New York Islanders: To Tank or Not To Tank In 2018-2019
By Matt O'Leary
The New York Islanders roster on paper looks worse than last year’s that finished the season with 80 points. Will they tank in 2018-2019?
As they sit right now, the New York Islanders roster doesn’t look so hot. Obviously, losing their franchise cornerstone in free agency is a detrimental blow that is an impossible immediate fix for Lou Lamoriello.
Some of Lou’s moves have been questionable to date in free agency. The Islanders signed Leo Komarov and Ross Johnston, two fourth liners, to long-term deals. He also traded for Matt Martin, another fourth liner. As we speak, the Islanders have at least two lines worth of players who can fill in on the fourth line, which isn’t usually considered a recipe for success.
Certainly, the team upgraded their General Manager, going with Lou Lamoriello over Garth Snow and behind the bench, Barry Trotz is a major upgrade. Both will pay dividends in the long-term, but for 2018-2019 it might be too much to handle.
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When Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello took over the Maple Leafs, there wasn’t an immediate turnaround. It took a year for things to click, and the same thing may happen again here.
Jeb Biggart, of 12 Up Sports, included the Islanders in his list of the five most likely teams to tank in 2018-2019. Although I’m not a fan of the word tank, I believe it’s highly possible that the Islanders finish in a lottery spot.
Tanking, to me, implies that the team is intentionally trying to lose games, which I don’t think that’s in Lamoriello’s or Trotz’s makeup. Instead, let’s call it what it is, a mediocre team who lost their best player.
Over the past two years, with similar rosters, the Islanders finished with 94 and 80 points. With Tavares gone and no upgrades to the defense, there’s a chance this team finishes in the 70-75 point range next year.
Similar to the Maple Leafs when Lamoriello first arrived, the Islanders might be a year out from being competitive. As it looks right now as we speak, their lineup will look something like this:
Beauvillier – Barzal – Eberle
Lee – Nelson – Bailey
Ladd – Kovar – Komarov
Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck
Leddy – Boychuk
Hickey – Pulock
Toews – Mayfield
Extras: Greiss, Filppula, Pelech, Johnston
Yeah, we could probably argue about who plays and who doesn’t but this is essentially the 23 guys who will be on the roster come October. It doesn’t look like a team that’s going to the playoffs, instead, it looks closer to the bottom of the league.
Looking at the nine teams that finished below the Islanders, it’s hard to imagine the Isles falling down to the worst record in the league. Ottawa and Montreal are dumpster fires, Arizona and Buffalo are two teams still in their rebuild.
Even if the Isles drop to 75 points, the Canadiens, Sabres, Senators, and Coyotes still likely finish with fewer points. If the Isles finished fifth they’d have a 8.5 percent chance at the first overall pick.
Who Would You Tank For?
We’re just under a year away from the 2019 NHL Draft so a lot can change but Jack Hughes seems like the number one overall pick. Hughes is a center from Orlando, Florida playing for the US National Team.
In a combined 100 games between the USHL, USDP, WHC-17, and WJC-19 Hughes tallied 197 points (71 goals, 126 assists). At 1.97 points per game, Hughes is an extreme talent that will likely impact an NHL roster from day one.
For a split second, let’s live in this dream world that the Islanders end up with the worst record in the league, and get the number one pick. Their 2019-2020 lineup can look something like:
Beauvillier – Barzal – Wahlstrom
Lee – Hughes – Ho-Sang
Bellows – Kovar – Bailey
Komarov – Cizikas – Clutterbuck
Leddy – Pulock
Toews – Boychuk
Pelech – Dobson
Extras: Martin, Mayfield, Ladd, Johnston
And that’s without free agency or trades. The Islanders rebuild/retool can be expedited with a quick dive to the bottom of the standings in 2018-2019. The question is are they really bad enough for the first overall pick? Right now, you’d have to think no, but as we know, the NHL season is usually filled with unexpected twists and turns. Did anyone see Winnipeg or Vegas going on deep playoff runs last year, or the Oilers finishing with 78 points?
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It’d likely take some luck, but the tank for Hughes might be the best bet here. By 2019-2020 we might not even remember a number 91 if their opening night roster looked anything like that in 2019. An exciting, young team heading into Belmont is exactly what this team needs.