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The New York Islanders 2018-19 Season Preview

By Danny Radical

84 points. Annnnd I’m done, right?

84 points was my initial prediction over the summer, when I saw the roster the New York Islanders and Lou Lamioreillo constructed. 84 points, missing the playoffs, and maybe pick 10 in the draft. Pick 10 is the worst of the top 10 picks, because you’ve got the pressure of getting a top 10 pick in location, but it’s probably a player that isn’t going to make an impact.

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This list covers about 25 years of 10th overalls. There is 1 great one, 2 or 3 good ones and a shit ton of nothing. 10% of picks made an impact. So picking tenth means you’re going to fail about 90% of the time. Joy. This is why being mediocre is never a good idea. The Islanders at that pace are looking Philip Broberg. Great name, but I digress.

Why 84 points? Look at what the team lost- John Tavares. Jaroslav Halak. Calvin De Haan. One of those three are good. Halak is on the decline. De Haan is serviceable as a 4. But what were they replaced with?

Tavares? Nothing.
De Haan? Luca Sbisa? Scott Mayfield?
Halak? Robin Lehner.

These are downgrades at every position for a team that did not make the playoffs for two years in a row. This is stuff that when Lou Lamoriello was hired you thought would be fixed. Lou did not fix this. #Loupon.

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Still here. Next year, too.


Instead Lou brought in a gaggle of grinders. Whereas Lou brought back fan favorite Matt Martin for pennies on the dollar ($1.25 million payout per year for two years), he also brought in a pair of one year band aids and a long term, Snow-esque 4th liner deal. This is not a fix.

Yes, there is a 40 goal scorer on the roster. Yes, there are a quintet of 20 goal scorers on the roster. And goal scoring was not an issue for the team last year. Defense was. And the defense? Looks a whole lot like last years defense.
So…84 points. Missing playoffs.

Then something happened. I watched the preseason. And I realized how stupid I was.

My 84 point prediction was based on two things:
1) Mathew Barzal stepping up to lead the team like Tavares had, and the team didn’t do shit with Tavares
2) The usual business with Snow draft picks and Weight’s influence

But after watching the preseason either live in person, or on the internet, or the few televised games, I started to notice something. They looked…coached.

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This team has not looked coached since Ted Nolan ran the bench. But I was watching the defensive positioning and noticed a difference. I watched how the power play set up and noticed a difference. I watched how they held on to leads and played for 60 minutes for the first time in decades. And I said to myself- 84 points?

To be honest, I’m sticking with my 84 point prediction. And I’ll explain why shortly. But I will also gladly admit that if this team exceeds 84 points I will not be surprised. And if this team does not reach 84 points, I’ll explain before the season starts how they got there.

Let’s start with task one: how will this team get 84 points.

Mathew Barzal will do like he did last year. A point a game. This is production similar to the exited John Tavares. It will be less goals and more assists, but it will be points. The issue is who Barzal is playing with.

Last year Josh Bailey benefitted by passing to two guys that combined for over 70 goals. In the process of playing with a top 10 NHL center, Bailey ALMOST scored 20 goals. ALMOST. His stats will surely regress if they insist that he plays with the lesser goal scoring Barzal and Beauvillier. And in case anyone forgot, Bailey had 50 points on New Years Eve. He finished the season with 71. 21 points over January, February, March and April. Glad they extended him for so many years! Garth is so savvy! #FatFuckingLazyBum #FertileBailey

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However, as Butch Goring stated, Beau will score 30 this year playing a full season with Mat Barzal. But promoting the impact of Beau will not mitigate the following concept: Andres Lee will have a drop off without Tavares and Bailey.

Why Tavares? Because Tavares can set up Lee. Why Bailey? Because Bailey had a career low in shooting percentage, which gave Lee fat rebounds to tuck in, which is his style. Sticking his with Brock Nelson- a shooting center- is a positive, but his wing mate will be Jordan Eberle. Eberle is a solid offensive player good for about 30 assists a year. Anders will revert to a maybe 30 goal scorer.

And your top six will have gone from a 40 goal scorer, a 30 goal scorer, 3 20 goal scorers, and a douche to two 30 goal scorers, 2 or 3 20 goal scorers, and a douche. That’s a downgrade.

And the bottom six? The Islanders reunited the best 4th line in hockey from 3 years ago. Generally rebuilding old things years later doesn’t work in sports. Look at when the Brooklyn Nets traded their future for some old Celtics. In addition, the Islanders may be fielding the worst 3rd line in hockey. It’s a rotation of god knows what. The best the team can hope for is a line that prevents the other team from scoring, as the bottom six will provide about 40 goals combined.

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Wow.

