The New York Islanders just barely missed the postseason in 2016-2017, finishing one point behind the Boston Bruins.
Off-Season Game Plan examines an Islanders team that is competitive, but might need a jolt in order to take another step forward and, more importantly, keep franchise centre John Tavares in the fold.
The Islanders played better after replacing Jack Capuano with Doug Weight behind the bench, going 24-12-4, with a 49.2 score-adjusted CF%, up from 17-17-6 and 46.9 score-adjusted CF% under Capuano. That alone is reason to be optimistic about the Islanders’ chances next season, but they are going to need some internal improvement if they are going to make progress.
Hopefully, that sense of optimism can help sell Tavares, who has been very productive in eight seasons, but has one year left on his deal. If the Islanders can’t get Tavares inked to an extension, trade rumours will run rampant, and the Isles will likely receive calls from teams hoping to pry their star away (you know, just in case they can’t get a deal done). No matter how the rest of the offseason shakes out, the Tavares situation is the biggest concern for GM Garth Snow.
Anders Lee – The 26-year-old power forward scored a career-high 34 goals, with 25 coming at even-strength.
John Tavares – Even though it was a down season for him, the Islanders’ best player was still their best player, leading the team in points (66) and in puck possession (53.2 CF%).
Jason Chimera – The 38-year-old winger just had the third 20-goal season of his career (and second straight), 19 of them coming at even-strength.
Travis Hamonic – Injuries limited the blueliner to just 49 games, but the real problem was that he was buried with the worst possession numbers (43.0 CF%, -5.7 CFRel%) of his career and was on the ice for 44 (5-on-5) goals against in 49 games.
Andrew Ladd – He finished with 23 goals, the sixth straight full season in which he’s topped 20 goals, but the Isles’ big free agent acquisition added just eight assists, finishing with his lowest point total since 2007-2008.
Ryan Strome – The fifth pick in the 2011 Draft has had a rocky development path. He scored 50 points in 2014-2015, but hasn’t been close since, finishing with 30 points last season, while playing a career-low 14:36 per game.
Garth Snow/Doug Weight
FREE AGENT FORWARD
After a slow start to the season, John Tavares did put up 39 points in his last 38 games to finish with 66 points on the season. Even so, his 0.86 points per game was his lowest per-game rate since 2010-2011, and that raises concerns about whether the Islanders have the right supporting cast for their franchise player. He’s under contract through next season, so the Islanders can get him signed to an extension this summer, but if Tavares isn’t happy with the club’s direction, he could play it out and hit the open market in the summer of 2018.
On one hand, Josh Bailey was rather fortunate, blessed with a high (10.5%) on-ice shooting percentage on his way to a career-high 43 assists and 56 points, but also shot a career-low 7.5% on his way to 13 goals, despite a career-high 2.11 shots per game.
He’s reaping the rewards of playing with Tavares, but may be better suited to a complementary offensive role if the Islanders could find another elite talent to play on the top line.
Anders Lee also benefits from playing on the Isles’ number one line, but after tallying 34 goals last season, it’s not as if he needs to apologize for his contributions. He has great size and will use it in the corners and in front of the net.
While Brock Nelson had his third straight 20-goal season, and finished with a career-high 45 points, it appears that the 25-year-old has settled at this decent complementary level of production. Declining possession numbers don’t help in his evaluation either, but it does seem like Nelson has the talent to provide even more than he has to this point.
Ageless winger Jason Chimera remains an excellent skater and he converted a career-high 16.5% of his shots into goals last season, something that isn’t likely to happen again.
That the Islanders got 20 goals out of Chimera, who signed a two-year, $4.5-million contract last summer, contrasts with Andrew Ladd, who scored 23 goals, after inking a seven-year, $38.5-million deal. That is a long-term deal so the Isles are pretty much married to Ladd at this point, and need to hope for a bounce-back campaign. His per-game shot rate (1.82) was his lowest since 2006-2007 and his per-game assist rate (0.10) was the lowest of his career.
He’s only 23-years-old, but there has to be some frustration over Ryan Strome’s relative lack of production over the past couple of seasons, during which time he’s managed 28 goals and 58 points in 140 games. He’s not generating enough offensively and his all-around game still needs improvement.
The Islanders gave Casey Cizikas a hefty contract extension and then his role increased a little bit from his previous fourth-line duties. He’s a gritty player, but last season’s 13:54 of ice time per game was a career-high, which isn’t typically worthy of long-term investment. However, the Islanders have an affinity for their grinders.
