We all know that our New York Islanders (41-29-0-12) finished 18th in the NHL and 10th in the east. They ultimately fell short (94 pts) of a playoff spot in the east by only 1 point after making it over the past two seasons and three of the last four. I asked Islanders statistician, Eric Hornick for his impression on the campaign, “This was a strange season. Many fans thought it was over by Thanksgiving but it wasn't. Too many points got away early on late goals and by mid-January Cappy was sent away. The Isles under Dougie had more points than any team in the NHL other than Washington, went 8-3-0 in their final 11 (including six straight wins) and still came up a point short. OH, what might have been?”
Looking back on the 2016-17 campaign, we saw an impressive surge at the end of the season that coincided with the departure of Jack Capuano on January 17th and the naming Doug Weight as interim Head Coach. The interim tag has now been removed and the 2017-18 squad will be his team. “You look back at seven or eight games in the beginning of the season, last two minutes, last three minutes where we lost some points, and it pains you," Weight said. “It's going to be healthier for us as a franchise and an organization to move forward as quick as we can and figure things out." When asked about the finish to the season, Weight said, "I'm very proud with how we finished. I'm disappointed that we didn't get any help when we needed it, but I'm disappointed that we needed it." John Tavares felt Weight brought a lot to the team, sparked the finish they had and motivated everyone to respond to the challenge it took to improve as much as they did. He said that Weight had the respect of the team and I would say, that’s the most important baseline you want in players to coach relationship.
I am again looking forward to some of the prospects and younger players merging with some of the talented vets and hopefully, a free agent upgrade heading into camp for next season, but the reality of the team’s future, although still promising is one of flux and frustrating uncertainty. First and foremost, the final season of John Tavares’ contract will be in effect and although things seem like they could work out, especially with the elevation of Weight as head coach, Tavares will probably want his patience to be rewarded with a little more than he had this season. Especially in the way of organizational and team stability. B.D. Gallof mentions, “Tavares recently moved from Manhasset to Garden City. Expectation really seems to be team/player (and agent) get it done this summer.” Tavares was quoted as saying, "I've always been treated really well here, I've stated that all the time. But we'll have conversations with management.” Per Brian Compton, “Tavares says he hopes to sign extension this summer. Hasn't thought about whether he'd negotiate during season if no deal.” Garth Snow stated that his aim is to re-sign Tavares by the end of June as well as a “plan for expansion draft and roster improvements." A lot of work needs to be done between now and July.” Per Shannon Hogan. John Tavares is 26 years old, last year of 6-year contract at $5.5M per.
It was widely reported that the organization is looking for an established, well respected team president to call more of the shots usually handled by GM and president, Garth Snow, to possibly help change the reputation of the team’s front office to its detractors. “Malkin and Ledecky have continued to talk to potential team president candidates over the past few weeks. Pat Brisson, John Tavares’ high-powered agent, remains a strong draw for the Isles owners despite Brisson’s denials of interest in such a job,” per Arthur Staple. The truth is that Snow has certainly made a few mistakes and questionable moves, but he has made some progress for the organization at the draft, managing the salary cap and in a few strong free agent signings. I appreciate the argument that some are sick of waiting, dealing with the nuances of his tenure and just want him gone, but I don’t see that happening, at least right now. Especially after Staple reported, “Snow has four playoff appearances in 11 seasons as GM. According to numerous sources around the league, he also has a contract with at least five more seasons on it, a parting gift of sorts from loyal former owner Charles Wang when he turned control of the team over to Malkin and Ledecky.”
The ever-resurfacing rumors of where will the Islanders be playing in the future have not gone away. Stories of the team re-upping their commitment to play in a complaint ladened and non-hockey friendly Barclays Center, a move to a new site around Citi-Field in Queens or even a possible relocation to a custom-built facility in Nassau’s Belmont Park is possible. The later has been supported by NHL insider, Bob McKenzie. “Just to clarify geography, Belmont Park, Elmont, NY. Also, should stress again nothing done officially but appears headed in that direction.” There is even an active movement by politicians and Barclays Brass to call the Islanders back to the refurbished, but much smaller and still not quite right Coliseum “home” in Nassau county. NHL Commissioner stated on WFAN that Islanders ownership is committed to keeping the team in New York, but doesn’t think a return to the Coliseum is the answer.
