New York Islanders
2017-18 Regular Season Record: 35-37-10
2018-19 Signed Current Cap: $46,740,883
Contracts Signed: 29
RFAs & UFAs This Summer: 21 (9 RFAs; 12 UFAs)
No. of 2018 Draft Picks: 8 (numbers 11, 12, 41, 43, 72, 103, 134, and 196 overall)
The Islanders have many of the pieces in place to make the playoffs, but can they put it all together to make a Stanley Cup run any time soon? Obviously, not without signing John Tavares to a long-term deal—which, at this point, is the team’s first priority. Word on the street is that Tavares wants to test the market, but the coming days may change his mind, as the Islanders situation is very fluid and gets more attractive for him by the day.
After the hiring of Lou Lamoriello as team President in May, Garth Snow and Doug Weight were let go as GM and head coach, respectively. Lamoriello took over as GM and has been on a head coach search. His list of candidates got very short yesterday, when recent Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz became available. Lamoriello has promised to make the team a contender quickly and the hiring of Trotz (at a salary of from $4-5 million per year) and keeping Tavares would go a long way to making that happen.
Looking over the entire team from last season, the Islanders have two excellent top forward lines that should return, with winger Josh Ho-Sang on the cusp of being ready for a top six role. Of the 12 UFAs, Tavares is by far the most important to sign, but Thomas Hickey will be important too. Expect Calvin de Haan, who signed a one-year, $ 3.3 million agreement last summer and then got injured to be gone this summer. That leaves the blueline quite depleted and Hickey’s numbers were very good this past season. At 29-years-old, it’s not clear how much it will take to keep Hickey, but if Lamoriello is in win-now mode, every attempt should be made to keep Hickey on the Island.
Nine players are also RFAs, all but two (Ryan Pulock and Kyle Burroughs) of whom are arbitration eligible. The most important of the RFAs to resign are Brock Nelson (who had fallen out of favor with Snow, but has real talent and may be making a comeback under Lamoriello), and Pulock, who is a big part of the Islanders future.
Where New York’s roster is weak (on the blueline and in goal), there is a very strong group of prospects. In goal, prospects Eamon McAdam, Linus Soderstrom, and Ilya Sorokin should produce at least one number one netminder between them. The best of the three is Sorokin, but prying him out of the KHL may not be easy. Soderstrom is expected to play in Bridgeport this coming season, after two excellent years in the SHL. McAdam, who is third on the depth chart and is the oldest of the three, spent most of last season in Worcester (ECHL) but should get time between the pipes in Bridgeport this coming year.
On the blueline, there are two outstanding prospects in Sebastien Aho and Devon Toews. Both are left shots and both have a very good offensive upside. After the two of them are several other solid defensive players, including Mitchell Vande Sompel and the diminutive David Quenneville, who tore up the WHL this season. The organization is deep along the blueline, but it could be a year or two before it will come to fruition.
Kieffer Bellows is the number one prospect up front. Yes, Ho-Sang may be in the running for this title, but he just has been too inconsistent in his defensive play to claim it outright. The hope is that with the new regime in the front office and behind the bench, Ho-Sang will change his game and be more responsible with the puck and his positioning, but it remains to be seen. Bellows, however, has looked absolutely fantastic since his move from Boston University to the WHL. His hockey sense, release, and creativity with the puck were on full display this past season. Bellows will begin his professional career this fall. Expect him to at least get a look at the NHL level, although he may need a bit of time in Bridgeport before joining the Isles.
As far as the draft goes, the Islanders have eight selections, including two in the first round (numbers 11 and 12). The organization is already strong, but there are holes at the NHL level that need to be filled. Do not be surprised if either or both of the first round selections (and/or either of the two second round picks) are traded for some help along the blueline (or in goal) now.
In all, this will be an exciting couple of days for Islander fans. Hold on to your seats. Not only does the future look bright—the big changes everyone has been waiting for are here.