Ever since the New York/Long Island/Brooklyn Islanders fired Head Coach Jack Capuano and implanted Doug Weight, the Islanders have been red hot. After a 3-0 shutout win tonight against the Montreal Canadiens, the Islanders are now 12-4-2 under Weight and making a push at the right time for a playoff run, going 7-3-0 in the last ten.
With the Eastern Conference so closely contested, coupled with the way the Isles are playing, the team just may keep the Wild Card spot they are holding currently. Carolina is in last place in the East, yet is only ten points out of the last Wild Card spot. This also makes for a very interesting trade deadline in a week and a half. Are the Isles buyers or sellers?
Is this current Islanders team anything more than a one-round wonder, or is there staying power? As stacked as the East is this year, I’m betting on "one and done" unless a few additions are made and some bodies can come off the injured reserve list, which currently has five players holding spots.
With over $5.5 million in available cap space, I could easily see New York adding a player or two, but I still do not think that is the answer. As for star power, the Islanders have one, John Tavares, and that’s it. Andrew Ladd had struggled mightily this season after signing as an Unrestricted Free Agent this past summer to try and fill Kyle Okposo’s skates. Travis Hamonic, on the IR since January 7th, is out indefinitely, and his return would bolster the defensive corps for sure. The Islanders are a very young team, but they need to act now or never, or risk losing John Tavares at the end of next season, and there will be 30 other teams all jumping for a player of his skill set. Nobody is going to want to play where the organization puts zero effort into trying to win, and Ladd is no refill for Okposo, but at least he tried.
Would adding Matt Duchene from Colorado be an answer? It would certainly add much needed offensive power, but the Islanders need help on the defensive side of the ice. While currently sitting at eighth in goals for and 23rd in goals against, tell me Kevin Shattenkirk wouldn’t look good in Brooklyn, and just to stick it to the Rangers to boot.
With Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee starting to play to their potential, and prospects such as Matthew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang, there are the means to add a player if so desired. The Isles also have the albatross contract of Jaroslav Halak sitting there, so maybe they could try to get rid of that. And then there are the two young and promising goalie prospects in Eamon McAdam and Stephon Williams. Going after Ben Bishop doesn’t sound all that far-fetched.
The recent shutout of Montreal was just game two of a nine-game road trip, and this road trip will either be the make or break point for New York. At Columbus Saturday, then having five days’ mandatory break before hitting Dallas and Chicago in back-to-back nights, then every other day in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and closing things out against the red-hot St, Louis Blues. If the Isles come out of this trip .500 or better, they are in a good place. As I look deeper into the season, the Isles also go on a four-game road trip to close out the season. Someone wasn’t on their side when making the schedule this year.
Getting back grinders Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck from IR will also toughen up the Islanders, and the sooner the better, as this scheduling may catch up with the boys before this road trip ends. Only three Islanders are over 50% IN Corsi for percentages: Tavares, Lee and Josh Bailey. So again, tightening up the defensive reigns will benefit this team dramatically, and since primary goaltender Thomas Greis isn’t quite Henrik Lundqvist, improving the team defense is imperative.
I for one would love to see the Islanders mortgage a few prospects and picks and make a run for playoff success, but with no guarantees that Bishop or Shattenkirk are going to sign with them when they become UFA’s at season’s end, it seems like a lot to risk for a one-year push.
You can always reach me @PolkaPat