Part 1 of my Season Review feature focused on the forwards and Isles power play.
In Part 2, I will focus on team defense and the penalty kill. With the ups and downs of the season, the Isles had more issues than just their PP and struggles offensively. And while the boost Doug Weight brought to the complete team game was evident, they had a lot of injuries on their blue line and still had trouble at different parts of the season holding on in a few tight games. Whether it was letting an opponent answer back quickly after scoring, surrendering late goals in the period or even late in the game, it seemed like New York struggled at the worst possible times to hold the lead. They left quite a few valuable points on the table, and it cost them big time. As mentioned previously, “The Isles went 15-10-12 in one-goal games, winning only 14 of the 36 games (.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,” – Hornick. So how did our New York Islanders compare to the rest of the NHL?
Defensively as a whole, the Islanders were 10th in the NHL in goals for and managed a respectable 8th place position in goals against during the regular season. While I can’t defend their frequency of penalties taken or the types and timing of the infractions surrendered by the team, I can speak about Greg Cronin’s Penalty Kill. Their PK had its struggles, but was often more of a benefit, than a detriment. Especially when Capuano moved John Tavares to the PK after the team faltered late in the year. The Isles finished 11th in the NHL (7th in the east) with an 81.9% penalty kill rate, including an impressive kill to 27 of their last 30 PK’s on the season. They were better than half the teams who made the post season. Teams like Montreal, the Rangers, Ottawa and Pittsburgh all finished as far as 11 spots behind the Isles on man-down percentages. Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, Johnny Boychuk, John Tavares and Nikolay Kulemin all had a shorthanded goal on the season. Of that group, Boychuk, Tavares and Kulemin all had 2 shorthanded points with Ladd, Nelson and Chimera having 1.
Eric Hornick points out, “The Isles finished the season 30-0-5 in games they led after two periods.”
“It's the first time since 2003-04 (26-0-0) that the Isles have earned a point in every game they led after 40 minutes.”
“The Isles played their final 11 regular-season games in a span of 19 days. The Isles went 8-3-0 in this stretch (2-2-0 at home and 6-1-0 on the road), with seven of the games decided by empty net or less.”
The defense had a major role in the successes (and a few shortcomings) on the season. But the greatest failure was on the team as a whole not making the playoffs. We all know what that is about. Despite the negatives, the Isles had some decent statistics to show they did some things well this season. The trick is building on those positives and addressing the negatives as they get set to head into a busy off-season and into next year. That starts with the players on the roster. Let’s take-a-look at the Isles blueliners and goaltenders from the 2016-17 season.
Nick Leddy (11 & 35 for 46 pts in 66 games) was the best on the defensive side of things for the Islanders this season. He established a new career high in goals (11) and points (46) and matched a career high in assists (35) while leading in average ice-time with 22:43 (Boychuk 20:43 & Hamonic 20:27). Leddy even had a GWG on the season and led all defensemen in shooting percentage with 8.0% and finished 4th on the team with points per game (0.57). Leddy was also 4th on the team (4 & 21 for 25 pts in 40 games) in scoring since Doug Weight took over as head coach just behind Tavares, Lee and Bailey. Rumor has it that Nick Leddy was one of the vets Weight called in to his office to speak about what was expected of him and clearly, he responded.
Johnny Boychuk was 6 & 17 for 23 points in 81 games, with 2 GWG. Isles were 9-4-1 when Boychuk led in ice time and he finished +11 on the year. Calvin deHaan is prone to a mistake now-and-then, but has been improving steadily over the last few seasons. This season, de Haan established a career high in goals (5), assists (20) and points (25) and a finished the season with a +15 rating.
Boychuk (24.8), Leddy (23.6) and deHaan (22.8) were all ranked #2, 3 & 4 just behind John Tavares in shifts per games played and factored heavily into the performance of this team at its best.
Travis Hamonic (3 & 11 for 14 pts in 49 games) had a tough year, but still managed to rise up when called upon. His -21 rating, mostly piled up at the start of the season showed that Hamonic will want to make more of an impact next season. The contributions of Travis Hamonic in the community are well known over his career with the Islanders. This season would be no different. Arthur Staple reported that Travis Hamonic (and Wayne Simmonds) were named finalists for the NHL Foundation Award.
Per Staple, "The whole point of this program is to reach out to as many people as possible and let everybody know that whatever sense of grief you're going through, you're not going through it alone and it's definitely okay to talk about it," Hamonic said. “The NHL Foundation Player Award is awarded annually to the National Hockey League (NHL) player ‘who applies the core values of (ice) hockey—commitment, perseverance and teamwork—to enrich the lives of people in his community’. The winner is given a grant of US$ 25,000 to help causes that the winner supports.”