In this installment of my recap, I’ll be looking back on the O-Zone of the team, their contributions and milestones of the past season. I’ll also be mentioning a few details of their inappropriately named, power play. On the plus side, The Islanders finished 2016-17 with five players reaching the 20-goal mark. Lee, Tavares, Nelson, Ladd & Chimera all hit the mark.
Let’s start with John Tavares, Captain of the New York Islanders since the 2013-14 season. He was first on the team in points with 66 (28 & 38) in 77 games. Per Eric Hornick, “John Tavares has 235 career goals, tying him with Bobby Nystrom for eighth place on the club's all-time list.” JT’s season was cut short by a strange hamstring injury after stumbling and trying to make a play behind the Devils net on 3/31. If the Isles made the playoffs, Tavares had hoped to be back by game 3 or 4 of 1st round. Per Kevin Maher, “Did Barclays ice cause Tavares' hamstring injury? Tavares, "I don’t think you'll ever really know. But once I dug my heel in is when I felt the pop." His first goal now is to get healthy, decompress and then consider the possibility of a contract extension with New York. Tavares said resigning is a “more complicated process than people realize,” and re-affirmed how much he likes it with the Islanders and living in the community. Tavares showed even more flexibility defensively as a player this year with his strong presence on the PK towards the end of the season. He was disappointed they let playoff chances for season “slip away,” although he was proud of team’s effort, especially in the last 6 games of the season and joked that he should have gotten hurt earlier in the stretch run. On JT’s hamstring injury, "You see a guy’s heel dig in like that, it doesn’t happen other places," Clutterbuck said, referring to the conditions at Barclays Center.”
Line mates with JT for much of this year, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey had great seasons. Lee finished 1st on the team and 10th in the NHL in goals with 34 (career high). With his 18 assists, Lee posted a career high 52 points in 81 games and showed he is a bonafide NHL power forward and a nightmare to opposing goaltenders in front of the net. Per Hornick, “Anders Lee scored 33 goals in his last 63 games (since November 23rd). Only Auston Matthews (34) scored more in that span.” Josh Bailey was a set up machine, leading the Islanders with 43 assists (career high). When you add in his 13 goals in 82 games, Bailey finished the year with 56 points (career high). Bailey scored his 200th assist and recorded his 100th goal and 300th point earlier this season per Hornick. Not bad for a player who rarely gets a break from some fans.
Brock Nelson was 20 & 25 (career high) for 45 points (career high) in 81 games. Those are good numbers and Nelson had some strong games, but also seemed to struggle for much of the season to me, especially on the defensive side of things, evident by his -6 rating. Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd were the high-end profile signings for the Islanders in the off season, but started the year very slowly. They looked like horrible fits and made fans wonder if they would even come close to what was expected of them. As the season went on and as the coaching change happened, both Chimera and Ladd caught fire. They made a difference in several big games, with Jason Chimera netting 20 (career high) & 13 for 33 in 82 games and Andrew Ladd tallying 23 (at least 23 goals for 4th straight Ssn) & 8 for 31 in 78 games.
Ryan Strome showed some flashes of his A game, but finished with 13 & 17 for 30 points. Numbers that were lower than are expected from him. That coupled with the fact that he found himself on the negative side of the comments section of Newsday a few times with quotes like this. “He had a chance to shoot there and he didn’t. That’s human error; you can live with that," Weight said. "I was more upset with the track [defensively]. It’s a play you’ve got to make, get to the middle, protect that good ice. Stromie knows. He sat a couple shifts and went out for the power play, and we should’ve had one there.” Under Weight, Strome had 7 goals and 16 points in 30 games until a wrist injury that took him out of the mix for the end of the season.
Anthony Beauvillier on the other hand seemed bound for Bridgeport, but made the team out of camp. Then he made quite an impression to everyone else. John Tavares credited him with significant growth as a player and person this season. Beauvillier was 9 & 15 for 24 points and looked good on some important shifts for New York. And while we are at it, let’s talk about the exciting prospect named Josh Ho-Sang. Once a former disciplinary question mark, Ho-Sang was called up on March 2nd and never looked back. The 21 year old was 4 & 6 for 10 points in 21 games and made entering the offensive zone look effortless at times. His vision on the ice and play-making chops should make fans optimistic that he indeed was a risk worth taking. “Ho-Sang tallied 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 48 games with Bridgeport. Overall, Ho-Sang ranked second among AHL rookies in assists and tied for sixth in points at the time of his recall in late February. The 6’0, 172-pound winger notched 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his last six games in the AHL.” Ho-Sang said on the call-up, "It was a lot of fun to be a part of this. There are parts I need to work on, I'm going to focus on getting stronger & winning."
