The Mat Barzal area begins on Long Island. There’s a lot to like about the budding star center however, team defense and goaltending remain major question marks in New York.
Despite scoring well offensively, the Islanders overall GPA was pulled down by poor goaltending and the worst defense in the league. New York finished last in goals against and expected goals against. Tough to move on to the next grade, the playoffs in this case, when you flunk important classes like those.
What went right:
Mathew Barzal had a rookie season for the ages. He led all players, not just rookies, in offensive zone possession and finished top-15 in points with 85, the most by a rookie since Evgeni Malkin had 85 in 2006-07. Overall, the Islanders offense was dangerous, finishing 7th in goals for while posting the 6th best powerplay in the NHL. They were led by Anders Lee (40 goals, career high) and John Tavares (37 goals), who is now a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
What Went Wrong:
Of the top 13 teams in goals for, 12 made the playoffs. The Islanders were the only exception. As good as their offense was, their defense/goaltending was worse, which is ultimately what sunk them. The Isles gave up 293 goals, most in the league, which is more than what Tampa Bay scored all year (290, 1st in NHL). It’s almost impossible to single out one area where they were particularly bad, they just struggled overall. New York had the worst penalty kill, finished bottom five in limiting shots, slot shots, inner slot shots, passes to the slot, controlled entries and was 6th worst at limiting odd-man rushes. With numbers like those, it’s not surprising that their goaltenders posted the 4th worst save percentage in the league.
Key Additions: Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, Robin Lehner, Tom Kuhnhackl
Key Departures: John Tavares, Calvin de Haan, Jaroslav Halak, Dennis Seidenberg, Nikolai Kulemin
Other Key moves: Fired Head Coach Doug Weight, Hired Head Coach Barry Trotz, re-signed Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Brock Nelson, PTO for Luca Sbisa, Dennis Seidenberg
Everybody knows losing Tavares is a huge blow to the Islanders’ franchise, so instead of singing his praises for a full paragraph, let’s look at what subsequent moves New York made in the wake of its captain’s departure. Unfortunately, what came in is much less than what went out. The Isles, already weak defensively, lost Calvin de Haan who played well before injuring his shoulder. In fact, de Haan ranked top-ten league-wide in blocked shots and defensive zone defensive plays at even-strength, per-20 minutes played – skills that surely could have helped this team next season.
New GM, Lou Lamoriello decided to sign a slew of bottom-six forwards, such as Valtteri Filppula, Tom Kuhnhackl and former Leaf Leo Komarov, while also trading for another Leaf, and former Islander, in enforcer Matt Martin. Lamoriello didn’t add a single defenseman of note and replaced the departed Jaroslav Halak with Robin Lehner, who both had identical .908 save percentages last season. The Islanders hired Barry Trotz, who is fresh off a Stanley Cup win in Washington, but regardless of how good a coach he is, he isn’t a miracle worker. The highpoint of the Islanders off-season was the 1st round of the NHL Draft where they selected a pair of strong first-round picks in Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson, but neither is expected to contribute right away.
Next season preview
What could go right?
This is Barzal’s team now. Teams won’t have to split their attention between him and Tavares anymore and will instead focus their defensive effort on stopping the dynamic sophomore. They will also look for growth from players like Anthony Beauvillier, who scored 21 goals playing mostly with Barzal last season, Josh Ho-Sang and Ryan Pulock, all 23-years old or younger.
What could go wrong?
Expectations should be low for the Islanders. They missed the playoffs by 17 points WITH Tavares and now, in addition to losing him, the supporting cast is weaker than it was last year. None of the Islanders goalies are talented enough to steal wins for them regularly, especially behind their leaky defense. Their 7th ranked offense is likely to regress, with Anders Lee (40 goals) and Josh Bailey (71 points) the most likely candidates now that they won’t have Tavares centering them and aren’t guaranteed to play with Barzal. Long story short, this should be a tough year on the Island.