Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
The summer is over. Fall has arrived and with it, the return of the NHL. Training camps around the league will all be open for business soon, with the first on-ice sessions slated to begin Friday morning.
For the Islanders, it seems every year lately has been 'make or break,' for a variety of reasons. This year, however, the term might never be more accurate as the team looks to re-sign their franchise captain, finally bring some closure to a long, drawn out arena drama and return to the playoffs. The results of those three factors, each under their own cloud of uncertainty, could also decide the future fate of long-tenured general manager Garth Snow, who seems to be running out of time to turn this team into a true contender.
Snow obtained Jordan Eberle for the disappointing Ryan Strome this summer, setting up the former Edmonton Oiler standout to ride shotgun with John Tavares, but failed in his attempt to bring Matt Duchene over from Colorado after refusing to part with Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock.
Barzal and Pulock need to bring their 'A' game into camp and reward the organization and fans' faith in them -- especially after Travis Hamonic was traded to Calgary for still unused draft picks and Calvin deHaan was only signed to a one-year extension right before arbitration, leading some to question his future beyond 2018.
Up front, Shane Prince and Alan Quine will both begin the season on injured reserve. Prince never recovered from an ankle injury suffered last season, and Quine was nursing an upper body issue all summer that is still lingering. Unless they completely, and unexpectedly, fall flat in training camp, Anthony Beauvillier, Joshua Ho-Sang, and Barzal will begin the season with the big club. That's about as young and promising as New York has had in a while in terms of prospects. Michael Dal Colle will likely head to Bridgeport to continue his development as a professional in year two.
The forwards are deep. Not as deep as one would have liked with Duchene in the lineup, but it's hard to see New York having trouble scoring goals. Soft projections have Eberle-Tavares-Anders Lee, Andrew Ladd-Brock Nelson-Ho-Sang, Barzal-Beauvillier-Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck-Casey Cizikas-Jason Chimera, with units two and three in the air and seemingly interchangeable. You still have Nikolay Kulemin and Stephen Gionta and have to deal with Quine and Prince down the road.
As of today, only Casey Bailey, a 6-3, 26-year old wing who spent last year in the Ottawa organization, is coming in on a PTO, presumably for depth on the Sound Tigers roster.
What Snow did for Hamonic was admirable, and showed loyalty, first and foremost, to the person rather than the player. But it does leave the Islanders defense, one that wasn't all that good last year, with more questions than answers. Johnny Boychuk, coming off a rebound season, and Nick Leddy, the only true transitional threat, are back and that's an excellent start. After that, it begins to get hazy.
How does de Haan, coming off his best season as a pro, fare with the pressures of a contract looming? Can Adam Pelech and Pulock take the required next steps and become mainstays? Better yet, is Pulock more than just a booming shot from the blueline? Can Dennis Seidenberg hold off father time for yet another year? Can Thomas Hickey continue to lead the team in hits taken and not wear down as the season progresses into its toughest months? Did Scott Mayfield improve his skating and agility enough to be a reliable 7th man?
The defense will be the defining group that will determine the Islanders fate.
Jaroslav Halak is back from exile and ready to join forces with Thomas Greiss again in what is assumed to be a 1/1A situation in the Islanders crease.
Halak survived the circus that was the goaltending situation last year and closed out 2016-17 by posting seven wins in his final eight starts with a 1.58 goals against average and .950 save percentage.
The tandem gives New York their best chance of success, as Griess wore down last season after January 1, when he was forced to carry the load due to Halak's demotion and the horrific play of J.F Berube.
There is so much at stake that I can't see the Islanders losing the bid for Belmont, even if they weren't to have the most attractive RFP of all the contenders. The Nassau Coliseum seems to be out of the question, both from Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin's eyes as well as NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Brooklyn might still be able to work, but not without huge concessions from Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment CEO Brett Yormark -- concessions many see him as unwilling to meet. Practice in Hempstead, games in Brooklyn, odd game at old Coliseum. You can see why this might be one of Tavares' bigger issues in determining whether to sign long-term or not.
But the larger question looms... if Belmont fails or falls through, where do the Islanders end up?