With the season beginning today, the staff at Lighthouse Hockey got together (okay, not in real life) this past week and talked about our thoughts on this past offseason and the season to come.
What were your thoughts on how the Isles went about this offseason?
MIKB: This was basically everything everyone hoped for last offseason. It's not a stretch to theorize that Snow thought they were closer than they were based on the playoff berth in 2013 and being "one bounce away from Game 7" against the top seed in the East. So they swung for Vanek and got torpedoed.
So, full marks to Garth Snow for learning from that and addressing every team need - good goaltending, defensive anchors, lots of depth.
Michael Levak (ICanSeeForIslesAndIsles): Because I'm not a fly on the wall, I'm not sure. It's either one of the following:
(1) This is the culmination of Garth's shrewd and ingenious plan to bring this club back to respectability. He stockpiled picks, picked up some gems off of waivers, and now can finally acquire people through trades thanks to other teams' cap problems. He thought this would happen last year, but the cap was unexpectedly higher, but waiting one more year is of little consequence. The time is now and he recognized that fully. Not only that, but the quality of the young players has finally paid dividends in the form of free agents such as Grabbo.
(2) This guy is Mr. Magoo, and by random success, has a good team borne mostly out of the draft (thanks to awful seasons full of mismanagement) and random success (good teams have to dump players for cap reasons).
I'm 95% sure the truth lies closer to (1) than to (2). I do not dismiss the fiar every1! crowd. Garth has made enough peculiar moves that (2) is possible, but I think it's more likely that he's a guy who is simply learning the job the hard way... By making mistakes and learning from them.
So in the end, I'll go with situation #1.
Dan Saraceni: The total opposite way they went about last offseason. They addressed every need they had to: signed Halak and Johnson as upgrades in goal, signed Grabovski, Kulemin, Conacher and Skille (RIP) as forward depth, traded for Boychuk and Leddy to upgrade experience and scoring on defense (Brennan would have addressed one, not necessarily the other). In other words, they did absolutely as well as they could have done, barring a trades for P.K. Subban, Henrik Lundqvist and Evgeni Malkin. Of course, this is all on paper. Ask me again when the games start.
Dominik: An almost ideal offseason: Aggressive in fixing the goaltending pre-free agency with Halak, adding insurance at forward with the low-risk Conacher/Skille signings followed by the Grabovski/Kulemin moves, and capped off with Leddy and Boychuk. I'd have bid on Tom Gilbert in the beginning, but free agency means 29 other teams have a say. By laying groundwork all summer and triggering both trades simultaneously, I half-suspect Garth Snow pulled the rug out from other bidders who thought they could get *either* Leddy or Boychuk if they let Chicago and Boston twist long enough.
Mark D: While we all know the future in net is Kevin Poulin, just the additions of Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson most likely made this a playoff team. Picking up quality middle six guys like Grabovski and Kulemin just make it even sweeter.
The Leddy/Boychuk trades are a great example of why you control your budget until your certain you can be a contender. It would have been very easy to make the Islanders better in the short term the last few years by giving out long term or big contracts to players who by now might have worn out their welcome. Instead the Isles add two players in just about the prime of their careers to a position we might have been weak in.
Garik16: Pretty much perfect. They avoided pretty much all of the land mine terrible players who were out there on the market like Orpik or Engelland or even Tanner Glass, and added only players with promise. The only bad player who might've made the roster was Skille, and Skille isn't that bad, was on a two-way deal, and they were willing to waive him anyhow.
I've said this a bunch this offseason, but one of the biggest ways analytics helps teams in free agency and the draft isn't making smart acquisitions (though they help with that), but in avoiding back-breaking terrible ones. An example in prior years was going into the season by re-signing Nabby. This year, they avoided all of those. So obviously, I'm thrilled.
What are you most excited for this season?
MIKB: It's funny... I am of course looking forward most to watching some winning hockey on the Island, seeing the long-promised future finally arrive. But I am almost as excited to finally shut up ignorant, trolling sportswriters and every opposing fanbase yokel who smirks at the New York Islanders. I am really looking forward to this team not being everyone's lazy punchline, having other people actually worry when they have to come into the old Barn and face off with these guys.
ML: Hearing the collective suction sound of a thousand pundits kissing our teams butt as they jump on the bandwagon. After all the years of laughs and talk of tire fires, this is the year they finally have to take us seriously.
I just hope that Garth sees through their softball questions and platitudes, and constantly reminds them that they could not have cared less if our team fell off the face of the earth. Not only to watch them squirm, mind you. I want this team to have an us-against-the-world mentality. It can only help their focus.
DS: To see how the new guys mesh with the "core" of established Islanders and vice versa. Some guys who bought houses on Long Island a while ago might be looking over their shoulders either from the guys skating next to them or the guys playing in Bridgeport because of the new players. I'm also excited to see a million preseason previews all get blown up as the Islanders force out-of-town writers to actually watch them for once.
Dom: Honestly, the chance to have one final, electric season-long Coliseum bash. Sports at this level is so competitive, the outcomes are largely in the hands of randomness and luck; you can only influence your chance of luck smiling upon you. The Isles did that this summer, so fans and players should hopefully benefit with one fun year.
MD: I've been ready for the season to start since we add Halak and Johnson. Then the team just kept getting better and better as the offseason and preseason went on. At this point let's just get on with it! I Want to see this team in action instead of on paper.
