There are a lot of questions surrounding the Islanders, and they appear to be just average team. But in the Metro division, that's probably enough to get into the playoffs.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 3rd in Metro
Stanley Cup odds: 23-1
Key additions: Andrew Ladd, LW; P-A Parenteau, RW; Jason Chimera, LW; Dennis Seidenberg, D
Key departures: Kyle Okposo, RW; Frans Nielsen, C; Matt Martin, LW; Marek Zidlicky, D; Brian Strait, D
-Who is the starting goalie? Contract numbers say it’s Jaroslav Halak. End-of-year results say Thomas Greiss. But Halak has more than dollars on his side. Before he was lost to a groin injury, he had won five of his past six starts. And Tampa Bay made Greiss look as mortal in the playoffs as Florida made him look superhuman, so the backup’s run should be taken with a grain of salt. Halak's brilliant play for Team Europe at the World Cup probably puts him over the top.
-Can the Isles stay out of the rumor mill? Nope. Even with colorful owner Charles Wang selling the franchise to Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, there will be drama as always. The team’s arena fiasco is still a topic, especially with rumors about moving to Queens beside the New York Mets or back to Nassau County. And with Steven Stamkos back in Tampa, John Tavares becomes the new target for Toronto fans and media hoping a local boy will become a Maple Leaf via free agency (and that’s not until 2018). So expect Tavares to be confronted with the same aggravating question anytime he’s within spitting distance of Toronto.
-What direction is this team headed in? Down, but luckily the division is softening right now. The Islanders are still a playoff team but not a threat to make a long run right now. Replacing Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen with Andrew Ladd and P-A Parenteau makes the team older, not better, even if Jason Chimera is an upgrade over Matt Martin in the bottom six. And that goaltending situation is not ideal, unless Halak or Greiss really seizes the reins. The Islanders are stuck in the middle right now.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
Stuck in the middle is right, the Islanders are an average team right now and while they’re in a soft division, their odds of making the playoffs are pretty much 50/50. The Isles were a very promising team just two years ago. They had a meteoric rise toward the top of the Metropolitan backed by finally decent goaltending and shot rate numbers. With a burgeoning prospect pipeline and superstar John Tavares, they seemed like the next big thing.
Then last season happened and things didn’t look so rosy. Their possession numbers tanked and while they made it to the second round of the playoffs, they got pummelled by an actual contender who didn’t even have one of their best players healthy. Then they lost their second and third best players to free agency and replaced them with older and worse players. Nothing against Andrew Ladd and P.A. Parenteau, but they’re no Kyle Okposo or Frans Nielsen.
That two player swing cost them about 2.5 points in the standings and left them without a legitimate first line talent outside of Tavares. What it does leave is more ice-time for younger players like Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal to make an impact. This is going to be a big year for Strome who needs to show last season was just a blip in his development. The forward group was once a strength of this team, but it’s now the team’s achilles heel unless someone emerges as a secondary go-to player in the absence of Okposo and Nilesen.
The back-end is now their strength, mostly due to the depth they possess. The Isles possess six very good defensemen that can all move the puck. This model thinks Johnny Boychuk can bounce back from last year’s poor showing, but age is an issue. On the other side of the coin is No. 1 D-man Travis Hamonic who will need to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. The other wrinkle to this analysis is the team’s signing of Dennis Seidenberg. At this point in his career he’s a below replacement level D-man and substituting him into the top six would be an anchor on this team’s trajectory.
This team looked like they were heading up, but now it seems like the direction is more sideways or down. You’d expect the team to be a bit more competitive heading into Tavares’ eighth season with the team, but unless there’s a big jump from the youth, the Isles are just another average team.
Up next: New York Rangers
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