Friday, September 22, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: New York Islanders

GM: Garth Snow (since 2006). 8.5/10
Coach: Doug Weight (since 2017). 8/10

2016-17 record: 41-29-12, 94 points, 17th overall, tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning right outside the playoff picture.

Departures: Ryan Strome (RW), Travis Hamonic (D), Jean-François Bérubé (G), Mikhail Grabovski (C).

Arrivals: Jordan Eberle (RW), Seth Helgeson (D).

Top forwards: John Tavares (70-80 points), Eberle (50-60 points), Anders Lee (45-55 points), Joshua Ho-Sang (40-50 points), Josh Bailey (40-45 points), Brock Nelson (40-45 points), Anthony Beauvillier (30-35 points), Andrew Ladd (20 goals and 40 points), Mathew Barzal (20-30 points).

Must-improve forward: Ladd was awful for the first half of the season, taking forever to get adapted to his new team and puzzling head coach Jack Capuano along the way. Upon Capuano's firing, he hit his stride, which should continue this season as he takes on more of a leadership role with this young group.

Top defensemen: Nick Leddy (45-50 points), Johnny Boychuk (30-35 points), Calvin De Haan (25-30 points), Dennis Seidenberg (20-25 points), Thomas Hickey (20 points), Adam Pelech (15 points), Ryan Pulock (10-15 points).

Goalies: Jaroslav Halak (86/100), Thomas Greiss (80/100).

Top rookies: Barzal (20 years old, C, 2015 first-round draft pick), Ho-Sang (21, RW, 2014 first-round draft pick, had his moments when called up last year), Pulock (23, D, 2013 first-round draft pick), Michael Dal Colle (21, LW, 5th-overall draft pick in 2014), Kieffer Bellows (19, RW, 2016 first-round draft pick).

Off-ice issues keep surfacing for the Isles, but GM Snow keeps finding ways to improve his roster every season through savvy trades (Leddy, Halak, Boychuk, Eberle) and sometimes even a decent free agent signing (Ladd, for example). He has also drafted well (Tavares, Beauvillier) and boldly (Ho-Sang), and whenever his draft picks do not pan out to his liking, he always finds a suitor in Edmonton who will take them (Strome, Griffin Reinhart) out of his hands.

He's not adverse to making season-impacting mistakes, though, as can be attested by the Bérubé situation last year that was mostly responsible for Halak spending half the season in the AHL, until he was needed to win all 7 of the Islanders' last 7 games - he won six of them, and Greiss surrendered too many goals in the other for Halak to save the day.

Still, when it comes to ranking GMs, he's in the top-5 for bang-for-your-buck trades and definitely #1 for entertainment value. He is never content to just sit on his laurels and watch a season unfold without stamping it with his distinct signature.

That is why I see the Brooklyn-based team finishing with the top Wild Card spot in the East. Well, that and the roster he's assembled, led by Tavares and Halak in contract seasons.

Prediction: 4th in the Metropolitan Division, first Wild Card in the Eastern Conference.

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