Isles look for another Award-worthy season out of Tavares
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Cal Clutterbuck, Peter Regin.
Keith Aucoin, Brandon DeFazio, Rick DiPietro, Jesse Joensuu, Jon Landry, Nino Niederreiter, Mark Streit, Matt Watkins.
Last year: The Islanders looked like the Islanders of old in the first half of 2013 and not in a good way.
After a positive January saw the Isles post a 4-2-1 record, scoring four goals or more in five of those contests, the team got roughed up in February, with a large number of their losses coming on home ice.
A record of just 4-9-1 in February had the team hurtling towards another lottery pick. Then March came and the team started to pick it up with an 8-5-1 record. Again, though, the Isles were only .500 in Nassau.
But once the trade deadline passed, the Isles just plain took off. They lost just once in regulation, posting an 8-1-4 record on the month and comfortably securing the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
John Tavares emerged as the franchise cornerstone that the Isles assumed he would be when they took him first overall in 2009. He scored 28 goals in just 48 games, finishing just three shy of a career high, and earned his first Hart Trophy nomination in the process.
They even put a scare into the Pittsburgh Penguins by taking two of the opening four games of their opening round series and chasing Marc-Andre Fleury from the Pens’ crease for almost the entire playoffs, but Brooks Orpik’s overtime dagger ended the season in home-ice heartbreak.
This Year: While the clock is winding down on the Nassau Coliseum, the Isles appear to be on the uptick.
Tavares will now be expected to be not just a talent, but a star and a leader with a new 'C' on his jersey.
The Isles have added some thump with Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck and finally pulled the plug on the Rick DiPietro era at the cost of $1.5 million over the next 16 years.
The team hopes 38-year-old Evgeni Nabokov has another heavy workload in him, as he suited up for 41 of the team’s 48 games last season.
If the team’s forward unit can have a productive and cohesive year, however, the Isles could be outright scary on offence.
Tavares, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner can all score with the best of them. The next gear for the Islanders will be getting Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo and its top prospects – be it Ryan Strome or Brock Nelson – firing to pad their scorelines.
The Isles' defence is not likely to scare many teams, but if they can get responsible play from Travis Hamonic and some offence from Lubomir Visnovsky, it might just be enough to keep the Isles in the playoff picture.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Islanders' performance after a shortened season?
The biggest concern here has to be Nabokov. He was good enough last season but the rest of the Isles goaltending was nowhere statistically close.
DiPietro is out of the equation, so who is the answer behind Nabokov?
Kevin Poulin’s .893 save percentage won’t cut it over even a modest workload and there have been no signs yet of Andres Nilsson or Mikko Koskinen being ready for NHL duty.
The Isles remain a young team at forward, so there shouldn’t be much concern up front but if Nabokov’s age starts to show, it could mean trouble on Long Island.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Isles make to get themselves back in cap shape?
Rick DiPietro will remain on the Islanders payroll for so long that by time the team is done paying him John Tavares could easily be retired.
That said, at least he’s not on their salary cap anymore, so the compliance buyout really bailed out Garth Snow.
The Isles, not known for big spending of late, have more cap space than any other club heading into 2013-14 season, with cap obligations currently sitting just $5 million above the cap floor.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Islanders after realignment.
The Isles will get re-introduced to one of their greatest playoff rivals in the newly-christened Metropolitain Division.
The Islanders and Washington Capitals met six times between 1982-82 and 1992-93. Factor in that the Islanders actually missed the playoffs three times over that span and it becomes an even more regular meeting between the two squads, who have not met since the Patrick Division got mothballed.
The memory of 1987’s quadruple-overtime Game 7 alone should get the memories churning between these two teams, but if not a metting of two of last year’s Hart nominees in Tavares and Alex Ovechkin could well do the trick.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, RW - A talented winger whose career had been derailed by concussions, Bouchard missed only five games last season and, even in limited ice time, put up 15 points in his last 23 games of the season.
Moving to the Islanders gives Bouchard a plum chance to play right wing with Matt Moulson and John Tavares on the No. 1 line and while it's impossible to ignore how many games Bouchard has missed over the last four seasons (154, incidentally), there is at least some reason to believe that, if healthy, the 29-year-old could return to being a 50-point scorer for the first time since 2007-2008.
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Pressing Question: Will the Islanders regret cutting Nino Niederreiter adrift?
The first fact you need to know about Niederreiter is that he has just two goals to his credit in 64 NHL games.
The Swiss dynamo has been anything but as an NHLer thus far, after piling on 35-plus goal seasons in his two CHL campaigns prior to the Islanders taking him fifth overall.
Niederreiter spent the entirety of the 2012-13 season in the AHL with Bridgeport and put in a solid 28 goals in 74 games and finished second on the team in points with 50 in total.
Then on the draft floor, Garth Snow pulled the trigger on Niederreiter and sent him to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck and a third-round draft pick.
Now, Clutterbuck is a nice pick-up for the Islanders. He hits everything in sight and at 25 fits in nicely with the young Islanders core. Bonus kudos for Snow getting a pick, acknowledging that what he was giving up was not just a bust prospect.
But, will Snow get burned for giving up on Nino?
Not every player is ready for the NHL at the age of 18 and with just two CHL seasons under his belt, it seems obvious now that Niederreiter was rushed.
The Isles arguably suffered a similar fate by starting 19-year-old Josh Bailey in 2008-09, but got just seven goals out of him as a rookie. A ninth-overall pick, the Isles were obviously high on his talent, but it’s taken him parts of five pro seasons to come around. He scored 11 goals in 38 games last season, a decent sign that he’s primed to break out.
Is Niederreiter primed for his break?
Chuck Fletcher seems to think so and – with the Wild loaded in prospect depth, especially up front with the likes of Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips – Niederreiter will be given as much time as he needs to force his way into NHL action and potential top-line minutes.
- New York Islanders Preview by Shane McNeil, TSN.ca