The Capitals have won the Metropolitan Division three straight years. Can they defend their title? Here’s a preview of each team in the division for the 2018-19 season.
Today's team: New York Islanders
2017-18 Results: 35-37-10, 80 points, seventh in the division. Did not qualify for the playoffs.
Notable acquisitions: F Valtteri Filppula, F Leo Komarov, F Jan Kovar, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Matt Martin, F Chris Wagner, G Robin Lehner, head coach Barry Trotz
Notable departures: F John Tavares, D Calvin de Haan, G Jaroslav Halak, head coach Doug Weight
When they will play the Caps: Nov. 26 in Brooklyn, Jan. 18 in Washington, March 1 at Nassau Coliseum, April 6 in Washington
Offseason recap: The biggest story of the offseason across the league was Tavares’ decision to leave the Islanders for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. Bringing in Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations and general manager and Trotz as head coach present a massive upgrade on Long Island from the mess that was Garth Snow and Weight, but it wasn’t enough to entice Tavares to stay.
To make matters worse, it seems as if there was no real plan for what the team was going to do if Tavares did in fact leave. Granted, replacing a player of Tavares' caliber is difficult, but re-signing Thomas Hickey for four years, trading for Martin and signing players like Filppula, Komarov and Kuhnhackl feels like Lamoriello is grasping at straws.
Plus, an abhorrent defense likely got worse with the loss of de Haan. The Islanders did not bolster their blue line at all and got only a minimal (at best) upgrade in net with Lehner.
It certainly looks as if the Islanders put all their energy into getting Tavares to re-sign and didn’t think too much about Plan B or how to improve other positions in which they are severely lacking.
Biggest strength: Offense
Yes, Tavares is gone, but he actually wasn’t the team’s leading scorer last season. Rookie Mathew Barzal was with 85 points, just edging out Tavares’ 84. Tavares also did not lead the team in goals. That honor went to Anders Lee whose 40 goals beat Tavares’ 37.
That’s not to suggest the Islanders won’t miss Tavares. The offense absolutely will take a step back without him, but the Islanders were tied for seventh in the NHL last season with 3.18 goals per game. Tavares may have been the Islanders’ best forward, he may have made his teammates better (Josh Bailey is not getting 71 points without Tavares), but New York was not nearly as dependent on him offensively as a team like New Jersey is with Taylor Hall.
Biggest weakness: Keeping the puck out of the net
New York allowed an NHL high 293 goals last season thanks to atrocious defense and goaltending and things do not look like they are going to be much better anytime soon.
It’s hard to see how the blue line gets better this season with zero additions and the loss of de Haan. In goal, New York added Lehner in free agency after he was not qualified by the Buffalo Sabres. Lehner and Halak had identical save percentages last season at .908. Even if Lehner proves to be an upgrade in net, he will only be a minimal one even with Mitch Korn working with him.
2018-19 season outlook: Whenever a team loses its franchise player, it’s a blow, but the future may not be all that bad on Long Island. There’s no question the franchise is in better hands now with Lamoriello and Trotz, plus Barzal is the real deal. The team also had one of the better drafts of 2018.
For now, however, the outlook is bleak.
New York missed the playoffs last season because of their defense and their goaltending. Trotz and Korn will help improve those areas, but the defense returns the same personnel minus de Haan and Lehner could not even get a qualifying offer from Buffalo. Whatever improvement there is on the backend likely will be minimal.
And then there’s Tavares. Without him, the offense is going to take a step back. The rag-tag group of forwards Lamoriello brought in over the offseason don’t come close to replacing what Tavares brought to the lineup.
So to sum up, the offense lost its franchise player, the defense got worse and the goaltending may be just as bad if not worse than last season.
Trotz certainly has his work cut out for him.
2018-19 season prediction: The Islanders will finish dead last in the Metropolitan Division.
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