Editorials

New York Islanders Best Possible WAR Lineup for 2019-2020

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 28: Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders heads out for warm-ups prior to the game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 28, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 28: Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders heads out for warm-ups prior to the game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 28, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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What line combinations could, according to the numbers, return the best possible outcome for the New York Islanders? Based on WAR, what’s the best lineup?

We’ve often read that, on paper, the New York Islanders don’t have the best lineup. On August 7th, The Athletics Alison Lukan (subscription required) had the Islanders total WAR at 16.74, ranked very near the bottom of the league at 20th in the NHL. That 16.74 WAR would return the Isles a projected 82 points in the standings.

Only a two Metropolitan Division teams, the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, ranked lower with a 15.04 (79 points) and 13.21 (75 points) WAR, respectively.

So what if we played around with the lines, what combination of current Islanders players would return the highest WAR rank and thus point projection for the upcoming season?

Best Lineup

To figure out the best possible lineup, I used Sean Tierney’s WAR Lineup Creator which uses data from Evolving-Hockey and from Emmanuel Perry.

Here’s the best lineup that I found.

Forwards

I tried a number of different options with the players that the Islanders have on the roster (including Andrew Ladd) and this was the best combination I found. It’s a total of 7.52 WAR. An increase of 2.69 WAR.

Obviously, Josh Ho-Sang playing on the top line looks like a stretch. We don’t even know if the Islanders will include him in the starting but it’s clear that he impacts that forward line immensely. Switch Ho-Sang for Eberle and that top-line drops to 2.5 and the second line jumps up to 4.3.

Josh Ho-Sang needs to be playing in the NHL this season.

There isn’t much to move around with the rest of the roster. We know that Leo Komarov isn’t going to favor well in the numbers department. He routinely drops the value of line I put him on. The same goes for Andrew Ladd, Ross Johnston, and Tom Kuhnhackl.

Defense

This is the exact same D-core that Alison Lukan assembled. For a good reason, it’s easily the best one the New York Islanders have.

I tried moving Nick Leddy around the three defensive units and all three went down. I tried adding Johnny Boychuk instead of Noah Dobson and that third pair went from +0.3 to -0.3. I had the same issue when trying to insert Thomas Hickey into the lineup.

The eye test alone can tell you that this is probably the Islanders best D-core and the numbers back it up.

Goalies

The biggest jump to the Islanders Team WAR and their projected points total was when I flipped the goalies. Putting Thomas Greiss as the starter added almost two full WAR points and three full points in the standings.

With this lineup, the New York Islanders are projected to finish the 2019-20 season with 91 points. Based on the analysis that Lukan did, that would put the Islanders in a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

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Are there issues with this lineup? Sure. I doubt that Barry Trotz starts Thomas Greiss over Varlamov. I’m also sure that Greiss won’t have a 0.927SV% season again. Josh Ho-Sang even in my most optimistic moods won’t be on the top line.

But, even the numbers say that it’s possible for the New York Islanders to have a playoff-bound team in the 2019-20 season.

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