About two years ago, a man came to Long Island, and afterwards, the offensive stats of most of the Islanders were ruined. Do you think they care? Nope. That man, Barry Trotz, was also their savior. He introduced a new defensive system, and while the effect was less goals scored, less goals were allowed, and their goalies thrived. The Islanders were able to use this strategy to go all the way to the Conference Finals just a few months ago, before the Lightning knocked them out. While the salary cap started to destroy the team a little bit in the offseason, they enter the season primed to return to where they left off.
Additions: G Cory Schneider, F Dmytro Timashov, F Austin Czarnik, F AJ Greer.
Subtractions: D Devon Toews, G Thomas Greiss, F Derick Brassard, F Tom Kuhnhackl.
Best Move: Getting Ilya Sorokin to come to North America.
Worst Move: Not getting any forwards.
One Move I\’d Make: Sign Mat Barzal.
Best Contract: Scott Mayfield, three years remaining with a $1.45 million cap hit.
Worst Contract: Andrew Ladd, three years remaining with a $5.5 million cap hit.
New Division Rivals: Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington.
Pending UFAs: Casey Cizikas.
Pending RFAs: Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech, Ilya Sorokin, Michael Dal Colle.
Current RFAs: Mat Barzal, Dmytro Timashov.
Training camp is starting soon and Mat Barzal still doesn\’t have a contract. The Islanders did some cap navigating this offseason, and it hurt their blue line, so they could sign their face of the franchise. They may have received some help from a former division rival in Columbus, who signed Pierre-Luc Dubois to a cheap two year deal with a $5 million cap hit. That can be used as a comparable situation, which could lower the cost. Barzal scored 19 goals, and his 41 assists led the team by 12. Barzal\’s 60 points led the team by six. Captain Anders Lee saw his goal total go down again, but he still scored 20 in 68 games. He also hit the 100 hit mark for the sixth year in a row. Jordan Eberle may have been hurt the most by the introduction of the Trotz system. A six time 20 goal scorer, Eberle hasn\’t hit that mark in the past two years. He scored 16 goals, which was his lowest total in a season, minimum 50 games. While Eberle might have been hurt the most among Isles forwards, Brock Nelson saw his game advance under Trotz. Nelson led the team with 26 goals and a career high 54 points in 68 games. He had a career high 51.8 face-off percentage, and kills penalties. Both of Nelson\’s wingers, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey, excelled in the postseason. Beauvillier scored 18 goals with 39 points in 68 games, and he is a streaky player, which proved to be true when he started the playoffs on a hot streak, before settling down by the end. In total, he scored nine goals with five assists in 22 games. Bailey does not shoot the puck often, with only 94 shots all regular season. To put that into perspective, Derick Brassard, who played in two less games and averaged more than three minutes less on ice than Bailey per game, had 110. Bailey makes up in the assist category, as he was second on the team with 29, and had 18 in 22 playoff games. The third line was the weakest line all season for the Isles, but that improved once Jean-Gabriel Pageau came over from Ottawa. He scored 26 goals combined, with two of them coming in seven games after the trade. He scored eight goals in the postseason. His wingers in New York consisted of Tom Kuhnhackl, Michael Dal Colle, Leo Komarov and Ross Johnston, and none of them are functional third liners. Komarov kills penalties, but he scored just four goals in 48 games. He did cut back on his minor penalties, which was a big issue for him in 2018-19. Johnston had four points in 32 games, but had 93 hits with 78 penalty minutes. He is one of the few enforcers left in hockey. Dal Colle had 10 points in 53 games, and the former 5th overall pick is the definition of a bust. It would be nice to see former first rounders Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom on Pageau\’s wing, but the organization has been hesitant to play young talent in the past, meaning that they could be stuck on the taxi squad. Wahlstrom had no points in nine NHL games last year, and had eight points in 10 games in Sweden in their 2020-21 season before getting hurt. Bellows scored two goals in eight NHL games, which is a 20 goal pace. He scored 22 goals in 52 AHL games, although there was a PED issue in the offseason. The coined best fourth line in hockey will return, although Matt Martin\’s contract is undisclosed, despite the team confirming it. Martin scored five goals in 55 regular season games, but matched that in the postseason. His 242 hits led the team by over 100. Casey Cizikas is the most talented member of the line, and the team missed him when he was injured in the Conference Finals. Cizikas scored 10 goals in 48 regular season games, and averaged over two minutes on the penalty kill a game. Cal Clutterbuck also spent over two minutes on the penalty kill a game, and had 127 hits in only 37 games. He has played in 10 seasons with over 50 games played, and has over 200 hits in all of them. Because of the physical game they play, Martin, Cizikas and Clutterbuck all missed significant time last year. More injuries could open up a spot for Wahlstrom and Bellows, or depth acquisitions Austin Czarnik and Dmytro Timashov. Andrew Ladd might be buried or put on fake LTIR. He appeared in one postseason game and was really, really bad.
