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Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Look at the Metropolitan: The Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers: 2014-15: 6th in the Metro with 84 points

Team Additions: Forwards Sam Gagner (Coyotes), Chris Connor (Washington), Chris Porter (Blues), Colin McDonald (Islanders), Defenseman Drew Drewiskie (Canadiens), Goaltenders Michal Neuvirth (Islanders), Jason LaBarbera (Ducks)

Team Departures: Forwards Zac Rinaldo (Bruins), Jason Akeson (Sabres), Defensemen Chris Pronger (Coyotes), Nicklas Grossman (Coyotes), Carlo Colaiacovo (Sabres)

2015 NHL Draft Picks: Defenseman Ivan Provorov (7th overall), Forward Travis Konecny (24th overall), Goaltender Felix Sandstrom (70th overall), Goaltender Matej Tomek (90th overall), Forward Samuel Dove-McFalls (98th overall), Forward Mikhail Vorobyov (104th overall), Forward David Kase (128th overall), Forward Cooper Marody (158th overall), Goaltender Ivan Fedotov (188th overall)

The Flyers hired Dave Hakstol as head coach.

Cap Situation: $583,334 in cap space with 23 NHL contracts on the roster. Acceptable cap situation.

Caps Play The Philadelphia Flyers Four Times

Matt Larkin of The Hockey News reported that Wayne Simmonds doesn't believe the Flyers are in rebuild mode, and that they are a playoff-bound team.

Simmonds is part right and part wrong. The Flyers aren't really in rebuild mode anymore, but they kind of had been for the last couple of months. Philadelphia is going to have a vastly different defensemen unit after shipping out half of their blue liners at the deadline. They kind of stockpiled draft picks by trading for seven picks within the first 99 selections in this year's draft. And they kind of made a rebuild mode move by hiring Dave Hakstol from the University of North Dakota.

So, sure Simmonds, you're kind of right. The Flyers aren't in rebuild mode anymore. They aren't going to blow up the team any further, they aren't going to stockpile more draft picks and they aren't going to be gunning for the right to draft Auston Matthews.

Where you're really wrong, Wayne, is saying the Flyers are a playoff-bound team. They aren't. They might if they were in the Atlantic Division, but the Metropolitan Division grew into the most deadly division in the league overnight. And the Flyers stood pat.

This is not the year Simmonds and the Flyers raise the Cup. This isn't the year Simmonds and the Flyers even fight for the Cup. But Simmonds and the Flyers are getting closer and closer by the year.


Did you know the Flyers have never had a player win the Art Ross trophy? Did you know Jakub Voracek was just six points away from becoming the first Flyer to win the Art Ross trophy? Voracek shattered his personal-best assist and point totals this past season, with 59 and 81, respectively. That was good for second and fourth in the league. You remember way back in the Summer of 2011 when the Flyers sent Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Voracek, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft and a third-round draft pick? Did anyone at the time think that the Flyers absolutely slaughtered the Blue Jackets in that trade?

They did, and Voracek has become a household name across the NHL-sphere. He's among the league's best passers. His 32 assists at even-strength five on five were tied for second in the league with the Dallas Stars' Jamie Benn. And his Corsi-percentage at even strength five on five of 53.56 percent was the second-highest on the team among Flyers with at least 40 games played. Voracek more than earned his eight-year, $66 million contract extension he signed earlier this offseason, set to kick in after the 2015-16 season.

His line mate Claude Giroux furthered solidified himself as a top player within the NHL. His 73 points was his lowest total since his first full season in the NHL (excluding the lockout-shortened season in which Giroux still had 48 points in 48 games). Both Giroux and Voracek are more pass-first-type players. What they need is a bonafide scorer to join them on that top line. According to Hockey Analysis, Giroux and Voracek's had two primary line mates last year: Michael Raffl and Brayden Schenn. Between the two, Raffl is a better line mate for Giroux and Voracek than B. Schenn. Raffl led the team in even-strength five on five goals with 14, and he played well with Giroux and Voracek. Raffl was on the ice for seven of Giroux's 11 even strength goals, and he was on the ice for six of Voracek's nine even strength goals. And B. Schenn? He wasn't on the ice for any of Giroux or Voracek's even strength goals. Raffl also improved the scoring chances for both Giroux and Voracek. When Giroux played with Raffl, he had a 55.7 Corsi-For percentage. When Giroux played without Raffl, he had just a 50.7 Corsi-For Percentage. The same trend happened with Voracek (57.9 Corsi-For percentage with Raffl versus just 50.9 without). Raffl finished with 21 goals in 67 games in just his second full season in the NHL. If the 26-year-old plays a full season with Giroux and Voracek, his goal totals should rise. They should rise a lot.

Wayne Simmonds
Wayne Simmonds led the Flyers in goals scored last year with 28 goals. But Simmonds doesn't particularly fit with Giroux and Voracek. He's essentially an okay second-line power forward/excellent third-line power forward. But he is the primary reason Philadelphia's power play clicks. They scored on 23.4 percent of their power play opportunities last season, good for third in the league. Simmonds had 14 goals on the power play. That's exactly half of his goal total. In fact, a lot of Flyers forwards scored a significant amount of their goals on the power play. Giroux scored 14 of his 25 goals on the power play. Voracek had 11 of his 22 with an extra man. Schenn had seven of his 18 on the power play. That's a dangerous game to play, but if the Flyers want to rely on power play production to succeed, more power to them.

It's really easy to forget Sean Couturier won't be 23 until this December. He's already entering his fifth full season in the NHL this upcoming year. In my opinion, Couturier is going to develop into one of the top two-way forwards in the league relatively soon. He finished just 30th in the Selke trophy vote, after finishing ninth in voting in the year prior. He finished with 15 goals and 22 assists last year. He's also the top penalty killing forward on the team. Couturier is a guy every team would like to have on their team.

The Flyers can build an entire line of guys that just simply need to step up next year.

Matt Read scored 22 goals in the 2013-14 season. Last year? He had eight. He's capable of cracking the top-six, but he simply needs to produce more goals.

For some reason, the Flyers traded Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger so they could get "faster." Last year, Umberger had nine goals. Hartnell had 28.

There may not be a more disappointing player in the NHL that currently has three years left on his contract than Vincent Lecavalier. There was literally five teams that were dying to add him in the 2013 offseason. Now, they are all just laughing. The 35-year-old, 1998 first-overall pick has nothing left in the tank. He is an absolute shell of his former self. He went from a dominant player to a healthy scratch almost in an instant. The Flyers just need to find spots to hide him on the ice. They only have three more years of him (at a laughable $4.5 million cap hit per year).

The lone forward addition of Sam Gagner should provide a bit of stability for the bottom-six forwards, but he is in no way a game changer. Scott Laughton should find a little bit more playing time this year. Chris VandeVelde was a bit of a bright spot for the Flyers last year. He finished with a career high of nine goals in his first full season.


The Flyers got rid of a lot of defensemen that saw some time with the Flyers just last season. Kimmo Timonen was shipped to the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline. Braydon Coburn was sent to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the trade deadline. Carlo Colaiacovo signed with the Buffalo Sabres. Nicklas Grossman was sent to the Arizona Coyotes just this offseason. So was Chris Pronger. That's five defensemen that were with the team last season that aren't with the Flyers this year.

Okay, fine, the only actual losses to the blue line was Coburn, Grossman and maybe Colaiacovo. But nonetheless, the Flyers blue line will look a little different than year's past.

Mark Streit is the best defenseman the Flyers have. He's the only true offensive player they have among the unit. He finished his year with nine goals and 43 assists for 52 points. That's the most points he's had since the 2008-09 season. He's 37, but didn't appear to slow down in any sort of way last year. Streit may not be the prototypical top pairing defenseman every team needs, but he's the best option the Flyers have at this point.

