4. New York Islanders
- 2014-15 Finish: 3rd Place
But settle down New York Islanders fans. Fourth does not mean the Islanders will not make the playoffs. It just means they have not improved the roster much since last season.
They certainly improved in goal last season with the acquisition of Jaroslav Halak. Halak is a solid NHL goaltender, probably in the second level just below the best in the game. Certainly good enough.
The whole world knows about John Tavares. Tavares, arguably the best center in the game, is in serious contention to win his first overall scoring title this season. After Tavares, however, the Islanders are left with a lot of uncertainty.
The hope if that the younger players will be improved. The Isles will count on forwards Ryan Strome and Anders Lee to improve enough to make up for the lack of off-season additions. Strome seems to be the real deal and handled his ice time well last season. Then there is Andres Lee, who is extremely difficult to figure out. Is he just another John Tavares creation (see P.A. Parenteau and Matt Moulson), or is he a solid forward? It is just too early to tell. He doesn’t seem to be fleet of foot and gets lost a bit against the better competition of the playoffs.
Also in the mix, but not under contract, is RFA Brock Nelson. Nelson emerged early least season as a dependable scorer until disappearing late in the season eventually finding himself a healthy scratch in the playoffs. As of now his future is up in the air, although Dan Saraceni of lighthousehockey.com indicates Nelson will be back in the fold, eventually.
Defense will also continue to be a question mark next season. Veteran John Boychuk will be back, a lot richer and another year older. Nick Leddy is also back and is a solid number two or three defenseman, and at 24 still has some upside. Most importantly, Travis Hamonic will be back and healthy. That is big for the Islanders. Hamonic’s injury may have been the biggest reason the Islanders did not advance in the post-season last year. He is an extremely underrated hockey player.
As for the other three defenseman, they serve as a group of interchangeable parts. Scott Mayfield played two solid playoff games for the Islanders. That’s right. Two. Two games where he was asked to do the little things and keep his game simple. Not nearly enough of a sample to know if he can be a regular as a top-6 defenseman at the NHL level. But do not tell that to Islander fans, as they already have him in the hall of fame.
Same with Ryan Pulock and his 1,000 mph slap shot. With good size and good offensive ability, he has a legitimate chance to make the Islanders. If he comes as advertised he’ll surely help their power play. But can he play defense? Just a season ago Griffin Reinhart was the next great Islander and was untouchable. Now he plays in Edmonton. So how can we trust any other blue liner in their system right now?
The Islanders enjoyed a great season a year ago, but still had holes needed to be filled. The fact that hockey people are talking more about Snow and his great draft and less about how the Islanders improved the roster is troubling. The one thing this team does have is the ability to make a deal. The team is loaded with cap space and loaded with young talent. The Isles, maybe more than any other team in the Met, can improve the current roster quickly.
Imagine the unlikely situation that the Tampa Bay Lightning are struggling and pending UFA Steven Stamkos becomes available. The Islanders are one of the few teams in the league that possess the assets and the cap space to acquire a guy like Stamkos. Chew on that for a moment Islanders fans. “Woooooo!”