After a spirited comeback at the end of the 2012-13 season, the Islanders reminded their fans of what the playoffs felt like. They took Pittsburgh to six games and created some more memorable moments at the storied NVMC in front of a packed house of screaming fans. Conversely, your New York Islanders finished the 2013-14 season at 14th place in the Eastern Conference and last in the Metropolitan Division with 79 pts. Their record was 34-37-11, going 13-19-9 at home and 21-18-2 on the road. I picked em' to finish 3rd in the division & 4th in the east, think of how dumb I feel.
Once again, they stumbled often and blew several third period leads early in the season, stumbled in November and managed to put together a respectable run, mostly on the road to end the season. At times, this team has shown a remarkable amount of spirit and a dogged resilience to come back in any game, despite a multi-goal deficit. For example, they won games that they trailed by a 2-0 score 8 times this season. But, they have also looked fragile and unraveled at the slightest adjustment initiated by their opponents in a game. Mark Weiner quotes Kyle Okposo, "Obviously we had trouble with 2 goal leads this year and with winning at home, that's where all the trouble really came from.” To me, that is a coaching issue and the lack of a winning culture as an organization.
Capuano seems to work well with young players, but seems unable to effectively manage them and get them prepared to compete at a high level with consistency. After the Isles emptied their lockers and closed up shop for the summer on Monday, Team General Manager, Garth Snow told reporters that Jack Capuano will return as Islanders coach in 14-15. Under Capuano, the Isles did go 17-5-2 in their final 24 road games, but struggled at home, winning only 13 of 41 (just 8 in regulation). Some say, in doing this, Snow took responsibility for the teams’ shortcomings and endorsed Capuano as head coach. It indicates that Snow felt he failed to acquire what was needed to fill the holes in the team last summer to properly compete and that the team needs an upgrade this summer that needs to come from outside the organization. If that is the case, Capuano probably has until American Thanksgiving to turn things around next season.
Per NYIFansForChange, “Jack Capuano is the 7th longest tenured NHL coach. He's bottom 5 in win % and his team has finished bottom 5 three out of his 4 years here.”
In 13-14, the Islanders showed the ability to score goals and play a physical brand of hockey, but were weak on defense, goals against and special teams for most of the season. They felt the sting of the long term bug with the injuries of Lubomir Visnovsky, Evgeni Nabokov and John Tavares who was hurt in Olympic competition. Because of this, Tavares would miss the remainder of the season. To update the situation with J.T., Dan Savarino said, “Tavares saw the doctor this morning. He's been cleared to start skating most likely next week. "I know my limitations," Tavares said in regards to rehab and training. Later in the season, the team would lose several more players to injury and had to fill gaps with call ups from the BST. Kyle Okposo would be taken out of the line up for what was being called a lower body injury. Brian Strait suffered a broken hand. Calvin de Haan is still in a walking boot after leaving the line up with a leg injury. Recently, he says his ankle is fine and there are no worries for offseason training. Cal Clutterbuck succumbed to an upper body injury which he said bothered him nearly all season that began to render him ineffective a couple weeks ago. Johan Sundstrom was hit into the boards from behind on April 10th and says his neck is sore, but otherwise he's fine.
The Isles lacked the depth to endure those injuries and fell short once again to make the Stanley Cups Playoffs. They felt they missed opportunity to sign a big time goalie (lost out on Schneider at the draft to Devils), top D-man and complementary line mate for John Tavares during last summer’s free agency period. To make the situation worse, Snow’s “big” free agent acquisitions from last summer, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin were traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NHL draft on February 6th. Instead, Snow traded fan favorite, Matt Moulson, a first round pick, a second round pick for Thomas Vanek. Though the chemistry with Vanek looked bleak at the start, the line of J.T., K.O. and Vanek was one of the NHL’s best around mid-season, but the Isles had already gone 5-15-4 during their transition and the damage was already done as it pertained to the standings. To make things worse, Thomas Vanek opted to not resign with New York to test free agency and home grown defensemen, Andrew MacDonald also turned down a contract extension by the team. As a result, both were moved prior to the trade deadline. While Vanek yielded less than most fans wanted, the deal for MacDonald was satisfactory to most. There are rumors that Garth Snow will be more aggressive this summer on the trade front and at the open of free agency.
Kyle Okposo emerged as the player the Isles felt he was when they drafted him. In 71gp, Okposo scored 27 & 42 for 69pts, a career best in a season. Before injury, Captain John Tavares scored 24 & 42 for 66 pts and in only 59 games and was on pace for career best numbers. Frans Nielsen continues to be an all-around asset with a strong defensive game and added a career best 25 & 33 for 58pts in 80 games and ranks 2nd (T.J. Oshie) in the NHL for scoring in the shoot-out. Michael Grabner improved, especially after the Olympics going 12 & 14 for 26pts in 64gp. His threat on the PK is ever evolving and has complete game has gotten better this season. Grabner missed the end of the season due to a broken nose as a result of a Mike Greene elbow, not a concussion as first expected. Grabner was also quoted as saying, "I want to get faster.” Nice.
