New York Islanders hope taste of success, move to Brooklyn will key Stanley Cup run in 2015-16 season.
COACH: Jack Capuano
2014-15 RECORD: 47-28-7, 101 points (third in Metro, lost to Capitals, 4-3, in first round)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.99 goals-for per game (4th); 2.73 goals-against per game (23rd); 18.7 power play pct. (12th); 78.0 penalty kill pct. (26th); PDO: 99.2 (25th); Corsi For pct.: 53.0 (3rd); Fenwick For pct.: 54.2 (1st); face-off pct.: 49.2 (18th)
NOTABLE ARRIVALS: G Thomas Greiss, D Marek Zidlicky
NOTABLE DEPARTURES: C Tyler Kennedy, RW Colin McDonald, G Michal Neuvirth, D Lubomir Visnovsky
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART:
Anders Lee — John Tavares — Kyle Okposo
Brock Nelson — Frans Nielsen — Ryan Strome
Josh Bailey — Mikhail Grabovski — Nikolay Kulemin
Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy — Johnny Boychuk
Calvin de Haan — Travis Hamonic
Marek Zidlicky — Thomas Hickey (injured)
Brian Strait/Ryan Pulock
OUTLOOK: It’s a new era for the Islanders, as the team now calls Barclays Center in Brooklyn home after 43 years in Nassau County. It’s not only an exciting time for the club because of its new home, but also because of the firepower and promise that GM Garth Snow has assembled during the past several seasons.
After five top five draft picks since 2009, the Isles have one of the NHL’s top offenses, led by Hart Trophy contender John Tavares, 25, who will try to do something that's been done only once: captain a team to the Stanley Cup in its first season at a new home. (Tavares’ childhood hero, Colorado Avalanche icon Joe Sakic, accomplished the feat in 1996.) The Isles’ 2.99 goals per game last season ranked fourth in the league, led by Tavares’ 38 (fourth). Power forward Kyle Okposo, 27, will try to regain his form after the detached retina that marred his productive season (51 points in 60 games). Up-and-coming winger Anders Lee, 25, earned Calder consideration with his 25-16-41, +9 slate. After the top line, there are skilled youngsters Ryan Strome, 22, and Brock Nelson, 23, who finished with 50 and 42 points, respectively, and one of the league’s best fourth lines in bangers supreme Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin and Casey Cizikas.
On defensive side are some question marks that could jeopardize a deep postseason run. The Isles ranked 23rd in goals-allowed per game and 26th in penalty killing last season, and Snow didn’t do much to improve those areas. His trade that sent speedy PK ace Michael Grabner to Toronto for a parcel of marginal prospects only opened up cap space for future moves. The Isles still boast an elite top pair in Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, but after them health becomes an issue. The loss of workhorse Travis Hamonic (MCL tear) for the playoffs proved to be very costly and Calvin de Haan has had his development slowed by injuries. Adding the experience of Marek Zidlicky from Detroit should help with depth, but Thomas Hickey must prove he's worth the three years and $6.6 million the Isles invested in him this summer. Sitting out the first three or four weeks with an upper body injury is not an auspicious start. The dodgy Brian Strait will take his spot unless a prospect, Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield or Adam Pelech, show they're ready.
New York's late season struggles, skid (4-7-3 to close the regular schedule) and jitters pointed to a team in the process of learning to handle the pressure of high stakes games. The Isles and their fans have great expectations now, and much depends on Jack Capuano’s ability to guide this team to the next step. Is he the man for the job? Some fans have asked that question. A slow start, late swoon or failure to do something more this season could prove costly to the sixth-year coach.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jaroslav Halak
The veteran goalie is capable of providing stability while this young group continues to mature, and he's got a higher caliber backup now in Thomas Greiss. The Isles’ should have no problem scoring this season. If Halak continues to put up solid numbers like last season’s .914 save percentage in 59 games, New York will be in position to again make the playoffs. It will surely help, though, if he can avoid his occasional meltdowns and bloopers like the game-winning goal he allowed to Philly's Brayden Schenn with 2.1 seconds left in an April game the Isles needed to clinch a playoff spot. As he goes, so goes this team.
PREDICTION: 101 points, fourth in Metro