Whether it begins in mid-April or mid-June, the Islanders will enter the offseason with uncertainty. As a team written off as dead just a few months ago, under Doug Weight the Islanders have shocked the hockey world by climbing from the league’s basement and into playoff conversation. Of course, many fans were expecting more of their team after advancing to the second round for the first time in 23 years last season but given the team’s play during the first half of the season this year, I’m sure they’ll settle for how the Isles are currently playing. The Islanders had a crucial offseason last year with three mainstays in Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and Matt Martin becoming unrestricted free agents. Up until June really, the consensus was that the Isles were going to be able to keep two of the three but wound up not re-signing any of them as Martin went to Toronto, Okposo to Buffalo, and Nielsen to Detroit. The Islanders brought in Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, and PA Parenteau to replace them but Parenteau wouldn’t play a single game with the Isles as he was waived days before the regular-season in favor of a three goaltender system and rookies Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal. Ladd and Chimera struggled to start the year while Okposo, Nielsen, and even Parenteau came flying out of the gate. Slowly Ladd and Chimera began to live up to expectations and now with 19 goals, Ladd is doing what he was expected to and Chimera is perhaps exceeding expectations with 17 goals and 12 assists at age 37. With the season coming to a close, the three team race to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference may come down to the wire and maybe even game 82. When the season ends, whether in the regular-season or the playoffs, the Islanders will begin their most important offseason in years, even more important than last year.
There are options out there for a head coach but it’s hard to not like what interim head coach Doug Weight has done with the team since taking over on January 17th. Weight holds players accountable and gives every player a chance to succeed where he believes they will succeed best. Unlike Capuano, Weight doesn’t favor veterans over rookies, he favors whoever is better. For example, Thomas Hickey has been struggling lately by his standards and rookies Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield have been playing well. While Johnny Boychuk is out with injury, Pelech has been in the lineup for the most part, occasionally switching out for Mayfield. Both of them have been making the most of their chances and so Weight rewarded the both of them by giving both of them the chance to play by scratching Hickey. While I’m sure it was difficult to scratch a mainstay in the lineup like Hickey, Weight holds everyone accountable, scratching Hickey for the second time this season. Whether the team looks for a new head coach or not will mostly depend on Weight himself and if he even wants to continue being a head coach. Other options include Gerard Gallant and Michel Therrien.
Vegas Golden Player Stealers:
From June 18th to June 20th, the newest NHL franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights will receive all current 30 team’s protected lists. The lists will either include seven forwards, three defenseman, and a goalie or eight skaters and a goalie that Vegas can’t take for their team. Then, Vegas will select one player from each team that is not protected or exempt. Who Vegas will take from the Isles or which format the Isles will even choose (and who they’ll choose to protect) is up to anyone’s guess with four defenseman that should be considered and the same to at least six or seven forwards. Regardless, come June 21st Vegas will have taken someone and who they took will have an impact on the Isles roster for next season.
Too Many Forwards:
The Islanders have a lot of forwards under contract next season, in fact all of them. Unless you want to attempt to get away with under six defenseman, you can only play 12 forwards on a given night. When the trade deadline came and went, the 23 man roster rule was taken away and now teams can have as many players as they’d like on their roster, keeping the three call-up rule in mind. There are 15 forwards on the roster currently and players like Michael Dal Colle who is currently with Bridgeport and Mathew Barzal who made the opening night roster but has been in juniors for the majority of the season will be pushing for a roster spot. While a good problem to have, you want your team to have the best players possible but there are problems involved like one-way and two-way contracts and that might ultimately become a difference maker to at least start the season.
Too Many Defenseman:
Well, another depth problem. Who would of thought just a few years ago that we’d be complaining about depth and depth on the blueline? Crazy! While Vegas selecting a defenseman from the Isles seems like the most likely outcome, there’s a chance they won’t and regardless of their decision, the Isles are set to face a good problem but a problem. Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews. I just listed nine players who have a chance at making the opening night roster for a position where only six can play a night.
(Backup) Goaltending Situation:
The Islanders entered the season with three goaltenders on their roster for the second consecutive season is Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss, and J-F Berube. In late December, Halak was placed on waivers and cleared. He now currently plays in Bridgeport with the Isles’ AHL affiliate and has put up solid numbers. Meanwhile, Berube has struggled at the NHL level and hasn’t reached the amount of games to stay as an RFA so on July 1st he’ll become a UFA. Whether it’s re-signing Berube, giving Halak another chance, or even trying to convince top goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin to ditch his gig and contract in the KHL to come to Brooklyn, the Isles backup goaltending situation remains unknown for now.
Re-Signing John Tavares:
We’re saving the best for last, the reason this summer will be the Isles’ most important offseason in recent history… On July 1st, the team can begin contract extension talk with their captain John Tavares. If nothing gets done by that time the following year, Tavares will become an unrestricted free agent. It would be wise of the team to re-sign Tavares as soon as possible and preferably before the season even starts to avoid the chatter and rumors.