Lou Lamoriello’s plan for the 2018-19 NHL season rebuilt the New York Islanders management while making some divisive on-ice acquisitions.
Regardless of the overall outcome, the New York Islanders 2018-19 season is a historic milestone in franchise history.
From bidding farewell to John Tavares to making some seemingly hesitant free agency signings, the Islanders have had a tumultuous offseason, to say the least.
As they welcome the post-JT era, Mathew Barzal is left as the man in charge of the first-line alongside breakout candidate Anthony Beauvillier and next to Josh Bailey, who’s looking to show he’s way more than an accessory to Tavares after back-to-back career seasons on his side.
This season’s theme revolves around the word ‘culture’, and it’s something that’s been touted by new management since their arrival on Long Island.
Here are all the on-ice changes that have taken place so far for the Islanders:
Brandon Davidson, Calvin de Haan, Jaroslav Halak, Alan Quine, Shane Prince, Dennis Seidenberg, John Tavares, Chris Wagner
Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Martin, Robin Lehner, Luca Sbisa
The Islanders suffered a big hit in the wake of the departure of Tavares. There’s no other way to phrase it.
In spite of the departure of their long-time captain and franchise player, Mathew Barzal is ready to steer clear of a sophomore slump and help emerge as a leader in a painful beginning to an otherwise optimistic chapter in Islanders history.
Welcoming The Vets
Some of the Islanders first signings under Lamoriello have included Komarov, Filppula and Lehner. Tavares’ departure shifts the Islanders’ priorities with regards to their future rather than their immediate plans.
Lamoriello is keeping his word to everyone on the Islanders’ radar in that they will all have a chance to showcase their abilities, but the veterans go first. Komarov enters as a replacement to Nikolay Kulemin, playing a conservative two-way game in the bottom-six and will see a lot of penalty killing time.
Filppula provides the Islanders with some center depth on the fourth line and a second option on the penalty kill. Kuhnhackl, Ross Johnston and eventually Andrew Ladd will likely serve as the set of rotating scratches on offense.
One confusing but welcome move was to bring back Matt Martin from Toronto after the Islanders extended Johnston for the next four seasons and already signed Kuhnhackl.
The late addition of Luca Sbisa gives the Islanders some depth on defense, but hopefully only as an extra.
Critics of these transactions cite one important underlying factor all these newly-acquired players share: overwhelmingly poor advanced statistics.
All of these players’ are well below 50 percent in possession, and especially so with Filppula who quarterbacked the NHL’s 29th ranked penalty-kill in Philadelphia and often saw mismatches under head coach Dave Hackstol.
Regardless of that, a 15 or 20 game sample under the watchful eye of Lamoriello and Trotz should give them enough to make decisions going forward. Filppula and Komarov are the only two forwards who will definitely stay given their contracts making it harder to predict how much each skater will play.
Projected Veteran Stats
The New Look Top 6
Though it took an undeniable hit this offseason, the Islanders top-six still has plenty left to get the job done on a night-to-night basis with a reinforced bottom-six full of veterans.
After winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, tying an Islander record with 63 assists and a century-old league record with three different five-point games in his rookie season, Mathew Barzal is ready to lead the Islanders.
Though he’ll certainly get a lot more attention than last season, Barzal has proven since his breakout goal against the New York Rangers last season that he’s the real deal.
Entering the season as the Islanders’ top player, center and scorer, Barzal pairs up with one familiar linemate in Anthony Beauvillier and one new linemate in Josh Bailey.
There’s no reason to believe Barzal’s production should slow down drastically, even when facing tougher competition on a nightly basis. Barzal continues to prove his awareness, puck handling and instincts are at an elite level and will only get better under a regime that knows how to win — pencil him in for another 82-90 points.
Beauvillier is primed for a breakout season, scoring at a 30-goal, 60-point pace in his second call-up this past January. Alongside Barzal, it shouldn’t be hard for Beauvillier to earn his first 30-goal season with consistent playing time, or another 20 goals at the very least.
In back-to-back seasons with the Islanders, Bailey set career highs with 56 points in 2016-17 and 71 points this past season. Bailey signed a six-year extension with the Islanders last season and will be determined to show he did more than play second fiddle to Tavares last season.
His numbers going down is an inevitable side effect, but Bailey should cement himself as a consistent mid-50’s to 60-point scorer this season alongside arguably more raw talent this year.
