The New York Islanders have done nothing but defy expectations under head coach Barry Trotz. This team continues to enter their seasons as an underdog but continues to overachieve.
Last season, they pushed the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning – nearly to the brink – before losing in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Isles won two games off the Lightning but eventually lost the series 4-2.
Again, the Isles enter this season as a team that’s kind of viewed as either a second- or third-tier team in the Eastern Conference. Many expect them to make the playoffs but few expect them to be a serious contender. Just how good is this team? Let’s take a closer look.
New York Islanders Odds – March 2021
- Odds To Win Make Playoffs: +100
- Odds To Win Division: +650
- Regular Season Point Total: 63.5
The Islanders made a big move at the trade deadline last season, acquiring Jean-Gabriel Pageau. At the time, many people weren’t sure if this was just a rental because the Isles are known to be a frugal team.
However, they extended Pageau, which was a big win, but the flip side of it meant that they were tight against the salary cap in the offseason. As a result, the Isles did lose some key pieces.
To start, we’ll have to see how much this team misses Devon Toews, who was traded away. He was fourth on the team in terms of Time On Ice. Goaltender Thomas Greiss was an important contributor last season but he left via free agency.
He was 16-9-4 but the 2.74 GAA left questions as to how much he was really bringing to the table. As did Derrick Brassard and Tom Kuhnhackl. Blueliner Johnny Boychuk opted for retirement, so he’ll have to be replaced too. Boychuck was clearly in the twilight of his career but still played 17:17 per game.
In terms of additions, few were made because the team didn’t have much space. Goaltender Cory Schneider is in and the hope is that the Isles have found another budget-friendly veteran who can exceed expectations.
The Isles Will Succeed If…
Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov can provide solid play in net. The Isles have done better than most projections in recent years because their blue line and goaltending have overachieved. While there aren’t a ton of stellar stars, the sum of the parts has been great and that helps the New York Islanders’ odds of winning.
Varlamov is still around and the Isles know what they’ll get out of him. He’s solid but not spectacular. If he’s the starter in the playoffs, the Isles probably aren’t going far. However, if Sorokin and Varlamov are a reliable one-two punch like Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, or like Greiss and Varlamov, this team is going places. These previous duos set the bar high, so there’s a lot to live up to.
If the Isles still have that prowess at the back end, they’ll still be that team nobody wants to face come playoff team.
The Isles Will Fail If…
The blue line flops. On paper, the team lost a lot off the blue line. Toews was traded away and that’s going to hurt. While the Boychuk retirement won’t be as big of a blow, seeing him retire out of the blue isn’t going to help matters.
That now puts a lot of pressure on guys like Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield to deliver. Other players will move up a rung, which means more will be asked of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. Even youngster Noah Dobson might be counted upon more.
If this blue line isn’t as good and the goaltenders are asked to do too much, this won’t be a playoff team. The Trotz philosophy, though, is that he gets these parts to overachieve. It looks like he’ll have to work his magic here once again in 2021.
Outlook – New York Islanders Odds
The Metropolitan Division is going to be a tough place to be in 2021. It was already stocked with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, and now the Boston Bruins have moved in.
The Isles aren’t exactly the most exciting team in the NHL to watch but we know that Trotz’s system works. And while the back end has some question marks, the offense could be better this year.
There’s a full season with Pageau to look forward to and maybe Oliver Wahlstrom breaks out. With Barzal and company, maybe this team does more by committee on offense, which means they’ll have more wiggle room in case the blue line and goaltending need some work.
At the same time, the concern here is that this was a bubble team entering the break last season and now the division is tougher. They might be one of the teams that compete well but just falls short of the playoffs.
Prediction: 4th in Metropolitan Division