The Islanders saw Devon Toews get traded to Colorado and Johnny Boychuk retire, meaning that they\’ll need contributions from both the young and old. The top pairing will stay the same, with Ryan Pulock signed for two more years. Pulock led Isles defensemen in goals (10), assists (25) and points (35) in 68 games. He averaged over 22 minutes a night and blocked 139 shots. Pelech played in just 38 games before tearing his Achilles, but he returned in the postseason and played well. He blocked 44 shots with 67 hits in the run. Scott Mayfield averaged three seconds under 20 minutes a night, which was a career high. He\’s the biggest defenseman on the team, at six-foot-five. With Toews gone, Nick Leddy will have to be the puck moving defenseman. Leddy had 21 points in 60 games, the lowest point total in a full season of his career. He\’ll move up to play with Mayfield, instead of Boychuk and Andy Greene, his partners last year. Greene returns on an undisclosed deal similar to Martin\’s situation. He scored two goals in the postseason, the same amount he had in the regular season. Greene is a penalty kill specialist perfect for the bottom pair. Soon-to-be 21 year old Noah Dobson must step up. When Pelech got injured in the last game of the postseason, Dobson came in and played well. He had seven points in 34 games as he learned the Trotz way. He has shown offensive potential in the QMJHL, but was hurt by very limited ice time. Thomas Hickey was a regular before he got hurt in 2018-19 and Toews stole his job. Hickey did not play in the NHL last year, and he only appeared in 14 AHL games. Sebastian Aho played well in 22 games in 2017-18, but has played exclusively in the AHL since. He had 30 points in 47 games for Bridgeport last year.
The focus in net for the Islanders will be on the 1B in their goaltending situation. 25 year old Russian phenom Ilya Sorokin has finally come to North America. He had a .935 SV% with a 1.50 GAA in 40 KHL games last year. In his past five seasons in the KHL, Sorokin\’s worst numbers came in 2016-17, when he had a 1.61 GAA with a .929 SV%. The Isles hope that he can take over for Semyon Varlamov by at least midway through 2021-22. Varlamov had a decent 2019-20, with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, with a 5.56 GSAA. In the playoffs, he had a .921 SV%, although he looked shaky at times. Like Martin and Greene, former Devil Cory Schneider signed a deal, with the terms becoming unknown. He hasn\’t had a positive GSAA since 2015-16, but with goalie coaches Mitch Korn and Piero Greco, anything seems possible.
Anders Lee – Mat Barzal – Jordan Eberle
Anthony Beauvillier – Brock Nelson – Josh Bailey
Michael Dal Colle – Jean-Gabriel Pageau – Leo Komarov
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Extras: Ross Johnston, Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows, Austin Czarnik, Dmytro Timashov, Andrew Ladd.
Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock
Nick Leddy – Scott Mayfield
Andy Greene – Noah Dobson
Extras: Sebastian Aho, Thomas Hickey.
Extras: Cory Schneider
It is hard to project the Islanders. Many before me have tried and failed. The lesson here is to never underestimate Barry Trotz. He\’s the reason they are where they are. Trotz\’s leadership will help the Islanders finish third in a tough East Division.