Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
We’ve all seen this story before from the New York Islanders. The team struggles mightily in the first half of the season, strings together wins in the second half, but still fails to reach the playoffs. Last year was an exception as the Islanders reached the playoffs after going 16-6-5 in the last two months of the 48 game, lockout-shortened season. They were eventually knocked off by the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games, but played very well throughout the series. Management made minor moves in the offseason with the signings of Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin as well as acquiring Cal Clutterbuck in a trade with the Minnesota Wild for the disgruntled Nino Niederreiter. After watching them in the playoffs last year we were all expecting big things this season despite the fact the team did not make major moves. The Islanders needed an upgrade at goaltender, yet they failed to address this situation in the off-season. Instead, they re-signed the aging and often inured Evgeni Nabokov to a 1-year deal.
After a 4-5-3 start this year, the Islanders shocked the NHL world by acquiring Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabers. The trade was well received by most fans who praised the move made by General Manager Garth Snow. Unfortunately, the trade did not work out as planned for the Islanders who struggled after Vanek’s arrival going on a brutal 4-10-1 stretch. After Vanek turned down the Islanders 7-year, $50 million contract offer, he was shipped along with a 5th round pick to Montreal for Sebastian Collberg and a 2nd round pick.
The next blow to the season came when the Islanders lost star forward John Tavares to an MCL injury during the Olympics while he was playing for Team Canada. Since the Tavares injury, the Islanders have been a surprisingly respectable 9-6-3. They have done this with many call-ups from the minors including Mike Halmo, Calvin de Hann, Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, all of who have played well in their short time with the team. Also, the Islanders have talented defensive prospect Griffin Reinhart who is expected to get a chance with the team next year. All of these young players have given fans much cause for optimism in the upcoming years as the Islanders have more NHL-ready prospects then they have had in several years. Don’t get me wrong, management still needs to add pieces in the offseason by addressing the dreadful goaltending situation and defensive depth, but the prospects have all stepped up big time and contributed to the team’s recent success.
Finally, the Islanders need to get more from Josh Bailey who has contributed little this season after signing a five-year $16.5 million dollar contract in the off-season. If Bailey steps up his game, the young prospects continue to develop and management adds the necessary pieces through free agency, the Islanders could be a team to watch by the time they move to Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season. Islander fans should have high hopes and be very excited to root for a team that is loaded with young talent.