If the NHL was only about offensive production, the Islanders would be one of the better teams in the league. Scoring was not the issue this season as they finished eighth in the NHL in goals scored with 264 and their forwards, specifically the top six, were the best part of the team.
But there was not enough balance across four lines and the Islanders go into the offseason with no assurances their best player, captain John Tavares, will be back. The configuration among the Islanders forwards will be considerably different next season if their top-line center does leave as an unrestricted free agent.
The development of 20-year-olds Mathew Barzal, expected to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, and linemate Anthony Beauvillier ranks among the best things this franchise has going for itself right now.
Meanwhile, at Bridgeport (AHL), four of the top five scorers were 25 or older. Which is really not good.
Here’s a look at the Islanders forwards in 2017-18, with statistical information courtesy of Corsica Hockey and the NHL and contract information provided by Cap Friendly:
76 games, 18 goals, 53 assists
$5.0 million cap hit, signed through 2023-24
The longest-tenured Islander, who turns 29 on Oct. 2, parlayed a career season into a chance to retire with the team as he agreed to a six-year, $30-million extension on Feb. 23. Bailey set career highs in goals, assists and points, his third straight season of upward trending statistics, as he, Anders Lee and Tavares comprised a potent top line.
Still, only two teams had a worse Corsi for percentage than the Islanders’ 47.47 and the right wing was below that at 46.33, which speaks to the 17:53 of ice time Bailey averaged and the Islanders’ poor team defense as the 293 goals they allowed were the most by any NHL team since 2006-07. The antiquated plus-minus stat also reflects this deficiency as Bailey was a minus-20.
But having Bailey, the team’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to ice hockey, as a steadying influence is a positive for the Islanders.
82 games, 22 goals, 63 assists
$863,333 cap hit, signed through 2019-20
The 16th overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft jumped from junior hockey to a breakout season in the NHL as he tied Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier for the franchise’s rookie record for assists. It almost certainly will culminate with Barzal being handed the Calder Trophy in Las Vegas on June 20.
Barzal’s strengths are his stick-handling, passing and skating abilities and his superior on-ice vision. His 52.29 Corsi for percentage led the team and there’s reason to believe as he matures as an NHL player and if the Islanders can improve their team defense, Barzal can up that percentage toward the 55.0 elite level.
However, if Tavares does depart, Barzal is the heir apparent as the No. 1 center and, accordingly would face much tougher on-ice matchups.
71 games, 21 goals, 15 assists
$894.167 cap hit, signed through 2018-19
A brief midseason demotion to Bridgeport (AHL) worked wonders for Beauvillier, who returned with much more confidence in his game. He had four goals in his first three games back after three games with the Sound Tigers Jan. 2-5, had a five-game goal-scoring streak snapped in the season finale and, overall, had 17 of his goals after being brought back up.
Beauvillier looked comfortable as a left wing though his natural position has been center and his 49.14 Corsi for percentage bodes well for future development. He could be slid back to the middle if Tavares leaves.
64 games, seven goals, 10 assists
$3.5 million cap hit, signed through 2020-21
Cizikas, 27, has been a reliable fourth-line center and his dip in production — he had 17 assists in 59 games and 21 in 80 games the season before — can be attributed in part to Matt Martin’s departure in 2016 never being fully addressed as well as Nikolay Kulemin’s early season shoulder injury.
Cizikas’ Corsi for percentage of 43.54 — not a good number — is another indicator of how the Islanders have slipped from having decent four-line balance. Also not in balance is the salary cap percentage devoted to the fourth line, particularly when Andrew Ladd slid down the lineup.
76 games, eight goals, assists
$3.5 million cap hit, signed through 2021-22
See above with regards to the fourth line’s play. Clutterbuck has been a solid piece for the Islanders since being acquired from the Wild in 2013 and is one of the team’s emotional leaders, particularly through his competitive intensity.
But Clutterbuck’s Corsi for percentage was a too-low 41.38 and, at age 30 and given the physical nature of his game, there should be questions as to how long he can continue to be an effective player in a league that more and more relies on speed.
81 games, 25 goals, 34 assists
$6 million cap hit, signed through 2018-19
The right wing, who turns 28 in the offseason, came to the Islanders looking to re-find his game after things went south in his final season with the Oilers. In that regard, this season has to been seen as a success on an individual basis for Eberle, whose 59 points where his most in three seasons.
Coach Doug Weight often commented that Eberle’s smarts were crucial in supporting Barzal’s style of play. If so, Eberle may be invaluable to the Islanders. Plus, his Corsi for percentage of 53.46 was the team’s best. Eberle will have the added motivation of playing for a contract next season.
34 games, three goals, four assists
$650,000 cap hit, signed through 2018-19
Fritz, an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State in his third professional season and who turns 27 in the offseason, was a near constant in the lineup after his first NHL recall on Jan. 1 and will have a chance in training camp to solidify his spot in the lineup. He must produce more consistently, though, to remain.
Fritz settled on the third line though he was occasionally used up and down the lineup and on the second power play unit. More of a grinder, Fritz at times, could be particularly effective near the net.
24 games, three goals, three assists
$666,667 salary cap hit, restricted free agent
The burly, 24-year-old left wing, who racked up 62 penalty minutes, was somewhat of a nice find for the Islanders after being recalled from Bridgeport to play at Chicago on Jan. 20. Neither Johnston nor the team expected the recall to be for the rest of the season — Johnston said he thought it would only be for a game or two.
Johnston comes as advertised. A fourth-liner who will stick up for his teammates readily but whose Corsi for percentage of a sub-par 39.95 reflects his need to improve his defensive game and skating in order to remain in the NHL.