Michael Del Zotto managed to resurrect his career this past season. According to War on Ice, Del Zotto played against the most difficult competition in his career this past season, starting his shifts in the defensive zone for the highest percentage in his career. That being said, he gave up 18.7 high danger scoring chances for every 60 minutes of even strength five on five play. That's the highest amount of high danger scoring chances he's ever given up in his career. That also ranks him 221st in the league among defensemen with at least 200 minutes of even strength five on five play. That's awful. Del Zotto also gave up the most scoring chances per 60 minutes of even strength five on five play in his career, surrendering 28.9. That's also very bad. That ranks him 191st among defensemen with at least 200 minutes of even strength five on five play. But, with that being said, Del Zotto's 22 points at even strength five on five set a career high, and his -0.5 Corsi-For relative to his team was the third highest of his career. So can you use him offensively? Sure, he can hold his own. But close your eyes and hope for the best when the puck is in the Flyers defensive zone and Del Zotto is on the ice.

Remember how I said there may not be a more disappointing player in the league with three years left on his contract than Lecavalier? That's only because Andrew MacDonald has five years left on his contract. MacDonald is another guy who was a healthy scratch. He carries a cap hit of $5 million. And he is so, so bad. He is not particularly good offensively, and he is definitely not good defensively. His -1.24 Corsi-For relative to his team mates was the third worst among Flyers defensemen with at least 200 minutes of even strength five on five play. Here's a visual at just how bad MacDonald is. And, keep in mind, he's carrying a $5 million cap hit until 2020. He is a prime buyout candidate for the Flyers.

Via Own The Puck

One of the more intriguing players for the Flyers this year is Evgeny Medvedev. Medvedev is 33, and he's entering his first NHL season. He signed a free agent contract this offseason with the Flyers. He's been playing in the KHL with Ak Bars Kazan for the last seven seasons. He's got good size at 6-foot-3, and he's a puck mover. Medvedev could provide the Flyers with another offensive option on the backend. He's signed to a one-year deal, so it's really just a low-risk, potentially high-reward move. The Flyers don't have a particularly flashy defensive group, so Medvedev could quickly find himself within the top-four if he fits in quickly.

Radko Gudas and Luke Schenn are probably the bottom pair for the team. Gudas played respectively for the Tampa Bay Lightning before getting shipped to Philadelphia at the trade deadline for Coburn. L. Schenn is not the player the Flyers thought he was when they traded James Van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he likely never will be.

Nick Schultz should be a serviceable 7th defenseman. If the injury bug bites the Flyers' blue line, rookie Shayne Gostisbehere should be the first man up to fill in a roster spot.


If I told you a Flyers goaltender had the third-highest save percentage and the seventh-highest goals against average, would you believe it?

Believe it. Steve Mason may have been the most under-rated goaltender across the league last season. His .928 save percentage was good for third in the league, and his 2.25 goals against average was good for seventh. Both marks set career highs for the goaltender.

Mason was phenomenal. At even strength five on five, Mason's .944 save percentage was higher than every goalie across the league with at least 20 games played, besting Carey Price, Devan Dubnyk, Pekka Rinne and Braden Holtby. His .941 adjusted save percentage also led the league. His .988 save percentage for shots taken from a low percentage shooting area was first among goalies at even strength five on five with at least 32 games. Mason was quite possibly one of the better goaltenders in the league.

So why didn't he get any sort of Vezina honors? And why did the Flyers give up 234 goals last year, the seventh-highest in the league?

Well, for starters, Mason didn't play as much as he would have liked. He appeared in just 51 games, missing time due to illness and arthroscopic surgery to his right knee. He sees himself as a top goaltender, and would like to see more time this upcoming season.

"I don't want to put a specific number on it," Mason told the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. "But you look at the top-tier of games played for goalies last year, they're in their 60s, and Braden Holtby had (73), which is a lot of hockey, but if I'm healthy and playing well, then obviously you want to be playing a lot."

Steve Mason
Because Mason missed some time, that forced Ray Emery and Rob Zepp to play a total of 41 games combined. Emery and Zepp are not great goaltenders.

And while Mason was great, he still let in goals. Why? Because he was facing 30.62 shots per 60 minutes of even strength five on five play. That's the sixth most in the league among goaltenders with at least 40 games played.

It also doesn't help that Mason's save percentage against high-percentage shots wasn't particularly good. He had just a .848 save percentage against high-danger shots at even strength five on five. That's comparable to Ondrej Pavelec, Jonas Hiller and Ryan Miller. Not the particular company you'd like to be compared to.

Mason was also pretty poor on the penalty kill. His .846 save percentage on the penalty kill was 39th in the league among goaltenders with at least 20 games. And if we adjust the save percentage to take into account where the puck is being shot from, Mason's save percentage actually falls to .844.

So while Mason appeared to be excellent, and he technically was, it's important for his defensemen to suppress shots and not give the opposition easy scoring chances. Because Mason will get burned.

The Flyers went out and grabbed Michal Neuvirth. In 32 games as a backup with the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders, Neuvirth managed a a .925 save percentage at even strength five on five, a .923 adjusted save percentage, was 23rd in the league with a .914 save percentage and 37th with a 2.98 goals against average. Keep in mind, 27 of those 32 games came with the Sabres, where Neuvirth never really had a chance. He is a great improvement over the Flyers' previous backup option, Emery.


The current blue line for the Flyers doesn't look very good on paper. But that's okay, because the future looks very bright for Philadelphia.

With the seventh pick in this year's draft, the Flyers took Ivan Provorov, who some considered the best defenseman in the entire 2015 draft class, and a candidate to make the Flyers squad straight after the draft.

Provorov won't be with the Flyers this year. Philadelphia opted to send Provorov back to the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings. That's a wise decision. There's no need to rush Provorov into the NHL. He would certainly help, but patience is the right move here. Provorov is an offensively-gifted defenseman. He chipped in 15 goals and 46 assists for 61 points in 60 games for his first season in the WHL. That point total led WHL rookies. He and Noah Hanifin, the Boston College defenseman selected with the 5th pick by the Carolina Hurricanes were practically interchangeable. Here's what one scout told The Hockey News.

"The difference between him and Hanifin is that he'll step up and take your head off. But Hanifin has more offensive upside."

Provorov isn't a particularly physical player, but he knows when he has to be, and he plays intelligently. Provorov was the youngest member of the Russian World Junior Championship team that won the silver medal. Provorov will be back in the tournament, and he will have a much larger role than he had in his first effort.

Even without Provorov, the Flyers have a slew of high-potential defensemen that are just itching for some NHL ice time.

Two other defensemen besides Provorov that had a legitimate chance at making the Flyers this year were Samuel Morin and Travis Sanheim. Like Provorov, Morin and Sanheim were sent home from training camp (Sanheim, the 2014 17th overall pick was sent back to the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL and Morin, the 2011 11th overall pick, was sent to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL). All could quite easily hold their own in the NHL. Why is Hextall being so patient?

"There's decisions we felt were in the best interest of three young players," Hextall told Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly. "We know these guys. Unless they showed us in their brief stay....if we thought they can help us, we would have leaned toward keeping whichever one. We felt they weren't going to help us on Oct. 8 and therefore it was best to get them back and get entrenched in their team."

And that's the right decision. There is no reason to rush these guys in if you don't think they will be immediate difference makers. One day all three will be, but save them for a more promising year.

Sanheim is a 6-foot-3 defenseman that scored 15 goals and 50 assists for 65 points in 67 games. That led all defensemen in the WHL for points. That means the Flyers had two of the top four scorers in the WHL last season. Sanheim will more than likely compete for Canada at the 2016 World Junior Championship, and it would be a wise decision to keep an eye on him.

