2016 season, they combined for 34 goals, (10 for Martin, 9 for Cizikas, and 15 for Clutterbuck), not including the postseason. Yes, Clutterbuck has struggled the last two seasons, but it may have been because Martin was not their, and he became the enforcer. Even though hitting has slowly fallen out of the game, it is still important because guys like Martin free up space for the offense to score goals. This fourth line reunion could be beneficial for the team, and for Clutterbuck.
Similar or Slightly Better Defense
As we all know, the Islanders defense was not only the worst last season, but was some of the worst defense in NHL history. Allowing 35 plus shots a game is horrible. But their could be some changes even though there was no big signing by the team. Nick Leddy should, and will have a bounce back year defensively, after putting up a putrid -42 rating last season. Johnny Boychuk is a huge if because he can never stay healthy, but if he can, he will help out the defense a lot. Now, there are traffic cones like Adam Pelech on the team, but he is going to have to step up his game if he wants to play next season. Young defensemen like Devon Toews, and Noah Dobson will get a shot to make team out of camp this season. Also, Sebastian Aho quickly rose from a fifth round draft pick, to a nice young defensemen who can help out on the power play, skate, and put up points. Speaking of putting up points, Ryan Pulock seems to have finally fully developed into a very talented defensemen. Pair him with the reliable Thomas Hickey and there’s one permanent pairing.
In my opinion, the goaltending was not upgraded enough this offseason. Some (like myself) believe that Jaroslav Halak is a better goaltender than Robin Lehner. But has Halak said with his lucious Slovakian accent in an interview “they (the Islanders) wanted to go in a different direction. So we are stuck with Lehner, and Thomas Greiss, a career backup that no fans wants to admit to themselves that he has been the backup since he got here. But Greiss has proven that he is a very capable backup who can start multiple games in a row, if Lehner starts to have a meltdown like he did in Buffalo.
Speaking of Lehner, this opportunity with the Islanders seems to be a last resort for the 27 year old. Lehner has been around since the 2010-2011 season and was a backup/third stringer for five seasons (four full ones), until he was moved to Buffalo. Lehner traded to Buffalo to prove himself. Now, he is an Islander for the same reason. A goaltender like Lehner should get the help he needs from goalie guru Mitch Korn, who came from Washington. Korn is one of the best goalie coaches in the game, and works on the physical and mental states of a goalie, something Lehner could really benefit from. I expect Lehner to struggle at first, but he should be better come the end of the season.
New Players Up Front
It is a new era on Long Island. And with a new coach, and new management, comes new players. Of the players that the Islanders signed/acquired in the off season, all but one is a forward. It is really hard to determine if some of these guys fit into the lineup. Three guys who are going to battle for ice time is Leo Komarov, Valteri Fillpula, and Jan Kovar. All three players are veteran centers (Kovar in KHL), and have had their best days pass them. Komarov, who is 31, signed a contract with an absurd four year term. In order to get regular time, he will either have to win the third line center job, or move to the wing, which he is capable of. Guys like Komarov are needed in the lineup to kill penalties, which Fillpula, 33, has done his whole career at center. Kovar might have been one of the most meaningless signings ever. With Kovar on the roster, the Islanders have seven centers. It seems like Kovar, and Tom Kuhnackl are going to be depth pieces.
With these new players and many others, it is time to figure out what this year’s lineup will be, and also, where are players fitting. So here is my prediction:
To conclude, even though the fourth line is reunited, I do not think Matt Martin will get regular time this season. Let’s be honest, there are better overall hockey players on the team. I also believe that Noah Dobson will make the team out of camp, to provide some youth. Even though many of us fans think it is going to be a bad year, this team will be physical, will score goals, and will get better as the season goes.