The 2016-2017 season was one filled with high hopes and empty results for the New York Islanders. After winning their first playoff series in 23 years, expectations were high for the team to take the next step and seriously compete in the eastern conference. There was significant turnover in the roster as fan favorites Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin leaving for greener pastures(green being the operative word). They were set to be replaced by Veterans Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, PA Parenteau and youngsters Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. The early struggles of Ladd and Chimera as questionable coaching and management decisions, like carrying 3 goalies and keeping Barzal with the team for a month and only playing him twice, lead the isles to dead last in the east. On January 17th Jack Capuano was fired and replaced by Doug Weight and turned the season around. The islanders went 24-14-4 under Weight and made a run at a playoff spot, only to fall 1 point short. An unfortunate ending to a seasons filled with regrets made this offseason a very intriguing one.
First came the expansion draft and the isles handled is wonderful. They traded a first round pick, a second round pick and Jake Bischoff to the Vegas golden knights in exchange for them taking the contract of Mikhail Grabovski and picking 3rd string goalie JF Berube in the expansion draft. The move cleared cap space and kept the roster intact for more moves and more moves came. Ryan Strome was traded to the Oilers for winger Jordan Eberle. Eberle is a former first round pick, perennial 25 goal scorer and good friend of John Tavares. The move brought isles fans the winger they long desired to play along Johnny and last years breakout star Anders Lee. The last move of the offseason (so far) was trading defenseman Travis Hamonic and a 4th round pick in either 2019 or 2020 to the Flames for a 1st round pick and 2nd round pick in 2018 and a 2nd in either 2019 or 2020. This move seems inconsistent with the rest of the offseason because it’s is a future move more than a “win now” move which the other were. After everything they roster came out even in the wash, the addition on offense was canceled out by the subtraction on defense and that doesn’t bode well for the upcoming season.
The 2017-2018 season(and the search for a new home) will end up defining this franchises direction for the next 5-10 years. Tavares’ looming free agency after the season has everyone worried as well it should, losing your franchise player would be devastating. Now John has said multiple time he loves it here and wants to be here for good, but actions speak louder than words. The addition of a winger to play with him is a great start and while losing Hamonic was significant, it opens up a spot for young Ryan Pulock to shine but it’s unrealistic to expect him to be a better player than Travis was right away. A full season under weight should also help and the draft picks in 2018, thought to be a very deep draft, could be very useful at the trade deadline. All in all I see the islanders as a team that will be fighting for a playoff spot all season long and while all players want to win, I think a new arena is more important to Tavares. Unfortunately there isn’t much the team can do about that. Politics will play themselves out and whether it’s Belmont or Brooklyn a deal will be made and the team will have a home, the only question is if it will be in time. All we can worry about is the team in the ice, and they’ll be plenty to keep us busy there. They’ll be some good, some bad and some frustration along the way. But honestly would you have it any other way?