What grade do you give the heart and soul of the New York Islanders?
New York Islanders center Casey Cizikas was pegged as a regression candidate for the 2019-20 season (subscription required). With 20 goals the prior year it’s easy to see why analysts weren’t confident that Cizikas could put up the same numbers this year.
Scoring on 18 percent of his shots was a wild new world for Cizikas. Repeating that in 2019-20 was going to be difficult, if not next to impossible. There was going to be some regression in Cizikas’s game.
But to what degree? And could he have the same impact as he did in 2018-19?
Missing in Action
Through a shortened 2019-20 season where Cizikas factored in only 48 of the Islanders 68 games, he still scored ten goals and added four helpers for 14 points. Pace that out over a full 82 game season and Cizikas should have hit 24 points.
His shooting percentage dipped from that 18 percent to 14.9 percent in 2019-20, but converting shots to goals at the rate didn’t present much regression at all. With 67 shots on goal this year, Cizikas was on pace to hit 17 goals.
His goal production this year was basically right where it was in 2018-19. The helpers weren’t there like they were last year. He had 13 through 73 games in 18-19 and four in 48 games this year, a pace of seven helpers over 82 games. But then again he and his regular linemates in Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck missed significant time.
The three were on the ice together for just 19 games this year or just under 30 percent of the season. They played a total of 142:13 together in all situations this season. When Cizikas was around he didn’t have his regular cast of wingers who share an incredible connection on the ice that simply can’t be replaced.
But still, Cizikas was productive and performed well, he led all forwards in time on a PK that was 17th in the league with an 80.3 percent efficiency. He ranked sixth on the team in Corsi-for, seventh for Fenwick-for, and fifth in xGF all at 5on5 and score and venue adjusted.
(All stats from Natural Stat Trick.)
Those are great numbers for a fourth-line center who sees 62.4 of his zone starts in the defensive zone.
What Cizikas did on the ice he deserves no less than a B+.
Desperately Needed Him
When grading a player’s season you typically build it based on what they did while on the ice. But for Cizikas it’s important to consider his impact off the ice.
When the season was put on hold, Barry Trotz talked with Newsday about how much he missed having the Cizikas line. Trotz mentioned that he and his coaching staff decided to play differently because of their absence.
"“There’s times when I said, ‘OK, we’re going to have to play this way a little differently because we didn’t have that [Cizikas] line,’ ” Trotz said. “Maybe we should have just tightened it up and even did more of what we did well, versus trying to change it. As you’re trying to change it a little bit, you’re not as tight in some areas.“We tried to push the offense a little more when we should have just locked down defensively a little more”"
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The Islanders changed their entire strategy because Cizikas wasn’t on the ice. That’s how important Casey Cizikas is to this team. Without him, the Islanders have no identity. It’s clear that Cizikas isn’t only the heart and soul for his line but for the entire team.
That B+ has to get upgraded to at least an A-. I don’t think you’ll disagree.