New York Islanders
Brad Penner-USA Today Sports

The New York Islanders Have Set High Expectations; Will They Meet Them?

The New York Islanders once again exceeded expectations under Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello. Many thought their success in the bubble was a mere aberration. However, with fans in the seats, they arguably did even better. They once again proved to be the Tampa Bay Lightning’s toughest challenge in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead of bowing out in 6 games, the Islanders became the only team in the past two postseasons to take the Lightning to a 7th game. In the penultimate matchup, the Isles’ Achilles heel struck. The offense disappeared as Tampa won 1-0 to once again play for the Stanley Cup.

Regardless, it was a classic 7-game series. Goals, hits, fans, you name it. While they did fall short, Nassau Coliseum did get one hell of the last run. But now, the past is in the past. After silencing the doubters for two straight years, can the Islanders now take the next step in 2021-2022? There are reasons for and against that. Let’s dive into it.

Why The New York Islanders Can Become 2022 Champions

For starters, much of the same core remains after their 2021 run. They recently announced extensions for 4 key free agents. The quartet of Anthony Beauvillier, Casey Cizikas, Ilya Sorokin, and Kyle Palmieri all proved to be incredibly valuable in the 2021 playoffs. Furthermore, captain Anders Lee should be fully recovered from his knee injury and ready to go for training camp. While the departure of Jordan Eberle is a tough pill to swallow, there have been reinforcements. A healthy Lee combined with the arrival of Zack Parise should be enough to fill the void left by Eberle. As well, youngster Oliver Wahlstrom should be able to get a good look at becoming a regular in the lineup. The offense could line up as follows:

Lee – Barzal – Wahlstrom

Beauvillier – Nelson – Bailey

Parise – Pageau – Palmieri

Martin – Cizikas – Clutterbuck

This is assuming Wahlstrom can impress enough at camp to make it on the top line. Everyone knows how great of a shooter he is, but if the 21-year old can develop other aspects of his game this could be a real possibility. Having a distributor like Barzal alongside him could be very helpful as the season goes on. A forward group that has added talent and keeps the same hunger means the Islanders certainly have a horse in this race. Swapping Palmieri for Wahlstrom also seems like a possibility if the 2018 first-round pick doesn’t show enough.

Why The Islanders Won’t Win The Stanley Cup This Year

The Lightning is a great example of how to win in the modern NHL. They are top-heavy. Big names on offense, defense, and in the net. Quality role players will play for less money if it means they can have a shot at winning it all. The Islanders are not top-heavy. Adding another star player to this mix would be perfect. However, there are not many options left after free agency and trade season closed. Other than an injury-riddled Vladimir Tarasenko, options for top-6 forwards are dwindling. As well, there is another hole that must be plugged.

Nick Leddy had quite a respectable bounceback year. His 31 points in 56 games were his highest PPG in a season since he had a career-high 46 points in 2016-2017. After trading Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings, there still has not been a suitable replacement acquired in place of the 2013 Stanley Cup champion. One name that comes to mind is Erik Gustafsson. The free agent was once a revelation in Chicago, scoring 60 points in 79 games during 2018-2019. He has yet to hit those heights but could be useful in orange and blue.

While I made crazy speculation about Rasmus Dahlin in my last post, I have a more realistic trade target: Jakob Chychurn. The 23-year old was notably upset at the news of Christian Dvorak being traded to the Montreal Canadiens. If Lamoriello is willing to part with some assets, he could be a major addition to this blue line. However, sitting on his hands could cost the team greatly. An aging Andy Greene cannot be the 2nd best left-handed defenseman on this team. An ideal defense would look like such:

Pelech – Pulock

Gustafsson/Chychrun – Mayfield

Greene – Dobson

Fingers crossed Lou gets something done in that department. He rarely disappoints.

My Prediction: At Least More Of The Same

I consider it advantageous for divisions in the NHL to return to the way they were. All signs point to the Islanders and Hurricanes battling it out for the top of the Metropolitan Division. However, the Penguins and Capitals are still playoff threats. As well, the Flyers, Rangers, and Devils will all look to have something to prove. Should the Isles acquire a quality left-handed defenseman, I will be even more confident in this. The Russian duo of Semyon Varlamov and Sorokin in net will be more than good both now and in the future. My heart says they will make the third round once again, and maybe even a 5th Stanley Cup for the New York Islanders on the horizon. Regardless, hockey is a cruel sport, and we have a long season ahead of us.

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