Coming off one of the more surprising NHL seasons in recent memory, the New York Islanders are primed for regression in 2019-20. The Islanders registered the highest PDO in the NHL last season thanks to a ridiculously high .937 SV% at 5v5. It is very difficult to consistently be in playoff contention when you are so reliant on elite goaltending, and it gets even harder when you let your starting goalie walk away in free agency.
To replace Robin Lehner, the Isles brought in long-time Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov on a four-year deal. With all due respect to Derick Brassard, Varlamov was the only meaningful addition the Islanders made in the off-season, as their efforts were focused on retaining some key players. Captain Anders Lee re-signed on a seven-year, $7M AAV contract after briefly testing the waters of free agency. New York was also able to come to agreements with restricted free-agents Anthony Beauvillier, Michael Dal Colle, and Josh Ho-Sang. Last year’s recipe for success is not going to be easy to replicate, and the Islanders didn’t make it any easier on themselves with a relatively quiet off-season.
If the Islanders are going to have any chance of returning to the Playoffs in April, they’ll need Mathew Barzal to take a major step forward this season. They need to get away from relying on Brock Nelson to give them 20 quality minutes a night, and Brassard isn’t the type of player that’s going to lessen the load on the top-two centremen at this point in his career. The Isles cannot rely on having the best goaltending tandem in the league again this season. They need more out of their offense and that starts and ends with their 22-year-old superstar in Barzal.
Mathew Barzal (C)
- — After going off for an 85-point rookie season, Barzal endured somewhat of a slump as a sophomore. He finished the season with 18 goals and 44 assists in a full 82 games. The 23-point drop off was a combination of a poor on-ice SH% and a decrease in power-play production, which was expected after the departure of John Tavares. A little bit more puck luck along with increased usage should be enough to get Barzal back around a point per game again this season.
Anders Lee (LW)
- — Lee has always been more reliant on shot quality rather than shot volume. He has a great shot, evident by a career 14.4 SH%, but the lack of volume will always be a concern. It caps his overall upside and leaves him vulnerable to prolonged droughts throughout the season. He has obvious value as a 30-goal threat, but his lowly assist totals mean you can’t rely on him as a starting left-winger in fantasy.
Josh Bailey (LW/RW)
- — Unsurprisingly, Bailey’s production took a sizable hit in his first season without Tavares. Still, Bailey proved himself to be an elite playmaker again in 2018-19, registering at least 40 assists for the third-straight season. He has 65-point upside, but his career-high of 18 goals leaves a lot to be desired.
Jordan Eberle (RW)
- — Eberle was the victim of a 7.7 on-ice SH% last season, leading to a career-worst 37-point campaign for the nine-year veteran. Eberle should be able to get back around 50 points this season if he can maintain his spot on Barzal’s right-wing. Like Barzal, there is a lot of room for Eberle’s role and ATOI of 16:32 to grow.
Brock Nelson (C)
- — Nelson took advantage of his sky-high usage last season, finishing with 25 goals and 28 assists on the year. He was fortunate to have a slightly inflated on-ice SH%, and his ice-time will likely take a hit this season as Barzal’s role continues to expand. It’s hard to imagine Nelson topping last year’s point total of 53 in 2019-20.
The Islanders’ defensive core was mostly irrelevant in fantasy last season, thanks in large part to Nick Leddy squandering the premier minutes. Leddy only managed to score four times and add 22 assists across a full 82 games despite being heavily featured on the top pair and power-play unit all season. Instead, Ryan Pulock emerged as the Isles’ most productive offensive-defenseman, a trend that should continue into the upcoming season.
Ryan Pulock (D)
- — Pulock had another productive season on the Isles’ backend in 2018-19, scoring nine goals and adding 28 assists. He wrestled power-play time away from Leddy in the second half of the season and now has a real chance at being the team’s primary power-play quarterback. His consistent shot volume means he should be pushing for double-digit goals again this season. The potential spike in usage gives Pulock a lot of upside heading into 2019-20.
Nick Leddy (D)
- — Leddy’s stretch of three straight 40-point seasons came to a crashing halt last season, as the 28-year-old blue-liner struggled to produce on the man advantage without John Tavares. His career is trending in the opposite direction of Pulock’s, and you can expect Leddy to continue to forfeit opportunity and power-play time to his younger counterpart. With a shaky floor and little upside, it’s best to avoid Leddy on draft day.
Given his trouble staying healthy over the last few seasons, Varlamov makes perfect sense to take over for Lehner in a timeshare with Thomas Greiss. But make no mistake, this is a definite downgrade in goal. Even Varlamov’s most productive seasons don’t compare with what Lehner did last year. The strength of this team last year was its goaltending, and it’s hard to imagine that being the case again in 2019-20.
Semyon Varlamov (G)
- — At 31-years-old, it looks like Varlamov’s best days are behind him, but he’s only two seasons removed from a .920 SV%. I wouldn’t expect him to come anywhere close to Lehner’s numbers last season, but he should be a legitimate fantasy starter if he can stay healthy. If you do end up with Varlamov on draft day, you’ll want to make sure you pair him with Greiss, who will play more than any other backup in the league.
Thomas Greiss (G)
- — Greiss enjoyed a career-year at 33-years-old in 2018-19, posting a .927 SV% and a 2.28 GAA in 43 appearances. Given that he posted a sub .900 SV% the year before, it doesn’t seem wise to bank on Greiss duplicating last year’s success. I wouldn’t draft him as anything more than a handcuff for Varlamov.
Projected Scoring Leaders
|A. Lee (30)||M. Barzal (52)||M. Barzal (71)||A. Lee (10)||M. Barzal (22)|
|B. Nelson (25)||J. Bailey (44)||J. Bailey (59)||J. Eberle (5)||J. Bailey (18)|
|J. Eberle (21)||N. Leddy (30)||A. Lee (52)||R. Pulock (5)||A. Lee (16)|
Islanders in the DFO Top 300
- 105 — Mathew Barzal (C)
- 126 — Anders Lee (LW)
- 153 — Ryan Pulock (D)
- 164 — Semyon Varlamov (G)
- 187 — Josh Bailey (LW/RW)
- 192 — Jordan Eberle (RW)
- 204 — Thomas Greiss (G)
- 208 — Brock Nelson (C)
- 258 — Nick Leddy (D)
|3||CAROLINA HURRICANES||41-30-11||93 PTS|
|6||NEW JERSEY DEVILS||40-34-8||88 PTS|
|7||NEW YORK ISLANDERS||39-33-10||88 PTS|
|8||COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS||37-35-10||84 PTS|
The Metropolitan Division is far too deep for the Islanders to have such a stagnant off-season and not lose ground on their rivals. The Rangers and Devils should both be drastically better this season, while the Islanders look to be on the decline. They needed elite goaltending to contend last season, and with Lehner out of the picture, it’s hard to imagine them getting back to the playoffs in 2020.