2014 has come to a close, and the New York Islanders had a tumultuous first half of the 2014 calendar year, but the second half has been nothing short of fantastic for the franchise. They acquired key pieces towards transforming the team from a perennial top five draft selection into a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. Importing talent such as Jaroslav Halak, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin has been instrumental toward making the Isles one of the deepest teams in the East.
As we turn the page to 2015 there is still work to be done, both on and off the ice. Here are the Isles five realistic goals for calendar year 2015, in no particular order:
1) Win a playoff series.
I know I said that these were in no particular order, but this is the single most improtant thing the Isles can do in 2015. This franchise has not won a playoff series since 1993, that’s over twenty years ago, that drought has to end, and it has to end now. 13 different teams have won the Stanley Cup since the Isles last won a playoff series. This year’s Isles have the ability to end the Isles playoff futility.
2) Make a Splash at the trade deadline.
The Isles have a crop of young talented defensemen in their organization, though it is difficult to part with valuable prospects, this team can afford to do so to bring in a top line forward to help John Tavares and Kyle Okposo return to the form that they showed last year when playing along side Thomas Vanek. That trio was the best line in all of hockey during the 40 or so games that Vanek was on the Island. With the depth of talent behind them, if the Isles could again have a dominant top line, defending against this team will be very scary proposition for opponents.
The Isles defense corps at the NHL level is both young and doesn’t seem to be in flux, as Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan are all under Islander control past this season(yes, Leddy is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but the Isles can match any offer, so they have control over the player). Lubomir Visnovsky is likely on his way out the door after this season, but the Isles have players in the system ready to replace the aging d-man.
3) Win the Metropolitan Division.
Making a splash at the deadline will help the Isles to win the East’s Metropolitan Division, a division they currently are tied atop with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Winning the division will do two things, one of consequence, one not-so-much. The not-so-much of consequence effect will be a little bit of bragging rights for the often downtrodden fan base. We could use a new banner in the rafter, don’t you think? The of consequence effect will be that they will face a lesser opponent in the first round of the playoffs and it will ensure they avoid the New York Rangers in the first round. I would like to avoid the Rangers at all costs because I want the Isles first round series to be as boisterous as the 2013 Penguins series, and a divided crowd will not allow that to happen.
4) Re-sign Johnny Boychuk.
Damn the expense, get that man back for the foreseeable future. Outside of Jaroslav Halak, Boychuk has been the most important acquisition of last year’s off-season. He has done it all for this franchise this season from the blue line and the organization can not allow him to walk away, he’s too important to the team.
5) Stay aggressive in the off-season.
For the first time in years the Islanders used the off-season to make serious, NHL level, alterations to their roster. It has paid major dividends. This team doesn’t need a major overhaul, but rosters are constantly evolving year to year for every team, and the Isles must remain active in the off-season to build upon what they have set foundations for as they move to Brooklyn next season.