Dennis Seidenberg joined the Islanders after impressing in the world championships for Team Germany with Thomas Greiss. Seidenberg was bought out by the Bruins last summer, so he was motivated to find a new place to play. His ties with Johnny Boychuk in Boston gave the Isles an inside shot on signing the Stanley Cup blue liner. Seidenberg did more than fill in this season. He won another contract for 2017-18 based on this seasons performance. The 35-year-old D-Man recently agreed to terms on a one-year, $1.25M one-way extension. Seidenberg had an impressive team leading +25 and finished with 5 & 17 for 23 points in 73 games and was among the best Isles D in several key stats. Per Eric Hornick, “He (Seidenberg) joins Adrian Aucoin +29 and Kenny Jonsson +25 (both in 2003-04) as the only Islanders to finish a season with a rating of +25 or better since 1994-95.”
Thomas Hickey must be one of the biggest unsung players on the Islanders, if not the NHL. Hickey is a solid, multi-faceted defenseman who does whatever is asked of him. And then does a little more. Hickey was 4 & 16 for 20 points in 76 games, including 2 GWG and a team high 2 goals in OT.
Adam Pelech (3 & 7 for 10 points in 44 games) and Scott Mayfield (2 & 7 for 9 points in 25 games) were solid after getting their shots with the big club this season. I continued to write about how these two young defensemen deserved a shot and looked comfortable and played well for the Islanders, even in crucial situations along the way. They certainly seem to be making the most of their chances. We will see what the summer brings and what kind of impact they will make moving forward.
And when you think about blue line prospects, some fans weren’t too happy about the news of Seidenberg re-signing, despite his performance last season based on the desire to finally see Ryan Pulock get his serious shot. It’s no secret that Pulock (called up for only 1 game last season) and an ever, impressive Devon Toews are high on their list to see in action with the Islanders. Pulock is known as a solid defenseman with offensive upside and a strong PP game. Toews was named to this season’s AHL all-rookie team for defense and even won the competition for fastest skater.
The three-headed goaltending situation for the Islanders was a bit complicated again this season. The off season saw Halak and Greiss lead Team Germany to the finals of the IIHF world championships, so optimism was definitely in the air. Jaroslav Halak started to lose a little bit of his consistency and saw some time out of the line up with injury, eventually giving way to Thomas Greiss. Alan Walsh, Halak and Berube’s agent, complained about his client’s lack of playing time because of the Isles 3-goalie system and criticized them on social media. Snow was not happy. Greiss played well and the team wanted to send a bit of a message. Garth Snow then sent Halak down and placed the inexperienced JF Berube to serve as Greiss’ back up. He said he didn’t want to lose Berube off waivers (like the way he was attained) and chose to keep him up as a 3rd goalie.
No other team wanted to claim the struggling goal tender with Halak's $4.5M salary through next season, so he reported to Bridgeport as requested. Greiss continued to play well for the Islanders, got an extension, and looked good in the process. But eventually, he just seemed to play too much without a break and his game suffered as a result. During this time, Berube continued to sit on the bench, not play and did not look sharp when he was finally called upon in relief or as a starter for that night. That all resulted in the Islanders losing games when Greiss was scheduled to have a night off. On the plus side, Halak took the opportunity with Bridgeport to buckle down and play hard enough to pull the Sound Tigers back into a playoff race and post a 17-7-3 record in the process. When he was called back up, he played the Islanders out of the regular season and looked very good doing it. He went 12-9-5 in 28 games with a .915Sv% and a 2.80 gaa in an abbreviated workload.
“Jaroslav Halak went 6-1-0 after his recall from Bridgeport (and 6-0-0 as a starter). He has played to a 1.58 GAA and 94.9 save percentage in those seven games.” – Hornick.
Most Wins Since March 24, Jaroslav Halak 6 (tied with TBL Andrei Vasilevskiy)
In the categories of lowest Goals Against Average and SV% Since March 24 (minimum 3 starts), Halak was 3rd with a 1.58 gaa (Rask & Gibson) and 3rd with a .949Sv% (Rask & Gibson).
Thomas Greiss (26-18-5 in 51 games with a .913Sv% and a 2.69 gaa) had another strong season with New York. “He established new career highs in games (51), minutes (2813) and wins (26) and finished 26-18-5 on the season. Greiss appeared in a career high 51 games, and set career highs for both wins (26) and shutouts (3).” Greiss was clearly miss-managed as the season wound down, due to the unpolished performances by Berube. He played too many games and the team gave up valuable points in the process.
