The Islanders enter the post-Tavares era in 2018-19, or perhaps more accurately, the Mathew Barzal era. The departure of John Tavares bumps Barzal from complementary sidepiece to franchise cornerstone. Coming off an 85-point rookie season, he’s the building block Lou Lamoriello will need to lay a foundation around.
The holes left in the Islander roster should be filled by a combination of up and coming prospects and newly-acquired veteran talent. While they did little to replace the void Tavares left, the acquisitions of Leo Komorov, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Valtteri Filppula help strengthen the depth of the Islanders’ up front. Ironically, the blueline is the team’s biggest issue moving forward. It was already a weakness of theirs last season and the new management did little to mitigate the loss of free-agent defenseman Calvin de Haan. Barring a Vegas-like level of overperforming, 2018-19 will almost certainly be a rebuilding year for the Islanders.
➕ Robin Lehner
➕ Leo Komarov
➕ Jan Kovar
➕ Valtteri Filppula
➕ Tom Kuhnhackl
Often regarded as one of the best second lines in hockey last season, Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Anthony Beauvillier will be relied upon to carry the Islander attack in 2018-19. The three of them averaged a robust 36 scoring chances per 60 at 5v5 last season, albeit against weaker competition than what they’ll see this season. Still, they’ve shown the ability to produce at an elite level and are a legitimate first line.
The loss of Tavares kills the depth down the middle for the Isles. The Filppula signing addresses that to a degree, but there’s no question the team looked a lot better with Brock Nelson centering the third line. Don’t be surprised if you see Josh Bailey shift to the middle at some point this season.
Unlike the centre position, the Isles have a number of respectable options to play on the wing. Former first-round pick Kieffer Bellows and KHL veteran Jan Kovar (a natural centre) are both expected to fight for a roster spot this season. Add them into a bottom-six that could potentially include Komorov, Andrew Ladd, and Josh Ho-Sang and the Islanders are surprisingly deep on the wing.
The Islanders enter 2018-19 with the worst-rated defensive corps in the league, according to Corsica Hockey Player Ratings. Nick Leddy is a formidable offensive-defenseman, but he struggles to limit his opponents at 5v5. Him and Johnny Boychuk surrendered 30 scoring chances per 60 at 5v5 last season, far from an ideal rate for your top pair. It’s no surprise the two of them are the No.28 ranked first-defensive pairing.
As I alluded to earlier, the Isles made no effort to replace the loss of Calvin de Haan, their most competent defenseman at 5v5 last season. It leaves them with little to no depth on the blueline, and it’s why you see Thomas Hickey and Ryan Pulock on their second pair right now. Pulock, like Leddy, is a respectable shot producer from the back end but struggles to contain the opposition. Pulock and Hickey also surrendered 30 scoring chances per 60 last season.
Looking at this defensive corps, it’s clear the Islanders don’t have a defensive pair they can assign a game’s toughest minutes to. Given their goaltending situation, it could be a recipe for disaster. Don’t be surprised to see them lead the league in goals against for the second straight season.
A terrible 2017-18 season for Robin Lehner helped the Islanders lock him up at a discounted rate. The 27-year-old Swede posted a .908 SV% in 2017-18 after a combined .921 SV% in the two seasons prior. His career .915 SV% suggests last season could end up being an anomaly for an otherwise capable goaltender. The Islanders led the league in shots against last year, but Lehner is more than used to facing a barrage of shots given his time with the Sabres. Expect Lehner to see upwards of 55 starts this year with Thomas Greiss returning to his role as backup. It’s far from an ideal situation, but the Islanders’ goaltending is looking a lot better than it did a year ago.
|Anders Lee (30)||Mathew Barzal (55)||Mathew Barzal (75)||Anders Lee (11)|
|Jordan Eberle (26)||Josh Bailey (43)||Josh Bailey (61)||Jordan Eberle (6)|
|Anthony Beauvillier (22)||Jordan Eberle (35)||Jordan Eberle (61)||Mathew Barzal (5)|
- 45. Mathew Barzal — C16
- 101. Jordan Eberle — RW18
- 148. Nick Leddy — D36
- 154. Josh Bailey — RW31
- 179. Anders Lee — LW27
- 187. Robin Lehner — G31
- 242. Ryan Pulock — D62
- 247. Anthony Beauvillier — LW40
- 258. Thomas Greiss — G44
- 289. Brock Nelson — C61
Predicted Metropolitan Standings
While they are better than they look at first glance, the Islanders will have to overcome a plethora of obstacles if they want to dream about challenging for a playoff spot. The problem, as much as anything else, is they have 30 games to play against a combination of the Penguins, Capitals, Flyers, Blue Jackets, and Devils. The road to the playoffs in the Metropolitan division is as tough as any in the league this season, and the Islanders just aren’t quite up to the task. Another year or two of drafting and developing will go a long way for this healing franchise.