What if I told you there is a team in the NHL that is about to become the next elite team if not this coming season then definitely by next year? What if I also told you this team is so below the radar that even most diehard NHL fans don’t even realize this fact. What if I also told you that this team has not won a playoff series since the 92-93 season and in the last 20 years has only made the playoffs 6 times.
This team has dealt with a rebuilding program for quite some time until last season when they made the playoffs for the first time in 6 years.
Not to mention in terms of their issues off the ice in terms of maybe the worst building in sports and quite frankly by almost all NHL fans have been considered one of the bottom teams for quite some time. Well ladies and gentlemen very bright days are ahead for this franchise and I am here to tell you the New York Islanders are the NHL’s sleeping giant. Your thinking how can I say this? Boy I really enjoyed Chris’s baseball articles but when it comes to hockey he is off his rocker right? Oh no not in the least, look at my reasons why. The Tavares Factor: One of the best players in the NHL already and turns 23 on September 20th. Came straight to the NHL at 18 years of age and each year gets better and better and better. What has impressed me about Tavares is not just his talent which is immense but his desire to get better every year. Every year Tavares works on his game from his skating, to getting stronger and analyzing what else he can do to be the best that he can be. But what has been amazing to me is Tavares has been like this since he walked in the door at 18 years of age. Tavares was a finalist for the Hart Trophy last season continuing his point a game performance. But I think hockey fans will see Tavares take another step this season and knock on the door of a 100-point season.
Deep Young Organization: The Islanders have amassed quite amount of depth the last few years. In fact the Islanders are at a position where young players such as Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson maybe ready for the NHL come opening night but will have to start the season in the AHL due to the Islanders depth. In addition a majority of the Islanders core have played together for the last 3-4 years and developing that chemistry, experience on and off the ice. This is a very tight knit group that believes in each other. But despite the youth the Isles have (will only have 3 players on their opening night roster 30 or older) these players have gained a lot of experience the last few years in terms of what it takes to win at the NHL level to go along with their talent. Basically the Islanders young talented players have grown up at a very young age. Those rebuilding years will pay huge dividends for the organization and the Islander fans.
Locked Up: Garth Snow has locked up a lot of his players to multi-year deals that gave the player great security but at the same time have been very smart contracts for the organization in a time where players are getting crazy money especially once they hit free agency. Snow has locked up of the next few years of course Tavares, Grabner, Martin, Okposo, Nielsen and this summer Snow locked up Hamonic, Bailey and the newly acquired Cal Clutterbuck.
The GM: I am not hear to tell you every move Garth Snow has made has turned to gold but he has done an excellent job in rebuilding this team. Snow has believed in the draft and getting as many draft picks as possible which has feed this organization a lot of talented players. I mentioned above how Snow and the organization has been shrewd in locking up their own core players as well. But in addition Snow has found a lot of good players via quiet free agent signings and the waiver wire. From the current roster we can attribute Moulson, Grabner, C.McDonald, Strait, Hickey and A.McDonald to this group. In the past couple of years Snow hit gold with low cost free agent signings in PA Parenteau and Brad Boyes. I am sure he is hoping for the same kind of return on Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
The Farm System: The Islanders have one of the best farm systems in the NHL. According to HockeyFutures.com the Islanders have one of the top 5 farm systems lead by Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart and recent 1st round pick Ryan Pulock. In addition the Islanders will have so many players knocking on the door and ready for the NHL between early and mid season. The Islanders depth in terms of their prospects is very impressive. It reminds me of the Yankees around 1994 where they had so many prospects you knew the tide was turning due to all their young talent coming. That’s where the Islanders farm system is at and keep in mind they already have an extremely talented young roster with the big club.
Islanders Cap Situation: No other team has the cap space and cap flexibility like the New York Islanders. Not only do they have the most cap space but as I indicated above they have almost all of their core players locked up for years to come. Throw in the fact the Islanders over the next year the latest 2 years will be moving into a brand new state of the art building and that will only help the Islanders in every way possible.
Goal-tending: I guess a critic of the team will go after their goal-tending. They will say Nabokov did not look good against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. True the Penguins were able to light the lamp versus the Islanders but didn’t the Penguins do the same thing to the Ottawa Senators in round 2 and the Seantors gave up the 2nd lowest amount of goals in the regular season last season. So why is no one being critical of the Senators goal-tending? Even though Nabakov is 38 he is a goaltender who loves work and gets better the more he plays. The two big reasons the Islanders made the playoffs last year were John Tavares & Evgeni Nabokov. Nabokov played in 41 of the Islanders 48 regular season games. While I would not expect Nabokov to play at that same clip this season look for him to play around 55 games and give the Islanders an excellent chance to win every night. In terms of the long-term view of the Islanders goal-tending situation that’s an interesting conversation. Kevin Poulin who will be the Islanders backup and get to show this season he is indeed an NHL goalie. Poulin is a talented young athletic goalie whom is only 23 years of age. In addition the Isles have Anders Nilsson who is 6’5 and just 23 himself and will start the season in Bridgeport. My money is on Nilsson to be the Isles #1 goalie of the future between his size and skill. If the youngsters don’t work out for the long term there are a lot of talented goaltenders hitting the free agent market after next season, including one who plays on 34th and 7th Avenue in New York City.
Outlook This Year: On paper the Islanders are as good as any team in the new Metropolitan division other than Penguins. Am I saying the Islanders are the clear-cut 2nd best team division no I am not. But unlike the last few years where the Islanders were considered one of the bottom 3 teams in the Eastern Conference this season they are a team that can push the Penguins maybe for a division title. I am high on the Islanders not just because of their talent but also because of the depth this team has. The only red flag for me is there are a lot of expectations on the Islanders this season after a very successful season last year especially when you consider where they came from in terms of the year before. But a great sign for Islander fans was how upset the team was after the lost to the Penguins in 6 games last season in the playoffs. Many teams would have said hey we had a great season something to build and pat themselves on the back. Most of the media was saying that about their performance against the mighty Penguins. However the Islanders truly did not feel that way and were extremely upset. This was not arrogance or a young team thinking too much of themselves. This is a young team that believes in themselves and each other and have big expectations for themselves. I think that’s a very good combination to have, so hockey fans watch out for the sleeping giant in the NY Islanders.
More hockey articles to come by me going forward as well.
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CJ Lizza – TheNLKing