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It’s been some long hard years for the Islanders (okay, not so much long). The dynasty years are a thing of the past, and aside from the occasional “Potvin sucks” chant at MSG, few outside of Nassau Coliseum remember. In many ways, they are the forgotten Dynasty. The Oilers are remembered with the teary eyed enthusiasm, the Islanders are the afterthought. Even in New York.
Money’s been a big problem for the Islanders lately, as well as the comically difficult negotiations with Uniondale to keep the team in Long Island. There have been continued threats to move the franchise, the most palatable of which, for the fans, seems to be a move to Brooklyn to share an arena with the Brooklyn Nets. It’s a much better scenario than moving the team out of state, like some have suggested, but it still sucks for the fans who have stuck by the team through the down years. In 2015, the Islanders will likely be calling Barkley’s Center in Brooklyn home.
The Islanders were good last year, at least in some ways. They were the league’s 7th best offense, led by John Tavares, Matt Moulson, and a deep cast. They also added Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who should make the offense even more potent. However, what they excelled at offensively, they were inept at on defense. They let in 2.83 goals per game, which was 21st in the NHL. Every one of the teams that finished below them in goals against missed the playoffs. That is not a coincidence.
The Islanders did a little to shore up the defense, by getting gritty forward Cal Clutterbuck from the Minnesota Wild. However, they had to give up Nino Niederreiter, one of their top prospects, to get him (which is the definition of overpayment). Niederreiter had been rushed to the NHL, but was readjusting to play in the AHL, and still seems likely to succeed as a speedy and skilled top 6 forward. It may be a move they regret.
However, the Islanders do still have Ryan Strome, who is considered a can’t miss prospect, but will help more on the offensive side of things which isn’t their most glaring need. Griffin Neinhart and Matt Donovan are also considered strong prospects on defense. However, their high end contributions should be several years away. Meaning that the Isles defense continues to be a work in progress that will likely hamper their success this season.
And perhaps what’s most troubling is that this already shaky defense will have to deal with the loss of former captain Mark Streit, while also hoping that aging goaltender Evgeni Nabokov rebounds from a tough playoffs. Streit was their quarterback on offense, on the powerplay, while also contributing to shorthanded and defensive situations. And while Nabokov has been a strong starting goaltender throughout his NHL career, he is 38 and was hung out to dry against the Penguins in the playoffs last season. It could be a rough year for him if the defense doesn’t somehow improve dramatically. Unless they have a sumo wrestler waiting in the wings to take over for Nabokov. In which case, plan the parade.
However, that’s where this team is at and looks to continue to be all year. Strong offense, weak defense, overly reliant on getting good goaltending out of an old goalie, and potentially up against it in a new division that features strong teams in the Rangers, Capitals, and Penguins, and several wildcard teams in the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Devils, and Flyers. Many of those teams are a bit of an unknown after some very aggressive offseasons, but it wouldn’t be far fetched to say that the Islanders are the weakest team in the new Metropolitan Division. It may mean falling back out of the playoff bubble for the Islanders, which would be sad for one of the last years of the Islanders playing on Long Island.