Islanders beat reporter Andrew Gross breaks down five things to keep an eye on this season:
1. THE POST-JOHN TAVERAS ERA: Have the Islanders really moved on? They better have. President/GM Lou Lamoriello, coach Barry Trotz and the players have all said that there’s no looking back on their former captain’s free agency departure to Toronto. But actions will prove louder than words and multiple players need to improve their game to fill the void.
2. MATHEW BARZAL'S SECOND SEASON: No player is being looked at more to compensate for Tavares’ loss than last season’s Calder Trophy winner. Barzal has the potential to be one of the league’s elite offensive players but will face tougher defensive matchups as a top-line center and log more ice time against the opponent’s most skilled players.
3. LOOMING FREE AGENCY: The Islanders cannot afford to repeat the mistake of letting Tavares walk out the door without compensation. So, Lamoriello may be forced into some tough decisions come the trade deadline with top-six forwards Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson, all headed toward unrestricted free agency. The Islanders can’t have this storyline loom over this season as Tavares’ contract situation did last season.
4. THE GOALIES: Yes, defense is everybody’s responsibility and goalies Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss were not the only guilty parties as the Islanders allowed a league-worst 293 goals and their penalty kill was the worst in the NHL in nearly 30 years. Halak is gone and now former Sabre Robin Lehner and Greiss are working with noted goalie coach Mitch Korn. Still, no goalie improvement, no overall improvement.
5. THE BARRY TROTZ EFFECT: Lamoriello rules the Islanders with his iron fist but Trotz will set the tone behind the bench. Coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Capitals, Trotz is the Islanders’ most accomplished coach since Al Arbour retired for a second time in 1994.