Monday, April 2, 2012

What's wrong with the New York Islanders?

Puck Daddy's Harrison Mooney posted a critical analysis the Islanders' rough finish to the season, calling for a management or coaching change. He singled out coach Jack Capuano, who tried to shake things up by icing 5 d-men for a shift after a lackluster first period.

Mooney argues that Capuano no longer has the ability to motivate the team - but who would? The team has been out of a playoff position for some time now, sitting 14th in the East.

But Capuano isn't the team's problem: it's their budget. The Islanders are the NHL's lowest-spending team, with a $49m payroll, over 15 million dollars short of the cap. With that paltry sum, they were able to roster a squad that is currently tied in the standings with Toronto and Anaheim, two teams that were supposed to be in the playoff mix and spend over $10m more apiece. The Islanders have done this in the NHL's toughest division, where the Rangers, Penguins, Flyers and Devils are all in the East's top 5 in points.

Going forward, the Islanders shouldn't toss out the management or tear up the roster. They have one of the game's best young talents in John Tavares, who's signed for another 6 years at a bargain $5.5m per. He's a player you can build a playoff team around, and with several Eastern teams (particularly Toronto and Montreal) sputtering, they should make their move this off-season.

They have a pretty good forward unit; Matt Moulson has put up three straight 30-goal campaigns - I didn't realize he had been doing this for so long! I suppose life's good when there's not much competition for a first-line job. Re-signing PA Parenteau should be a priority, but it's also a reasonable possibility that Kyle Okposo might be ready to take over the #1 RW job. Is Parenteau really a 65 point player, or is he just riding Tavares' wake?

Beyond that, they've got some good talent. Josh Bailey has been emerging as a real player in the last month or so; Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Strome might take another year, but both are talented prospects. Frans Nielsen has a lot of versatility.

The team needs to shell out for some veteran checkers - maybe bringing Rolston back, or splurging for UFA Chris Kelly, and needs some better veteran defencemen to replace Staios and Eaton, guys who are well past their prime. Streit and MacDonald are good players, and Hamonic has had two nice seasons to start his career. Calvin de Haan might need more time. They could use some more size, maybe someone like Pavel Kubina or Filip Kuba.

It all comes down to whether they're able to up the budget next year. The team is in rough shape financially, needing a new building and lacking the capital to make it happen. With another $5-10 million for payroll, this could be a good team. Even if they keep payroll flat, Tavares will only get better (he's only 21, and 7th in NHL scoring). They've got a real shot to be in the playoffs next year and could surprise people.

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