13 games, one goal, two assists
$4.19 million cap hit, unrestricted free agent
It’s hard to point to the loss of a fourth-line left wing as to where things went wrong for a team that finished seventh in an eight-team division and out of the playoffs for the second straight season. But Kulemin’s absence after being sidelined for shoulder surgery on Nov. 7 severely limited that line’s effectiveness and, thus, how Weight could deploy his players.
Kulemin is most likely to move on after four seasons with the Islanders.
73 games, 12 goals, 17 assists
$5.5 million cap hit, signed through 2022-23
What the Islanders are getting from Ladd, 32, expected to play among the top six but relegated to the fourth line at times late in the season, is certainly not what is needed off a seven-year, $38.5-million deal that is covered by a no-trade clause the next two seasons. Ladd went 25 games, from Dec. 23-March 11, without a goal.
His stats have slid backwards in both his seasons with the Islanders, though he was not a disaster on the ice, as evidenced by his 51.91 Corsi for percentage. He had a no-movement clause covering the first two seasons of his deal which is no longer in effect. Since buying him out makes no financial sense, the Islanders might have to consider placing him on waivers and then sending him to Bridgeport if his game doesn’t improve next season.
82 games, 40 goals, 22 assists
$3.75 million cap hit, signed through 2018-19
The smile said it all. Lee lifted a backhand for his 40th goal in the season finale at Detroit and broke into one of the all-time great grins. Truth be told, pretty much the whole team was smiling as Lee became the first Islander since Jason Blake 2006-07 to reach 40 goals, a show of how well liked the left wing, who turns 28 in the offseason, is by his teammates. Lee’s play around the crease complemented Bailey and Tavares well as he set a career high for points and goals for a second straight season.
Now, the question is, how much will this cost the Islanders if they are able to re-sign Lee? After his exit interview, Lee acknowledged the fact that Tavares’ situation this season could become his next season.
82 games, 19 goals, 16 assists
$2.5 million cap hit, restricted free agent
The third-line center, who will turn 27 on Oct. 15, completed his fifth workmanlike season with the Islanders after being the 30th overall pick in 2010 with his goal total dipping by one and his assist total by nine from last season. His production suffered with inconsistency as he went 17 games without a goal from Dec. 13-Jan. 18.
Still, Nelson almost certainly figures into the Islanders’ plans. If the Islanders are not going to offer Nelson a longer-term deal this season, a one-year pact makes sense for both sides to get Nelson to unrestricted free agency.
14 games, one goal, one assist
$850,000 cap hit, restricted free agent
The 25-year-old left wing’s season was marred by two lengthy injury absences, 29 games to start the season and then 33 games before he returned to play the season’s final two games. Prince said shortly before the season ended he was confident in both his abilities and his ability to find a job for next season, but he has not been able to be a consistent producer either for the Senators or Islanders. Most likely, he’ll be looking elsewhere for employment next season.
21 games, three assists
$612,500 cap hit, restricted free agent
The 25-year-old center’s season also began and ended with injuries, nine games to start the season before being re-assigned to Bridgeport and 20 games to finish the season.
Quine has been in the organization since 2013 but, like Prince, will probably be playing elsewhere in the fall.
82 games, 37 goals, 47 assists
$5.5 million cap hit, unrestricted free agent
If this was Tavares’ swan song with the franchise that selected him first overall in 2009 — and the closer and closer we get to July 1 the odds grow that it will be — the elite center, who turns 28 on Sept. 20, went out without letting his uncertain future affect him.
He missed tying his career high for goals by one and he was just two shy of matching his career high for points. Tavares’ name might have been among those mentioned in the Hart Trophy race had he been playing for a more competitive team.
Tavares led the Islanders’ forwards with an average ice time of 19:56 and he won a very respectable 52.9 of his faceoffs. But Tavares’ impact goes well beyond his on-ice contributions. He is, in every way, the leader of the team off the ice and his work ethic set an excellent example for younger players such as Barzal and Beauvillier. It remains to be seen if general manager Garth Snow made a grievous error by not trading Tavares in order to ensure the organization receiving some compensation for its most valuable asset.
15 games, one goal
$637,500 cap hit, unrestricted free agent
The Islanders saved some salary cap space and got younger when they swapped 38-year-old Jason Chimera, also a UFA, to the Ducks for Wagner, who turns 27 on May 27, on Feb. 26. Wagner can play both center and wing but didn’t exactly do much to earn a new contract after compiling six goals and nine assists in 64 games with the Ducks.
IN THE PIPELINE
56 games, 41 goals, 33 assists (with WHL Portland)
The left wing, who turns 20 on June 10, was the 19th overall pick in 2016 and is expected to come to training camp in September with a chance to earn a spot with the Islanders. If not, he should start the season with Bridgeport for seasoning. He brings good size at 6-1, 200 pounds.
Michael Dal Colle
57 games, seven goals, 17 assists (with AHL Bridgeport)
Four games, no scoring (with Islanders)
At least the left wing, who turns 22 on June 20, made his NHL debut in his second full season in the organization. He is one of the prime players Snow is counting on to provide a foundation for the future.
47 games, eight goals, 22 assists (with AHL Bridgeport)
22 games, two goals, 10 assists (with Islanders)
It remains to be seen how much damage Ho-Sang, 22, the 28th overall pick in 2014, did to his future in the organization with his late-season comments criticizing how Snow and Weight handled him this season. He can be dynamic with the puck on his stick, but needs to be more disciplined.