The Islanders haven't made the playoffs since 2006 and although they seem to be getting better each season, the results end up the same. If it's not a top-five pick in the NHL entry draft, than it's a top-10 pick. The Islanders only hope to get better is through the draft as blue chip free agents avoid coming to Long Island for multiple reasons, not the least of which is they have no idea where this team will be playing in 2016.
The year 2015 is when the lease on the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum expires. Owner Charles Wang and the Isles will either need to break ground on a new arena shortly (extremely unlikely), or they will be playing someplace else. The NHL is still playing fun and games with the Phoenix Coyotes, and the same thing could end up happening with the Islanders. Sure, they may end up playing in Brooklyn, but that arena was built for a basketball team, not hockey. Why would any top free agent want to play for a team that still has quite a bit of work to do to before becoming a Stanley Cup contender and then may have to uproot both themselves and their family if the team is forced to move to Kansas City, Ottawa, or Quebec.
NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky once called the New Jersey Devils a Mickey Mouse organization in the 1980's. Well that comes pretty close to describing the New York Islanders hierarchy. Garth Snow was hired as general manager in July of 2006, as he was still the team's backup goaltender. Certainly that was some outside the box thinking by Wang who has his own philosophy as to how a team should be run in the front office. Thinking like that led to resignations by Neil Smith, Pat LaFontaine, and Bryan Trottier in years past. Another example is this year's NHL Entry draft. Everyone knew the Islanders biggest weakness was defense and when they took Griffin Reinhart with their first round pick no one had any problems with it, but then they took a defenseman with every other selection as well. Sure those players could've been the highest rated on the board, but somehow I find that hard to believe.
You can't say the Islanders haven't tried to upgrade the team through free agency. Defensemen Paul Martin and Christian Ehrhoff took less money from Pittsburgh and Buffalo respectively rather than play on Long Island. The Islanders acquired Lubomir Visnovsky from the Ducks in a draft day trade only to find out that he filed a claim in arbitration that states his no trade clause should've kicked in allowing him to veto the deal (that hearing is set for Sept 4). Doesn't really seem like anyone is anxious to play for the Islanders unless they are drafted or have something to prove.
Scoring shouldn't be a problem for the Islanders. They have John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, and a few others that can put the puck in the net. Are they the 1980's Edmonton Oilers? Of course not, but they can light the lamp. Defense is still the problem, and although help is on the way, it still may be another season or two before the big club reaps those benefits. Best case scenario for the Islanders is that they get to compete for one of the last two playoff spots all season long and maybe surprise someone in the playoffs.
THE BIG GUNS
John Tavares (C): Tavares has proven time and time again that the Islanders made the right choice when they selected him first overall in the 2009 NHL draft. His numbers have improved in each of his three seasons in the league and should only get better as the Islanders improve the talent around him; Tavares registered 81 points in 82 games last year. What was impressive about Tavares' numbers last season was that he produced at a point-per-game pace on a team that was shut out as often as the Islanders were. Tavares is a borderline first round pick in most drafts and should fall no further than the second round, he is the Isles' top goal scorer and is one of the league's elite young talents.
Matt Moulson (LW): Islanders GM Garth Snow uncovered a gem in Moulson when he found him on the scrap heap three years ago. During those three season with the Islanders, Moulson has scored 97 goals, and posted a career-best 69 points and 36 goals last year. Moulson is not a great skater nor does he have a great shot, but he does know how to put the puck in the net, and that is all that matters. Playing on a line with John Tavares doesn't hurt much either for one of the league's most quietly consistent players. Moulson likely won't be the bargain this year that he has been the past three seasons.
Mark Streit (D): Streit is the glue to the Islanders defense. An underrated playmaker, he missed all of the 2010-11 campaign due to a freak shoulder injury in training camp but returned last year to post seven goals and 40 assists, numbers that could even be better this season. The Isles also may be able to pair him with Lubomir Visnovsky which should only help Streit as defenses can no longer key on him at the point on the power play. Streit is one of the league's most consistent offensive defensemen, averaging 53.5 points his last four seasons while topping out at 62 in 2007-08 with Montreal. He has 96 points the last two years with the Islanders.
ON THE RISE
Kyle Okposo (RW): After essentially missing all of the 2010-11 season due to injury, Okposo came back to have his best season in the NHL with 24 goals and 45 points. The production did come at a price however as his plus-minus took a beating. Okposo is a solid player who is more than likely ticketed for second line duty once again. This could be a good thing as he can relax and play his game rather than try to live up to the expectations of being a first round pick and playing on the top line, as it's starting to look like he might not be suited for that role.
