The biggest twist and turn came in the crease, as Jaroslav Halak, coming off a huge performance in the World Cup, only weeks before the regular season was to get started, disappeared into irrelevance and the Islanders' hand was forced and they eventually sent him down to the minors, where he'd toil for the better part of the regular season, leaving Thomas Greiss and J-F Berube to pick up the slack.
Newcomer Andrew Ladd had a tough time adjusting to life on the island and forward Ryan Strome was also having his fair share of troubles, which meant that some of the Islanders depth, which they were going to count on, wasn't producing and that was certainly another aspect, keeping the team down.
However, a coaching change and an influx of young talent, like a Josh Ho-Sang, really put some pep into their step and they made a decent push towards a playoff spot, falling just short of the mark in the end.
The Islanders are a team that still carry some real playoff potential, but they have to get their ducks in a row over the summer and replacing some underachieving pieces with some more reputable pieces would be a great start, but a difficult task, understandably.
The Islanders were a fairly popular team, having 13 players taken at the October draft, including a 1st round pick in Halak, as Troy tried to capitalize on his World Cup success. The bulk of the picks, however, were late in the draft, as eight picks were in rounds 10 through 12. The poor start to the season saw a shift in focus for Islanders players, as four were ousted, while three replaced them in the first Waiver Draft, and one of those drops were picked up again at the second swap. The Islanders finished with 12 active players in the hockey pool, which was still a reasonable finish.
John Tavares returned as the top pool scorer on the team, but his overall numbers were down, thanks to that lack of depth to help him go. The 26-year old finished with 28 goals and 66 points in 77 games this season, which was good for 42nd overall in pool scoring, 25th among all forwards. That would make him into a later 2nd round pick, which was about 11 spots lower than where he was picked by Stuart at the draft this year. Of course, his late season injury didn't help his cause much, as his season ended about a week too early.
Including Tavares, the Islanders had seven pool-worthy forwards, as Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jason Chimera, Andrew Ladd and Ryan Strome rounded out the group. The last three were bottom-end scorers in the pool rankings, as they came on late in the year, but it was too little, too late. The Islanders' blueline certainly wasn't an issue, as they were able to post five players in the top 100 in pool scoring there, including Nick Leddy, Calvin de Haan, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Thomas Hickey. The goaltending duo to start the season, Greiss and Halak, were both pool worthy, even though Halak spent the middle part of the season in the AHL, his late season charge got him into the conversation.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
This off-season will be pretty important for the Islanders and how they approach it will leave a lasting impression on how they finish at the end of the 2017 season. The free agency situation will weigh the heaviest, as re-signing Okposo and/or Nielsen may be the most straight-forward solution, but that isn't a guarantee. If either of them flee through free agency, how the team replaces their production, if they can, will make all the difference. The Islanders still have enough in what is already signed to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs, but they need those players or something comparable to help them achieve some loftier heights. I can see this management team being busy at the draft, trying to acquire assets for players they feel they're going to lose, which means they'll be both entertaining in the off-season and the next regular season.
The Islanders couldn't re-sign either Kyle Okposo or Frans Nielsen and that ended up costing them big, as they couldn't quite replace their production. The Islanders were trying to be busy over the summer, like many teams, but there just wasn't much in the way of making those big moves and even though the Islanders attracted a guy like Andrew Ladd, he wasn't enough to get them into the playoffs, let alone over the hump into playoff success.
2018 Pool Outlook
|John Tavares||5.500||Johnny Boychuk||6.000||Jaroslav Halak||4.500|
|Andrew Ladd||5.500||Nick Leddy||5.500||Thomas Greiss||3.333|
|Anders Lee||3.750||Thomas Hickey||2.200|
|Josh Bailey||3.300||Dennis Seidenberg||1.250|
|Mikhail Grabovski||5.000||Travis Hamonic||3.857||Eamon McAdam||0.925|
|Nikolay Kulemin||4.188||Kyle Burroughs||0.925||Linus Soderstrom||0.803|
|Cal Clutterbuck||3.500||Devon Toews||0.925|
|Casey Cizikas||3.350||Ryan Pulock||0.863|
|Anthony Beauvillier||0.894||Jake Bischoff||0.834|
|Matthew Barzal||0.894||Parker Wotherspoon||0.736|
|Joshua Ho-Sang||0.863||Mitchell Vande Sompel||0.718|
|Michael Dal Colle||0.863||Scott Mayfield||0.625|
The Islanders had more than enough pool worthy pieces in play in the 2017 season, but not all of them were firing at the same time. You can go down the list of players below the pool worthy and you'll find a number of players that could possibly make the jump up, which should give them the ability to slide into the playoffs... in theory.
Potential Losses in the Expansion Draft
The Islanders are one of those teams that will be hard pressed to make a decision on their protected players. Tavares, Ladd and Boychuk all have no-moves in their contracts and Mikhail Grabovski is now on the injured exempt list, the Islanders have to work around these and if I was working with this list, I would be protecting the forward group, getting more bang for the protection buck. Unfortunately, that leaves some defense left exposed, like Thomas Hickey, Calvin de Haan or even the veteran Dennis Seidenberg. I am thinking the Isles are going to lose a defender, no matter which way you cut it.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
Only one player on the roster that finished the season, defenseman Calvin de Haan, is both pool worthy and headed for free agency, restricted free agency, that is. Defenseman Adam Pelech played in 44 games this season and is the next important free agent this year, also an RFA, suggesting that the Islanders are not in free agency trouble this year.
The Islanders already have 38 players under contract, by the count of the table above, meaning they'd have to pare away 15 players for the start of the regular season. Their current cap hit for those 38 players is $83.8 million, which is $10.8 million over last year's ceiling, but there's still movement to be done, but with this many players signed, the Islanders could be fairly quiet in this off-season.
Of the three players featured in last year's post, Josh Ho-Sang, the biggest concern of the three, got the longest look, at the tail end of the season. Matthew Barzal got a look just out of training camp, but eventually, was sent back to Seattle of the WHL and the expectation is that he will make a big push again, hopefully getting over the hump and bringing his offensive instincts to the show. The blueline is already looking fairly stocked at the NHL level, but there's a fine chance we'll see Ryan Pulock for more than a handful of games in 2018 as well.
Needs at the 2017 Entry Draft
At the 15th spot, as much as the Islanders could use a real talent up front, it could be in their best interest to find one of the better defensemen, this time around. From what I've seen, Erik Brannstrom from Sweden has a few more of the rave reviews from scouts, about poise, puck moving and skating, with an upside that could be a second pairing defenseman. His size remains to be an issue, but if he has the hockey smarts, there are certainly some current NHL'ers that are doing just fine and that are smaller than the 5'10", 170 lbs. Brannstrom, who is only 17, after all.
For a non-playoff team, the Islanders have a whole lot more to offer than some of the other teams already highlighted in this series of posts. They have more than their fair share of established players in the right positions and they can infuse that lineup with some really good youth that is coming up the system right now and then they polish it all off with some grit in the bottom six and last defensemen pairing and that should be a playoff-bound team. I'm not sure if it is a question of whether or not the Islanders are going to be good enough to make the playoffs exactly, it would be choosing which team in the Eastern Conference comes out to make room. I guess we'll find out more, as we move along in these outlook posts.