The New York Islanders enter the 2017/18 season at a crucial point in their history. The Islander are in the midst of a 10+ year rebuild that seems like it will never reach its climax (unless you count their first series win since 1993 that happened in 2015/16). There has been speculation that the Islanders and the Barclays Center both want out of the 25 year lease they signed just a few years ago, and they have no idea where they will be playing in the coming seasons.
Per Jim Baumbach of Newsday:
“The two sides have until Jan. 1, 2018, to renegotiate the terms. If no new deal is reached, the two sides can stay with the current deal or choose to opt out. Each side would have until Jan. 30, 2018, to deliver an opt-out notice in writing.”
In the meantime, the Islanders were flirting with other arena options, and have submitted an RFP to build a new arena next to the Belmont Racetrack in Elmont, right on the border of Nassau County and Queens. Arena uncertainty is something the Islanders and their fanbase are familiar with, but something we all parties don’t want to have to go through again.
Why is the arena situation such a big deal? It’s because the Isles best player, and literally the only reason they get ANY respect throughout the league, is entering the final season of his current contact without any extension on the horizon. That player is of course John Tavares.
Tavares has been a savior for the team and it’s fanbase, and is probably the only reason the team is still playing in New York and not in Quebec or Kansas City. The guy is an absolute stud, and has always praised the community and the organization when asked about his future with the team. The Islanders have missed the playoffs five out of the eight years of Tavares’ career after being drafted first overall in 2009, and with the team not knowing where it will be playing its games in the foreseeable future, why does Tavares have any motivation to sign a long-term extension?
That’s why this season is so important. No Tavares and no arena to play in for the future? The Islanders will certainly be on their way to Quebec or Kansas City.
The Islanders have a ton of young, talented, and exciting players that will be leaned on to make a big contribution to this season. If they do well and the arena situation gets figured out, I believe Tavares would resign.
So let’s take a look at the team entering the 2017/18 season.
The Islanders has a roller coaster season last year, fired their coach Jack Capuano midway through the season, and finished with 94 points, just shy of making the playoffs. The Isles went 24-12-4 under interim coach Doug Weight after he replaced Capuano in January. The Isles were playing some spirited hockey under Doug Weight. I know it’s hard to compare teams, but think about this. The Islanders finished last year with the same amount of points (94) as did the eventual Western Conference Champion Nashville Predators. The NHL postseason, more than any sport, is all about just making it in, and getting hot at the right time. The Isles were definitely hot at the end of the last season and were playing spirited hockey, and who knows what would have happened if they would have made the playoffs.
Why they’ll be good this year:
- A full training camp and full season under Doug Weight: Extrapolate Weight’s record over a full season, and that gives you 110 points, which would’ve been good for 3rd in the Metropolitan Division.
- The addition of Jordan Eberle: GM Garth Snow somehow acquired the RW from Edmonton for only Ryan Strome. Eberle, like Strome in NY, was someone who hasn’t lived up to his full potential. With that being said, both Eberle’s floor and upside as a player is much higher than Strome. Plus, Eberle and Tavares have played together for Team Canada at the World Juniors, and have a good rapport. In Eberle, Tavares might finally have that top end winger that he his been lacking for his entire career with the Islanders. Pair Eberle and Tavares up with Anders Lee (who had 34 goals and 18 assists last year), and the Islanders can have one of the top lines in the NHL.
- The Youth Movement: The Islanders have an exciting group of youngsters on the team that are extremely talented, and will succeed with their ice time and seize the opportunity. Josh Ho-Sang, Anthony Beauvillier, and Mathew Barzal will be an exciting forward group to watch, and Ryan Pulock could turn into a stud defensemen and power play weapon.
Why they’ll be bad this year:
- Their defense is shaky: Nick Leddy are Calvin De Haan the only defenseman I have confidence in. The Islanders traded Travis Hamonic to Calgary for draft picks in the offseason, and Johnny Boychuck looked old and sluggish last year. Not sure if there was an injury or what was the case, but their was a steep decline compared to the last few seasons. Thomas Hickey is decent, and Dennis Seidenberg is an older veteran who is consistent, but is limited physically. Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock round out the defense, and are all pretty unproven at the NHL level.
- The young guys struggle: In seasons pass, and I believe it was mainly to do with coaching, the young guys on this team have fallen short of expectations. Hopefully this changes with Weight in charge and his new team of assistants behind the bench, but it’s always risky to put so much of your hopes in youngsters to get the job done.
- The Arena and Tavares contract situations create a black cloud over the team: If the arena situation doesn’t get sorted out, I could see Tavares not signing an extension and playing out his final year of the contact. If that’s the case, there will be a lot of speculation and pressure for the Islanders to trade Tavares before the trade deadline, to make sure that the team doesn’t get left empty-handed if Tavares decides to leave. As of right now, I don’t agree with trading Tavares, even if a deal isn’t signed by the deadline, but we’ll see where I stand mid-season.
- The Metropolitan Division is so tough: Having the 3 top teams in the eastern conference (and 4 of the top 5 teams) playing in the Metro division, leaves for some heavy sledding for the Isles. The Metro was the toughest division in the NHL last season, and I could see that being the same way this year.
Honestly, it’s really hard to tell what the Islanders will be this year. I am extremely optimistic, and actually am the most excited about this team as I have been in years. I love their young pieces, feel like they have a good mix of veterans, and have confidence in Doug Weight to motivate the players and get the best out of them. I foresee them being in contention for a playoff spot, and finishing somewhere around the 100 point mark. With that being said, I also wouldn’t be surprised if they get off to a slow start, traded Tavares at the deadline, and finished at the bottom of the division. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen, but that is the life of an Islander fan.
Whatever happens, I’m excited for the start of the season, and can’t wait to watch some Islanders hockey.
I think Michael Scott speaks for all Islanders fans.