With the John Tavares era over, the New York Islanders severely missed the boat to go for it. 2014-2015 was the perfect year to go all-in.
John Tavares’ departure got me thinking about years past. The New York Islanders were overall pretty unsuccessful during the Tavares Era, and one year, in particular, stands out in which the Islanders could’ve done more.
The last year at the Coliseum was a special one. It was a nostalgia-filled season, and we had an impressive on-ice performance to start the year. The Islanders were off to a hot start, by Christmas they were 23-11-1 and just two points behind the Penguins for first place in the Metro.
By the time the trade deadline rolled around the Islanders would be tied with the Rangers in points for first place in the division. Instead of adding big pieces to put them over the top the Islanders acquired Tyler Kennedy.
Kennedy played just 13 games with the Islanders and had 5 points. His impact was marginal at best. The Islanders missed an opportunity to push all the chips to the center of the table and go for it.
Why it made sense to go for it
In 2014-2015 the NHL salary cap was $69 million. The Islanders were 17th in the league in spending right at $64.5 million for the season. If they were closer to $69 million, they likely would’ve more competitive.
It was the perfect year to go for it because no one was making any money. Let’s look at the Islanders starting lineup from that year and how much they made.
Numbers in millions
The highest paid player on the team was Tavares at $5.5 million. Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, the kid line, Leddy, Boychuk and de Haan all made less than their market value at the time. It would’ve worked out perfectly to add another big piece or two in order to bolster up in order to make a run in the playoffs.
The New York Islanders were getting a career year out of Jaroslav Halak, their defense was fine, they just lacked one more goal scorer. Someone who could play with Tavares, a big name, in order for them to add some legitimacy to their young core.
After signing an eight-year extension in Toronto, the Maple Leafs media did everything they could to run Kessel out of town. The summer of 2016 saw Kessel get moved to Pittsburgh where he would go on to win two Stanley Cups.
Instead, what if the Islanders swooped in and got this deal done at the deadline instead. The New York Islanders would get Kessel, who put up 25 goals and 61 points in 2014-2015 to play alongside John Tavares.
As for what the Isles would have to give up, Michael Grabner who wasn’t getting much playing time anyway. Toronto loved him and ended up giving up a ton of prospects for him in the fall of 2015 anyway so he’d be a part of the deal in March.
Griffin Reinhart, who we know now didn’t pan out but at the time was a top prospect that yielded a first and second round pick in that year’s draft. Scott Mayfield was a second rounder who was yet to make his debut, and a second-round pick in the upcoming 2015 draft should’ve been enough to do it especially when you look at what Pittsburgh gave up to get Kessel a couple months later.
This is a move to put the team way over the top. The defense was fine, but if you want to win a championship you go out and make a move like this. That trade deadline saw the Coyotes move Yandle to the other New York team but what if the Isles swooped in and did it first instead?
Yandle combined for 52 points that year, playing in 84 games with the Rangers and Coyotes. He had one that year and one more on the books at $5.25 million.
This move, along with Kessel, makes the Islanders a top-contender in not only the Metro but the league and the second half of the season goes a lot differently if this is the move. The Islanders give up Josh Bailey and his $3.3 million cap number, a top-five pick from the most recent draft class, Calvin de Haan (a serviceable defenseman) and a first-round pick in the 2016 draft class.
The Revised Lineup
Here’s what a lineup could’ve looked like:
Lee – Tavares – Kessel
Nelson – Nielsen – Okposo
Kulemin – Grabovski – Strome
Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck
Yandle – Boychuk
Leddy – Hamonic
Hickey – Visnovsky
After the trade deadline, the Islanders finished the year 6-7-5 and ended up finishing third in the Metro. Let’s say instead with these two trades they instead go 12-4-3. If they did, they would’ve finished with 111 points which would’ve put them in second place in the division and given them the home-ice advantage over the Capitals.
The Islanders likely would’ve beat the Capitals, then they would’ve gone up against the Rangers who they were 3-2 against in the regular season that year. With an improved roster, the Islanders likely win that series too.
The Islanders would’ve gone up against Tampa in the Eastern Conference Final. They took two of the three in the regular season and outscored them 10-8 in the season series, so I’d give them the advantage there as well, especially with home ice.
We know Chicago won the cup that year but the Isles were 1-1 against them in the regular season. The loss did come in the tailspin part of the season for the Islanders though, so perhaps things would’ve been different. The Isles too would’ve had home ice advantage in this series.
A Stanley Cup prediction after two moves like this isn’t crazy at all. In fact, it should’ve been done instead of sitting on their hands and waiting for youth to pan out.
Obviously, that’s not what happened. Garth Snow punted on fourth and one from the opponents 45-yard line (in other words he played it ultra-conservative). I will go to my grave thinking the Islanders should’ve done more in the 2014-2015 season to make them a contender.
Things would’ve been really different if they tried that year and spent close to the cap. Revisionist history, it’ll keep you up at night pondering every possible outcome with “what if” being the fuel to the fire that is your nightmares.