Garik16: The play of Grabovski and the sophomore years of Nelson and Strome. I think Grabbo is ridiculously good, and he'll have some amazing linemates this year, while I think Nelson and Strome should both break out this year. Which will be amazing. And look at that, all three are playing on the same line to start! Oh happy days!
What are you most worried about on this team?
MIKB: The margin of error is always very thin, and the right moves can blow up on you. I worry most that the team will overreact to a rough stretch where they outplay their opponents and lose four or five games. The worst-case scenario is that people get fired, players get dealt for more prospects, and we wind up imploding and missing the playoffs while giving away a top-ten first-rounder.
ML: That a perfect storm of injuries hits us yet again. I swear this team must have led the league in man-games lost to injury over the majority of the last 6 or 7 years. It makes me worry that it's a trend that might not go away. I don't care how deep we are; you don't replace John Tavares. If injuries force us to miss the playoffs, then it's #tirefire for another year, despite the obvious signs that we should be a contender if not for bad luck.
DS: It's the Islanders. Anything can go wrong and snowball into a colossal dumpster fire in the blink of an eye. I'm afraid the stakes are so high - between the offseason spending spree, the last season at the Coliseum and the drive to get back to the playoffs - that even average performances will be worked over and worried about. It's been a long time since Islander fans have seen a team that had a cruise control. Normally, the Islanders are either stumbling along in a slump or tearing up unsuspecting opponents in short, surprising runs. Talent-wise, this roster has what it takes to be a playoff team. Psychologically, I hope they can understand that and not let things get out of control.
Dom: Injuries, always injuries. The thought that "the Isles refuse to play their best players" is ridiculously overdone on the message boards, a product of fans insisting their specific opinion of the ideal lineup 1 through 23 is the only answer, and any deviation is a travesty that foolishly rewards [your favorite scapegoat here]. In reality, they will need far more than 20, or 23, bodies, and poorly timed injuries to a goalie or a front-line forward are far more dangerous.
MD: Coaching. I complain about it all the time when a General Manager throws a coach under the bus for not getting results from a questionable roster. It was great to see Snow step forward and claim responsibility for last season's mess, especially the goaltending. But Capuano seems to be average at best, and there were a lot of really good coaches looking for jobs this offseason. There were also some highly regarded candidates hired for other jobs. It'll be interesting to see what happens if the team struggles and a big name coach suddenly becomes available.
Garik16: I won't say injury, but really it's what happens if the team has bad goalie luck (it happens even with the best vetted goalies!) and starts off poorly again. Each of the last two years the team has massively underperformed to start the season, and I hope the improved talent and depth makes sure it doesn't happen again. But then again, these lines only have been together for about 5 days, which isn't very long.....
What do you think will be the big surprise on this team?
MIKB: It shouldn't be one, but I think that the big surprise will be that the Isles aren't going to have any D pair that can be consistently pinned down and exploited. You'll see a lot fewer of those headless-chicken shifts where everyone's running around like their stick's on fire and not actually covering anyone.
ML: Kate Murray attends a game, and her luxury box collapses from years of neglect from SMG. She survives, but is still in traction at the hospital as the Isles have their Cup parade and ride off into the sunset (which just so happens to be westward).
But seriously, my big surprise will be a change in coaching mentality. The traditional fourth line guys will eventually be off the team, due to untimely injuries that force Cappy to use four scoring lines. He sticks with it when he finally sees the light, and those recovering from injury don't have a spot to come back to.
If you're going to press me for a break out performance, I'll go with Kulemin, who people thought we overpaid for. He'll find his spot and produce.
DS: Chad Johnson's play, the personalities of Grabovski and Kulemin delighting fans and the continued mystery of Josh Bailey's role, which still won't be figured out. Oh, and I think Boychuk re-signs.
Dom: If and when all the NHL forwards are healthy at the same time, how they deal with it will be a surprise. Whether it means waiving a favorite, trading a current regular, or even Josh Bailey putting all questions away and forcing someone else out, it's going to be jarring to some people.
MD: I think Casey Cizikas has a nice bounce back season. I believe that he's more the player we saw in 12-13 then the player we did last season. Also Eric Boulton hat trick.
Garik16: Josh Bailey scores 15-25-40, spread out throughout the season, in a 3rd line role and Isles fans stop complaining too much (but only a little).
Project How the Isles Finish:
MIKB: AHHHHHH no pr*jecti*n what the hell is wrong with people???
Hahahaha no, seriously, I am bullish on things and at the risk of being a big jinx, I think they finish as the best of the four tri-state teams. Yup, ahead of the Devils Flyers AND Rangers. And they also come out of the Metro as one of the final four teams in the playoffs.
ML: If all teams were treated equal, I might be tempted to say first in the Metro. But we all know that's not the case (NOT saying it's done intentionally, but that's a post for another day). The Pens will likely hold onto first, and the Isles will finish second.
DS: The reason sports are fun are because the chance of seeing the unexpected happen is exponentially higher than it is while watching, say, Food Network or something. So I'll go all out and I don't care: Islanders win the Metro, beat Pittsburgh, Montreal and Tampa Bay in the playoffs, then beat Los Angeles in the Stanley Cup final and send Nassau Coliseum out with the storybook ending it (and not Nassau County) deserve. Unlikely? Yes. But that's why we watch.
Dom: Third in the Metro, just a hair away from getting home ice in the first round.
MD: Unless something crazy happens, I think they'll be close to the top in the division.
Garik16: 2nd in division due to a slowish start and injuries, but players come back healthy and they win the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Fall in 7 to a Western team in the Finals. I'm serious. We are for real.