Cal Clutterbuck delivered some offensive flair, especially short handed and added toughness to the Isles game this season. Colin McDonald & Casey Cizikas played with passion this season and were components of several Isles comebacks. McDonald was upset about how the team finished in his final interview and it was evident he meant it. Cizikas wasn’t happy with his performance this season and told Arthur Staple that he wants to get "bigger, faster, stronger" in the off-season. Matt Martin led by example and finished the season with 359 hits to lead the NHL for the third consecutive season. Eric Boulton played only 23 games for the Islanders, but the enforcer has been known to score the occasional goal and fight any and all takers. Although Josh Bailey finished the season strong with 8 & 30 for 38pts in 77gp, his inconsistency and struggles to find his game are still there. There is hope that with another strong finish, he has turned the corner, but I am not so sure he is a reliable part of the new Islanders team.
Thomas Hickey has really elevated his game and was +5 on a team that was weak on defense. Hickey was big in all the situations asked of him this season and scored an impressive 22pts. Per Mark Weiner, “Hickey "I enjoyed the opportunity to play so much this year, it was fun and I was happy to take advantage of all the playing time.” Travis Hamonic’s leadership was huge for the Isles this season. Hamonic: "Standing here now, it's a real piss-off to think about this season. That's about the most polite way I can put it." Hamonic continued, "I believe in the group we have. It's not like we got blown out, we were in games, beating good teams and we didn't get points." In 69gp, he had 18pts and was a +2.
Lubo Visnovsky is a strong leader as well and a top PP QB when he is healthy, but I am not sure how much the Isles can rely on Lubo, due to his concussion history. Per Arthur Staple, “Lubo Visnovsky, on whether he'll be 100% next season: "It's a tough question for me. Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I don't feel well ... It's a long summer, 4-5 months and I hope I will be OK. I want to be my best next season -- you never know, it may be my last." Visnovsky says he's not thinking about retirement. "That's not for me yet. Think positive." Brian Strait played in 47 games and finished with 9 pts and a -14. With the depth I hope is coming on defense for this team, I think his role will be reduced. Matt Carkner is a character guy who is very good at playing a physical game and intimidating the opposition. While he does have it in him to change the pace of a game, However, his limited ability to play defense will probably not get him resigned after next season. Radek Martinek played 13 games in a substitute role for the Isles this season, played fairly well and helped with 4pts at a +4. An Islander to the core, but I don’t think his services will be needed next season.
All 3 Isles goalies played pretty well when their team actually played defense in front of them. But more than any other position, an elite goaltender is needed as a starter for this up-coming season. Nabokov and Poulin started the season as a tandem until March 1st when Nilsson was called up to finish the year with Nabokov. Per Eric Hornick, It's the first time since 2001-02 (Chris Osgood and Garth Snow) that the Isles have two goaltenders with records above NHL-.500 (each with at least ten decisions) with Nabokov & Nilsson. Evgeni Nabokov was pretty good when he was healthy this season, but at age 38 isn’t a viable starter anymore for this team. Nabokov is calm and poised and always gives his team a chance to win. He went 15-14-8 with a 2.59 gaa and a .905Sv% in 40gp. Kevin Poulin was 11-16-1 with a .891Sv% while Anders Nilsson went 8-7-2 with a .896Sv%. Both of these guys played hard but were not ready to act as an NHL regular this season. I think they both have skill and talent and while I see Nilsson (who is 4-0 in shoot outs) as the better goalie, neither one should be an NHL backup next season. As RFA’s, there no guarantee both will be back with the organization next year.
The real story of the season and the biggest positive that can be taken by both management and fans was the play of the rookies inserted into to line up throughout the season. Usually a bad thing, rookie call ups are last resort stop gaps that arise from injury or poor play. For the Isles, these guys got an early opportunity to get noticed and earn a place on this team for the future. Some of them made quite an impression.
