New York Islanders should still be buying, not selling

Brian Costello
Dallas Stars v New York Islanders

It’s not over yet for the New York Islanders. Despite sitting 10 points in arrears of the final wildcard playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the Islanders have what it takes to make a second-half surge.

But they’ll need another goalie first. Evgeni Nabakov re-strained a groin in tonight’s 7-3 win over the visiting Dallas Stars and who knows how long the 38-year-old will be sidelined or hobbled. And I have no confidence in Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson to carry the load in Nabby’s absence.

The Islanders have been the great under-achievers of the East all season. Shortly after The Hockey News did a late-October cover story on John Tavares and the coming of age of the youthful Islanders, the team went into a two-month swoon. Goaltending has been the big issue. The Islanders stand 29th in the league in goals-against average, yet are a mediocre 20th in shots allowed. That suggests if the team were to receive just average goaltending, they’d be a lot higher in the standings. Maybe not in a playoff spot, but certainly within a point or two. And if the Islanders received better than average goaltending? They’d easily be within the top three in the Metropolitan Division.

Sure, the Islanders have some other issues like a lot of bubble teams. Their penalty killing is worst in the league and their victory tonight was just their seventh on home ice this season, second worst in the league ahead of just Detroit.

But New York does have a lot of positive attributes as well. It all starts with John Tavares. He hit the 20-goal mark with a hat trick tonight and is third in league scoring. Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen are having nice offensive seasons and young high draft picks such as Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson – each scoring impressive goals on Kari Lehtonen of the Stars tonight – are starting to play bigger roles. Thomas Vanek is working well with Tavares and is nearing a point-per-game average. If Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner can start chipping in, the Islanders will move up from their 17th spot rank in offense.

Sure, the Islanders have some other issues like a lot of bubble teams. Their penalty killing is worst in the league and their victory tonight was just their seventh on home ice this season, second worst in the league ahead of just Detroit.

But New York does have a lot of positive attributes as well. It all starts with John Tavares. He hit the 20-goal mark with a hat trick tonight and is third in league scoring. Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen are having nice offensive seasons and young high draft picks such as Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson – each scoring impressive goals on Kari Lehtonen of the Stars tonight – are starting to play bigger roles. Thomas Vanek is working well with Tavares and is nearing a point-per-game average. If Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner can start chipping in, the Islanders will move up from their 17th spot rank in offense.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN