New York Islanders Season Previewby Carter LaCorte October 2, 2021 0 comments
In their final season at Nassau Coliseum, well, the second final season at the Coliseum, the New York Islanders went a game further than they did against the year prior. Unfortunately, it was just from game six of the third round to game seven of the same round against the same team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. With more salary cap issues, General Manager Lou Lamoriello had his work cut out for him.
He extended goalie Ilya Sorokin and forward Anthony Beauvillier for multiple years and brought back deadline acquisition Kyle Palmieri. The biggest re-signing of the offseason was locking up Adam Pelech for eight years at a steal of a $5.8 million cap hit. Lamoriello also patched up some mistakes of disgraced former Islanders GM Mike Milbury. Zdeno Chara is back on the Island, twenty years after he was traded to the Ottawa Senators. Zach Parise is an Islander after the team passed on him in 2003. Now even older, the Islanders are looking to get over the hump.
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To no surprise, Mathew Barzal led the Islanders in points last year, with 45 in 55 games. He did that while missing his top wing for half of the season. Captain Anders Lee tore his ACL and missed most of the regular season and the playoffs. His return is much-needed. With Jordan Eberle now a member of the Seattle Kraken, Palmieri will move up to the top line. The team’s wing depth is solidified by Beauvillier, Parise, Josh Bailey, and sophomore Oliver Wahlstrom in the middle-six.
The infamous Martin-Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck fourth-line returns after Cizikas signed a six-year extension. Cizikas punctuates a forward core that is one of the league’s best. From the offensive-first Barzal to the defensive Cizikas, the Isles have a pair of two-way centers in Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Pelech has finally seemed to receive the attention he deserves with another stellar season. While he may not bring much offensive skill, Pelech is arguably the league’s best defensive defenseman. His partner, Ryan Pulock, is a two-way player who is entering a contract season. Extending him will be Lamoriello’s biggest priority after the season if nothing is done prior.
With the physical Scott Mayfield and young Noah Dobson on the right side, New York has decided to supplement them with players as old as it gets in the NHL nowadays. Andy Greene re-signed for his third season with the team, his second full year. Chara will turn 45 this March. Young puck movers Sebastian Aho and Robin Salo will likely get into some games as well this season.
Is this the best goaltending tandem in the league? There is certainly an argument for it. Semyon Varlamov was elite last season, finishing fifth in Vezina voting. He had a .929 save percentage with a 2.04 GAA. Behind him, Russian phenom Sorokin enters his second NHL season. He got progressively better as the season went on and ended up with a .918 save percentage with a 2.17 GAA. Behind him, former New Jersey Devils starter Cory Schneider returns to the Islanders. He traveled with the team all season in 2020-21 but never got into any game action.
Which Palmieri will show up in 2021-22? The regular-season version who received poor shooting luck and was invisible most nights, or the playoff one who was all over the ice and scoring clutch goals consistently. He scored just twice on 31 shots in 17 games after a trade from New Jersey. In the playoffs, he scored seven times in 19 contests. With an increase in responsibilities this year, Palmieri has to continue his postseason play.
The left side of the Isles defense is weak behind Pelech. Is Chara still a valuable player at his age? If he can be the terrorizing force of nature that he has been for all of his career with some solid defense, then this signing will work out. However, with his decreased foot speed, Chara is a scary risk.
Biggest Question Facing the Islanders
Are they officially an elite scoring team? The Islanders have often had a reputation for being boring with a bad offense over the past few seasons. But the offense looks solid now. With Parise and Pageau in the fold, plus Wahlstrom looking like a great sniper, they finally have a third-line. The Islanders have the talent to be a high-scoring offense, but Barry Trotz’s defense-heavy system could hold that sector back. Also, with Nick Leddy gone, the offensive talent on the back end is thin. Still, this team can break out on the scoring side.
The Islanders have been an elite playoff team over the past two seasons. Despite that, they have not been great in the regular season in those years. The Metropolitan Division is tough and can give them a run for their money. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Isles are very good. They should make the playoffs and make more noise in the Spring.
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