Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Pool Outlook for Long Island

The New York Islanders should be better by now.  Full stop.  It could very well be that the pressure to be better has led them to the looming question about whether or not John Tavares will stay, as he nears the door towards free agency.  That question was bandied about all season long and it likely weighed pretty heavy on the team, its players, coaching staff and management alike.

This organization has been playing with a lot of potential on the shelf for the better part of the last few years, but they haven't been able to realize any of that potential as a whole quite yet.  The team has drafted fairly well, it has added a number of pieces through the trade markets and seems to have a stable core group of players, if only on paper, so what is it that is missing from this team?  You know, other than consistency on a night after night basis.

The Islanders finished the year in 22nd place in the entire league, 17 points out of a playoff spot, their franchise player hasn't re-signed yet and besides one or two pieces, hope is really coming at a premium for this team.  This team has been idling for way too long and is in dire need of a shake-up, but what can actually happen?  They could trade the negotiation rights to Tavares at the draft and hopefully get some assets that way, sure.  They could take that extra cap space and make a move for another big fish in the free agent pond, definitely.  They could also re-sign Tavares and hope that all the moves that follow do all the kickstarting that this franchise needs.  Two 1st round picks will certainly help them there.

One of those key pieces moving forward is Mathew Barzal, who made the leap into the big leagues and absolutely set the scoresheets on fire with his 2018 season.  The rookie played in all 82 games, scored 22 goals and 85 points, ranking 19th overall in pool scoring, 14th among all forwards, putting him into the 1st round in a draft redo.  That's not too bad, especially considering everyone overlooked him and our eventual hockey pool champion took him in the last round of the draft as a gamble.  Talk about a gamble that paid off.  It almost seems weird not to have Tavares here in this spot, but maybe life without him won't be so bad, if Barzal can be the guy.

Tavares wasn't too far behind though, only 1 point back of Barzal, to help lead the rest of the forwards in scoring.  In total, the Islanders had seven pool worthy forwards, also including Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson.  Bailey had a great season as well and three top end forwards still couldn't float this team to the playoffs.  Nick Leddy, Ryan Pulock and Thomas Hickey were all good enough to be pool worthy on the blueline, while both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss were worthy from the crease, Halak just sneaking into the top 31 in 30th place.  There was a lot of points to be had from the Islanders, but it obviously wasn't consistent enough.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

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.

As you can tell, I am not nearly as hopeful as I was last season, so far in this post.  There were some teams that were making room in the Eastern Conference, like the Rangers or the Senators, but the Islanders were not ready to take one of those spots.  On paper, I would think that this team is good enough to be in the playoffs, but as the old adage goes, the game is played on the ice.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

The first season for Jordan Eberle on the island was okay, it certainly wasn't the season that the fan base was hoping for.  I'm sure the Islanders faithful was hoping for a Tavares-Eberle tandem that was going to set the league on fire, convince the captain to stick around and push through into the next level.  No, it didn't quite work out that way, but the season wasn't a complete bust.  59 points in 81 games didn't look too bad on Eberle, but those numbers didn't match up to the amount of intrigue we all had about his arrival in Brooklyn.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Jordan Eberle 6.000 Johnny Boychuk 6.000 Thomas Greiss 3.333
Andrew Ladd 5.500 Nick Leddy 5.500 Eamon McAdam 0.925
Josh Bailey 5.000 Adam Pelech 1.600
Anders Lee 3.750 Scott Mayfield 1.450
Cal Clutterbuck 3.500 Devon Toews 0.925
Casey Cizikas 3.350 Sebastian Aho (D) 0.770
Keiffer Bellows 0.925 Yannick Rathgeb 0.925
Anthony Beauvillier 0.894
Joshua Ho-Sang 0.863
Michael Dal Colle 0.863
Mathew Barzal 0.863
Otto Koivula 0.787
Steve Bernier 0.650
Tanner Fritz 0.650

The one thing that immediately pops to mind is that there are a number of big dollar players on the roster above that are not highlighted as pool worthy players and that has to be concerning.  This team will be in a retooling mode in this summer season, as you can see at the bottom of each pool position list, there are some unknown names, just there to fill the gaps.  A good number of those pool worthy free agents might shift, since they're free, but who is going to want to come into the fold?

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The full 23-man roster above isn't coming in within the salary cap limits, still with $376,000 or so to make to the cap floor for the 2018 season.  With the cap number expected to go up, that number will only get bigger and the Islanders may be a team that buys high on a number of players, but in doing so, doesn't really aid the team chemistry.

Tavares, Halak and Hickey are among the pool worthy players who are eligible for unrestricted free agency and it's anyone's guess as to whether or not they come back to the island or not.  Ryan Pulock and Brock Nelson are both heading to restricted free agency, Nelson having arbitration rights, so that will help the Islanders' cap concerns, surely.

They have all this money to spend, but it's a lean year for free agency, beyond the player that they could possibly lose.

I think I've featured some pretty sketchy talent in this section of these Pool Outlooks for the Islanders in years past, but Kiefer Bellows does finally look like he's the real deal.  He had a great World Junior tourney, as he showed off an NHL-ready release.  His arrival in the NHL may be expedited, if the team has a lot of holes to fill in their roster, come training camp and that may suit Bellows just fine.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
This is very fortuitous, as the Islanders hold both their own pick at 11 and also the Flames pick at number 12, so we'll have a couple picks here on this post, instead of just one.  Fun!  With the 11th pick, I can see the Islanders adding at least one forward, going to the USA Under-18 Development Team to pick up Joel Farabee, who has been described as a good two-way forward.  He put up some good numbers during the season and at the Under-18 World Championships as well and he has impressed many.  The Islanders would be amiss, if they didn't stock up on a top end defenseman as well and Farabee's teammate at the USDP, Bode Wilde, would fit the bill quite well.  Wilde is said to be a good all-around defenseman, who thinks the game very well.  Both Farabee and Wilde are set for NCAA spells, so these would be some long-term investments.

If some of these Islanders prospects could really hit their stride, this team would be in a lot better shape than it has been, but I guess you can say that about any team... it just rings aching true on the island.  It is going to be a difficult summer, if the Islanders cannot re-sign Tavares to a new long-term deal, as this team doesn't have much depth beyond Barzal and Bailey to hang their hats on and be a competitive team.  I would imagine, if things are looking dire in the Tavares negotiations around the entry draft, I'm expecting the Islanders to make a big splash, which could make things a whole lot of fun.  If the Islanders can't make a splash, can't re-sign Tavares... 2019 is going to be a long year.

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