New York Islanders
NHL 15: New York Islanders Guide
Written By: LostintheMist81
Year in Review:
Coming off the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season there was a certain amount of momentum and expectation for the 2013-14 season stemming from the fact that the franchise made its first playoff appearance in five years and it looked like the rebuild was going to be in full swing. Despite shipping away Nino Niederreiter before the draft, taking another ‘down the road’ prospect in Ryan Pulock, and touting Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard as their marquee free agency signings, there was still the sense that John Tavares and company could possibly sneak into another playoff berth if they kept their ‘battle level’ up. Signing Travis Hamonic for seven years/$27 million was almost enough to make you forget that we didn’t really have much else going for us on defense besides the Hammer, that Josh Bailey had also signed on to underwhelm for another five years, and that Evgeni Nabakov was going to be our starting goaltender. All of these things however, in my mind, seemed inconsequential next to the fact that Jack Capuano was still our coach. I always felt like the sign that the Islanders were finally ready to be taken seriously again would be their signing of a serious coach, but September came and Jackie C. was still behind the bench.
The preseason was relatively unremarkable for the Islanders aside from losing Cal Clutterbuck (the bounty acquired in the aforementioned Niederreiter deal) for a few games, and the fact that Griffin Reinhart (the Islanders’ first round selection in the 2012 draft) did not look out of place and could potentially crack the roster.
The season opener was a surprising success away against the Devils when the Islanders won in a shootout victory. It seemed like we had carried that momentum back to The Barn (the name Islander fans use affectionately toward the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, our home ice) as they carried a 2-0 lead into the third period of the home opener.
And now a personal anecdote from that home opener. I had the pleasure of viewing the game from a box that night. After a lovely Q&A with Brett Yormark, CEO for The Barclay’s Center (our soon to be new home ice) and also one of the architects behind the New Jersey Nets rebranding for Brooklyn, which involved no less than three questions from Long Island bumpkins inquiring as to whether there was any chance the Islanders could stay at the Coliseum (I had to blush at this considering this was basically people asking our new LANDLORD if there was any way he could maybe not be our landlord), the group I was with returned to our box. While we were waiting for the third period to start someone pointed out that the box next to us was pitch black. Being the nosey dew drop that I am I leaned over the rail and looked into the darkened box to find a tall man in a suit standing in the middle of it. I noticed Garth Snow, the Islanders’ GM, immediately and asked him if he was enjoying the game. He smirked, but didn’t reply and so I said of course you’re enjoying the game we’re up 2-0. I figured I had to ask at least something substantive so I said “When are we going to get to see Reinhart?” who was currently on the roster, but had been healthy scratched for the first two games. He smiled and said “You’ll have to ask the coach”. I didn’t find that response encouraging then and it honestly haunts me to this day as I have never had any faith in Jack Capuano to correctly develop the talent that this team is supposedly stockpiling.
In true Islander fashion we ended up blowing the 2-0 lead in the home opener to lose in the shoot-out and Reinhart was sent back to his WHL Oil Kings for another year in Juniors.
9 games into the regular season we were 3-3-3 in NHL parlance, but to realists we were 3-6. All six losses were decided by one goal. It was not looking like a good start. Next we had a come from behind victory in Pittsburgh followed by a return to earth in Philadelphia where we got trounced. Then something amazing happened – out of nowhere Garth Snow traded a conditional 1st in 2014, a 2nd in 2015, and hometown favorite Matt Moulson for Thomas Vanek. The trade was shocking in so many different ways for fans, pundits, and players alike. Moulson was our diamond in the rough who had become fast friends with the center of our universe and hope for the future John Tavares. How could we move him for a rental? The answer most people came up with was simple – Thomas Vanek was a stud winger who, while it hurt to say it, was a distinct improvement over Moulson. It wasn’t a question of whether or not he would flourish alongside JT, it was a question of would he stay and if he didn’t would his performance on a line with JT be enough to lure future UFAs to the Islanders with the promise of playing in the same situation. It was a big time move and the ramifications of that move are still being felt today and will be discussed later in the post.
The Isles finished October with a loss to their archenemy, The NY Rangers, but heading into November the organization had high hopes with our shiny new scoring line. Vanek started hot in November with 3 points in his first three games, but then cooled off as the entire team entered their regular November swoon, before going down for a few games in mid-November.
