Islanders 2016/17 Season Preview

The Islanders enter the 2016/17 season coming off back to back 100 point seasons, and having accomplished something they haven’t done the 23 years before that, win a playoff series. Last season was a fun ride for both the players and the fans, and it was satisfying to finally see the core guy accomplish a series win.

This off-season saw fan favorites Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and Matt Martin leave the only team they knew as home. The Islanders made some moves to help replace their production, signing forwards Andrew Ladd and veteran Jason Chimera, and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, but will it be enough?

Ladd vs Okposo, who’s better?

Andrew Ladd was the first splash the Islanders made in free agency. They signed the two time Stanley Cup champion to a long term contract, and he will join Captain John Tavares on the top line. Okposo finished with more point than Ladd last year, but Ladd also didn’t play with JT, who is known to elevate guys who play on his line (see Matt Moulson and PA Parentau). Ladd will be an alternate captain this season, and his goal scoring ability should complement the playmaking that John Tavares provides. Look for Laddy Daddy to put up career numbers this year.

Chimera vs Martin:

Matt Martin has been a fan favorite for many years now, and Isles fans watch him grow into a very serviceable 4th line player. Enter Jason Chimera, who fans will recognize from his days with the Washington Capitals. Chimera is a better offensively and defensively than Martin, having totaled 20 goals and 20 assists last season, while also being a reliable defender. You lose some of the grit and grind that Martin provided by replacing him with Chimera, but once fans get passed their heart and feelings, they’ll see that this is an actually upgrade. Chances are Chimera doesn’t play on the 4th line, as he has actually been seen skating on the top line with JT and Ladd. By the way, Martin’s highest career point was total came last year, as he finished with 19 points.

Frans Nielsen vs ???:

The biggest lost this offseason was Frans Nielsen. Nielsen was the Islanders best two way player for some time now, and was also the longest tenured Islander. Besides just centering the second line, Nielsen was the anchor of the penalty kill (that finished 4th in the NHL), and was also the Isles go to man for the shootout with his patent forehand-backhand move (don’t know how goalies didn’t know that was coming every time).

The Islanders didn’t sign a replacement for Nielsen, as they hope one of the centers they have on the roster can replace his production. Josh Bailey (ugh), Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome will battle for the second center spot, with Nelson the likely favorite to start in Nielsen’s spot.

The Killer B’s:

An interesting move by GM Garth Snow was to release recently signed PA Parentau, and keep youngsters Matthew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier on the roster for opening day. Both played were drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft by the Islanders, and have impressed in training camp and preseason. The one thing they both have in common? Speed and being able to skate with the best of them. Both guys can play 9 games before Snow has to make a decision to keep them up for the year and activate their contract (which makes them lose a year of eligibility for the juniors league), or return them to juniors.

Barzal looked good in camp, and was looking like the better player out of the Killer B’s, but it looks like recently that Snow and Coach Capuano is favoring Beauvillier.

Beauvillier is the more explosive player, and has been skating on the wing of the second line. He’s young and will make mistakes, but has the raw ability to make some highlight plays on any given night.

They are both on the roster, but I would expect one of them to be sent back to juniors after their 9 game “trial.” My guess is Barzal gets sent down.

Here is the way the lines have been breaking down in practice:

Defense:

Not much has changed on the defensive end for the Islanders. They recently acquired veteran Dennis Seidenberg who previously played with the Boston Bruins. Seidenberg is a major upgrade over the infamous Brian Strait. Everyone Strait was on the ice, Islanders fans collectively held their breath. Thankfully we don’t have to deal with that any more. Seidenberg played with fellow defenseman Johnny Boychuk in boychuk’s Boston days.

Speaking of Boychuk, he needs a bounce back year. Although he finished with the same amount of points last year as he did in 2014/15, he looked sluggish towards the end of the season, and didn’t look like himself, especially during the playoffs. In 11 playoff games last year, Boychuck finished with 0 points. Although nothing was ever announced, chances are he was dealing with some type of injury. Hopefully he can regain his form, and return to being one of the Islanders best defenseman in 2016/17.

Here is the way the D pairings are lining up.

Nick Leddy – Travis Hamonic
Thomas Hickey – Johnny Boychuk
Calvin deHaan – Dennis Seidenberg

Notably missing is Ryan Pulock. Pulock is starting the season in Bridgeport. He looked really good offensively in the first round of the playoffs, but he still made some mistakes in the defensive end. He is the first guy in line to be called up, and will likely see some time in the NHL this season.

Goaltending:

Mid-season last year, I wrote that I saw a problem with the logjam that was Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Griess, and J.F. Berube. The day after I wrote about it, Halak went down, and Griess was thrust into the starting spot. Greiss played lights out down the stretch and during the playoffs, singlehandedly winning games for the Islanders.

Berube was also solid as a backup in his limited playing time.

Entering the offseason, there was talk Garth Snow would look to move one of the 3 goaltenders. No moves were made, and Halak came back from his injury to play phenomenal for Team Europe during the World Cup of Hockey. Halak is injury prone, and Berube was signed to a 1 year 1 way deal, so the Islanders will enter the season with three goaltenders on their roster. If all three can stay healthy, Snow will most likely move one of them during the season, most likely Greiss or Berube. For now, the Islanders have arguably one of the best 1-2 goalie combos in the league with Halak and Greiss. Only problem is, there is only one net on a given night, and goalies need to be on the ice in order to get into a rhythm. It will be interesting to see how this situation will play out.

Prediction for the season:

The Metropolitan division is one of the toughest in the NHL, with it including the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, and Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals. After those two teams, the rest of the division is kind of a crap shoot. Have the Rangers gotten better from last year? Can the Flyers compete again? Do the Devils take a step forward with the addition of Taylor Hall?

In 2015/16, the Islanders had the most successful season in 23 years, getting into the second round before they were outmatched by the Tampa Bay Lightning. They went with an interesting approach by targeting speed players to join their roster, possibly to better compete with the likes of the Penguins, Capitals, and Washington.

The youth movement is continuing with the infliction of more young players, as their young core players are gaining more experience. The key to this season will be the likes of Anders Lee, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson overcoming their sophomore slump from last season.

The defense and goaltending should be strong enough to carry the team through slumps, but the offense will have to step up for this team to repeat its success from last season, and continue its quest for the drive for five Stanley Cups.

Vegas has the Islanders over/under at 94 points, and has them at 7/1 odds to win the division (tied for 3rd best). Although I don’t think they’ll win the division, I think they will finish over 94 points for the year, and make the playoffs.

Get ready for another fun season Islanders fans. Be sure to check back with The Sports Chill throughout the season to come along for the ride with us.

-Mark

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