The New York Islanders narrowly avoided the dubious distinction of finishing last in the Eastern Conference last season. The Montreal Canadiens finished one point behind the Isles after one of the Habs’ worst seasons in recent memory. Assuming the dysfunction that crippled Montreal last season is resolved, are the New York Islanders the worst team in the Eastern Conference?
Assuming the NHL lockout doesn’t sacrifice the entire season, the Islanders appear poorly prepared to move up in the standings. They failed to add any significant pieces this offseason, which may have been due to the looming lockout.
They lost third-leading scorer P.A. Parenteau to free agency and failed to replace his career-high 67 points. The addition of a disgruntled Lubomir Visnovsky, who will be forced to play with the Islanders after his trade dispute was thrown out by an arbitrator, will help fill a desperate defensive need. However, the Islanders have more holes than one defenseman can fill.
Their aging goaltender put together a winning season in net last year, but how much does Evgeni Nabokov have left in the tank? At age 37, Nabokov cannot be depended on to carry the Islanders. As their defensive corps is still relatively weak, even with Visnovsky, it’s still lacking.
Last season, the Islanders gave up 255 goals in the regular season. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs and their myriad of goaltending issues and the Tampa Bay Lightning faired worse. With Nabokov having an impressive season, those numbers can only be explained by a lack of defensive commitment and talent. In 2012-13, it’s hard to expect anything other than a disappointing season defensively.
Offensively, the New York has limited hope. Jonathan Tavares is set for another impressive season and could be one of the league’s most dangerous scorers. Still, last year the Islanders scored only 203 times – only once more than the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. With Parenteau gone, you can’t help but wonder where the scoring will come from this year. Tavares can’t do it all himself.
Ultimately, with an aging goaltender, plenty of defensive questions, and isolated offensive talent, the New York Islanders could be in trouble. The young, dynamic offensive weapons on this roster need to give Tavares support for the Islanders to be competitive. Without Parenteau, only Matt Moulson and Tavares ecclipsed 50 points. Young players need to emerge and the Islanders need stronger defensive commitment to compete in a loaded Atlantic Division this year.