Despite the top line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Thomas Vanek hitting their stride and being one of the most prolific lines in the NHL, the Islanders managed to go 4-11 in November and 5-9 in December with 4 of those 20 losses bringing the OT bonus point. Most of this was due to an injury to Evgeni Nabakov that meant starting Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson, neither of whom were NHL ready, in front of a defense that was not NHL worthy (see Ness, Martinek, Carkner, and personally not a fan of Hickey, but I know he’s a fan favorite). During this same period Brock Nelson was bouncing around between wing, center, and unfortunately health scratch despite the fact that his peripherals were off the charts and all indicators pointed to him being better than a number of forwards Jack Capuano continued to start night in and night out (Regin, Bouchard, McDonald, Bailey, etc. pretty much anyone not named Tavares, Okposo, Vanek, or Nielsen).
After watching this continued slide Islanders management finally made some changes in mid-December after seeing the team win only 3 games from November 5 to December 17. Early December saw Calvin De Haan getting the call from Bridgeport, Brock Nelson settling into his role of being awesome wherever he played, and in the middle of December Ryan Strome was brought up to replace the floundering Pierre-Marc Bouchard (I remember being amazed that the team called up Strome, flew him out to Arizona, I think someone had actually tweeted a picture of all his gear that he had to throw together, only to scratch him for the Arizona. He didn’t actually get to play until the next game back home against Montreal 2 days later). These maneuvers coupled with Nabby’s return resulted in the Islanders rattling off a few wins to end December. They were still well out of contention for a playoff spot though.
The Islanders were able to carry this momentum into January. From January 2 to January 21 they only dropped 3 games. During this time the top line of JT, KO, and TV was scorching hot and its one of the reason that despite only playing part of a season together with no previous experience with one another they were still one of the most productive lines in the NHL (http://leftwinglock.com/line-production/index.php?gametype=ALL). However due to their horrendous start they were still 6 teams out of a playoff spot, but thankfully those 6 teams were only separated by 6 points. At the end of January there was a bit of a regression, possibly due to playing 16 games in January (basically every other day), but it was still worth being optimistic as our lines were starting to click and the Olympic break offered a chance to catch our breath and possibly make a real push for the playoffs.
At this point everyone who follows hockey knows what happened. Its hard to imagine something that could have affected the organization more than losing John Tavares. He is quite literally the heart and soul of the team and when news spread that he had been hurt everyone knew to borrow a phrase “It’s all over but the crying…”
Over the final two months of the season the team still managed to pull together a respectable record, but nothing close to what it would have taken to climb into a playoff spot. Going 10-11 without their captain slash top scorer slash messiah is certainly nothing to scoff at. Josh Bailey did his usual late season when it doesn’t matter anymore scoring streak and Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome appeared to take some steps toward where the organization would like them to be going into this season.
Additionally, Garth Snow was able to move Regin and Bouchard for a pick, Andrew MacDonald (who while valuable at 500K per season is definitely not worth what Philadelphia is giving him) for 2 picks, and Thomas Vanek, after much, hemming, hawing, and nashing of teeth and discussion of contracts, was traded for Sebastian Colberg. Was it a great return? Not really. Was it worth the risk? This question won’t be answered until this coming season is over.
All told the Islanders finished 26th out of 30 teams with 79 points, well below the expectations. This left the Islanders in a very precarious position as a result of the Thomas Vanek trade: Hold on to this year’s 5th pick in the draft and hope that you can sign meaningful free agents in the off season and/or that the pieces of the rebuild start coming together OR Ship the 5th pick in this year’s less than exciting draft to Buffalo and keep the pick next year in a draft with quite a bit more talent. This drama is still playing out today and mark my words – should the Islanders miss the playoffs next season there will be a new GM regardless of who the owner is because I’m convinced if moves aren’t made to avoid a lottery pick in 2015 that we’ll be shipping to Buffalo, Garth Snow’s head will end up on a pike outside the NVMC.