Morin is gigantic. He's 6-foot-6 and 203 pounds. He's a physical force that can move the puck decently well for a guy of his stature. Morin finished his fourth year in the QMJHL with Rimouski Oceanic, where he set a career high for assists (27) and points (32). He won a gold medal with Canada at the 2015 World Junior Championships. He didn't record a point, but that's not why he made the squad. He was there to be the defensive-defenseman the team needed, and he played the role very well. Now, he joins the Phantoms in the AHL. He may not be there for long if the Flyers need a defenseman, and this physical force fits the Broad Street Bully bill perfectly.

Shayne Gostisbehere
There's still a couple more promising defensemen prospects for the Flyers. Gostisbehere is still with
the Flyers at training camp, and he has a legitimate shot at making the final roster. If he doesn't, he gets sent back to Lehigh Valley, but if that were the case, it more than likely wouldn't be for very long. Gostisbehere was a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, and the Flyers found a mid-round gem. He was a stud for Union College. I mean, where to begin. His first year, he made the Eastern Conference Athletic Conference (ECAC) all-rookie team and all-tournament team, and his Union College squad won the ECAC tournament. His second year, he was an ECAC second all-star team member, his Union team won another ECAC championship and he was a second-team all-American in the NCAA East. He was also a gold medal winner for the World Junior championship team in 2013. His junior year was his most lucrative year. He was the ECAC best defensive defenseman, an ECAC first-team all star, the ECAC player of the year, a member of the ECAC all-tournament team, a first team all-American for the NCAA East, his Union College won the NCAA championship, Gostisbehere was the NCAA tournament's MVP and a member of the all-tournement team, and, finally, he was a Hobey Baker finalist. He skipped out on his senior year and promptly tore his ACL as he played in just seven games last season (two with the Flyers, five with the Phantoms). He has to get back up to game speed, but Gostisbehere will eventually be a full-time NHL player, and might even be one this year.

Robert Hagg finally rounds out the Flyers promising defensemen prospects. Hagg is a two-way defenseman that has played a big role for Sweden in the last three World Junior tournaments. He won two silver medals in his first two tournaments, but didn't medal in the 2015 tournament. In his first season with the Phantoms last year, Hagg had three goals and 17 assists in 69 games. He'll enter his second year with the Phantoms, and has a bit of guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but Hagg will one day see time with the Flyers.

The only super-promising prospect the Flyers have up front is Travis Konecny. He's only 5-foot-10, but he is an incredibly skilled forward and he plays like he's 6-foot-5. He skates with a ton of confidence. Last season, Konecny had 29 goals and 39 assists in 60 games for the Ottawa 67's in the OHL. Even after a strong showing in training camp, Konecny was sent back to Ottawa, and he promptly dominated on his return, scoring two goals in his first game. The Flyers will have to be patient with Konecny and let him develop at his own pace, but the Flyers have a good one. I raved about him before the draft, and I was really, really hoping the Caps chose to select him.

Not a single player the Flyers have selected in the last four drafts has played in the NHL. That's not good, though that's bound to change soon.

I'd write a bit about some of the Flyers goaltending prospects, but the likelihood that they'd make the NHL is slim: The Flyers haven't drafted a goalie that has played in more than a single NHL game since 2000, when they selected Roman Cechmanek in the sixth round. Cechmanek played in 212 NHL games.

Player to Watch

While Medvedev might be the most intriguing player on the Flyers roster, simply because no one is quite sure what he is capable of, the player to watch is Raffl. Remember how I said a lot of Flyers scored a significant amount of their goals on the power play? Raffl didn't. Just two of his 21 goals came on the power play. If he is the primary line mate for Giroux and Voracek, he is capable of scoring 30 goals. This upcoming season is just his third full year. New head coach Dave Hakstol would be wise to put Raffl on the top line with his two best playmakers.

Final Analysis

It's good to trust in your team like Simmonds does, but this is simply not a playoff team. They will more than likely finish with a top 10 pick once again. The forward unit has super strong top line, but the bottom six is below average, and that might be putting it nicely. The defensemen group as a whole is weak, and they simply aren't strong enough to beat out any of the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins or Columbus Blue Jackets for a shot at a playoff spot. Their goaltending should be pretty solid, in fact, it might be some of the better goaltending they've seen in years. But Giroux and Voracek can only do so much. The future is bright for the Flyers, especially with all of those young defensemen waiting for their turn. But the Flyers are a few players away from being a legitimate threat in the Metropolitan Division.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Look at the Metropolitan: The New York Rangers

New York Rangers: 2014-15: 1st in the Metropolitan with 113 points

Team Additions: Forwards Emerson Etem (Ducks), Jarret Stoll (Kings), Viktor Stalberg (Predators), Luke Adam (Blue Jackets), Brian Gibbons (Blue Jackets), Matt Lindblad (Bruins), Jayson Megna (Penguins), Defenseman Raphael Diaz (Flames), Brett Bellemore (Under PTO contract, previously with Hurricanes), Goaltender Antti Raanta

Team Departures: Forwards Carl Hagelin (Ducks), Martin St. Louis (retired), James Sheppard (PTO contract with Blue Jackets), Chris Mueller (Ducks), Defenseman Matt Hunwick (Maple Leafs), Goaltender Cam Talbot (Oilers)

2015 NHL Draft Picks: Forward Ryan Gropp (41st overall), Forward Ryan Kovacs (62nd overall), Defenseman Sergei Zborovskiy (79th overall), Forward Aleksi Saarela (89th overall), Forward Brad Morrison (113th overall), Forward Daniel Bernhardt (119th overall), Goaltender Adam Huska (184th overall)

Glen Sather stepped down as GM of the Rangers and became the Rangers' president. Longtime assistant to Sather Jeff Gorton replaced Sather. 

Cap Situation: $826,000 in cap space with 22 NHL contracts on the roster. Acceptable cap situation.

Caps Play The New York Rangers Five Times

After a 113-point, President Trophy-winning season, the Rangers found themselves deep in the playoffs for the second consecutive year in a row. Two seasons ago, they bowed out to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. This last season, they headed home after the Eastern Conference Final with the Tampa Bay Lightning. But new GM Jeff Gorton decided to stick with his core offensive guys and allow the defense and goaltending to continue to flex its muscle. Many other contending teams within the Metropolitan Division added a significant amount of firepower. Will that muscle be strong enough to carry the Rangers deep into the post season once again?


Rick Nash set a career high last season with 42 goals, the second time in his career he reached the 40-goal plateau and his first time since the 2009-09 season when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The bruising power forward is among the league's best goal scorers, and will continue to be among the top goal scorers again next year. But he needs to continue that scoring trend into the post season if the Rangers want to go all the way. Nash scored just five goals in 19 games during the playoffs last season. That's the third consecutive abysmal playoff performance by Nash with the Rangers, scoring just three goals in 25 playoff games in the 2013-14 season and just one in 12 games the 2012-13 season.

So what is Nash's problem when it comes to the playoffs? It's really hard to tell. His possession numbers are virtually the same. His PDO was actually higher in the playoffs this year than it was in the regular season. The only main difference that is quite clear is his personal shooting percentages. During the regular season, Nash's shooting percentage in all game situations was 13.53 percent, which is an elite shooting percentage. But in the playoffs this year, that number dipped down to 7.25 percent, a very average shooting percentage. At even strength five on five, it's an even greater difference. During the 2014-15 regular season at even strength five on five, Nash shot at 12.53 percent, which again is an elite shooting percentage. But in the playoffs, that number dipped down to just 4.35 percent.

