Over the next couple of months, I will be taking a closer look at each of the Eastern Conference teams to show what their current status is and where their offseason focus lies. Knowing a team’s strategy should provide extra assistance in any offseason trading or keeper decisions. This week I’ll take a look at the New York Islanders.
As a reference, I’ll add each of the teams I’ve covered here at the top in case you’d like to look at some of the other game plans.
UFA: P.A. Parenteau, Jay Pandolfo, Micheal Haley, Mark Eaton, Steve Staois, Milan Jurcina, Dylan Reese, Al Montoya, John Grahame, Trevor Gillies
RFA: Matt Martin, Rhett Rakhshani, Mikko Koskinen, Ty Wishart, Justin DiBenedetto
Rostered players signed for next season: 16
Available cap space: $25.6M
The cap space above (taken from capgeek.com) consists of nine forwards, five defensemen, and two goaltenders. Of the nine forwards, only Tavares has a no-trade clause, while Niederreiter and Cizikas are on two-way contracts. On defense, nobody has an NTC, but Hamonic and Donovan are on two-way contracts. Neither goalie has a no-trade clause, but DiPietro’s contract might as well serve as one (expires in 2021).
At forward, it appears the Islanders are walking away from top RW P.A. Parenteau. This will finally open the door for Kyle Okposo or perhaps even Nino Niederreiter to step into the top line role with Moulson and Tavares. Okposo, who is signed for four more seasons, will have the inside track, and the opportunity for a breakout season couldn’t be higher. From the options under contract, the second line in Long Island will consist of some combination of Grabner, Nielsen, Bailey, Niederreiter, and Cizikas.
That leaves two of the players above, along with Marty Reasoner eyeing third line minutes. The fourth line could consist of Martin (RFA), Pandolfo (UFA), Haley (UFA), or a new acquisition(s). The Islanders have been to known to bring in veteran depth via free agency, so there will most likely be at least one or two new faces to solidify the checking forward roles.
The Islanders are a unique team in that they have had a number of solid prospects in the system, but mediocre talent keeping the seat warm at the NHL level over the past few years. Finally, we are at a time where many of these prospects will have an opportunity to make an impact. Niederreiter and Cizikas have made the leap to the NHL level already, while Bridgeport’s top scorer the past two seasons, Rhett Rakhshani (profiled here), has signed to play with HV71 in the Elitserien this season and Justin DiBenedetto is a pending free agent. From the crop of forward prospects already under contract, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Mike Halmo could be among the faces ready to step up next. Strome is coming off a bit of a tough season in the OHL where he battled some injuries, but his postseason play was strong as ever. He will likely have the best shot at making the Islanders, possibly even at the expense of Cizikas. Nelson and Halmo are two prospects who just turned pro last season after leaving the NCAA and the OHL, respectively. While both should have bright futures ahead of them, they will each likely need one or two years of seasoning in the AHL before making impacts at the NHL level, but that doesn’t mean they won’t see cups of coffee this season. Nelson, who is 6’4” and a 2010 first round pick, will also likely be the first of the two to graduate.
At defense, the Islanders made a big splash at the draft acquiring Lubomir Visnovsky, who has called last season possibly the most frustrating of his career. There have been recent reports stating that Visnovsky is contemplating playing in Europe instead of for the Islanders, but according to Arthur Staple, Visnovsky has said, “This is my first choice, to play for the Islanders,” and that the choppy interview linking him to Europe was made before the trade, not after as everyone keeps implying. This would also make sense because of how unhappy Lubomir was in Anaheim last season.
As long as they are healthy and willing to play, the Islanders top two defensemen will now be Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky, two defensemen who will make significant power play and fantasy contributions. While Visnovsky did have a horrific season last year from a fantasy perspective, a new home could propel him back to the level of an elite defenseman. The third and fourth defenders from a will most likely be Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic, although Matt Donovan is certainly in the mix. Donovan was Bridgeport’s top blue liner last season and third-highest scorer overall, potting 45 points in 72 games. The fifth and sixth slots could be filled with pending UFA’s Eaton, Staois, Jurcina, and Reese, but free agency is always an option.
