The New York Islanders enjoyed a very successful 2015-16 campaign.
Seven months after winning their first playoff series since 1993, the Islanders couldn’t be further away from repeating last year’s feat. They’re fifteenth (out of 16) in the Eastern Conference and nine points out of the final wildcard spot. Nine points isn’t insurmountable, however, the Islanders are in the best division in hockey and would need a miracle to catch any of their playoff-bound division peers.
Matthew Coller of Hockey Prospectus took a look at what happened to one of the feel-good stories of last year’s playoffs (ESPN Insider link). He links their downfall to three items: allowing Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen to walk in free agency, signing Andrew Ladd to replace Okposo, and the poor goaltending of Jaroslav Halak.
The team’s leader and superstar John Tavares has struggled by his standards this season, with 27 points in 36 games. Coller suggests that could be because the loss of his longtime winger in Okposo. Anders Lee and Josh Bailey have been Tavares’ most common linemates this season, and while they’re both undoubtedly quality NHLers, neither are at the level of Okposo. Ladd has not been good as a replacement for Okposo’s offence (at similar salaries), and GM Garth Snow was unable to replace Nielsen, who was one of the most valuable players in their lineup.
That leads to Coller’s most important point about the Islanders future: getting an answer from Tavares. He’s set to be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in the summer of 2018, and is the key to the entire franchise. Should he be willing to sign long-term, then Snow “can start moving assets to acquire win-now players around Tavares.”
However, should Tavares express concern over the direction of the team and want to test free agency as a franchise center in his prime, then Coller believes the Islanders should trade him sooner rather than later. It’s hard to imagine the kind of haul that Snow could acquire for a player of Tavares calibre. A rebuild would be greatly boosted by the assets acquired for Tavares, which could include several big-time prospects who are close to contributing at the NHL level and high draft picks. Consider Tavares’ trade at the OHL level as a possible template, where the Oshawa received three players and six draft picks for the star forward.
Ultimately, the future of the Islanders comes down to whether or not Tavares wants to stay long-term and right the ship. If he stays, then the club will try to make moves to become a Stanley Cup contender; if he wants to move on, then it will be a full-on rebuild for the Islanders.
- On Monday night, Vancouver Canucks left winger Daniel Sedin got his 600th career assist on a goal by Sven Baertschi. Sedin currently sits in sixth for assists among active players; the top five are Jaromir Jagr, Joe Thornton, Henrik Sedin, Jarome Iginla, and Sidney Crosby. Marian Hossa is three assists behind Daniel. Sedin’s 600 assists are good for 83rd all-time. He’s one point behind Hockey Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson and two behind Kirk Muller. Crosby is 77th all time, 16 points ahead of D. Sedin.
- With the injuries piling up in Tampa Bay, three players have made their NHL debuts so far this season. Now, a fourth as Adam Erne will be suiting up for his first NHL game. Erne was the 33rd overall pick in 2013 and has 18 points in 31 games at the AHL level this year. Brian Boyle is out with a lower-body injury, and head coach Jon Cooper wasn’t optimistic about a possible return this week, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times. However, injury-plagued Ryan Callahan is listed as probable for Tuesday night’s game against the Jets. Callahan told Smith that he’s ready to play his game after being out since November with a lower-body injury.