(The 2014-15 NHL season is nearly upon us, and attempting to handicap the winners and losers can sometimes leave us speechless. So we decided to break down all 30 teams with the next best thing to words: Emojis!)
Last Season In Emojis
Last Season, In Summary
Hoping to build off the energy of making the postseason for the first time since 2007, the New York Islanders sputtered out of the gate and created too big of a hole to dig themselves out of. Not helping their cause were the struggles at home, where they failed to post a winning record in any month of the season, ending with a last place finish (34-37-11) in the Metropolitan Division.
Also not helping were two big injuries, one on offense and the other on defense. An October concussion sidelined Lubomir Visnovsky for three months, while the biggest blow came during the Sochi Olympics when captain John Tavares suffered a torn MCL and meniscus in his knee while representing Canada. He would miss the rest of the regular season.
The Islanders enter the 2014-15 season, their last at Nassau Coliseum, with high expectations after a busy and fruitful summer. Can they battle their way through a tough division and deliver one final postseason performance before moving to Brooklyn in 2015?
Last Season’s Definitive Highlight
Kyle Okposo's career year wasn't good enough for the USA Hockey brass as they left him off their Olympic roster. The day after the team was announced, in the middle of an eight-game point streak, he wristed home the overtime winner against the Chicago Blackhawks, setting off quite the scene inside Nassau Coliseum.
General manager Garth Snow knew what holes he had in his lineup and went about filling them aggressively.
After deciding to move on from Evgeni Nabokov, the Islanders dealt for the negotiating rights to Jaroslav Halak and eventually inked the netminder to a four-year, $18 million deal. Snow tried the same move by acquiring Dan Boyle’s rights from the San Jose Sharks, but the sides failed to reach an agreement and the defensemen went to market, signing with the New York Rangers.
The Islanders shored up some bottom line depth in the cheap signings of Cory Conacher, Jack Skille and defenseman T.J. Brennan. They also gave Halak a partner in Chad Johnson with a two-year, $2.5 million contract. To improve their secondary scoring, Snow snatched Mikhail Grabovski ($20M) and Nikolai Kulemin ($16.75M) on four year deals, which will reshape their second line.
Any questions about whether Okposo’s career season was due to playing alongside Tavares were silenced when the forward put up 13 points in the 11 games after the Islanders' captain was injured. A lower body injury would put him on the shelf for the rest of the season, but now healthy, he and Tavares should provide plenty of damage on the top line.
One who might get a shot alongside Tavares and Okposo is 22-year old Brock Nelson, a 2010 first round pick. Nelson put up 26 points in his rookie season, playing mostly with the likes of Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck and Michael Grabner. Bailey (8 goals, 38 points), who has four years left on his deal at $3.3M per, could be a trade chip if Snow is to upgrade an area of need. Clutterback (270) and Matt Martin (359) will again team up to dominate the NHL’s hit category. Grabner, meanwhile, has seen his goal totals drop since he potted 34 in 2010-11, leading him to be a Calder Trophy finalist that season. Make or break season for him in New York?
Like Nelson, Anders Lee had an impressive season, posting 9 goals and 14 points in 22 games after featuring on the top line toward the end of the year. Lee and fellow youngster, Ryan Strome (18 points), do not require waivers to be sent to the AHL, so they’ll have to impress in camp if they're to stick.
Grabovski and Kulemin could find themselves together on the second line. Grabovski put up 35 points in Washington last season, while also winning 54-percent of his face-offs and driving possession (a Corsi-Rel of plus-3.74-percent, via War on Ice). Frans Nielsen had his best offensive year (25 goals, 58 points) and continued to be a fancy stats darling, all while handling tough competition.
Defense has been an issue for the Islanders since the end of Lockout II. They’ve regularly found themselves ranked in the high 20s in goals against since the 2005-06 season. Last year, they allowed 3.18 goals per game, good enough for 28th in the NHL. As his offensive studs have blossomed, Snow would like to see his kids on the blueline do the same. Travis Hamonic (25:00 TOI) will be a rock in the back for year’s to come, while youngsters like Calvin de Haan and Matt Donovan continue to fight for regular roles.
Another kid who could make the jump to the NHL this year is 20-year old Griffin Reinhart, the no. 4 overall pick in 2012. He won a Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL last season and at 6-foot-4, ~220 lbs., would provide good size.
With Andrew MacDonald in Philadelphia now, a healthy Lubomir Visnovsky will look to carry the offensive load. Thomas Hickey (4 goals, 22 points) could be of assistance.
Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson present an upgrade in net compared to what the Islanders have iced over the last few seasons. Both have multi-year deals, so there will be no looming threat of a mid-season trade for either of them. The acquisition and signing of Halak filled the organization’s biggest need heading into the off-season.
Injuries have hit Halak in the past, which is why bringing on Johnson as a no. 2 was a good move by Snow. Johnson excelled in spelling Tuukka Rask in Boston last season, posting a 17-4-3 record and .932 even strength save percentage.
Probable Text Conversation Within Organization
The Islanders power play took a big blow when the unit lost Tavares to injury and then Thomas Vanek to a deadline day trade. They finished with a 17.8-percent success rate, led by Tavares’ 8 goals and five from Okposo, Nielsen. (Five of Matt Moulson’s six goals before he was dealt in October were on the power play.) Grabovski will help somewhat, but Tavares, Okposo and Nielsen will do much of the heavy lifting.
The special teams struggles haven't only been on the power play side. In 2013-14, the PK was 29th (78.1-percent). Kulemin will help the likes of Nielsen and Grabner, but in the end it will come down to the play of their goaltenders, something that inhibited the unit in the past.
GM and Coach
The ownership situation has finally been settled as Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin begin their two-year transition into replacing Charles Wang. Will this mean a few extra bucks for Snow to spend should he look to upgrade somewhere in his lineup? That remains to be seen; but the pressure to make the playoffs is on for both the GM and head coach Jack Capuano, who has seen his Islander teams finish last in their division three out of the past four years.
And Now, A Blooper
Pool Jill Schackner slipped a line from “America the Beautiful” into “O Canada.”
The Potential Best Thing About This Team
The core group has been together for a number of years now. Couple that with improved goaltending and the Islanders could be a surprise team in the East.
The Potential Worst Thing About This Team
The defense doesn’t improve, either through a transaction or overall play, and costs them valuable points.
Single Emoji Prediction
Prediction: The tide seems to be changing for the Islanders. The prospects are blooming. They finally have a legit no. 1 goaltender. New owners are on the horizon (along with a new building). After a summer where Snow addressed most of the team’s needs, they should find themselves playing playoff hockey come April and not eyeing a lottery pick like they’ve been used to.