Of the prospect defenders under contract, the aforementioned Donovan is most likely to fight for a roster spot. After him, the Isles have Calvin de Haan and Aaron Ness in the pipeline, and while fans have been waiting for de Haan to make an impact, his first season in Bridgeport was rather underwhelming. He will almost certainly need one or two more years of seasoning. After Donovan, Ness was the next best defenseman in Bridgeport last season, but he is still a ways away from NHL contributions.
The Isles also have another underwhelming player in Ty Wishart (RFA) and the interesting Jon Landry, a 29 year old, 220 lb., 6’3” defenseman who has mostly been playing at lower levels (NCAA III, ECHL, CHL) before departing for Europe and returning to North America last season. While he never had an NHL contract and he split time between the ECHL and AHL last year, Landry somehow managed 20 points in 34 AHL games which was a far better pace than any other Bridgeport blue liner. If he can keep it up, the late bloomer might actually be able to turn a head or two in training camp and perhaps get his first NHL contract. It’s a long shot, but it’s possible.
In goal, the Islanders have been handcuffed (to put it mildly) with the contract of DiPietro, and while they have had a number of backups or prospect goaltenders hoping to fill in, they finally have a solid option in Evgeni Nabokov. While it was a bit of a shock that he wanted to re-sign (especially after the way he began his NYI career), Nabokov gives this team a credible goaltender with experience for the present. Their third string goalie, Kevin Poulin, is a very promising netminder who has played strong at the NHL level, but won’t make the team full time until (not if, but when) DiPietro lands on the IR for an extended period of time. Next in line is Anders Nilsson, who will take over the bulk of the load in the AHL. Since both of these goalies are signed, the Islanders’ goaltending depth does not require any immediate attention. Nabokov, DiPietro, and Poulin are the fantasy relevant goaltenders for now, with Poulin being a better option that DiPietro, but unfortunately he won’t be relevant until RDP is out of the way.
Biggest holes to fill: Top line winger, third and fourth line forward depth, fifth and sixth defensemen.
Priorities: The Islanders’ top priority should be to make sure that Lubomir Visnovsky is truly committed to play in the NHL next season. If that is the case, they can move on to other priorities, but if he is even considering going to Europe, they should look into bringing in another defenseman over the offseason.
Next, the Islanders have to decide how they want their top six to look. Are they comfortable with the players they have or do they need to bring in another player? In terms of defensive forwards, do they re-sign their free agents or pursue others (i.e. Moen, Pahlsson, etc.).
This upcoming season should be an exciting one for the Islanders, as it finally provides an opportunity for someone – most likely one of Okposo, Niederreiter, Grabner, Bailey, Strome, or Cizikas – to prove they are ready to play on the number one line. Next, they could have a second line with enough young talent to really mesh together and create something special. Last year’s secondary scoring was hindered by lack of chemistry with Nielsen, and if Strome or Bailey can bump Nielsen to the third line where he belongs, this team might have an entirely different offense. On defense, Visnovsky and Streit have the potential to form two elite power plays if separated or one very strong first unit if paired together. They could likely use another veteran body as insurance if Hamonic or MacDonald fails to step up to the level of which they are capable, which would really bolster the blue line. Lastly, the goaltending situation couldn’t be better, given the circumstances. Nabokov will without a doubt be the top goaltender in Long Island and DiPietro will ride the bench, the emergency room, and everything in between. While he has had little exposure, Kevin Poulin is a solid goaltender waiting to emerge as well. If he can get in to the NHL lineup early in the season, he might just give Isles management enough confidence to invest in him to be the number one next season (as Nabokov is only signed for one year). Players to watch include Ryan Strome, Casey Cizikas, and Matt Donovan. All in all, the Islanders are shaping up to be a much better team next season (potentially) and when that happens, almost everyone sees a spike in fantasy value.
Got anything to add? Feel free to add your opinion below.