Anthony Beauvillier made the Islanders as a 19-year-old and had some good moments in his first NHL season. His role, and production, increased as the season progressed offering some hope that he can take another step forward next season. He has the skill to contribute offensively, but needs to tighten up his play away from the puck as well.
Veteran winger Nikolay Kulemin hasn’t really met expectations with the Islanders, but he’s a solid checking winger who contributed a dozen goals last season with some good shooting luck (16.2%). He’s heading into the last year of his deal, and could be a buyout candidate, but the Islanders may prefer to play out the contract.
Yet another example of the Islanders giving term to a mucker, Cal Clutterbuck signed a five-year, $17.5-million extension last season, a season in which he managed five goals and 20 points. He hits a lot and has scored at least 15 goals three times in his career, but it’s hard to justify a long-term deal for Clutterbuck’s relatively modest contributions. One positive is that he shot a career-low 4.3% last season and that’s bound to get better.
Shane Prince did finish with a career-high 18 points last season, but continued his battle for regular playing time, suiting up in just 50 games. He’s a decent depth option.
The same can be said for Alan Quine, who saw regular action in the 2016 Playoffs, then played 61 games for the Islanders last season. The 24-year-old can play centre and wing but, like Prince, is challenging for a full-time role.
While the Islanders have some prospects on the way, the most immediate help will come from Josh Ho-Sang, a talented 21-year-old who played well down the stretch in his first NHL action. He’s a creative playmaker, and has a chance to earn a big role with an Islanders team that needs more from its supporting cast.
The Islanders could make a play for a bigger star to play up front – Ilya Kovalchuk, Jaromir Jagr and T.J. Oshie are among the scorers available – but that would likely require some shuffling of the deck because the Islanders already have 13 forwards under contract before counting Ho-Sang.
FREE AGENT DEFENCEMEN
|Calvin de Haan||82||5||20||25||48.0||0.7||101.7||47.1||19:51||$1.967M||RFA|
The Islanders’ best puck-mover on the back end, Nick Leddy got off to a rough start last season, with a Corsi under 44% through the first half of the year, but it got better as he moved away from Travis Hamonic and was partnered more with Johnny Boychuk or rookie Adam Pelech.
Johnny Boychuk remains a steady presence on the blueline, but there are hints of decline coming for the 33-year-old. His ice time was down a bit last season and he’s missed 38 games with injuries in the past three years, but he and Leddy were over 51.0 CF% together, so take the positives and hope that Boychuk can remain healthy despite his age and physical brand of play.
After he was bought out by the Bruins, Dennis Seidenberg was a bargain free agent signing and had a solid season for the Islanders, earning a contract for next season. The 35-year-old is a warrior, and as long as his ice time is kept in check, he can fill a spot.
A reliable puck-mover who typically holds a spot on the third pair, Thomas Hickey played a bigger role early in the season before his ice time was cut back in the second half. He’s reasonably priced and heading into the final year of his contract.
During the 2015-2016 season, there was a ton of interest in Travis Hamonic when his trade request went public, but it was so hard for the Islanders to make a deal because Hamonic was pulling down 23 minutes per game with a good value contract. Fast forward a year and, after an injury-plagued 2016-2017 season, Hamonic struggled and played a career-low 20:27 per game. He’s still on that good contract for three seasons, but the Isles need him to rebound to his previous form when he could handle tough defensive assignments.
24-year-old Scott Mayfield has been getting a little bit of time with the Islanders over the past three seasons, but last year’s 25-game stretch was his first extended action and he performed well in a limited role (not a ton of ice time, and more offensive zone starts). He’s a physical presence, but also showed more offensively, generating shots and scoring more than he did in the AHL.
Calvin de Haan has been a steady presence on the Islanders blueline over the past four seasons, and he had a career-high 25 points last season. His possession numbers have been decent too, and that makes the 26-year-old a valuable commodity. This is interesting because he may be left unprotected for the expansion draft, and would seem an automatic pick for Vegas if that’s the case. However, the other possibility is that the Islanders would consider dealing de Haan or Hamonic in order to improve the value that they get from their blueline assets.
22-year-old Adam Pelech got his first long look in the league last season, and fared well enough in 44 games. It wouldn’t be a shock if both Pelech and Mayfield ended up playing significant roles for the Islanders next season, but it’s also possible that they remain on the lineup fringe.