Garth Snow refused to send JF Berube down for fear of losing him to the waiver wire. As a result, the young goaltender practiced, never got enough game action, and when he was finally called upon, he struggled to find a rhythm. Was he even given a fair shot to succeed seeing so little in the way of PT? Rumors have Berube (3-2-2 with an .889 save percentage and 3.42 GAA) expecting to test free agency and not wanting a repeat of the last 2 seasons. He commented about his development suffering and unwilling to repeat the process with New York again next season unless he played a bigger role on the team. That seems very unlikely. So, will he have any trade value prior to the drafts scheduled in June based on his numbers?
Are the Islanders sold on a Halak-Greiss combination going into next year? The promising prospects the Isles have in the system would probably not serve any better than Berube did this season, even if they could be brought to the NHL. Ilya Sorokin is signed through next season in the KHL & Linus Soderstrom is playing in Europe. Both are high on the list in the Isles future plans, but still unproven in the North American game. Eamon McAdam (15-8-0) looks like a good AHL goaltender on the rise and Stephon Williams (6-13-1) struggled last season. The veteran of the group, Christopher Gibson (6-0-0) played just 7 games with the Tigers this season according to the BST stat page.
The summer will be an interesting one. The impending off-season “deadline” contract talks with John Tavares will lead into both an expansion and entry draft. Those factors coupled with the ever-stressful free agency period tainted once again by the team’s arena uncertainty will certainly be a factor. And with the Las Vegas Golden Knights opening shop this summer, it may be a unique and possibly trade heavy off season for everyone with a lot of big names being shopped around.
What or who is on your Isles wish list for next season?
4/23 Per John Shannon, “Islander owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky are in Toronto. Meetings and getting first hand look at MLSE and Air Canada Centre.” Its another attempt to see how a state-of-the-art and built-for-hockey arena is laid out with plans for Belmont park in the air.
Islanders plan to submit bid for arena at Belmont Park per Gary Bettman.
Per Jim Baumbach, “So the court's decision will determine how quickly the parking lot will be available to the Wilpons. And how viable it is for the Isles. A decision isn't expected for months. But that lines up with Belmont RFP decision and also opt out negotiations. So we will see.”
Per Chris Botta, “Someone Isles ownership should speak with: close Weight pal and Penguins AGM Bill Guerin. Smart hockey man, strong leader.”
“Ledecky taking a full year to observe pays off. Dean Lombardi available. Must be given complete hockey authority with Islanders.”
“Peter Luukko, former Flyers prez/current Panthers chairman, strong candidate to run the Islanders and take lead on arena deal. Luukko is co-chairman of Oak View Group (Leiweke, Azoff, MSG) looking to run Islanders arena. Another reason Luukko makes sense for NYI.”
Former Islander, Kyle Okposo update: Okposo showing major signs of improvement.
Sound Tigers Notes:
The Sound Tigers will play their 2017-18 Home Opener on Saturday, October 21st.
Mathew Barzal and Linus Soderstrom continue their playoff runs
"IF KOVALCHUK COMES BACK TO THE NHL, WHERE WILL HE LAND?
New York Islanders
The assumption here is that the Devils would be at all willing to move Kovalchuk to a divisional opponent. That’s never a given. However, as noted, New Jersey desperately needs to bolster their backend and New York would be able to provide an NHL-quality defender. That could make all the difference here.
Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy and Travis Hamonic probably aren’t going anywhere, but Thomas Hickey or Calvin De Haan could be trade options for the Islanders if they’re after Kovalchuk. And if the Islanders need to sweeten the pot — and clear up more cap space — there are a few young forwards who could be thrown into the mix to make this deal more than a one-for-one swap.
While things improved for the Islanders once Doug Weight took over, it sure would be nice if John Tavares could have a sniper on his wing all season that can provide the offensive punch that was lost when Kyle Okposo left town. With his shot alone, Kovalchuk still possesses 30-goal potential. And after the Islanders had the third-worst power play in the league, it couldn’t hurt to add someone with Kovalchuk’s offensive acumen.”
The 2017 NHL Expansion Draft (Las Vegas Golden Knights) will be held on June 18-20 and the formal selections announced on 6/21 during the NHL awards in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena.
The NHL Entry Draft will be held on June 23–24, 2017 at the United center in Chicago.
Team USA wins U18 Worlds.