2014-15 New York Islanders Season Preview

John Tavares and Kyle Okposo of the New York Islanders


The New York Islanders had a rough go of it last year, especially after losing captain John Taveres to a knee injury during the Olympics. Things looked promising at the start of the season when they traded away Matt Moulson for the talented Tomas Vanek, but unfortunately things didn’t work out as planned. The Islanders tanked in the dismal Eastern Conference and finished 26th overall in the NHL standings.

Tavares is healthy for the start of the new campaign, and management on Long Island made a few key additions, but will it be enough to propel the Islanders out of the basement and back into the playoffs?

Losses: Evgeni Nabakov
Additions: Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Cory Conacher, TJ Brennan, Jaroslav Halak, Chad Johnson


Despite losing two key contributors last season to trade (Matt Moulson his replacement Tomas Vanek), the Islanders revamped offense seems stronger and more potent than what they brought to the table last year. John Tavares will once again lead the way, but he will be joined by Kyle Okposo who had a breakout season last year with a career high in goals (27), assists (42), and points (69). Okposo finally looks poised enough to handle the weight of being a go-to guy for the Islanders, and if he picks up where he left off last season, New York will have a strong top line. Having Tavares back for a full season should help immensely. If the two of them can somehow ignite a spark in Michael Grabner, they will make a scary top unit.

Garth Snow reunited a couple of former Maple Leafs by signing Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin each to four-year contracts. They played well together in Toronto back in 2010-11, and Snow is banking on them being a force together once again. It’s a risky move, but one that will leave Islanders fans quite happy if it works out.

Fans and management alike are also banking on strong follow up seasons from Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, and Frans Neilsen, all of whom excelled in 2013-14. It will also be interesting to see how Islanders coach Jack Capuano plans to use Cory Conacher, TJ Brennan and Ryan Strome throughout the year. Strome was a 5th overall pick in 2011 and has been waiting for an opportunity in New York. At center though, it will be hard for him to take away time from Tavares, Nielsen or Grabovski, so he may be relegated to fourth line duty. It’s not ideal for a player like Strome, who regularly contributed 30+ goals during his time in the OHL, but he’ll have to earn his time much like anyone else.

Conacher and Brennan, the other off-season additions up front, will likely have to earn their spots as well. Brennan was outstanding with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL last season, scoring 25 goals and 72 points in 76 games, but has not yet been able to crack an NHL line-up for a significant amount of time. Conacher, on the other hand, excelled during his time with Tampa Bay, but could not find a great fit with Ottawa or Buffalo in his time spent there.


Defensively, Garth Snow hasn’t done much to alter this team. Lubomir Visnovsky, who is aging and past his prime, will no longer be able to put up the 60 points expected of him, and has struggled with injuries throughout his career. A younger generation of defenseman, including Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan, and Thomas Hickey will have to play larger roles and step up to lead this team.

A big if on the defensive side is whether or not the we will see Griffin Reinhart contribute much this season. The 20-year-old defensman was a #4 overall pick in 2012, but has spent his past two seasons in the WHL with the Edmonton Oil Kings. With no AHL experience, you have to wonder if Reinhart will be ready to play at the NHL level, or if he’ll need some seasoning in the minors before making an impact. They could use certainly use his size on the blue line though, at 6’4″ and 206 lbs, Reinhart would be the biggest defenseman on the team. With a slew of young defenseman on the roster already, it certainly can’t hurt to throw Reinhart into the mix and let him start to get some experience.


Snow, who was a goaltender himself, clearly saw that there was a need in this position and did a tremendous job filling it in the off-season. The most notable signing, of course, was Jaroslav Halak. While he may not have excelled in Washington late last season, Halak was good during his time with Montreal, and great during his time with St. Louis. He is a huge upgrade over Evgeni Nabakov, and could be the MVP of this team if they make a return to the playoffs.

But not only did Snow add Halak in net, he also poached backup goaltender Chad Johnson away from Boston. Now I certainly think that Johnson’s numbers in Boston were a bit inflated, if you look at the team he was backstopping you would agree, but it still takes a considerable amount of talent to go 17-4-3 throughout the 2013-14 season. He also recorded two shutouts, had a .925 save percentage, and a 2.10 goals against average.


With a few offensive stars in Long Island beginning to enter their prime, it has become an expectation for this team to make the playoffs each year. A lot of bad things happened last season, including the Tavares season ending injury, that really plagued the team and took away from their focus. Starting a fresh season will help immensely, and the changes Garth Snow has made between the pipes will be crucial to this teams success.

However, the Islanders did little to bolster their defensive corps, and could wind up struggling because of this. Defense wins championships, and as it stands right now, the Islanders do not have a championship caliber defensive unit.

At the end of the season, the Islanders will be fortunate to be playing in the Eastern Conference that just isn’t as good as the West. If last season is any indication, it will take just over 90 points to make it into the playoffs, and that seems to be within reach. A healthy Tavares and solid goaltending will prove to be enough to lead this team back to the playoffs.

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