Frans Nielsen (C): Outside of John Tavares, Nielsen may be the most valuable Islander. His numbers keep getting better each season, he's very good on faceoffs and in the defensive zone, and is as close to automatic in the shootout as a player can be. Right now he's the second line center, but once Ryan Strome is ready to make his debut he could be pushed down to the third line or possibly Strome will be moved to wing to either play on the top line with Tavares, or second line with Nielsen. Nielsen is worth a look in deeper leagues and close to one-third of his 47 points were on the power play last season.
Travis Hamonic (D): Hamonic gave the Islanders exactly what they needed last year, a solid young presence on the blue line. Following a slow start, Hamonic registered 24 points with 73 penalty minutes along with triple-digit totals in hits and blocked shots. Defense was by far the biggest problem for the Islanders last year and they have had difficulty drawing free agents to play there and also haven't had much luck grooming their own. Hamonic, still just 22, is of use in deep leagues that reward penalty minutes and other secondary categories, just don't expect massive offensive numbers.
TWO TO WATCH
Ryan Strome (C): Strome could be the crown jewel of the Islanders organization. A top line center that defenses will have to account for, he is a playmaker that could embarrass a defender with his stick handling at any moment. Strome has scored 63 goals to go with 111 assists over the past two seasons in the OHL, along with being voted in the top three for playmaker, stick handler, and mental acumen in an OHL poll of Eastern Conference coaches. Islander fans are awaiting his arrival but it still may not be this season as the Isles are being very careful about their top prospect. A strong camp could force their hand but smart money has him making his debut either in the middle of the season, or next year. Strome should definitely be a target for those in keeper leagues, as he's going to a special player.
Nino Niederreiter (RW): Niederreiter has two goals in his young NHL career, all 64 games of it, but has the talent to do more. The whispers are certainly getting louder and louder that he may be a first round bust, especially if he doesn't produce more offensively this season. An underlying problem may be that the Isles don't know where to play him, constantly shuffling him between the second, third and fourth lines. Niederreiter also complained about a lack of communication between the coaching staff and himself as well, but these are probably just frustrations of a young talent not playing up to expectations. Niederreiter is still considered a prospect at the age of 20, but the Isles are hoping to see an improvement on his minus-29 from last year as well as a few more goals.
Brad Boyes (RW): The Isles signed Boyes on the cheap to replace Pierre Parenteau, who signed a large free agent contract with Colorado. Boyes is on the downside of a career that saw him crack 40 goals five seasons ago; he will try to revive what is left of his career with the Islanders. The good news is that Parenteau played on the top line with John Tavares and Matt Moulson, so Boyes could be given a chance to ride shotgun with that productive duo. If Boyes starts scoring goals consistently again, he will make a savvy late round selection or waiver pick-up.
Evgeni Nabokov (G): Nabokov had a solid season for the Islanders last year as he posted a 2.55 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 42 games. Those numbers could have been much better if he had a quality defense in front of him. Nabokov is slated to once again be the Islanders starting goaltender, which does limit his fantasy value, but the Isles are getting better as a team, just not quickly. He could also be traded at almost any point to a team that needs a veteran presence in net and is willing to pay the price for Nabokov. He's a solid option once most of the second-tier goaltending options have been taken, just don't expect him to carry your team.
HOT (OR NOT?) PROSPECTS
Matt Donovan (D): Donovan could be ready to play with the Isles full-time if he has a strong training camp. He has the size and vision to play at the NHL level, and certainly possesses an offensive upside, posting 45 points in 72 games with Bridgeport in the AHL last year. With Donovan, it's just a question of whether or not he needs more seasoning. Donovan eventually will be a top four defenseman for the Islanders.
Brock Nelson (C): Nelson will begin his pro career this year, more than likely at the AHL level after signing an entry-level deal with the Isles upon completing his sophomore season at the University of North Dakota. He is a power forward who posted 28 goals and 47 points in 42 games for the Fighting Sioux last year, but still needs quite a bit of seasoning before he is ready to play in the NHL.
Calvin de Haan (D): The knock on de Haan ever since he was drafted in the first-round by the Isles is that he wasn't big enough to take the pounding at the NHL level. So far he's proven that prediction to be correct as he has struggled to stay healthy at the AHL level having already suffered several injuries to his shoulder in particular. Still, the Isles are painfully thin on defense and de Haan will get every chance to make the team out of camp, but the odds of him playing an entire season and staying in one piece aren't good. de Haan registered 16 points in 56 games with Bridgeport last season in the AHL.