The New York Islanders have had several opportunities to make this fan base believe they can win with this group of players. Unfortunately, time may be running out on this collection of veterans.
The Islanders have passed the halfway point of their season and remain a distance from the Wild Card spots. The games in hand favor the Islanders, but it is hard to see this team winning every game in hand with their current play.
Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz never expected to be in a re-tool situation this season. The veterans have learned Trotz’s system and seemed to have perfected it in the last two seasons. But almost everything that could have gone wrong has this year.
New York Islanders Keepers
The trade deadline is quickly approaching, and the Islanders are a team that would appear to be sellers. The tendency to keep the group for one more year is evident. Lamoriello did not work the cap and bring in Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara to simply play the youth for the remainder of the season.
The circumstances certainly put this team behind the eight-ball, but enough of the younger players have taken strides to compete next year.
Unloading some players is more obvious than others, but who is the core of this team moving forward? Can this group re-load and compete next season?
The most obvious player for the present and future is Mathew Barzal. Barzal is crucial to the Islanders offense and has grown into the first-line center role.
Barzal has never been given the support some other young stars have been given. This is an opportunity to shed some veterans and bring in a player for Barzal to grow and take to the next level.
The captain is young enough to compete at a high level for many seasons to come. His leadership and presence on the ice are unmatched. The young group will need a leader and his physicality to guide them through a re-load.
Obviously, Lee’s salary and ultimate production will also make it difficult to move.
Nelson has arguably been the Islanders most consistent forward over the past four seasons. He has truly settled into the second-line center spot but still has the potential to become a greater force offensively.
Nelson has been handcuffed with wingers over the years and could elevate his game with a better duo than the likes of Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier.
Wahlstrom’s handling has been frustrating over the last two seasons. His defensive play has caused him to see less ice time and even watch from upstairs.
Wahlstrom is the true sniper needed for this squad, if given the right opportunity.
Under Trotz’s system everyone is held accountable and equally important, but Wahlstrom needs to be let free to become the scoring threat that oppositions game plan against.
He could take the heat off Barzal and Nelson if given the opportunity.
Bellows has had an interesting relationship with Trotz. He has shown flashes of brilliance, followed by consistent healthy scratches.
Bellows has shown the ability to shoot the puck well. He plays hard and physical but needs work on his game without the puck.
While working at the point of the Power Play, Bellows and Dobson found chemistry and success. Bellows can score from the wing on a top line in the future with consistent playing time.
Dobson has taken the biggest step of all the young players this season.
After being a healthy scratch, Dobson turned around his season and has become a vital player to the success of the team. Now a force on the Power Play, Dobson has shown that he can handle anchoring the top unit.
Like all young defensemen, Dobson still makes the occasional errors and will need to fine-tune his game in the coming years.
Pelech is coming off an All-Star game nod and a new contract. He has proven to be one of the most underrated defensemen in the league.
His ability to play with other pairings over parts of the last two seasons has shown his true importance to the defense core.
Ryan Pulock is a very solid defenseman, but with Pelech and Pulock having large contracts, it would be wise to move one and that will undoubtedly Pulock.
The emergence of Dobson on the Power Play will make it easier to potentially part with Pulock and allow room to sign a more affordable and durable bottom pair defenseman. Perhaps re-signing Scott Mayfield to a more affordable deal would make sense to round out the defensive group.
Sorokin has been impressive in his year and a half NHL duty. His athleticism and flashiness have proven why he has been touted for so many years.
Sorokin will continue to grow into the number one role but will absolutely need a veteran behind him to help with the load in the coming years.
This core of players has shown the individual success to compete at the NHL level. The opportunity for some players may provide more production than seen thus far.
More importantly it will allow the flexibility to add the right players to the mix.
Barzal can finally have a true scoring winger. Bellows and Wahlstrom can finally play top-six minutes. Dobson can continue to flourish into one of the better offensive defensemen in the NHL.
The veterans needed to compliment this roster can be brought on at affordable contracts and no emotional attachment if they play poorly.
This team needs to be held accountable for their current play and not the last two seasons. The youth deserve a chance to not just contribute but be given the opportunity to reach their potential.