Anders Lee earned his first 40-goal season in 2017-18 and is looking for a repeat this year. It seems he’ll likely start out the year with Nelson, and so long as Beauvillier continues his ascendancy it seems unlikely he’ll see much 5-on-5 ice time with Barzal. Alongside Nelson for 82 games, even one that’s in need of a new contract, likely won’t produce a repeat season but a 30-goal season should be in order for Lee.
Defensively, breakout rookie Ryan Pulock has ‘officially’ won the spot on defense that was fought over last season in the absence of Travis Hamonic. Pulock has refined his game over the last half of the 2017-18 season and continued to improve under the guide of Trotz.
With 10 goals and 32 points in 68 games last season, Pulock can easily add to those figures with more consistent playing time both at 5-on-5 and on the powerplay.
Though not on the current roster, expect to see Devon Toews on the squad before the end of the calendar year. Toews’ designation to Bridgeport is no disservice to the AHL’s best defenseman.
Toews hasn’t skated in a regular season game since Dec. 2017 and could use some consistent playing time to get fully primed this season. Toews should start his season by around December or January and should easily be good for at least 30 points in a top-four role.
The kids are going to be a big part of how the Isles perform next season, and this is what their numbers may look like.
Projected Rookie Stats
Turnarounds In Net
Robin Lehner was brought in early July to help the Isles address their porous goals-against figures. Lehner knows his one-year, $1.5 million contract could be his last in the NHL if he doesn’t make this one of his all-time best.
Lehner’s performance in 2017-18 (.908 SV%) was far from his ceiling. In each of the two seasons prior, he posted .920 and .924 save percentages respectively. The history is there to back his capabilities and the Islanders should be far, far better defensively next season with their new coaching in place.
Thomas Griess finds himself in similar waters, posting NHL-worst numbers in goaltending among goalies with at least 20 starts. Greiss established himself in 2015-16 posting a .925 save percentage and forcing the Islanders through the Florida Panthers in the first round of the playoffs.
Greiss’ workload increased in 2016-17 during the three-goalie conundrum and finished with a .913 SV% after 10 more starts than the year before. Most importantly, Greiss spent this past offseason with former goalie coach Adam Francilia, who trained both Devan Dubnyk and Connor Hellebyuck.
Helping the transition back to form are the new members of the Isles’ goaltending staff, Mitch Korn and Piero Greco. For those unaware, some of the goaltenders Korn has worked with include Dominik Hasek, Pekka Rinne, and Braden Holtby — Korn’s reputation speaks for itself.
Though the 2017-18 season was not good to either goalie, both have more incentive than ever to turn their careers around, and both should see vastly improved numbers.
The Islanders are now a more competitive team from a managerial standpoint than they’ve been at any point in the last decade, and arguably in their history.
The foundation is being laid for rookies who are beginning their ascendancy to the NHL, and Lamoriello made sure that plenty of Stanley Cup experience was in that locker room. With that said, managerial success doesn’t improve what is a mediocre on-ice product going into the season.
It’s more than obvious that not enough has been done yet, and given that Lamoriello has been fielding calls, he knows it. Whether it’s a dry trade market or if the asking prices are too high is unknown, but more is sure to come as the season get started.
Given the roster at hand, the Islanders should have enough to be able to make the playoff race interesting for an extended amount of time, but it’s hard to see this roster (as-is) in contention after the deadline.
There are going to be many moving parts as the season goes on, and expect to see trades, names going up and down between the Isles and Bridgeport, and a very renewed way of running things from a pedigree staff.
Metropolitan Division Projections
|Columbus Blue Jackets||46||32||4||96|
|New Jersey Devils||42||31||9||93|
|New York Islanders||40||35||7||87|
|New York Rangers||34||37||6||74|
The New York Islanders simply have what it takes to make the playoffs.
Already written off by almost every expert and analyst, the underdog role suits them well and will serve as a motivator. If the defense and goaltending tighten up – which it certainly has throughout the preseason – there’s no reason to think that this team can’t succeed when playing to their full potential.
Until they hit the ice for a regular-season game, it will be difficult to see who the real New York Islanders are, so, for now, I’m pegging them at sixth in the Metropolitan Division.
Simply put, there are better teams on paper that made the playoffs last year and have a good chance at doing so yet again.