We probably don't offer enough of an outlet for the fantasy sports fans around here -- aside from the LHH fantasy league that foments trash talk of its own -- but the recent top 200 offseason fantasy rankings at NHL.com gives us an excuse to wade in, if only for what it says about how the Islanders are constructed.
In a word, depth.
It goes without saying (that's editorial warning for "but it's about to be said") that John Tavares is the Islanders' lone superstar. He's captain and top scorer, and he's made a lot of wingers a lot of money in his short career.
But the Islanders were a playoff and top possession team last year not because of one star or one line, but because of the depth throughout their lineup. A team that could scratch or withstand injury to Ryan Strome, Anders Lee or Michael Grabner at various points in the season -- regardless of the wisdom of those overthought decisions -- is a team with more forwards than it knows what to do with.
While fantasy sports categories are only at best a superficial depiction of the variables that impact winning teams, it's nonetheless telling in that top 200 ranking: John Tavares is ranked 5th overall, and the next Islander on the list is...Kyle Okposo at 82.
After that, Jaroslav Halak (because goalies collect fantasy stats) at 103 and Ryan Strome all the way down at 146. The defense doesn't check in until Johnny Boychuk at 173 and Nick Leddy at 176. Anders Lee, he of the 25 goals in 76 games last season, is filed in the "just missed" category outside the top 200.
Again, this is for fantasy purposes, and the criteria for the ranking are stated like so:
Factors taken into account include position eligibility, line combinations, category coverage and statistical performance from previous seasons.
NOTE: These rankings project value in standard fantasy hockey leagues, which include a 6x4 category scoring system: goals, assists, plus-minus, power-play points, shots on goal, penalty minutes, goalie wins, goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.
It's not that the Islanders don't produce -- they were the third highest-scoring team in 2014-15 with 252 goals for -- it's that no one knows if the bulk of non-Tavares production will come from any single source.
Okposo? A good bet, injury willing. Lee? Maybe. Strome? Probably. Brock Nelson? Yes, if things work out. But because of Okposo's injury, the second-leading scorer (51 points) on the Islanders last season was a whopping 35 points behind Tavares.
You see the fantasy ranker's dilemma, then.
In that top 80 the Isles have no 1-2 duos like other teams do. No Perry and Getzlaf. No Benn and Seguin. No Ovechkin and Backstrom, nor Kane and Toews, etc. Even the Blues, though lacking such a duo and also having lost in the first round of the playoffs, had multiple players in the top 70 including Vladimir Tarasenko, David Backes, Alexander Steen, Kevin Shattenkirk, and the just-traded TJ Oshie.
This of course can prompt a regurgitation of the never-ending call to add a "stud winger" for Tavares. But until one falls off a tree, the Isles will being going about it with a bunch of very strong forwards. Note that the duos above are, largely, well established NHLers. The Isles youngsters are just now getting full seasons in. The next waves (Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang) were in prospect camp this past week, while it's expected that Strome, Nelson and Lee each take that "next step" in 2015-16.
It's not ideal for fantasy purposes, but in real life it's not too shabby.