The New York Islanders have made the playoffs in 3 out of the past 4 seasons and are one of only 5 teams in hockey that put together two consecutive 100-point seasons over the past 2 years.
Most notably, the Islanders moved into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, off the stick of John Tavares, for the first time in 23 years. However, despite all of this progress, many fans thought the team took a few steps backward when they lost Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin to free agency on July 1.
Fear not Islanders fans. The team is better today than it was before free agency began. In fact, it is much better. Here’s why…
Andrew Ladd- At 30 years old, I do not love the 7-year term on Ladd’s contract, but I absolutely love that general manager Garth Snow brought him in to play alongside John Tavares. The main reason that I like this replacement is because of the sheer fact that Ladd wants to be on the Islanders. Okposo publicly voiced his displeasure with the move to the Barclays Center and clearly wasn’t happy being an Islander. He took periods off and I had my concerns about signing a guy with injury concerns, especially pertaining to his eye. Ladd chose to be here and that alone is enough to make me like him better. He is a former captain, two time Stanley Cup winner and a much needed veteran presence in the locker room. I can’t wait to see Ladd, highly motivated and excited to be here, contribute to the Islanders’ success this season.
Jason Chimera- I don’t like this move by GM Garth Snow. I LOVE it. Isles Nation was understandably very upset to learn that fan favorite Matt Martin would not be resigning. However, the fact of the matter is that he truly isn’t very good at hockey. The enforcer role is dying in the NHL and Martin wasn’t very good at putting points up on the board. The only reason the Cizikas line was considered the “fourth line” was because of Martin. He was the only actual fourth liner that resided on that line. The Isles will no doubt miss his physicality, however they still have Cal Clutterbuck to throw around his body, who is no stranger to laying a hit, having been top 10 in the league in hits every year for close to a decade. Chimera can also be physical but he brings a much more important element to the team: Scoring. 20 goals and 40 points last season is a testament to his versatility, especially at age 37. He will breed new life into this line and will bring some much needed secondary scoring to this team that is very reliant on top heavy talent. It was fun watching Martin throw around his body and provide energy, but I’d much rather watch the speedy Chimera light the lamp.
Pierre-Alexandre Parentau- In his two seasons as an Islander playing alongside John Tavares, Parentau recorded an impressive 120 points in 181 games. Last season, he scored 20 goals on one of the worst teams in the league. Signing a guy who not only clearly had chemistry with his old teammates, but was also very successful, for one year and barely over a million dollars is never a bad idea. Snow could have struck gold with this signing for an extremely affordable price. If not, it doesn’t hurt the Islanders cap space and they can at least say they tried. Fans have criticized Snow for remaining dormant in last offseason and this past trade deadline, but they are also quick to criticize him for this move in very hypocritical fashion. I’m excited to see what Parentau can do when he’s back in the Orange and Blue.
Replacing Frans Nielsen- Replacing the things that Frans Nielsen brought to the team is certainly the biggest challenge the Isles have had to face this offseason. A strong 2C, penalty killer and shootout extraordinaire, he was one of the most underrated players in the league. Snow offered him a longer term and more money than the Detroit Red Wings, but he ultimately chose the change in scenery. Signing P.A. Parenteau is the closest the Isles have come to replacing Nielsen, but what else needs to be done?
One More Move- If the Isles want to compete for the Cup next season, they need to make one more deal and trade for a top 6 forward. The defense and the goaltending look as good as they ever have in my lifetime, but the group of forwards is top heavy and unreliable. They need one more consistent scorer to balance out the top 6 in order to prove they’re legitimate contenders. There have been plenty of rumors about potential trade scenarios. Rumor has it that the Avalanche are looking to move Matt Duchene or that the Canadiens, who love Michael Dal Colle, would be willing to deal Max Pacioretty. The Lightning just gave Steven Stamkos his money so they need to shed a few forward contracts such as Alex Killorn. These are the types of deals that will make the Isles instant contenders, and I think Snow has one more move up his sleeve this offseason to hold a cap-strapped team hostage. He can’t negotiate with John Tavares until next July 1, but he can start impressing him now.
Reason for Concern? With so many Islanders free agents practically dying to join new teams, what does that say about the management and coaching? Nielsen chose to leave a team making greats strides with one of the best players in the league. That goes a long way in showing what he thinks about the coaching staff’s ability. I wouldn’t be too worried about it yet, however it could certainly be a cause for concern in the future that the Isles don’t seem to be loyal.
One Final Word- Fans can complain about losing their guys all they want and question Snow’s competency for not resigning them until they are blue in the face. However, after all those years as Islanders, there was still not a high level of success that was reached. I’m pleased that the Isles have a real chance to form a new identity with a stronger veteran presence and far exceed the results produced by the old Isles core of players.