(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
In 2014-15, the New York Islanders were one win away from advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in more than 20 years. But with a stable of young stars and solid depth, the Islanders stand to get back to the post-season in 2015-16 and could even take a serious run at the Stanley Cup.
2014-15 Record: 47-28-7 (101 Pts.)
THN’s Prediction: 2nd, Metropolitan Division
What To Expect: The 2014-15 Islanders were fittingly reminiscent of their ancestors in breaking 100 points for the first time since the franchise's glory years of the early 1980s. Led by
John Tavares and a blossoming cast of potent young forwards, the Islanders were suddenly too skilled to fail. Even with a middle-tier power play, they scored the fourth-most goals in the league. Understanding that his core players have yet to fully ripen, GM Garth Snow will ice essentially the same roster. Burgeoning
Ryan Strome and
Brock Nelson are poised to step forward behind captain Tavares, 25, who lost out on the scoring title on the final day of the season.
Last season's offensive surge was made possible by an upgraded blueline, led by additions
Johnny Boychuk and
Nick Leddy. They settled in as a top pair and were useful in all situations. With the back end bolstered and
Jaroslav Halak succeeding as the starting goalie, Snow's club rose up the ranks and will continue that climb. Production from the forwards was more than adequate. Expect growth from Strome, who had 50 points in his first full season. He's a top candidate to stick on Tavares' line. Special teams and overall defense are clear bugaboos for a team that didn't change its personnel much this off-season. New York's power play failed to score in seven playoff games against the Capitals. The Isles defended at the league's 23rd-best rate last season, and the penalty kill was 26th. Unless those numbers are reduced, the club can't realistically contend for a Cup. Natural maturation of young players should help. Halak started 59 games and wore down as he's done throughout his career. He's again the outright No. 1 and must adapt to a heavy workload. At least he has a solid backup in free agent signee
Thomas Greiss. The Isles move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, waving goodbye to the Nassau Coliseum, where they won four Stanley Cups. By returning with the same core players, it's clear Snow believes his club can hoist the Cup in the new digs soon.
Best-Case Scenario: After getting one win away from advancing to the Metropolitan Division final, the Islanders have all the pieces to take another step forward in 2015-16. Tavares has finished third in Hart Trophy voting twice in his career but this could be the year he finally locks down the trophy. A healthy Kyle Okposo on Tavares’ wing could make all the difference for the Islanders in their first season in Brookyln.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Metropolitan Division is going to be incredibly tough this season and if the Islanders hit a skid at the wrong time they could find themselves in an extremely difficult situation. Their goaltending might not be able to hold should the Islanders’ team defense fail to improve in 2015-16 and the worst-case scenario is narrowly missing the post-season.
Who To Watch: There isn’t going to be a battle for the top job in the Islanders’ crease this season, so it will fall on Halak to carry the load as the No. 1 netminder. It’s worth nothing, though, that the Islanders traded for Michal Neuvirth at the trade deadline in 2014-15 to solidify their goaltending situation. Thomas Greiss is more than serviceable as a backup, but the Islanders could be in big trouble should Halak go down. Even with Halak, goaltending could potentially become an issue. This past season, of the 29 goaltenders to play 2,000 minutes at 5-on-5, Halak ranked 17th with a .923 save percentage. At all strengths, there were 34 goaltenders to play 2,000 minutes and Halak ranked 23rd with a .915 SP. If those numbers dip further, the Islanders could be battling hard for their spot in the post-season.
What The Numbers Say (by Dom Luszczyszyn):
Click here for more detail on these predictions. The Islanders have quickly gone from league laughingstock to yearly contender and it all started with some savvy moves last summer from GM Garth Snow. Two top-pairing d-men, some solid depth forwards and a starting goalie were enough to jump-start the lowly Islanders back into playoff contention. Of course it wasn’t just the new faces that initiated the uprising. The emergence of their young forwards has lead to the Islanders having one of the deepest forward groups in the entire league. Tavares is obviously the top dog here, but the Isles have a number of forwards that do damage and considering their age, it’s possible they can be even better too. The East is built on elite forward groups, and on paper it looks like the Isles have the best of the bunch.
The defense is strong too as it’s a group of solid puck-movers, but it’s being considerably held back by Brian Strait who is one of the league’s least effective d-men. Simply replacing him with a replacement level player would push the Islanders to the top of the East in terms of true talent level. Goaltending was a concern for the Islanders last season, but the addition of Thomas Greiss should provide stability for the team with Halak likely returning to form as well. Halak has been very good on high-danger shots over the past few years, but the team put him in that position far too often last season. They’ll need to tighten up in that regard this year. The Islanders are an elite team with depth at every position which makes them strong candidates to make the playoffs and contend for the Cup. Get used to it too, because that’s going to be the case for a while. This team’s window is wide open.
THN is rolling out its 2015-16 Team Previews daily, in reverse alphabetical order, until the start of the season. Check out our ‘Previews’ section to see other team breakdowns.