This same trend, to an extent, has occurred for Nash during the playoffs during his entire Ranger's career. In the 2013-14 season, Nash's Corsi percentage took a slight dip during the playoffs, from 54.22 percent at even strength five on five during the regular season, to 51.54 percent during the playoffs. His PDO also dipped from 101.44 to 98.86. But again, his shooting percentage nose-dived, from 9.28 percent to 3.17 percent. Same sort of thing in the 2012-13 season. His possession stats looked poor during the playoffs (55.58 Corsi percentage during the regular season vs. 48.99 percent in the playoffs), his PDO stayed high (103.53 in the regular season vs. 104.47 in the playoffs), but his shooting percentage again sunk to extremely low levels (12.78 percent in the regular season vs. 2.94 percent in the playoffs).

Why is his shooting percentage diving straight down so drastically? Initially, I thought it might be due to where he was shooting the puck from. Nash is a dominate player down in the slot, where he scores the vast majority of his goals. So I figured, maybe he's just not getting as many shots off in the high-danger areas. But it's not. Take a look at these heat maps, provided by Sporting Charts. This shows where Nash is shooting for at even strength play for the 2014-15 season. The chart on the left shows where Nash is shooting from in the regular season, and the chart on the right shows where he's shooting from in the playoffs.

It's difficult to tell because of the sample size, but Nash is actually shooting from a CLOSER distance during the playoffs than the regular season (32.59 feet in the playoffs vs. 32.77 feet in the regular season). And this is supported by War On Ice as well. Nash is actually getting more high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes of play in the playoffs than he is in the regular season (16.25 vs. 15.29).

Nash is either very, very unlucky, or he is very, very not-clutch.

If Nash decides to falter during the playoffs, there are a few other Rangers forwards that are capable of putting the puck in the net. Derrick Brassard's coming out party occurred last season. He set a career high in goals and points last season with 19 and 60, respectively. And he should expect to see just second-line time at center, playing behind Derek Stepan, who signed a six-year, $39 million deal this offseason. The contract was well deserved. Since Stepan has entered the league in the 2010-11 season, he hasn't recorded less than 44 points. That 44 point season happened to be the lockout-shortened season, and Stepan played in just 48 games. The Rangers have one of the more under-rated top-two center combos in all of the NHL.

Martin St. Louis's magnificent career has come to an end, and with his retirement announcement, the Rangers lost a significant scoring threat. His game completely died in the latter half of the season (including the playoffs, St. Louis had just four goals in his last 35 games of his career), but the Rangers lost their fourth-leading scorer, and one of their three guys who scored 20 or more goals last year (Nash and Chris Kreider were the other two). St. Louis' unquestionable intangibles will also be missed.

You can't replace a guy like St. Louis in one offseason, but who steps up in the top-six right wing role St. Louis left vacant? It's probably going to be J.T. Miller. Miller set career highs in games, goals, assists and points, with 58, 10, 13 and 23, respectively. Is he ready for a top-six role?

Mats Zuccarello returns from his scary brain contusion/skull fracture injury, suffered after taking a Ryan McDonagh slap shot to the head in the playoffs. He's just 5-foot-7, but he gives the Rangers another dangerous weapon on the top line. Zuccarello had 34 assists and 49 points in 78 games.

At just 24, Kreider is just going to continue getting better and better. He's among one of the fastest skaters in the league, and he is just entering his third full season in the NHL. Kreider finished with 21 goals and 46 points last year in 80 games. If Kreider is able to push towards a 30-goal season next year, the Rangers offensive becomes significantly more lethal.

Emerson Etem

The Rangers shipped out Carl Hagelin, another quick playmaker, to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem. Etem is by no means a quick skater. He's a physical forward that will chip in a minimum amount of offense. Etem could never quite crack the Ducks' full-time roster, but he will be counted on in New York. Who will replace Hagelin's speed on that third line? Viktor Stalberg sees himself as a player comparable to Hagelin.

"I think we're maybe a little bit similar players," Stalberg said to "I'm looking forward to a defined role and being able to play that and feel like I'm contributing every night on a good team. I'm looking forward to defining that."

Of course he is. Stalberg was a healthy scratch with the Nashville Predators last season, bounced between the AHL and NHL eight different times and was finally bought out by the Predators. Stalberg played in just 25 games last year for the Predators, scoring two goals and 10 points. To say he's a Hagelin replacement is a bit of a stretch, but he's a low-risk, high reward-type player. Stalberg is signed at just $1.1 million for one year. 

Kevin Hayes provides the Rangers with a big body and a legitimate third-line scoring threat. 

Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast provide the Rangers with an average fourth-line, though Fast is capable of in multiple areas of the forward unit. Tanner Glass is among the worst forwards in the entire NHL, and he's a Ranger for two more seasons. If Oscar Lindberg impresses at training camp and preseason, he has a legitimate shot at seeing a decent amount of playing time with the Rangers.


The bread and butter for the Rangers for the past several seasons has been its defensemen group, and, considering they are returning essentially the exact same personnel, the group will once again be among the league's best. 

The top pair for the Rangers, McDonagh and Dan Girardi, once again paired up to make a great top pairing. McDonagh is the clear leader of the bunch, and is among the best defensemen in the entire league. He also managed to add eight goals and 33 points. That's not as high as he should have gotten (he had 14 goals and 43 points the previous year), but McDonagh makes up for it with his defensive play.

Everyone rags on Girardi, because he has terrible possession stats, consistently finishing with a poor Corsi percentage in comparison to his team mates. And he does. Girardi's 45.98 Corsi percentage this past season. That's terrible. But Girardi does a great job suppressing shots, and doesn't allow too many high-danger shot attempts. Girardi's 184 blocks this season ranked sixth in the league. And while Girardi gave up 15.33 high-danger chances per 60 minutes of even strength five on five play, the most on among Rangers defensemen last season with at least 500 even strength five on five minutes, 83 defensemen surrendered more, including Johnny Boychuk, Brent Burns, Brent Seabrook and P.K. Subban. Girardi also played against the 13th-most difficult competition in the entire NHL at even strength five on five among defensemen with at least 500 minutes, according to War On Ice. 

Klein stepped up as the offensive defenseman for the Rangers when both McDonagh and
Dan Boyle had off-years offensively. Klein finished with career-highs in goals and points, with nine and 26, respectively. Klein likely would have scored even more, but he missed some games (both in the regular season and playoffs) after breaking his arm. Was his offense-happy season a fluke? His 10.14 shooting percentage at even strength five on five ranked 8th in the league among defensemen with at least 500 minutes at even strength five on five. That's his largest shooting percentage since the 2008-09 season, when he scored on 8.3 percent of his even strength-five on five shots. And the previous season, Klein scored on just 2.9 percent of his even strength five on five shots.

Kevin Klein

Staal provides the Rangers with a steady presence on the second pairing. His game in no way, shape or form will wow you, both offensively and defensively, but he is serviceable and gets the job done.

Boyle was given the easiest competition he has ever faced in his career last season, as well as the highest percentage of offensive zone starts. He's sheltered, and he needs to be if the Rangers want to use him effectively. He's 39, and he's coming off his worst offensive season in his entire career. Not good for a guy that's, you know, known as an offensive defenseman.

At the trade deadline, the Rangers sent prized prospect Anthony Duclair, defenseman John Moore and a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2016 and a 2015 second-round pick for Keith Yandle, Chris Summers and a fourth-round pick in 2016. That's a heavy price for a guy who is penciled in as a third-pairing defenseman, but Yandle makes the Rangers defense much more scary. Yandle is an offensive presence that the Rangers would like to have. He has two consecutive seasons in which he recorded 52 points or more, and, excluding the lockout-shortened season in which he had 30 points in 48 games, Yandle has recorded five straight seasons in which he tallied 40 or more points. His third-line minutes sheltered minutes should give him plenty of offensive opportunities at even strength, and he averaged 3.48 minutes per game of power play time during his 20 games with the Rangers, more than any other Rangers defenseman. But if Yandle has to babysit Boyle, his offensive numbers could potentially drop.

