Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 New York Islanders.
Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 New York Islanders
The Islanders had a disappointing season in 2016-17. Coming off the first playoff series win in 23 years in 2015-16, the Islanders were expected to win in the postseason. However, they dealt long time Islanders and fan favorites, Franz Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and the hard-hitting Matt Martin prior to the start of the season. While that freed up cap space, these three accounted for 134 points in 2015-16. As a result the impact was immediately felt in their uninspired play throughout the first half of the season. Due to that play Jack Capuano was eventually fired in January. The Islanders record stood at 17-17-8 under Capuano. In contrast Doug Weight took the reins as interim coach and the Islanders began a huge turnaround. Going 24-12-4 for the remaining games, missing the playoffs by the narrowest of margins, a single game.
The Islanders off-season left many people confused and anxious regarding the upcoming season. First of all, they have yet to sign their franchise player John Tavares to a contract extension. Since the team has no long-term home, they have two different arena plans in motion. Belmont Park is in development. Commissioner Gary Bettman has commented that a Nassau redevelopment is not an option, and Barclays Center wants them out. They made few moves this off-season. Most notable are the signings of Dennis Seidenberg on a one-year, $1.25 million deal and Calvin de Haan to a one-year deal at $3.3 million and Adam Pelech to a four year, $6.4 million.
In another move in an effort to create more chemistry on the Tavares line, the Islanders traded Ryan Strome to the Edmonton Oilers for Jordan Eberle. Eberle and Tavares played together on the Team Canada. The hope is that chemistry and scoring translates to the Islanders. The Islanders also traded Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for draft picks. The Islanders also hired Weight as head coach.
2017-18 Predicted Line Combinations
Most noteworthy in change is the trade of Ryan Strome to Edmonton. The trade brings the addition of Jordan Eberle. Eberle had a good season for the Oilers in 2016 and he and Tavares have on ice chemistry and proven success with Team Canada.
Ho-Sang electrified the Islanders offense and seemingly scored at will in the final months of the season. Because of this, if this play continues he will show up on the second line. Barzal will give the Islanders needed second line creativity. The top six forwards have the potential to score. The bottom six will be anchored by Josh Bailey. Bailey turned in a great season and creates chances and scores when he is on the ice. The fourth line is a concern as the Islanders need to have four scoring lines to be competitive in the top-heavy Metropolitan Division.
Seventh defenseman: Ryan Pulock
The Islanders focus on defensemen that can create plays and scoring from the blue line. The Islanders had five defensemen that scored 20 or more points in 2016; Leddy, de Haan, Boychuck, Seidenberg and Hickey. All are returning for 2017, and this bodes well for the Islanders blueline scoring.
The concern for the Islanders on defense has to include stopping the puck. They were 23rd in the NHL with a 2.90 GA/GP. That places them solidly in the lower third of the NHL. It also places too much pressure on the forwards and goalies to keep the Islanders competitive. The recent contract extension of Adam Pelech is a significant commitment and gives them much needed defensive muscle.
Because J.F. Berube was picked up by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, the Islanders are down to two goalies. Hence why the Islanders go into 2017 with Greiss as their number one and Halak as his back up. Greiss and Halak shared the netminding duties in 2016, barring the sending of Halak to the AHL. In order to be successful the Islanders goalies will have to put forth career numbers. Christopher Gibson and Kristers Gudlevskis stand in the wings in the case of injury. Keeping an eye on the future the Islanders also acquired Linus Soderstrom. Soderstrom will spend the year developing in Sweden.
Players to Watch
After a slightly sub-par year, relative to his standards, no new contract, and no long-term arena deal, the Islanders fortunes lie with Tavares. Tavares has made it clear that he wants to remain an Islander. Due to this, he stated that the Islanders can concentrate on the arena deal and that there is no pressure in contract negotiations. His play is consistent and he is the face of the Islanders. However, the Islanders need more production from Tavares. Due to the fact that he is a top ten NHL center, they need his stellar play to make the postseason.
Ho-Sang has 50 point potential and showed as much in Bridgeport. In addition, his stint in the league at the close of last season was exceptional. Because of this, he must play consistently to that potential. The Islanders need him to live up to that and develop into a pure goal scorer. Due to the creativity and poise on display in the 19 games that he played with the Islanders expectations are high. If last season is an indication, he will be fun to watch.
Player on the Rise
Leddy comes off a career best year. His 46 points provided the Islanders much needed offense from the back end in 2015-16. He scores when needed and his points totals have been on the rise since 2012. Because of this Leddy will likely quarterback the Islanders run-and-gun blueline offense. Look for him to break the 50-point barrier in 2017.
Player on the Decline
With the amount of youth and rising players the Islanders have, few are on the decline. Consequently it comes down to a player that has aged and lost productivity. Recently signed to a two-way contract, Gionta played in fewer games and scored fewer points than at any other time in his career. His 33 years makes him one of the oldest on the team. Look for him to spend the majority of his time in Bridgeport grooming the younger players.
2017-18 Season Prediction
The Islanders are a wild card team. They made few moves in the off-season and remain unsettled. Most noteworthy is the primary focus of signing John Tavares. Due to the arena deal, that job is complicated. However you cut it the Metropolitan is too tough a division to make the top three. Keep an eye on the Tavares contract negotiations. As they go, so will the Islanders. If all the pieces come together, Tavares is happy, Ho-Sang, Barzal and the youth corps provide the scoring they are capable of, the Islanders will be the wild card team.