As I indicated the Islanders elected to keep this year’s pick. Much ado was made about moving the pick for a player that could help the team now as opposed to 4-5 years from now, but in the end the best player available was selected in the form of Michael Dal Colle a talented winger who will hopefully one day play alongside John Tavares. The other interesting part of this year’s draft involved trading both of their second round picks to the Tampa Bay Lightning in order to select Joshua Ho-Sang. Another high upside pick its been well documented that scouts were not a fan of Ho-Sang’s attitude and air of confidence, but could not argue that his hockey skills are top notch. He’s been a hit on the island so far being dubbed by some as “The Mayor of Uniondale” during rookie mini-camp, but only time will tell.
Lastly, the free agency period, regularly a time of great disappointment for Islander fans, was less so this year. With next year’s 1st and 2nd round picks going to Buffalo, there was a great deal of stress on Garth Snow to get something done to improve this team either by signing UFAs or making trades using the abundance of cap space the Islanders have from spending bottom dollar… I mean ‘rebuilding’ their team for the past several years.
Snow went 1 for 2 in trading for rights to UFAs before they became free agents making a great signing of a TRUE #1 goalie in Jaroslav Halak and missing out on Dan Boyle.
As usual day 1 of the free agency period was largely disappointing as Islander fans watched all the big names and big talents sign elsewhere for less money than was supposedly offered by Garth Snow (however after years of hearing this its hard for me to believe that every time this has been true). Then… on day 2… a ray of hope. Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin signed (probably for more than they’re worth, but still – actual free agents guys!) 4 years contracts for 5 million per and 4.2 million per respectively. All of a sudden there was something to talk about again. The circumstances of the signings were very interesting as the two had played together and had a great deal of chemistry on the Maple Leafs before they were separated and put into roles that didn’t particularly suit them. Supposedly the reason they signed with the Islanders is because promises were made ensuring that they would be linemates. Where this leaves them on the Islanders’ depth chart is anyone’s guess, but it certainly changes the outlook for the coming season. With 16 forwards and only 12 spots per night it will be interesting to see whether or not Snow continues to deal, hopefully for a Top 4 defenseman, but with a number of highly touted defenders in the AHL this season, no one is really sure what will happen.
Highlights from the 2013-2014 Season:
Why the New York Islanders Will Win the Stanley Cup this Year:
The Islanders will win the Stanley Cup in 2015 because:
- John Tavares
- Jaroslav Halak is going to put in a full year of #1 goaltender work behind a reinvigorated and youthful defensive corps that includes the likes of Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock who play so well that it is both impossible to keep them in Bridgeport, but also impossible for Jack Capuano to not play them because they aren’t veterans.
- Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin (aka The Super Best Friends) gel like no line since the cup years as a result of getting back together and being deployed in friendlier zone starts against lesser competition (after a lengthy explanation to Jack Capuano of what that means). Also, they find the Curly to their Larry and Moe in Josh Bailey who finally puts a complete season together from beginning to end.
- John Tavares
- Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen build on their 13-14 campaigns.
- Ryan Strome hits his stride and puts up 50+ points in his first full season with the club.
- Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Calvin de Haan build on their breakout 13-14 seasons and cement their roles as part of the rebuild in whatever roles Jack Capuano decides they fit into after healthy scratching them a couple times.
- Travis Hamonic and Lubomir Visnovsky have healthy years where they provide veteran leadership to the up and coming defensive prospects.
- John Tavares
Why the New York Islanders Won’t Win the Stanley Cup this Year:
e Islanders will not win the Stanley Cup in 2015 because:
- Jack Capuano
- The defensive prospects we’re counting on to hit and step up into the NHL to replace the barely NHL worth Hickey/Strait/Carkner and the inevitable Radek Martinek spot start don’t adjust to the pro-level competition as quickly as we’d hope.
- Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin (aka The Super Best Friends) are as fickle as you’d expect two guys who decide to sign on a team under the guarantee that they’ll play on a line together would be. They don’t actually like any of the forward options the Isles are willing to play on their line (Grabner, Bailey, Nelson, Strome, Lee) and refuse to suit up until Garth Snow trades for Clarke MacArthur.
- Jack Capuano
- Jaroslav Halak gets injured and Chad Johnson is not what his stats last year say he could be.
- Jack Capuano’s inability to deal with a November swoon, the unjustifiably bad healthy scratches, the preference for shaky veterans, and the complete and total lack of understanding how to use timeouts, Brock Nelson, or complex hockey statistics will absolutely 100% be the reason we have a typical Islander season and end up giving the Buffalo Sabres a lottery pick next year.