Rant Sports NHL 30 in 30: New York Islanders Preview
After dropping their first game of the 2011-12 season, the New York Islanders embarked on a three-game win streak. It was one of their longest consecutive streaks for the entire campaign–no other streak ever went on longer than three games. November was a particularly rough month for the Islanders: ushered in by a six-game losing streak, they lost nine out of 13 games that month and were shut out four times.
From there, they just could not recover and never went above .500 for the rest of the season. They then missed the playoffs for the fifth season in a row. Add to that the continued wrangling over the Islanders’ future home–Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is old, its lease is expiring soon and a vote to help fund a new arena failed last August–and it’s easy for fans of the Isles to despair about the future.
However, the team does boast some good young talent, players who can help the Islanders out of their funk with good old-fashioned hard work in the future. Take center Frans Nielsen, for example. Ever since he left the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers behind and became a full-time Islander in 2008, he’s put together at least 33 points each season. He had 17 goals and 30 assists this past season. That performance earned him a new four-year contract with a huge raise from $550,000 a year to $2 million, eventually increasing to $3.5 million.
Left-winger Matt Moulson also provided a bright spot in an otherwise dark Islanders season, putting up 36 goals and 33 assists. He and his wife also welcomed their first child, a daughter named Mila who was born last month. While he and John Tavares were the only Islanders to score more than 30 goals this season, right-winger and Harry Potter fan Kyle Okposo came close with 24 goals and speedy right-winger Michael Grabner had 20.
Nielsen and Moulson are 27, Okposo and Grabner are 23 and Tavares is 20 years old, so all five of these guys are still pretty young and able to help improve their team in the future.
On the blue line, team captain Mark Streit had 47 points, all but seven of those assists, over the season and has bounced back from his severe shoulder injury. He is reaching the last year on his contract and is 33 years old. Andrew MacDonald, who celebrates his birthday today, put up 19 points and another youthful defenseman, Travis Hamonic, had 24 points of his own. The team is hoping to add Lubomir Visnovsky–more on that in a minute–to put together a good top four defensive structure.
Goaltending was a big issue for the Islanders this season, although Evgeni Nabokov got over his initial lack of desire to play on Long Island and turned in a 19-18-3 season with .913 save percentage, 2.55 goals-against average and two shutouts. Al Montoya played 31 games before he was sidelined with a concussion. Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin, two young netminders who are usually with Bridgeport, each minded the net for a handful of games and Nilsson even registered a shutout. Then there’s Rick DiPietro, the butt of many jokes about injury, who appeared in just eight games due to injury but says he is healthy now.
The Islanders were busy in the free agency market.
Brad Boyes was brought on for a year at $1 million to replace P.A. Parenteau. Boyes most recently played for another New York team, the Buffalo Sabres, where his 2011-12 was not a very productive season. Perhaps in replacing Parenteau, the Islanders are hoping Boyes produces more like he did in 2008-09 with the St. Louis Blues, where he had a 72-point campaign.
Eric Boulton signed for a year with the Islanders after playing for the New Jersey Devils in 2011-12. He and fellow pickup Matt Carkner, signed for three years from the Ottawa Senators, are both well-known for their toughness and were probably brought in to beef up the Isles’ lineup a bit.
Also at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, just before making their first-round selection, the Islanders announced that they traded a 2013 draft pick to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky. However, he is challenging the trade in arbitration and saying that he still had a no-trade clause in effect. The ruling is expected to come down before Sept. 15.
As mentioned above, P.A. Parenteau left for the West, heading to the Colorado Avalanche on a four-year deal. That’s a big loss for the Islanders because Parenteau produced well: in 2011-12 he had 18 goals and 49 assists on top of his 20-goal, 33-assist 2010-11 campaign.
Interestingly, Al Montoya decamped for the Winnipeg Jets. The reason he was sidelined with a concussion was because the Jets’ Evander Kane concussed him, but he and Kane must have buried the hatchet.
The X Factor
Center John Tavares has the talent and leadership skills, even at his young age, to potentially wear the C someday. He’s steadily improved his production since he came to the Island in 2009: 54 points his rookie year, 67 in his sophomore year, 81 this past season. Plus, he has skill. Check out the way he works on this goal against St. Louis:
Or the way he hustles all the way down the ice and sneaks one in against the Calgary Flames:
Look for him to continue proving himself and doing well.
About to Break Out
Center Ryan Strome, selected fifth overall at the 2011 draft, could be on his way to the big time. He’s currently with the Niagara IceDogs of the junior OHL and has finished four years total in juniors, so it’s about time for him to graduate to the big times at some level. His 2010-11 season was absolutely explosive–106 points and 12 more in the playoffs–and while he put up 68 points in the following campaign, that’s still a respectable total. He could get a trial period with the Islanders so they can decide whether to keep him or let him go back to Niagara. For his part, coach Jack Capuano is excited about Strome.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Ryan come in. He had a great year last year. It’s going to be interesting to see how he does in camp and how he fits in our plans,” he told NHL.com.
Down the road, stay tuned for the ascension of younger guys like Griffin Reinhart, the Islanders’ first-rounder this year.
To say the Islanders’ division, the Atlantic, is a tough one is like observing that the sky is blue or kittens are cute. Their division competitors–the Devils, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers–are strong teams that are always predicted to make deep playoff runs or even get the Stanley Cup. Keep in mind that all four of those teams had more than 100 points in the standings last season.
The Islanders didn’t have a great record with division rivals in 2011-12 and are going to have to improve that if they want to taste the postseason again, simple as that. That’s just one of the things they will need to do to improve, but with a core of young talent and the desire to perform well and garner more community support, the Islanders could very well surprise people this season–now, they just need to avoid another huge November slump.
The Rant Sports 30 in 30 will examine one NHL team per day. Tomorrow: the Philadelphia Flyers.