Matt Hunwick signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, so a seventh defenseman spot is open. Look for new arrival Raphael Diaz to see a bit of time. Summers could potentially see a bit of time, and if Brady Skjei succeeds in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack early on, the Rangers 2012 first-round pick could be a potential call up.


Henrik Lundqvist entered the 2014-15 season as a Vezina-trophy favorite, and why shouldn't he? Since Lundqvist came into the league as a 23-year-old in the 2005-06 season, Lundqvist has received at least one vote for the trophy as the league's best goaltender in each season, and he's never finished outside of the top-six in votes. This past season was no different. Lundqvist finished with a .922 save percentage and a 2.25 goals against average, good for tenth and seventh in the league, respectively. And there is no clear indication that Lundqvist's game is on the decline.....or is there?

Lundqvist finished his last campaign with the lowest adjusted save percentage of his career (adjusted save percentage takes into account where the shots are coming from. High danger shots, medium danger shots and low danger shots are given a specific weight. That way if, say, Corey Crawford has an extremely high save percentage, but he only ever sees shots from the blue line, and Jonathan Quick has an alright save percentage, but a large percentage of the shots he faces is within two feet of the crease, adjusted save percentage makes it easier to judge just how good a goaltender is). Lundqvist recorded a .9234 adjusted save percentage at even strength five on five. That's still outstanding, but, hey, it is the lowest of his career. And his save percentage of high-danger shots was .832 percent. Still great, but it is the second-lowest in his career.

Lundqvist played in just 46 games last year due to a sprained blood vessel in his throat after taking a Brad Malone shot to the throat. McDonagh's stick got caught under Lundqvist's mask, exposing his throat to the shot (side note, what is McDonagh's problem? That's two of his team mates that suffered significant injuries that were directly caused by McDonagh. Some captain....). The injury literally could have killed Lundqvist.

Cam Talbot stepped in for Lundqvist, and he performed above and beyond expectations. Talbot's 926 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average were fourth in the league. Talbot was seventh in the Vezina Trophy vote. But the Rangers sent his services to the Edmonton Oilers. Now, the backup goaltender position is between former Blackhawk Antti Raanta and Magnus Hellberg, according to Alain Vigneault.

"I'd say you've got to earn your spot," Vigneault told Andrew Gross of "It is an open battle. We'll see how they both do. I think Raanta might have a little bit of an upper edge because he's got more experience. It's good, internal competition. We're going to pick whoever helps us win."

Raanta has just 39 career games, and is far from spectacular. He was replaced in Chicago as the backup goaltender by Scott Darling. As a result, Raanta admitted he rooted against the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. Since then, Raanta has clarified it was a translation issue. Whether it was or wasn't doesn't even matter. If things don't go his way in New York, is he going to have some sort of hissy fit?

Hellberg is a huge goaltender at 6-foot-5. He's just 24-years-old, and has just half of a period of NHL time (he let in one goal on four shots). Hellberg was the 38th overall pick in the 2011 draft, the first goaltender selected that year. That's one spot ahead of John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks. The potential for Hellberg is there, but can he reach it?

If Lundqvist suffers a significant injury again this season, can either one of these two step up and lead the Rangers in the same way Talbot did?


To say the Rangers' prospect pool is weak might be a bit of an understatement. New York hasn't drafted in the first round since 2012, when it drafted defenseman Skjei 28th overall. Since then, the Rangers have sent their first round picks for Rick Nash (2013 pick), Martin St. Louis (2014 and 2015) and Keith Yandle (2016). That's right, the Rangers currently don't even have a first-round pick in the 2016 draft, meaning that they could potentially go four-straight NHL drafts without a first-round pick. On top of all of this, the Rangers also sent away their clear-cut top-prospect, Anthony Duclair to the Arizona Coyotes as part of the Yandle trade. Yikes.....

Skjei represents one of the more promising prospects for the Rangers. Skjei played the last three years with the University of Minnesota, winning a B1G championship last season. He's an excellent skater at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, and he has a bit of an offensive touch. He's not particularly physical, but he is an intelligent player. Skjei played in eight games with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, as well as 15 playoff games, recording a goal and two assists. If the injury bug bites the Rangers' defensemen group, Skjei could very well be one of the first call ups, but he may be better off baking in the AHL for another season or two.

Brandon Halverson
The strength in the Rangers prospect pool may very well come from within the crease. Brandon Halverson, a 2014 second-round pick, took command of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds goaltending position this year, playing in 50 games and recording a .913 save percentage and a 2.63 goals against average. That's the third-best goals against average in the OHL last season. Halverson was also an astounding 40-5-0 last season for the stacked Greyhounds. He's entering his third season in the OHL this year, and even bigger things are expected from him. Halverson is also eligible for the 2016 World Junior team. It will be his second U-20 World Junior tournament. In the 2015 tournament, Halverson was the primary backup goaltender to Thatcher Demko. Halverson had one game, and he didn't surrender a single goal. But Halverson wasn't even the most impressive goaltending prospect for the Rangers at the World Junior tournament. That honor belonged to Igor Shesterkin, who dominated in net for Russia. In eight games for Russia in the tournament, Shesterkin managed to record a 1.98 goals against average, a .938 save percentage and a shutout, statistically better than every goaltender in the tournament except for Canada's Zach Fucale (a Montreal Canadiens prospect). Shesterkin bounced between the KHL, VHL and MHL in St. Petersburg, and did extremely well at virtually every level. He will again bounce between the KHL and VHL this year. Mackenzie Skapski rounds out the Rangers' impressive goaltending prospect group. Skapski appeared in two games for the Rangers last year, but the addition of Hellberg knocks him down a peg on the goaltending depth chart. Skapski will likely miss a decent amount of time this year as he recovers from arthroscopic hip surgery.

With Duclair's departure, Pavel Buchnevich represents the Rangers best hope for an NHL-caliber prospect. Acquired in the 2013 draft with the 75th overall pick, Buchnevich has quietly been an excellent player within the KHL. Last season, he had 13 goals and 30 points in 48 games with the Severstal Cherepovets. And early in the this current season with, he's already recorded four goals and four assists in 11 games. And did you see him in the 2015 World Junior Championship? He was great for Russia, recording a goal and five assists in seven games while serving as an assistant captain. He is a very fast skater, and, according to The Hockey News, he has gotten much larger than his officially measured 6-foot-1, 176 pound frame. But will he come to New York? He could have this year, but he opted to sign in the KHL for another season.

The earliest selection for the Rangers in this year's draft was for Ryan Gropp, a 6-foot-3 hard-skater from the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL. The Rangers envision Gropp developing into a power-forward type. He scored 30 goals and 58 points in 67 games last season. Not bad for his second WHL season. Now, he and fellow team mate Mathew Barzal are experienced players returning to the Thunderbirds (Barzal was drafted this year by the New York Islanders). And with a full year from Barzal (he was injured after he was "horsing around" in the locker room), the two could help out each other's game.

Player to Watch

If you look at the New York Islanders defensemen, they are an extremely talented bunch. But this past season, they lacked a bonafide offensive-defenseman. McDonagh led the Rangers defensemen in points with 33. That ranked him 45th in the league. Successful teams have offensive-minded defensemen, and the Rangers need one. That's why they brought in Keith Yandle, and now that they will have him for a full season, his importance to the team will become quite clear. Yandle was ninth in points, with 52 last season. That's his second-straight 50-plus point season, and he was doing it primarily with the Arizona Coyotes. Now that Yandle is a part of a much better team in New York, is he capable of much more? Yandle will be the primary defenseman on the power play, a unit that ranked 21st in the league with a 16.8 percent success rate. That needs to improve, and it more than likely will with Yandle quarterbacking it. Yandle will also more than likely play third-pairing minutes, and if he is partnered up with the offensive-minded Boyle, they will be sheltered and utilized primarily in the offensive zone. This is Yandle's ideal situation. He's entering the final year of his contract, a deal that pays him $5.75 million this year. The Rangers have him only because the Coyotes agreed to retain half of his salary. This is more than likely his first and last full season with the Rangers. He's 29, and will look to cash in big time on what could potentially be his last long-term deal. Expect a huge year from Yandle in New York.