Casey Cizikas (8 & 17 for 25 pts in 59 games), Cal Clutterbuck (5 & 15 for 20 pts in 66 games) and Nikolay Kulemin (12 & 11 for 23 pts in 72 games) anchored the revamped 4th line. The Isles missed Martin more than I thought they would, but the line did its job without him. Cizikas and Clutterbuck battled injury and Kulemin (shoulder injury) just played his game. As a line, their individual efforts made a difference, even when another was struggling and each player had an impact on the team game regularly. Clutterbuck was quoted as saying he had nagging groin strain on the season, but doesn't feel he will need surgery this summer. Cizikas missed time most recently, with a finger injury.
Alan Quine (5 & 13 for 18 pts, -2 in 61 games) and Shane Prince (5 & 13 for 18 pts and a -9 in just 50 games) fell short of expectations for me this year. Quine was an AHL favorite of mine and had some good games, but seemed to struggle more than expected. Shane Price looked like the diamond in the rough to many after being acquired in the waning moments of a dead-line day trade last year, especially after scoring 5 pts in 20 games and 4 pts in 11 playoff games. But his lack luster play this season coupled with mounting injuries prevented him from making the impact fans and media may have expected. With the Likes of Barzal & Dal Colle or even Connor Jones, the bottom 6 could get very tight next season. Stephen Gionta (1 & 5 for 6 pts in 26 games at a +9) signed on as a two-way contracted player and spent much of the season with Bridgeport. When Gionta was called up, he played his ass off and was gritty and fun to watch. He may have made a case for another contract this summer with New York for reliable team depth.
The greatest bane of the Islanders season was certainly Coach Weight’s unreliable power play. At 14.9%, the Isles ranked last in the east on the season, and 28th in the league. Only Vancouver and Colorado were worse. Two teams who finished among the bottom 3 (along with the Devils) in wins on the season. It was a limiting factor in maintaining leads and coming back in key games that could have made the difference in a very tight playoff race that New York ultimately failed to make. Per Eric Hornick, The Isles went 15-10-12 in one-goal games, winning only 14 of the 36 (.405). That .405 percentage in 1-goal games won is the second lowest in the NHL – the Leafs are 14-8-15 (.378) in 1-goal games. (The Isles were 21-6-10 in one-goal games last season.) Hornick also mentions, “The Isles are 18-7-6 when they score at least one power play goal and 23-22-6 when they do not.” Those are telling stats and the reason for who knows of how many lost points. In my opinion, the organization must focus on hiring an assistant PP specialist to help this team fix one of its most glaring deficiencies. The question is who?
It’s not going to be possible to pry Kevin Dineen form a stable and successful Blackhawks’ gig, but how about former Islander, Travis Green? Green is currently the head coach of the AHL Utica Comets and one of the most talked about minor-league coaches mentioned for an NHL role. Darren Dreger mentioned that the Vancouver Canucks have a short list of coaching candidates, but sense is Travis Green remains the front runner.
Todd Reirden is the associate coach of the Capitals and a noted PP specialist. If the Caps disappoint again this year, who knows what could happen. And it kills me to say this because I genuinely hate him, but Kirk Muller is an associate coach for Montreal and is known for his defensive and PP vision. Would he even take the job? I feel dirty for even mentioning it.
Who do you think would fit the bill?
"Calvin de Haan will play for Team Canada at the World Championships in Cologne and Paris. Congrats @cal_dehaan! #IIHFWorlds #Isles"
“Jones, 26, played 56 games with the Sound Tigers this season, recording 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) and a plus-8 rating. The third-year pro also made his NHL debut on Apr. 2 at Buffalo and posted a plus-1 rating and two penalty minutes in four games with the Islanders. He notched 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 51 games with Bridgeport last year. In addition, he appeared in three Calder Cup Playoff games with the Sound Tigers in 2015-16.”
Isles Prospects, Mathew Barzal advances to third round, Linus Soderstrom in SHL Final.