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NHL Season Preview 2015-16: Three New York Islanders questions

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The Islanders should be good again but aren't without some lingering concerns.

The franchise and two unrestricted free agents.
The franchise and two unrestricted free agents.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The annual NHL season preview from SB Nation rolls out today, so in conjunction with that we shared our own horribly biased/uninformed/kool-aid/buzzkill [your modifier may vary] views on the New York Islanders with our network mothership.

And because we need a rhetorical construct through which to better understand our anxieties about this promising but imperfect squad as it enters the 2015-16 season, we here by submit three questions. And three answers. Or three explanations of why those are burning questions yet to be answered.

Which, I suppose, is why they play the freaking games. 82 of them. And then hopefully many more.

1. Will the special teams improve?

Penalty Kill

Try as we might, the trends and performance of the Islanders special teams during Jack Capuano's tenure cannot be tied to specific assistant coaches. Doug Weight has overseen both productive and harmless power plays. The penalty kill has had stretches of absolute ineptitude and near-dominance -- sometimes, as in 2014-15, within the same season.

Whatever one's view of Michael Grabner as an overall player or cap hit, it is undeniable he was an effective penalty killer. Injuries kept him out much of last season, in which the Isles PK finished 26th overall at 78 percent. (Even that poor finish required a late season surge to pull it out of last and above a simple 75 percent.) His loss will be felt, but by the numbers if it means more Cal Clutterbuck and Nikolay Kulemin that's okay. If it means more Casey Cizikas or Matt Martin that's a concern.

If the Islanders continue with the PK adjustments made in the second half of last season, perhaps an average PK performance is possible. Which, remarkably, would be a big improvement.

Power Play

In contrast, the power play production ranked much better (16th, 78.7 percent) but still far from what you would hope given the talent it possesses, and a brutal slump could have been the difference in their seven-game first-round loss.

There seemed to be a persistent disconnect as the coaching staff urged more shot attempts and fewer pretty plays -- in theory a solid approach, though the limited number of opportunities within a game can coax players into reactionary decisions rather than trusty habits that pay off in the long term.

The staff probably believes it was preaching the right things last season. They'll either need to adjust, or get the players to hear it as a different tune.

Practically speaking, however, the power play has a new element: Left-shooting but right-side-residing Lubomir Visnovsky is gone, replaced by right-shooting, right-side Marek Zidlicky. Like Lubo, Zidlicky is aging and an injury risk but at his most effective with the man advantage. The power play's fate may turn on whether he or Ryan Pulock -- a right-shooting rookie with a lethal cannon from the point -- can change the approach.

2. Will the Islanders adjust to Brooklyn and Barclays Center quickly?

This is a tricky one. Or rather, it's a bit of a cop-out. Because a rink is a rink. They're all 200 feet (R.I.P. Chicago Stadium, Boston Garden, The Aud). Both teams play on the same ice. The relocation shouldn't affect what happens on the ice. Et cetera.

And yet, it's a thing. A real thing. The players -- very nearly the same roster as last season -- are all used to routines, which include living on Long Island, having quick commutes for the morning skate, and easy commutes for their afternoon nap on game days.

Now they're juggling new routines, ones that aren't set yet in the "drive through traffic" vs. "take the train with the masses" decision, as well as how to pull off that traditional nap. (The club is reportedly providing hotel space for that...which also makes home games feel a little road-like.)

As for the rink, true the ice is the same for both teams, but it is still a new rink. For a team built in part on speedy puck movement, the problems that can come up during the first full season for an ice can be an issue. And the players have made a few comments about adjusting to the new environs, which include asymmetrical surroundings around the rink.

All of which can make for a comfy, quirky, that's our home feel. If they adjust.

3. What happens to Kyle Okposo?

For half of last season, the Islanders power forward was having a career year, thriving next to John Tavares and showing why he'd be a franchise fixture for years to come. Then he had a detached retina, which took him out for two months and stalled his rhythm when he returned.

He is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and there are far more trade rumors than there are indications the team and his agent are anywhere beyond "nowhere" on an extension.

(A shadow story to this is the pending unrestricted free agency of center Frans Nielsen, who is four years older than Okposo and has more prospects in the pipeline who are candidates to replace him.)

From the outside, it sounds like Okposo is looking for top-market money based on his best career stretches, while the team sees a player it has developed through many obstacles, including a couple of major injuries and prolonged slumps. He is somewhere between a force of nature about to hit his prime and player who wasn't a "proven" first-liner until last season at age 26.

But that's for the club and agent to sort out. The impact on this season is that he's an unrestricted free agent who probably won't be signed during the season. That and the likelihood he doesn't begin the season on the first line means it could be a media-fed distraction and something weighing on the player and management whenever the team finds itself in the playoff bubble. Given the nature of the Metropolitan Division, chances are each playoff team will be in the bubble until after the trade deadline.

So like it or not, the Okposo question will hang in the air.

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Got other questions -- aside from the goal horn and the obstructed view section, I mean? Leave them in comments.