Checking in on the New York IslandersAugust 27, 2014, by
Last year: 34-37-11, eighth in the Metro Division. Missed the postseason by 14 points.
Key subtractions: Evgeni Nabokov, Radek Martinek (likely)
Franchise direction: The Islanders’ rebuild has been very slow, but it really does look like things are starting to change. The additions of Halak, Grabovski and Kulemin were major pieces and the Islanders clearly are hoping to make a splash when they begin play at the Barclays Center in 2015-2016. New York needs several of its prospects to fulfill their promise in order to become a perennial playoff team, but they certainly have the talent to make that a reality over the next couple seasons.
Salary cap: Despite having a host of extra forwards, the Islanders still possess over $10 million in cap space. This hasn’t typically been a cap-ceiling team, but that could change in a hurry when the franchise moves to Brooklyn. The Islanders have John Tavares under contract at a bargain $5.5 million cap hit for four more seasons, giving them a ton of flexibility. In fact, virtually all of New York’s proven players are signed for at least two more seasons. After next year, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Cory Conacher, Matt Donovan, Thomas Hickey and T.J. Brennan will be restricted free agents, but none figure to have particularly strong bargaining power. UFAs Lubomir Visnovsky, Matt Carkner, Eric Boulton and Colin McDonald will surely not be retained as the Islanders open slots for their prospects.
Prospect pipeline: The Islanders began to integrate some of their forward prospects last season, starting with Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Johan Sundstrom, and Anders Lee. Those four will have to battle up the depth chart following the additions of Grabovski and Kulemin. The next major addition to the big club will likely be 2013 first-round pick Griffin Reinhart, who could make an immediate impact on the blueline. Finnish defenseman Ville Pokka could do the same. Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech comprise the rest of New York’s strong defensive depth. Up front, Sebastian Collberg, acquired for Thomas Vanek, could become a scorer, while 2014 draft picks Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Del Colle are still a ways away.
Projection: There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the Islanders this offseason, and for good reason. Unfortunately, New York plays in the tricky Metro Division, where as many as seven teams have legitimate playoff aspirations. The Islanders won’t be left in the dust this season, but it may be tricky for them to leapfrog three or four teams to snag a wild card.