Thursday, May 19, 2016

Pool Outlook for Long Island

The New York Islanders put together a pretty good team effort, in light of a few key injuries and underachievers in the 2016 season, earning the first wild card spot in the East and then going on to knock out the Florida Panthers in six games, eventually falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games.

Much of the goaltending duties were supposed to fall on Jaroslav Halak in the 2016 season, but injury led to the emergence of Thomas Greiss and it was his steady goaltending that was the anchor that got the Islanders to the second round of the playoffs.  This played out to be a very significant story in the year, but it certainly wasn't the portion of the story that saw them lose out in the playoffs.

The underachievers were likely the most responsible for the team's finish in the regular season and they were unable to provide that timely scoring against the Lightning, unable to answer the bell, when their opposition's high-flying offense flew down the ice.  The absence of Ryan Strome of 2015 hurt John Tavares' numbers, while Anders Lee and Josh Bailey could have used better seasons as well.

Nevertheless, the outlook still looks pretty good, as there is still plenty of time to consider this year just a brown out on the power grid.  Another solid off-season worth of moves and they should be right back to putting up points and wins and they can re-enter the conversation for a longer playoff run.

The sudden splash of scoring in the 2015 season meant that the Islanders were going to be a pretty hot commodity in the hockey pool draft and they were, as 14 players were taken in the September draft.  There were two 1st round picks out of Long Island, as John Tavares and Jaroslav Halak were top priorities for a couple of teams.  The pool added one more in Week Nine and Week Eighteen saw two drop and those same two get picked up, so no change, really.  So, at the end of the year, there were 15 Islanders in the pool and everyone seemed pretty happy about it.

Tavares led the team once again, to no one's surprise, picking up 33 goals and 70 points in 78 games, which was down from his 2015 season, where he had 86 points, but he was still a more-than-qualified leader.  Overall, the 25-year old captain finished 28th in pool scoring, which was just outside of the 1st round rankings in the year, but he would have been the top pick in the 2nd round, just missing out on his pick expectations.

Including Tavares, the Islanders had 14 pool worthy players, which tells us that the poolies were pretty well on target, taking what they could from Long Island.  Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Casey Cizikas and Ryan Strome all generated enough offense to be worthy up front, while Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic and Thomas Hickey were all good from the blueline.  Despite the injury to Halak, both he and Thomas Greiss were both worthy, as they split time and finished 28th and 24th, respectively, in goalie scoring.

These Islanders might be setting some high expectations in the pool, now that they have strung together a couple of good years, back-to-back.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

For the 2016 season, I have a strong feeling that John Tavares is only going to get better and he'll be taking this team and pushing it even farther.  The Rangers still appear to be very strong in the Metropolitan Division, but I think with the improvements that the Islanders and their captain can still make, they can really take a chunk out of the 12-point difference in the standings.  I get the feeling that the playoff run, as short as it was, did the team wonders for their maturity and long-term goals and with that kind of leadership, they will put up a reasonable challenge to the Rangers and likely earn home-ice in the first round of the playoffs next year.

The Islanders certainly closed the gap between themselves and the Rangers, as the 12-point gap went down to one point in 2016, but they still had Washington and Pittsburgh to contend with in their division.  Tavares and the bunch didn't have quite the season that we thought they'd have, so there wasn't any home-ice in the playoffs, but they certainly still made strides as a franchise.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
John Tavares 5.500 Johnny Boychuk 6.000 Jaroslav Halak 4.500
Anders Lee 3.750 Nick Leddy 5.500 Thomas Greiss 1.500
Josh Bailey 3.300 Travis Hamonic 3.857
Brock Nelson 2.500 Thomas Hickey 2.200
Mikhail Grabovski 5.000 Calvin de Haan 1.967 Eamon McAdam 0.925
Nikolay Kulemin 4.188 Kyle Burroughs 0.925 Stephon Williams 0.925
Cal Clutterbuck 2.750 Devon Toews 0.925
Matthew Barzal 0.925 Ryan Pulock 0.863
Anthony Beauvillier 0.925 Matthew Finn 0.858
Michael Dal Colle 0.894 Adam Pelech 0.854
Joshua Ho-Sang 0.894 Parker Wotherspoon 0.736
Carter Verhaeghe 0.778 Loic Leduc 0.615
Kyle Schempp 0.705 Jesse Graham 0.605
Ross Johnston 0.667

10 out of the 14 pool worthy players are signed on to be back at it for the Islanders, which means that there is some work to do in the off-season.  There is certainly a good core there, something both worthy of picking and one that could possibly win a bunch of games next season.  If the remainder of those worthy players can get signed or replaced, they are certainly looking up next year.

Replacing some of those missing names with some more youth is a definite possibility, as the Islanders have some very good talent coming down the pipe, especially in the forward ranks.  There's lots of excitement coming from Matthew Barzal and Michael Dal Colle, each are top end draft picks with plenty of offensive upside, while Joshua Ho-Sang has his concerns, but definitely has the hands to score some goals in this league.  I think the training camp on the island will be one that's worth keeping an eye on, come September.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

The Islanders still have their 1st round pick, but there don't really have a need, exactly, rather they can go into this draft and take that next best available player, forward or defenseman, and be pretty pleased with adding a key piece to their reserves.  With the 19th overall pick, I can see the Islanders eyeing up a little bit more offense, possibly taking a kid like Clayton Keller of the US Development system, who has slid down the list, mostly because of his size, as he's just a tad undersized at 5'11", but if he has the talent, he can certainly make that jump.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

This is where Garth Snow is going to earn most of his bucks, as his workload is pretty heavy here.  Four of his pool-worthy forwards are in need of new deals and they may not come in cheaply.  Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen are both headed to the open market in July, if neither are signed, while Casey Cizikas and Ryan Strome don't have nearly as much leverage, as restricted free agents.

The Islanders are more of a budget team, which increases the intrigue around this situation.  Their current crop of pool-worthy players signed on are coming in at $38.6 million for 10 players, which makes for good cap management, but they also have a couple of dud contracts in Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin, who are scheduled to earn over $9 million and neither were worthy in 2016.  Decisions, decisions!

This off-season will be pretty important for the Islanders and how they approach it will leave a lasting impression on how they finish at the end of the 2017 season.  The free agency situation will weigh the heaviest, as re-signing Okposo and/or Nielsen may be the most straight-forward solution, but that isn't a guarantee.  If either of them flee through free agency, how the team replaces their production, if they can, will make all the difference.  The Islanders still have enough in what is already signed to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs, but they need those players or something comparable to help them achieve some loftier heights.  I can see this management team being busy at the draft, trying to acquire assets for players they feel they're going to lose, which means they'll be both entertaining in the off-season and the next regular season.
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