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2017-18 CAP|
FREE AGENT GOALTENDER
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2016-17 CAP||STATUS|
Thomas Greiss played a career-high 51 games last season, effectively a starter for the first time in his career. He does have a .918 save percentage in 92 games with the Islanders, and has a new three-year contract, so he could be the starter next season. That comes with uncertainty, given his track record, but it sure appeared to be the desired plan last season.
The ball was handed to Greiss because Jaroslav Halak was demoted to the AHL, and yet, when the season was on the line, Halak was recalled and he played well (.949 SV% in seven starts) to get the Islanders close to the playoffs. If the plan is to move ahead with Greiss as the starter, the Islanders can probably find a market to trade Halak, who has one season left on his contract. Of course, if the relationship with Halak isn’t irreparably damaged from last season’s demotion, the Islanders could just keep him, because they probably need some insurance behind Greiss.
EXPANSION DRAFT TARGETS
Calvin de Haan – A 26-year-old top-four defenceman, de Haan could be on the move this summer, either to Vegas, or to another team as the Islanders attempt to tidy up their expansion list.
Ryan Pulock – The 15th pick in the 2013 Draft has room to improve away from the puck, but has a booming shot from the point and scored 39 goals in 160 AHL games over the past three seasons.
Jason Chimera – The veteran winger has one year left on his contract and is coming off a 20-goal season. Vegas GM George McPhee also acquired Chimera for Washington in December, 2009.
ISLANDERS TOP PROSPECTS
|Mathew Barzal||C||41||10||69||79||+32||Seattle (WHL)|
|Michael Dal Colle||LW||75||15||26||41||+3||Bridgeport (AHL)|
|Ilya Sorokin||G||39||.929||CSKA Moscow (KHL)|
|Josh Ho-Sang||RW||50||10||26||36||-4||Bridgeport (AHL)|
|Kieffer Bellows||LW||34||7||7||14||-9||Boston University (HE)|
|Ryan Pulock||D||55||15||31||46||+10||Bridgeport (AHL)|
|Devon Toews||D||76||5||41||46||-2||Bridgeport (AHL)|
|Linus Soderstrom||G||22||.943||HV71 (SHL)|
|Scott Mayfield||D||23||3||3||6||0||Bridgeport (AHL)|
|Parker Wotherspoon||D||69||10||56||66||+15||Tri-City (WHL)|
|Mitchell Vande Sompel||D||67||20||33||53||+18||London (OHL)|
|Doyle Somerby||D||39||1||2||3||+11||Boston University (HE)|
|Carter Verhaeghe||C||45||16||13||29||+12||Bridgeport (AHL)|
|Jake Bischoff||D||38||5||27||32||+11||Minnesota (Big 10)|
|John Stevens||C||25||5||23||28||+3||Northeastern (HE)|
The Islanders have a good group of prospects, and while Ho-Sang is likely to be the first one to break through, it may not be long before Mathew Barzal and Michael Dal Colle get a shot too. Goaltender Ilya Sorokin remains in the KHL, but could be a star.
15th – Nick Suzuki, Kristian Vesalainen, Lias Andersson
The Islanders have approximately $71.0 committed to the 2017-2018 salary cap for 22 players.
A top-six forward, depth forwards
WHAT I SAID THE ISLANDERS NEEDED LAST YEAR
Two top-six forwards, depth forwards, depth defencemen
Andrew Ladd, Anthony Beauvillier, Dennis Seidenberg
Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome, Nikolay Kulemin, Calvin de Haan, Jaroslav Halak
MY PROJECTED 2017-2018 ISLANDERS DEPTH CHART
|LEFT WING||CENTRE||RIGHT WING|
|Anders Lee||John Tavares||Josh Bailey|
|Anthony Beauvillier||Brock Nelson||Josh Ho-Sang|
|Andrew Ladd||Ryan Strome||Jason Chimera|
|Nikolay Kulemin||Casey Cizikas||Cal Clutterbuck|
|Shane Prince||Alan Quine||Teddy Purcell *|
|Michael Dal Colle||Mathew Barzal||Gabriel Dumont *|
|LEFT DEFENCE||RIGHT DEFENCE||GOALTENDER|
|Nick Leddy||Johnny Boychuk||Thomas Greiss|
|Thomas Hickey||Travis Hamonic||Michael Hutchinson *|
|Adam Pelech||Scott Mayfield||Linus Soderstrom|
|Dennis Seidenberg||Ryan Pulock|
|Devon Toews||Parker Wotherspoon|
Scott Cullen can be reached at email@example.com