It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: New York Islanders.
How they did last season: 45-27-10 (100 points); 4th in the Metropolitan Division; 5th in the Eastern Conference. Made the playoffs for the third time in four years but failed to advance past the second round after being eliminated by the Lightning in five games.
Notable acquisitions: LW Andrew Ladd; RW PA Parenteau; and LW Jason Chimera.
Notable departures: C Frans Nielsen; RW Kyle Okposo; LW Matt Martin; D Brian Strait; and D Marek Zidlicky.
When they will play the Caps: Oct. 15 in Brooklyn; Dec. 1 in Washington; Dec. 13 in Brooklyn; Dec. 27 in Washington; Jan. 31 in Washington.
Analysis: When the Islanders open the 2016-17 season, John Tavares' supporting cast will sport a decidedly different look.
Gone are top-six forwards Nielsen and Okposo and hard-hitting fourth liner Martin—all of whom defected via free agency. In their place, GM Garth Snow signed Ladd, a two-time Cup winner with 64 postseason games on his resume, Parenteau and Chimera, the 37-year-old winger who netted 20 goals last season in Washington.
Two of the newcomers—Ladd and Parenteau—figure to flank Tavares on the revamped first line. Ladd, 30, is good for 25 goals a season and Parenteau, 33, matched his career-high of 20 goals last season in Toronto. Parenteau played for the Islanders previously from 2010-2012.
Is the forward group improved? That’s tough to say. More likely than not, it’s just, well, different. Which could be a good thing for the Islanders, a team that’s posted back-to-back 100-point seasons but needs to take the next step with its window of opportunity wide open.
With the camp set to begin in about a month, the biggest question is in net, where Coach Jack Capuano will have a difficult decision to make. There are three goalies on the one way contracts: Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube. And having covered a situation like that in Washington, I can tell you this without hestitation: That’s one goalie too many. Sure competition is good, but there’s only one net to defend on game nights and two nets in practice.
When healthy, Halak has been mostly good for the Islanders over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, he was sidelined a few times last season by injuries, calling into question his reliability. Greiss, meantime, performed well in his absence, posting a .925 save percentage in 41 regular season games and a .923 mark in 11 playoff appearances. The Islanders are also intrigued with Berube’s potential. And, oh yeah, Halak is set to count $4.5 million against the cap next season, while Greiss and Berube will count $1.5 million and $675,000, respectively.
Something’s got to give, obviously.
Season prediction: In the spirit of full disclosure, I covered the Islanders through some pretty dark years for The New York Times back in the late 1990s, so I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for them given all the franchise and fan base has been through.
That said, I like this team for a lot of other reasons, too.
I think Tavares will flourish with Ladd and Parenteau on the first line. In addition, I suspect Ladd’s leadership and championship pedigree will be a good thing for the locker room.
I’m also bullish on the Nick Leddy/Travis Hamonic/Johnny Boychuk-anchored defense. I think it’s plenty good enough. And if youngster Ryan Pulock solidifies the group, as expected, I suspect it could be one of the league’s better blue lines.
And, finally, I’ve always thought of Capuano as one of the league’s savvier coaches, even if he flies under the radar a bit. But this year will be a big test for him. He’s got a sticky goaltending situation to sort out and, after two straight 100-point seasons, it’s time for Tavares and Co. to make a run. He knows it. And everyone else knows it, as well.
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2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS
— Carolina Hurricanes
— Columbus Blue Jackets
— New Jersey Devils
— New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming soon)