Doug Weight got his first win as interim coach of the New York Islanders last night, as his charges took out their disappointing Western cousins, the Dallas Stars. Even with the win, New York finds itself mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. True, the team has games in hand over many squads, but they are still close to dead in the playoff race, with only Buffalo behind them in the East.
Here at THN, we had higher hopes for the Islanders heading into the season. Our pre-season predictions had them third in the Metropolitan Division, but clearly the loss of Frans Nielsen was greater than expected and the substitution of Kyle Okposo with Andrew Ladd did not quite work out. It happens.
So what do the Islanders do for the rest of the season? I would suggest they find out what they really have in their organization. New York has been criticized for not playing its young guys enough and while you can get into a pretty good circular argument about whether results come from ice time or ice time comes from results, this may be a golden opportunity to find some answers.
Ryan Strome has been the poster boy for the Islanders' development problems and for what it's worth, he was one of the team's best 5-on-5 possession players against Dallas. His 71 percent Corsi For percentage was much better than his season average of 44 percent. And sure; it's one game, the smallest of all sample sizes. But Strome also had more ice time than his season average (16:18 vs. 14:27, though he's been trending upward), so that's a positive sign. Rookie Anthony Beauvillier was also an even possession player and although he played just 11:28, I'm not as concerned with him, since he's still a teenager. In Strome, there are big questions about his future with the organization and I'm not going to come down on either side of the fence here, because I believe giving the youngster bigger, harder minutes (he already gets plenty of power play time) would be the perfect acid test. If he passes, then fired coach Jack Capuano may have been the problem. If he fails, then you trade him away to a team that believes Strome just needs a change of scenery. Get an asset in return – like the Isles did when they dealt Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton for picks, one of which became Matt Barzal – and move on.
And perhaps the Islanders call a couple kids up, just to see what they can do at the NHL level. Defenseman Devon Toews will be playing at the AHL All-Star Classic in his rookie pro season, so why not give him a look later in the campaign? Similarly, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang are two of the bigger names in the pipeline, but we haven't seen either in the NHL yet. Admittedly, I've only watched Bridgeport once this season, but I don't think that giving them a couple of games in The Show would foment a sense of entitlement – think of it as motivation. A call-up in 2016-17 is no guarantee of a roster spot in 2017-18.
If the Islanders can find takers for some of their veterans at the trade deadline, perhaps these kiddie call-ups happen organically anyway. But for an organization that has a lot of money and roster spots tied up in a mediocre bunch, the Islanders need to figure out the next step. And this lost season is the perfect time to do it.