Final Analysis

The Rangers will once again make it to the playoffs. They have the best defensemen grouping in the Eastern Conference, accompanied by one of the best goaltenders in the NHL. But their forward unit isn't as strong as it was just last year. They lost a 50-point scorer in St. Louis and speed in Hagelin. Brassard, Stepan, Kreider and Zuccarello need to have career years. Nash needs to not fall apart in the playoffs. Etem needs to improve his overall game. None of that is out of the possibility. But the window is closing for the Rangers, and, more importantly, it's closing for Lundqvist. Etem and Miller signed their qualifying offers this offseason. That's a nice gesture, but it simply prolongs the monetary issues the Rangers are going to have to stare right in the face. Etem, Miller, Kreider and Hayes all become restricted free agents next year. All will expect a pay raise. The Rangers already have $54.15 million in cap payroll next year. Are they going to have to say goodbye to a key contributor after this season? It's a possibility, and they don't have any high-quality entry-level players to save the day.

If the Rangers really want to be the clear-cut favorite in the Eastern Conference, they need to add one more scorer to put them over the edge. Hey, they could always use that 2017 first-round pick as trade bait.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Look at the Metropolitan: The New York Islanders

New York Islanders: 2014-15: 3rd in the Metropolitan with 101 points

Team Additions: Forwards Joe Whitney (Devils), Ben Holmstrom (Hurricanes), Justin Florek (Bruins), Louis Leblanc (Ducks), Goaltender Thomas Greiss (Penguins)

Departures: Forwards Colin McDonald (Flyers), Harry Zolneirczyk (Ducks), Defensemen Griffin Reinhart (Oilers), Matt Donovan (Sabres) Aaron Ness (Capitals), Goaltender Michal Neuvirth (Flyers)

Other Currently Unsigned FA's That Saw NHL Time This Year: Brock Nelson, Kevin Poulin, Eric Boulton (given a PTO contract), Tyler Kennedy, Lubomir Visnovsky

2015 NHL Draft Picks: Forward Mathew Barzal (16th overall), Forward Anthony Beauvillier (28th overall), Defenseman Mitchell Vande Sompel (82nd overall), Defenseman Parker Wotherspoon (112th overall), Defenseman Ryan Pilon (147th overall), Defenseman Andong Song (172nd overall), Defenseman Petter Hansson (202nd overall)

No significant management changes for the Islanders

Cap Situation: $9,200,358 in cap space with 20 NHL contracts, per General Fanager. Good cap situation.

Caps Play The New York Islanders Four Times (Five, If You Include Preseason)

If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

That's the mentality of the New York Islanders this offseason. The Islanders weren't just one of the top teams in the league last season, they were one of the best teams Long Island had seen in over 20 years. The 101 points the Islanders finished with last season was the most points the franchise had recorded in a season since the 1983-84 season, a year where the Islanders lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final. Had that 1983-84 team won it, it would have been the franchise's fifth straight Stanley Cup victory.

So the team will bring back virtually every player that played a significant role for the Islanders last season, with the expectation that some players will continue to grow and mature into their roles. Could the Islanders win it all if they bring along the same team to their new home in Brooklyn?


A lot has changed since John Tavares entered the league as the calm and cool rookie way back in 2009. Tavares would end up leading the abysmal Islanders in points, with 54 in 82 games. Tavares would end up finishing fifth in the Calder Trophy voting as the leagues top rookie.

But Tavares isn't the only forward who has chugged along with this Islanders team since that 2009-10 season. The 20-year-old Josh Bailey was in his second season. The 21-year-old Kyle Okposo was in his third season. And the 25-year-old Frans Nielsen was in his fourth. Even a young 20-year-old Matt Martin appeared in five games during the 2009-10 season.

But what the 2009-10 season (and, well, really the next couple of seasons as well) lacked was depth among the forward unit.

This team does not lack that in the slightest.

Tavares and a few others waited a long time for this, but the Islanders now appear to be a mainstay within the playoff race for the foreseeable future.

The team has three lines that will simply outwork the opposition, out possess the opposition and out perform the opposition on a consistent basis. And the final fourth line, consisting of Martin, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas was called the best fourth line in all of hockey by Don Cherry himself on a segment of Coach's Corner.

The Islanders forwards have a lot going for them, and the nucleus is quite clearly Tavares. Tavares may have only been the fifth-best rookie in his class back in that 2009-10 season, but he has now emerged as a top-five player within the NHL. Had Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn not gone on an absurd run in which he scored 10 points in his final three games, Tavares' 86 points would have led the league and earned Tavares his first piece of individual hardware. He's equally dangerous shooting the puck (his 38 goals were fourth in the league) and dishing the puck to his teammates (his 48 assists were ninth). Tavares is a bonafide superstar, and is hands down the key piece to this team, and it's really not even close.

Ryan Strome

Tavares is certainly going to need a little help this year, and there are certainly several Islanders forwards that can help generate some offense. No Islanders forward may have been more impressive than Ryan Strome last season. In his first full year with the Islanders, Strome finished with 17 goals and 50 points in 81 games. At just 22, he has solidified himself as a top forward on this team. For the majority of the season, Strome saw second line minutes with Anders Lee and Brock Nelson. Lee is just 25, and he signed a favorable four-year, $15 million contract that kicks in next season. The Islanders still need to get things squared up with Nelson, who still remains as an un-signed restricted free agent. The 23-year-old  scored 20 goals and 42 points in his second full season in the NHL. What are the Islanders looking at as far as a contract extension? Definitely a bridge deal, probably within the range of the Montreal Canadiens deal with Alex Galchenyuk, who signed a two-year, $5.6 million deal this offseason. According to Nelson's agent, Ron Salcer, the Nelson camp hasn't heard from the Islanders in weeks. This could get a bit interesting.

That's just the second line, can't forget about that top line that flanks Tavares. Last year, it was Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo. Bailey set a career high in points last season, with 15 goals and 41 points in 70 games. He works well with Tavares, and has the ability to find the open man on the play. But Tavares' true partner in crime is Okposo. Despite missing 22 games with a detached retina, an injury that threatened his entire career, Okposo still managed to put up 18 goals and 51 points. Okposo is a goal-scoring right winger capable of putting up 60-70 points a season, as long as he stays healthy. This could, however, be Okposo's last year as an Islander. The 27-year-old is entering his final year of his five-year, $14 million contract. He is due for a hefty pay raise after this season. His name is already swirling in trade rumors, and the Islanders have a decision to make: Do they trade him when he can return some value, or do they keep him as an offensive piece of their championship puzzle?

More than likely, they keep him. Whether they extend him is a whole different question. Okposo is expendable to the Islanders, who have several young forwards in waiting. In fact, the Islanders currently have the luxury of having several players capable of playing in multiple different positions within the top six. Strome, Lee, Bailey, Nelson and Nielsen can all move up and down the lineup.

The fact that Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin are the second and third-highest paid forwards on the team is equally shocking and impressive. Shocking because, well, Grabovski and Kulemin shouldn't be your second and third-highest paid forwards on your team. Impressive because, well the Islanders are succeeding with cheap contracts on young players. Grabovski, Kulemin and Nielsen were primarily used as the Islanders "defensive" third-line. They were "defensive" in the sense that the three played more than 50 percent of their shifts in the defensive zone against tougher competition than everyone except Tavares, Okposo and Bailey (who obviously dealt with top pairing defensemen every game). But the three contributed a ton offensively. Nielsen was fourth on the Islanders in points this year, with 43 in 78 games. Kulemin recorded his highest point total in the last five seasons with a 31 point campaign. And Grabovski dealt with concussions and a lower body injury all season, only participating in 51 games, but still managed to score nine goals and 19 points in 51 games.