Brock Nelson really impressed everyone in a big way this season. In 72 gp, he was 14 & 12 for 26pts and his hockey acumen improved with each game. Kyle Okposo compared Brock Nelson to Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins "I think he was our most consistent player." Ryan Strome has been everything he was advertised to be and more. In 37gp, Strome was 7 & 11 for 18pts with a -1. He is another example of a talented youngster who learns all he can from the likes of John Tavares and Kyle Okposo because he wants to be better. Since his call up, the Isles are 21-11-5 with Strome in the lineup. Anders Lee made an immediate impact with the Islanders once he was called up. In 22gp, Lee went 9 & 5 for 14pts and immediately became a physical presence that helped to open up the Isles attack. Lee’s talent is paired with great hockey sense and he has improved his defensive game a lot this season. John Persson scored a goal and did well in the 10 gp with the Isles, especially as a complement to the Nelsson & Strome line. Johan Sundstrom was playing well before his injury and was even after 11 NHL games with 1 assist. Mike Halmo, Brent Gallant and even Justin Johnson made an impression by looking like they belonged in their role with the team. Halmo did well in 20gp with a goal and was a strong 4th line player. Gallant and Johnson used their fists to take down a few big time NHL enforcers in their first 6 NHL games.
On the defensive side of things, Calvin de Haan made a huge impact on the Isles blue line. de Haan got more responsibility when MacDonald was traded and responded by going 3 & 13 for 16 pts in 51gp tempered by a veteran’s demeanor. Matt Donovan had some big games, especially when paired with de Haan. Donovan showed a good offensive awareness (2 & 14 for 16pts) but was prone to the occasional mistake. Aaron Ness had 20gp and had 3 pts, but got beat often and struggled to get back in the play with a -13. Kevin Czuczman was awesome in his 13 game tryout. For an undrafted player, Czuczman showed a composed maturity in his game and looked like an NHL defensemen. Scott Mayfield looked good in his 5 game stint at the end of the season and should continue to improve.
There were also moments throughout the season where fans were brutal to some of these rookies or less experienced players for the Islanders. When a less experienced player is thrust into a starting role, top pair or top line situation, all the pressure that goes with that situation falls on the shoulders of these young men. Not every draft pick is Sidney Crosby or Martin Brodeur and will excel from the start. These guys will take time to develop and need realistic expectations placed upon them. They do not need to be bashed because they are asked to play the top minutes of a starter with only modest minor league experience. They will probably struggle from time to time. Most of these guys are quality athletes and Garth Snow, for all that some of us feel he has done wrong, has drafted well and that was proven, especially in the end of the season. Those games were not “meaningless,” especially to those teams trying to make the playoffs or jockey for position. Try and be an objective & educated fan. Especially when watching prospects play and try to be realistic with what you expect, and truly appreciate them when they do excel. I know I do. All these rookies will get a much more serious look in training camp along with Griffin Reinhart and Kevin Pulock. Each has let their opportunity do the talking for them, especially in the games with 10 or 11 rookies on the roster.
Snow told Arthur Staple, "We certainly need to add in some areas, either through trade or free agency," Snow said. "I don't think we're at the point yet [where I'm looking to trade core players]. We're always looking for ways to improve, but we're sticking with the core guys. We're built around one of the top centers in the game." We all know a top starting goaltender is a must have for a team with such a young defense. And a top pair defenseman is a priority, especially with Lubo so prone to injury. A scoring winger to join Tavares would be nice as well, but there is more probability of a “reclamation” signing here, or an opportunity for guys like Anders Lee from inside the organization.
"Cap knows a lot of us really well. We've had success with Cap," Tavares said. "Same with Dougie [Weight] and Tommer [assistant coach Brent Thompson]. All those guys bring something different to the table and we had success with it last year. For whatever reason, we'll have to figure out why it didn't work this year, and we as players will have to make some changes. They'll want to make some changes as well, I'm sure."
My fear is that you need to give quality to get it. Players like a Frans Nielsen or Michael Grabner may be the asking prices in a trade for the pieces the Isles need. While I’d hate to lose an improving Grabner, losing a Frans Nielsen might be devastating. He is a heart and soul Islander who sets up, plays defense, scores and is the team's shootout ace, as if you didn’t know.
No matter what the team does in the draft, over the summer and in free agency, legions of Islanders fans will be watching and waiting to pump fists and cheer for the crest and the guys that wear it.
Kevin Czuczman, "What an honor it was to wear this jersey. Thanks to everyone!"
Per Michael Grabner, “Thanks to all the New York Islanders fans that came out and supported us all year. We will get ready and come back.”
Per Kyle Okposo, “The end of another season has come. Not the results we wanted but I want to thank the fans for their support throughout the whole season... I'm excited for the last season in the Coli and can't wait for the fans to blow the roof off each home game! See you in October!”
B.D. Gallof, “Persistent rumor in NHL offices: Barroway wants out clause from Barclays as part of deal for Isles.”
“Also completely up to Barclays if there is truth to this bc no such clause exists in the current deal.”
Tony Stabile, "In Sunday's @nypost @NYP_Brooksie stated that potential owner Andrew Barroway spoke with Brendan Shanahan about Isles job "over the winter."