The New York Islanders could avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight season if these players take the next step.
There’s a lot being said about the New York Mets’ struggles. Some believe that they’re a result of injuries; others a consequence of one of the slowest lineups in recent memory.
Here’s a not-so-bold idea: the team’s woes could, among other things, be attributed to guys not stepping up when they need to.
Actually, this is the most plausible theory. Heading into the season, there was little to no doubt that the club had the talent to compete with the big boys of the National League (i.e. the Cubs, who incidentally are 5.5 games out of a wild card spot). It’s not like that talent went away. Sure, Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes have both battled wounds and bruises, but Sandy Alderson built a roster that has plenty of depth.
So it must be that much of that depth is underperforming. Which happens to be the case.
The team’s so-called strength — the starting rotation — is a perfect example of this. Remember Zack Wheeler’s promise? He hasn’t taken the next step. Remember Rafael Montero’s promise? He hasn’t taken the next step, either. Remember Robert Gsellman’s promise? You’ve guessed it — he hasn’t taken the next step, either.
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This trend isn’t exclusive to just the Mets. It’s common amongst teams who fail to make the playoffs, even when the talent is there. Which is why, even though they compete in a completely different sport, the New York Islanders could learn a thing or two from the Metropolitans:
At the end of the day, the general manager doesn’t determine success. The players do.
Sure, Garth Snow has the ability to craft a team that ranks in the upper-echelon in terms of talent. He could accumulate a bunch of quality goalies, or an all-world skater, or even an elite prospect. But at the end of the day, no matter what moves he makes, the players have to execute.
If they’re not executing, the team’s not going to be successful. Period.
Which happened at the start of the 2016-17 season, when the Isles were in the basement of the Eastern Conference. It wasn’t that the team didn’t have enough talent; it’s that said talent didn’t execute. This needs to change if the Isles wish to return to the playoffs. Here are the guys who need to consistently produce next season for that to happen:
Andrew Ladd, LW
Ladd’s first season in Brooklyn was as up-and-down as it could have possibly been. The Maple Ridge native was inked to a seven-year deal, but things didn’t click until the second-half of the season, and even then he likely wasn’t the player the Isles fully envisioned. Still, he did end up tallying 23 goals, with 19 of them coming at even-strength. As the team’s second highest paid forward, he has to produce out of the gate.
Jason Chimera, LW
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Chimera, 38, was similar to Ladd in the sense that he was underwhelming during the first portion of the season. And while he finished with 20 goals, there was nothing about his game that stood out — not even his speed or leadership. He’ll have to take the next step, or at least play fewer minutes.
Cal Clutterbuck, RW
The Isles’ fourth line took a step back last season, partly because of the loss of Matt Martin, and partly because of the loss of Clutterbuck’s hot hand. He was making nice money not only to contribute grit and physicality but also to score some well-timed goals like he did in 2015-16. He, alongside Nikolai Kulemin and Casey Cizikas, has to regain some mojo to anchor what was once called one of the greatest fourth lines ever.
Brock Nelson, C
Nelson has always been a little tricky to pin down, mostly because his production on the stat sheet doesn’t always match his production on the ice. The criticism of his play typically revolves around the idea that he isn’t well-rounded enough, despite being billed as a two-way player. He needs to take the next step — particularly by improving in the dirty areas — to bring his game to the next level.
For years, the mere mention of Hickey’s name would evoke massive debate on social media. Some of the fan base admired how physical he was despite his size; some of the fan base pointed to his size as the problem. Regardless of what camp you were in, the consensus is that last season was Hickey’s worst. For the Isles’ defense to make a 180° from 2016-17, they’ll need stronger play from their veteran blueliner.
Ryan Pulock, D
For whatever reason, Pulock spent the 2016-17 season in Bridgeport, despite his status as the team’s top defensive prospect and the glaring need for more reinforcements. It most likely had to do with his defense: while he is a premier goal-scoring threat and has the ability to anchor a power play, at the end of the day, keeping the puck out of your own net is just as crucial. He needs to work on the defensive aspect of his game to help the team.