That fourth line Clutterbuck, Martin and Cizikas that Cherry referred to as the best fourth line in all of hockey? Sure, Martin and Clutterbuck were first and second, respectively, in total hits with 382 and 343 in total. And, sure, Cizikas' 144 total hits is nothing to laugh at. But, then again, that's 869 instances where that line didn't have the puck on their stick.... Kidding, of course. The three also combined for 24 goals and 24 assists. Not bad for a fourth line.

Michael Grabner might be the most under-utlized player in all of hockey. Grabner missed a lot of games this year with a handful of different injuries. He also missed quite a few because he was a healthy scratch. Grabner finished his year with eight goals and five assists in 34 games. That's a fraction of his past production. Grabner recorded 52 points in his first season with the Islanders in the 2010-11 season. He followed that up with a 20 goal and 32 point effort the next season. Grabner scored 16 goals in the lockout shortened season! What's happening? Well, for starters, it doesn't help that Grabner is starting 62.1 percent of his even-strength five on five shifts in his defensive zone, by far the largest percentage of his career. And it also doesn't help that his primary line mates have gone from Neilsen and Okposo in the first two seasons during his time in New York, to Keith Aucoin and Colin McDonald in the 2012-14 season, to Neilsen and Clutterbuck in the 2013-14 season, and finally to Nelson and Kulemin this season. Of course he'll put up 34 goals in a season if he's playing with Okposo! Of course he won't put up many goals if he's playing with Clutterbuck! He has tremendous speed. Is there seriously no room for him anywhere within the top nine? He seriously isn't a third line player on this team? Grabner was shopped around the NHL draft this year. He's entering the final year of his contract this upcoming season. If the Islanders don't need him, he needs to find himself a new team that will use him.


One could argue that the two defensemen that the Islanders traded for last offseason, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, ended up being the difference maker for the Islanders over the course of the season. Leddy and Boychuk, one of the better pairings across the entire NHL last season, each set career-highs in goals (10 for Leddy, 9 for Boychuk) and points (Leddy tied his career high with 37 and Boychuk set his career high with 35). 

How were they able to do this? You would initially think that both players were given easier competition than they had been given in the past. And at first glance, they had been, considering they had more offensive zone starts than every Islanders defenseman except for Calvin de Haan and were matched up against less-competitive opposition than de Haan, Travis Hamonic and Brian Strait. But if you dig deeper, you'll see that Leddy was utilized against the second most difficult competition of his career last season and actually had less offensive zone starts last year than any point in his career. And Boychuk's offensive zone starts and level of competition is pretty comparable to every season he had had with the Boston Bruins since the 2008-09 season. 

In fact, if you even look at both player's PDOs (a teams shooting percentage while an individual player is on the ice plus a teams save percentage while that player is on the ice. Used to measure "luck." Anything lower than 100 is considered "unlucky," anything above 100 is considered "lucky") at even strength five on five last year, both had completely reasonable scores. Leddy had a 100.59 PDO and Boychuk literally had a PDO score of 100. So what's our conclusion? That season for Leddy and Boychuk wasn't a fluke, and the seven-year, $38.5 million contract extension for the 24-year-old Leddy and the seven-year, $42 million contract for the 31-year-old Boychuk were completely warranted (okay, maybe the Islanders will regret the Boychuk contract down the road, but for now, it's alright for the foreseeable future).

Travis Hamonic
Gone are Lubomir Visnovsky, Matt Donovan and Griffin Reinhart, further cementing Hamonic, de Haan, Strait and Thomas Hickey as the other four defensemen. No defenseman for the Islanders saw more difficult ice time last season than Hamonic, and he is better suited for the second pairing. Hamonic finished with 33 points last season, good for third on the team among defensemen. He may, in fact, be the best offensive-defenseman the Islanders have in their possession: Hamonic's 23 even strength points was second on the team among defensemen, trailing Leddy by just one point. 

As for Hamonic's partner, it would have to be either one of de Haan or Hickey. Hamonic's primary partner last year was de Haan, so there is a bit of familiarity with that pairing. But Jack Capuano has a decision to make for his second pairing. Hickey is a puck-mover who finished with 20 assists last season. de Haan is more defensive-minded, and judging by his amount of offensive zone starts last season, he may need to be sheltered as a third-pairing defenseman. Does Capuano want to spread out his offensive-minded defensemen across all three pairs, or stack his top two pairs with puck movers? Considering the Islanders were the second-best puck possession team in the NHL last season, he may be better off keeping the talent within the top two lines.

Strait will fill in on that third pairing. 2011 first round pick Scott Mayfield and 2013 first-round pick Ryan Pulock should see some NHL time this year. Pulock is the more promising of the two.


Is Jaroslav Halak actually a franchise goaltender? Probably not, but at the very least, he's the most stable goaltender the Islanders have had in many, many years. 

Halak's .914 save percentage last year and 2.43 goals against average was good for 23rd in the league in both categories. He won't wow you, but, most importantly, he gets the job done. His 38 wins were good for fifth in the league last season.

Halak has finally found a team where he is officially the franchise goaltender. His 59 games last year was the most games in a single season in his entire career.

Halak's .9229 unadjusted save percentage at even strength five on five ranked just 22nd in the league among goaltenders with at least 1,500 minutes played, according to War on Ice. However, if you look at Halak's adjusted save percentage (adjusted by the weighted average of high percentage shot save percentage, low and medium, and the weighted average coorisponds to the league-wide average), Halak ranked 14th in the league at even strength five on five, better than Jonathan Quick. And Halak's high percentage shot save percentage of .8671 at even strength five on five was second in the league, trailing only the St. Louis Blues' Jake Allen.

So what gives? If we look at Halak at even strength, he looks like a pretty outstanding goaltender. So why did he finish in the bottom half statistically among goaltenders?

If we look at how Halak performed on the penalty kill, we find our answer. Halak's .8582 save percentage on the penalty kill ranked 26th among goaltenders with at least 200 penalty kill minutes. And if we look at his adjusted save percentage, it's not much better; He ranks 21st in the league with .8599 adjusted save percentage on the penalty kill.

Is Halak ever going to be in the Vezina conversation? Probably not. But what the Islanders have is their most solid goaltender they've had in quite some time. With as deep of a forward unit as the Islanders have, with a respectable defense, Halak is more than adequate for an Islanders championship run.

This year, New York will see Thomas Greiss as the backup. I've already stated that Greiss is a worse option than the Islanders had in Michal Neuvirth.  The career back up essentially gives the opposition a 50 percent chance of winning any game (he's 36-30-11 all-time). We have no reason to believe this will change with his time in New York.

Should Halak or Greiss go down, or if Greiss simply isn't cutting it, 25-year-old Kevin Poulin could see a bit of NHL time. Poulin has 50 career games under his belt, but saw just one game of NHL action last year with the Islanders.


There are several different types of prospect classes in the NHL. You have a team like the Carolina Hurricanes, a bad team with an overall un-promising prospect pool. You have the Buffalo Sabres and the Edmonton Oilers, bad teams with promising prospect pools. You have the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, playoff-caliber teams with weak prospect pools. And finally, you have teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets, playoff-caliber teams with strong prospect pools.

The Islanders can be included in that last group, as they have quite a few players with promising NHL careers ahead of them.

