The next two years for the Islanders are about retooling, not winning
After two straight 100-points seasons and three playoff appearances in four years, things are looking pretty bleak for the New York Islanders.
They currently sit in 28th in the league, two points ahead of Arizona in the cellar. They have 42 goals for, 22nd in the league, and 54 goals against, 23rd in the league. The team is getting no depth goal scoring. Only three players, John Tavares (.76), Brock Nelson (.70), and Dennis Seidenberg (.53) are averaging above .50 points per game.
The lack of scoring on the Islanders, a fun, fast paced team just two seasons ago, is astonishing. Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd, the two big offseason acquisitions for the Islanders, have combined for three goals total. Anders Lee and Nikolay Kulemin have one each, and Ryan Strome and Josh Bailey have two each.
A decade filled with promises and hope has gone off the rails in one short offseason. It’s not an impossibility that the Islanders can turn around their 5-8-4 record, but the lineup they currently have does not seem to have the tools to win.
So where does it go from here? Turning to the New York Rangers, oddly enough, and what they did over the summer is a good start.
Outside of Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers made some high quality moves this offseason after a disappointing five game playoff run. They flipped Derrick Brassard for electrifying Swedish center Mika Zibanejad, a move that has already paid dividends. They also signed some cheap, fast options for the middle six in Brandon Pirri and Michael Grabner, both of which have had success so far.
The core was certainly in place for the Rangers, but they were able to make the right moves to turn them into a contender again in just a few months.
The same has to be done by the Islanders in the upcoming two seasons. These years aren’t about winning. Fact of the matter is – the Stanley Cup is not finding it’s way to Brooklyn before John Tavares needs a new contract.
The Islanders will have a total of 19 players (on the roster as of November 19, 2016) in need of new contracts in the next two offseasons, with nine of those being RFAs. Those players are:
2017 UFAs: Cal Clutterbuck, Dennis Seidenberg, Thomas Greiss
2017 RFAs: J-F Berube, Calvin de Haan, Adam Pelech
2018 UFAs: John Tavares, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulemin, Josh Bailey, Jason Chimera, Thomas Hickey, Jaroslav Halak
2019 RFAs: Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Shane Prince, Alan Quine, Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield
It’s hard to predict who will stay and who will go, but assuming at least Grabovski, Kulemin, Seidenberg, Halak, and Chimera are off the books by 2018-2019, that’s almost $18 million in cap space. Take into account re-signings and the massive contract you hope you can sign John Tavares to and that number dwindles, but it’s still a heap of bad contracts coming off the books regardless.
The Islanders have a plethora of young prospects eager to make the leap as well. After a few years to fine tune their abilities in the minors, you have to assume Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, and Mathew Barzal will be ready to go, or at least traded for quality, NHL-ready pieces. The Isles also have Parker Wotherspoon on defense who looks like a gem, but it is uncertain when he’ll be able to crack the lineup.
If all goes well, the Islanders could have these 12 forwards on their roster come the start of the 2018-2019 season: John Tavares, Andrew Ladd, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, Anthony Beauvillier, Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey, Shane Prince.
There are still more variables though. It’s near impossible to predict a lineup two seasons into the future.
One is the expansion draft. Due to the Islanders likely protecting Leddy, Hamonic, Pulock, and Boychuk on defense, only four forwards can be protected. It’s entirely possible that one forward from the aforementioned list winds up on Las Vegas. Cal Clutterbuck or Josh Bailey could walk to free agency as well.
Ryan Strome was also omitted from the list. Whether he is taken by Vegas, or is traded (more likely), it is hard to see a future with Ryan Strome as a New York Islanders player. The team has a ton of young centers ready or almost ready, and Strome doesn’t play as well on the wing as he does at center.
Remember the Rangers comparison from before? This is where it could fall in. The draft glamour of Strome has certainly fallen off, but he is still a valuable trading asset. If Garth Snow can flip him for a better, perhaps younger player like the Rangers did with Derrick Brassard and Mika Zibanejad, it will be a win.
Another thing the Islanders have to figure out is goaltending. Jaroslav Halak almost certainly is not coming back when his contract is expired. I’d bet Greiss gets a new one this summer, but you never know. The Islanders have to hope and pray that Ilya Sorokin, a goalie who has torn it up in the KHL the past two years, wants to come over and play in North America next season or the year after that. If he doesn’t they’ll need to resort to Plan B in net, whatever that may be.
The end all and be all of it is this: the New York Islanders are not in a place to win these next two seasons. It’s now on Garth Snow to spend this time retooling the roster and getting the correct core of players surrounding John Tavares before he has the chance to talk to other teams in June of 2018.