The defense looks a lot like last years defense. That defense was the worst defense the NHL has seen in a decade plus. The Islanders let Calvin De Haan leave, resigned Thomas Hickey, added Luca Sbisa, and are looking at the man Garth Snow claimed could have saved the season as an 8th defenseman in Devon Toews- the 24 year old rookie sensation. This is not noteworthy.

The penalty kill was horrible. It was like watching a horror film every time the team took a penalty. Has this changed?

Lastly, the goaltenders. The Islanders lost Halak and replaced him with Lehner. Statistically this is a downgrade. Thomas Greiss has returned to get his fat paycheck, but he was completely horrible last season so all he can do is rebound. At best, this is an average goaltending tandem.

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But, I said this team can exceed 84 points. How?

First off, look at how they have been coached in the preseason, and expect it to get better over the season. Barry Trotz just won a Stanley Cup. Like JUST WON. This isn’t like Dan Blysma winning a cup and going to Buffalo. This is a guy that brought almost all of his support staff with him. He brought a legendary goaltending coach. He’s governing the power play so that it emulated the same he used in Washington. He’s coming off of six consecutive playoff appearances. All of these things are intangibles that the Islanders haven’t seen in ages, and create a metric that I am not sure I can accurately measure.

At this point you can ask- can Trotz make this a playoff team? Based on the 84 point assessment, they’d have to improve about 15 points to guarantee that. 15 points are a lot. I am not sure that is possible. But if it does it will account for one of the most exciting Islander seasons of all time, and a testament to the guy who will pass Al Arbour in wins this upcoming season. That may be kismet.

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Then there’s the idea that they may tank. Not on purpose, but based on moving bad contracts over the course of the season. If the Islanders do what I am expecting, what happens when they become wholesalers?

I expect this season to be in part a series of auditions for jobs both with the team and for other teams. When do the Islanders start trading away present players for future picks and prospects? If they are not cut, I expect pretty much any player on a one year contract to be traded for 3rd and 4th round picks. If Tomas Soderstrom gets healthy I can see Greiss or Lehner being traded. And Brock Nelson should fetch you either a 1st round pick or a pair of later picks, minimum.

Realistically, the Islanders have two big fish to trade- Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee. I expect one to be resigned in season and one to go elsewhere. I wrote here that the Islanders should keep Eberle because he’s a modern style hockey player, with speed and skill. But I suspect Lou will keep Lee, because he’s a hard nosed guy, super gritty, and good with the public. If I am trading Eberle, I am expecting a second pairing defenseman in return. I can live with that.
And the best part of this is that Lou can move players for picks, lower the cap hit of the team, acquire a useful player, have the opportunity to resign Eberle if he desires, and increase the odds of the Islanders getting a shot at the 1st overall pick in the 2019 draft by purposefully making the team worse.

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Plus with Nelson and Eberle traded, Joshua Ho Sang and Keifer Bellows get to learn about the NHL without the pressure of a playoff race. And Oliver Whalstrom will see that the team is willing to play young forwards and leave college for the professional ranks. Plus you’re looking to make trades to remove a defenseman for a draft pick to make room for Noah Dobson.

Lastly, this should be the season where the Islanders put Andrew Ladd on the Long Term Injured Reserve. His contract is more than 50% paid anyway with 4 years to go. Eat the deal, take the cap relief, and just buy out a bad contract. If I read the CBA right, and I can’t guarantee that, the Isles will create about $3m in cap space with a Ladd buyout. Let him fish full time. I give a fuck.

Oh, and if I am the Islanders owners, I am pushing Gary Bettman HARD in granting the Islanders the 1st overall pick in the draft. It’s worked for Pittsburgh when Mario Lemieux threatened to relocate the team, and it worked in Edmonton when the Oilers threatened to leave the city. It even worked in Toronto when they demanded to be relevant again after so many bad years.

The Islanders owners should be saying to Bettman “We are moving into a new building in 3 years. We have a fan base with 1000 entertainment options and will go elsewhere if we are losing. We need a bone named Jack Hughes.”
Many people before me have said that the NHL draft is political. This is the time for the league to make sure they keep a team viable in New York, because the owners just made their money back in land and tax breaks and can bounce, leaving a team in relocation's hands and Nassau with a big empty facility nearby a big empty facility.

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I realize that this preseason prediction piece is not like the last few, where I have called the end results of the Islanders to within 2 points of their actual total. This year is a learning curve to me, as we have both a proactive GM and a winning coach. But I’m pretty well versed in history and in studying trends. So if I were to advise you? Bet on 84 points. But in your heart? Hope for 64, lots of trades, and a center combo of Barzal and Hughes.