The most promising player? Michael Dal Colle. The 2014 fifth overall pick is a 6-foot-3, 194 pounds forward that plays a strong two-way game and can really put some points on the board. In 56 games last year with the Oshawa Generals in the OHL, Dal Colle finished with 42 goals and 51 assists for 93 points, just two points less than his previous season with Oshawa in 11 less games. Dal Colle was a surprise cut from Canada's World Junior team last year, and the team instead opted to go with two 2015-draft eligible guys instead (some guy named Connor McDavid and big forward Lawson Crouse). Dal Colle was certainly talented enough to make the team, but much like his experience with Team Canada last year, Dal Colle will once again try to find his way onto a crowded roster in New York. With so much top-six talent already, is there any room for Dal Colle this year? Would they rather put him in a bottom-six role simply to put him on the team? If the answer is no, it's back to Oshawa for Dal Colle, where he will beat up his OHL opponents all year.

The Islanders headed into the 2015 draft without a first-round pick, and instead emerged with two more strong forwards to their arsenal after a series of trades landed them two first-round picks. The Islanders immediately pounced on the 16th overall pick after it sent Reinhart to Edmonton in exchange for the first round pick and a 2015 second-round pick (33rd overall). Why did they pounce on it? Because Mathew Barzal was still on the table. Barzal was ranked as the 8th-best prospect in ISS's Top 30 June rankings, 11th-best North American Prospect by the NHL and 10th-best prospect by The Hockey News. So, why did he drop then? Well, it could have been for a number of reasons. Were teams turned off by his knee injury that kept him from playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds for almost three months after "roughhousing with some of his teammates in the locker room" and "tripping over a stick?" Or, was it because of the Boston Bruins' string of three consecutive bizarre first-round picks from 13 to 15? Whatever the reason, the Islanders were able to land a promising playmaker in Barzal, a player who averaged over an assist per game last year.

The Islanders weren't done with their first-round picks this year. The Islanders swooped in and swapped their previously-acquired 33rd overall pick and their third-round, 72nd overall pick for the 28th overall pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning (hilariously and previously owned by the Rangers). With that pick, they selected Anthony Beauvillier, the captain of the CHL Top Prospects game opposite of McDavid. Beauvillier finished eighth overall in scoring last year in the QMJHL with the Shawinigan Cataractes with 94 points. While Barzal is more of a playmaker, Beauvillier is a bit more balanced (he had 42 goals and 52 assists last season). Beauvillier will return to Shawinigan, where he has a legitimate shot of becoming the top scorer in the QMJHL. He might take a bit more time to develop, as he's just 5-foot-10, but Beauvillier has some promise in his game.

Previously-mentioned Pulock and Mayfield have legitimate chances of seeing some NHL time this year. 20-year-old Pulock is listed at 6-foot-2, and is a physical two-way defenseman with a big shot. In his final year at the junior level, the 2013-14 season, Pulock captained the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL and managed to score 23 goals and 40 assists in 66 games. His offensive game translated to the AHL level, where Pulock finished with 17 goals and 29 points in 59 games. The 6-foot-5 Mayfield was a defensive force for the University of Denver during his freshman and sophomore season, but Mayfield opted to forego his junior and senior year to turn professional. He's been cooking in the AHL for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he has absolutely stacked up penalty minutes. In 69 games last year, Mayfield had 173 penalty minutes. He's a mean defensive-defenseman that can give the Islanders third pair a bit of a punch this year.

Ilya Sorokin is the Islanders most promising goaltending prospect in the system. He saw time at this year's World Junior Championship for Team Russia. In three games, Sorokin had a 2.66 goals against average and a respectable .886 goals against average. Sorokin was moved from Metallurg Novokuznetsk, where he had a .906 save percentage in 22 games, to CSKA Moskva, where he had a .937 save percentage in six games. Can he continue that trend this season in the KHL?

Josh Ho-Sang
One of the more fun prospects to follow is Josh Ho-Sang. He's a pretty interesting guy to follow, as he has a large ego and really doesn't seem to care what other people think about him. Some of my favorite quotes of his:

"People will find what they want to find in what I say. I just speak my mind. If people want to make me seem like an asshole, go ahead, it's cool." - Josh Ho-Sang

"They can't invite me to that stuff because they are afraid," - Josh Ho-Sang, referring to not being invited to tryout Team Canada for the World Junior Championship team.

"I want to be world changing." - Josh Ho-Sang

He's great. The funny thing too? He's so good with the puck. He is so comfortable with the puck on his stick, and he produces. Everyone rags on Ho-Sang for being a puck hog, but the guy had 64 assists in 60 games between the Windsor Spitfires and the Niagara Ice Dogs in the OHL last season. He was 18th last season in the OHL in scoring. And while he didn't get the invite to Team Canada for the World Juniors last year, most likely because Canada was "afraid," it would be a crime if he wasn't invited to try out this year. And if he makes the team, he will be incredibly fun to watch, but boy will you hate him if you aren't a Canadian. And if/when he makes the Islanders, boy will you hate him if you aren't an Islanders fan. And that's a great player to have on your team.

Plus, he made Islanders GM Garth Snow say "shit" on live T.V.

Player to Watch

Within the New York Islanders media, all eyes will be on one guy throughout the year: Kyle Okposo. Okposo is entering his final year of his contract, a contract that will pay him $4.5 million this season, but only carries a $2.8 million cap hit. Why is that a big deal? Because Okposo's next contract will certainly not carry a $2.8 million cap hit. Last season, he finished with 18 goals and 33 assists in 60 games, missing time with a scary career-threatening detached-retina injury. The previous year? Okposo finished with 27 goals and 69 points in 71 games. That ranked him 23rd in scoring.

The Islanders already have 13 players signed through next season, and nine of them carry a larger cap hit than Okposo currently does. On top of that, both Strome and Cizikas become restricted free agents, and both are essentially must-signs for the Islanders. How does Okposo fit in to the Islanders future?

He most likely doesn't. So, what do you do with him? Do the Islanders keep him in an effort towards a Cup run, and let him walk away for nothing during the next offseason, or do they move Okposo at some point during the year so they can manage to get something in return.

Regardless, how does Okposo respond to that? My guess: He has one of his bigger year's yet. Players tend to have big years during the last year of his contract. And while it's got to be depressing to know that you don't really have a future with the team you are playing for, Okposo will more than likely make it really, really hard for the Islanders to turn him away.

Okposo is also not dumb. He knows he's more than likely on the way out. Here's what he told Arthur Staple of Newsday

"It's pretty hard not to when you go somewhere and everyone's asking you whether you're going to be traded or not," Okposo said, when asked if he's thinking about the possibility of being traded. "It's part of the business, and I'm not naive to that. There's a lot of moving parts."

"Am I upset about it? No," Okposo continued. "There's things that upset you on a daily basis in this business and you just have to go with it. As far as contracts, trade speculation, I don't want that to be a distraction. I just want to go out and play the game."

So while he may not be upset about the fact that he might be traded, I now desperately want to know what does make Okposo upset on a "daily basis" in the NHL?

Final Analysis

The Islanders were pretty comfortably a playoff team last year, and, considering they are essentially keeping the exact same team for next year, there's really no reason to believe they won't be a playoff team next year. Their forward unit is simply too deep for many teams to match, and while they won't blow you away with their defense or goaltending, it's more than adequate for a team that is ready to make a Cup run. The Islanders are a top-five team in the Eastern Conference, and with the way the playoffs play out, why couldn't it be them? The key to their success may lie in how they do at the trade deadline. Do they add a piece that puts them over the edge, or do they stand pat. Or, it may lie in how they utilize their rookies. Does Dal Colle fit on the team, and if he does, can he be used effectively? Are Pulock and Mayfield better defensive options than Strait or de Haan? These are the decision the Islanders are going to have to make over the course of the season. They are a playoff-bound team, but can they be more than that?