We’re now about one-third of the games into the New York Islanders season, so let’s take a look at the early season most valuable Isles.
Many of us were optimistic about the New York Islanders season, but even still many will admit that they’re thrilled that the team currently sits realistically in the playoff race as we near January. While team success is paramount, it’s worth acknowledging players who were key in that success.
But a hockey team is more than just the players on the ice, and with so much culture change in the New York Islanders organization, it only seemed right to consider all players and personnel for their contributions to the early season success.
1. Barry Trotz
It hasn’t been seamless and there are still kinks to work out, he has brought the stability, accountability, and credibility to the New York Islanders that they desperately lacked.
Sure, there are questions about how he’s using players in some situations, but there are no questions about his leadership and the early season results. And this is only year one of (hopefully at least) five.
2. Mitch Korn/Piero Greco
I don’t know which one is more to credit for the bounce-back years from both goalies, but Thomas Greiss looks better than his old self (prior to last year) and, after a disastrous 2017-18 season, that is a feat that deserves special accolades.
Robin Lehner has been very strong between the pipes after an extremely difficult year personally, so the coaches deserve mention for not only technique direction but coaching the confidence of both goalies.
3. Josh Bailey
Not only is he just fine without John Tavares, but he may also have filled the role that JT was never fully filling as a team leader. Josh Bailey is on pace for a 19 goal, 49 assist (68 point) season, but he’s also a team-leading +10, and he even dropped the gloves this month!
He just keeps getting better, and with his improved two-way play, he has quieted any remaining critics who haven’t already been won over. This is a player who is as much the heart of this team as anyone, even if he does it quietly.
4. Thomas Greiss
We all assumed Robin Lehner was the man who would take the leading role, and early this season he did seem to, but Thomas Greiss has been nothing short of fantastic this season in his 20 games.
Among 32 goalies with 15 games played, he sits 12th in the league with a .916 save percentage and 13th with a 2.59 goals against average. It all starts from the back, and that’s goaltending you can trust.
5. Anders Lee
With all the drama of the offseason and changes in the front office, coaching staff and roster, the Isles’ newest captain has pulled the players together under his leadership without a hitch. Proof positive that he should have been the captain all along.
A respected leader on and off the ice, Anders Lee is seeing the ice even better than before with a more well-rounded game that puts him now on pace for an excellent 30 goal, 33 assist (63 point) season.
Thomas Hickey – he gets no credit for his quietly dependable play on the blue line, but he’s yet again been the best Islanders defenseman at even strength and on the penalty kill, while yet again leading the defense in +/-.
Valtteri Filppula – the Isles finally have a credible third line and penalty kill, and much of that should be credited to Filppula, who has combined his smart puck movement with an insane shooting percentage and nightly energy that has turned the clock back.
Brock Nelson – this early season Nelson is a Trotz masterpiece. While Nelson may be the new Bailey who blooms late, he needs to show more consistency after a rough start to December. But if the October/November numbers return as the norm he’ll be a top-five lock for the next MVP check-in.
Mat Barzal – his numbers are still great, but it’s been an up and down season as he settles into Barry Trotz’s system. But he’s still Mat Barzal and he still commands attention, especially as he’s looked like an inspired player in December. If the Isles can push for a playoff spot it will be because of this man right here.
Johnny Boychuk – he’s been rejuvenated this year, and his toughness and reliable play have been a perfect fit for the new look Isles. I’ll gladly take this version of Boychuk for the next several years.
Casey Cizikas – the team shows a noticeable defensive and intensity dropoff when he’s not in the lineup, but his contribution is not one that shows up in the box score. But this year he’s even filling that up! Cizikas is on pace for 22 goals and 33 points overall to pair with his stalwart defensive play.
It has been an imperfect first 30 games, but boy has it been fun, and most of that has to do with the guys listed above. Here’s to a great first 30 and an even better next 30 (and 52) ahead.