Previewing the East: New York Islanders
A taste of the playoffs isn't enough for young, hungry Isles
DETROIT – The Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference next season where they will be reunited with a trio of Original Six rivals (Boston, Montreal and Toronto) in a division that also includes Buffalo, Florida, Ottawa and Tampa Bay.
Throughout the summer, DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose will take an analytical look at a different Eastern Conference team. This week it's the New York Islanders:
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
2013 Record: 24-17-7
Head Coach: Jack Capuano (fourth season)
Home Rink: Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
Red Wings All-Time Record vs. NYI: 46-44-6-1
2013-14 Games: Nov. 16 @ NYI; Nov. 29 @ NYI; Dec. 23 @ DET
Pending Unrestricted Free Agents: Goalie Tim Thomas, defenseman Radek Martinek, right wing Brad Boyes, and center Marty Reasoner.
Pending Restricted Free Agents: Left wing David Ullstrom.
Free Agents Lost: Left wing Jesse Joensuu, center Keith Aucoin, and right wing Matt Watkins.
Free Agents Gained: Center Peter Regin and right wing Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
|Islanders center John Tavares produced two goals and four assists in three lifetime games against the Red Wings. (Photo by Getty Images)|
Reaching the playoffs for the first time in six seasons wasn’t good enough for the New York Islanders. Even though 16 players made their playoff debuts in 2013, the Islanders pushed the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins to the brink last spring, and seem ready to return to the playoffs for the second straight year.
With more than 71 percent of the players in the organization homegrown products – meaning they were drafted by the club – the Islanders are building success from the locker room out. They’re still a young bunch, but they gained confidence as they began to believe in the concepts and structure presented by coach Jack Capuano. There’s growth and progress in the young players that the Islanders began stockpiling four and five years ago with the drafting of such franchise centerpieces as John Tavares and Josh Bailey. New York also has key offensive contributors like Matt Moulson, Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo, who collectively accounted for 41 goals and 77 assists.
The Islanders finished strong in 2013, posting an 11-2-4 record in the last 17 games of the regular season, and looked to their 22-year-old star Tavares to help get it done. Tavares finished third in the NHL scoring race with 28 goals, including a league-high 19 even-strength tallies. They were practically in every game to the end as they were tied or ahead in the third period of 42 games. The Isles also proved to be an incredibly dangerous road team, posting a 14-6-4 mark, which established a new franchise best .667 winning percentage.
This summer, the Islanders have been quite active in free agency, signing several of their own stars, including goalie Evgeni Nabokov, while adding new pieces in veteran forwards Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. In June they traded away defenseman Mark Streit to Philadelphia for a minor-league forward and a 2014 draft pick, and acquired right wing Cal Clutterbuck from Minnesota. They used a compliance buyout to get out from under goalie Rick DiPietro’s weighty contract that cleared some salary cap space.
The acquisition of Clutterbuck gives the Islanders a third- or fourth-line forward, who plays a physical brand that can get under opponent’s skin, yet he’s still a viable offensive threat having produced 38 goals in the last three seasons.
An up and coming prospect, center Ryan Strome, could earn a spot on the Islanders’ roster this season. A crafty speed demon on skates, he played a handful of AHL games in Bridgeport late in the season, where he played alongside another highly-touted prospect in Brock Nelson. Strome, the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, played on the right wing for the Sound Tigers. An extremely gifted offensive forward, the Islanders will give Strome every opportunity to make the big club during the upcoming exhibition season.
Defensively, the Islanders need to tighten up from the 136 goals that they allowed – which was the most surrendered by a playoff-bound team – last season. Without Streit, there is an opening on the top pairing, but more importantly, the Islanders must find someone who can replace Streit’s offense. He produced 27 points, including 16 at even-strength.
Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey are solid puck-movers, but look for more offensive-minded candidates, like Andrew MacDonald or Travis Hamonic to man the point on the top pairing. Hamonic is a top four defenseman capable of logging big minutes as both an offensive threat as well as a shutdown performer. The Islanders know they have a high-character guy in Hamonic, which is why they recently signed the 22-year-old to a seven-year contract worth $27 million.
The rest of the defensive unit is likely to be filled by committee with players like Matt Carkner, Joe Finley, Brian Strait, and perhaps rookies Matt Donovan and Calvin de Haan.
FEEL GOOD STAT
68 – The number of goals scored by the Islanders on the road, which helped them to the fifth-best road record. New York posted a 14-6-4 mark away from the Nassau Coliseum, which included an 8-2-3 road record in the final six weeks of the regular season. Tavares tied for second in the league with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews for road goals (15), four behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
306 – The Islanders were one of the worst teams in the league at maintaining possession of the puck at home. Only Edmonton (336), San Jose (360) and Toronto (405) had more giveaways than the Islanders, who had the worst home record (10-11-3) among playoff teams last season.