Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
The New York Islanders have had a tumultuous start to the 2016-17 season, there's no question about that. The old adage 'It's still early' is no longer applicable now that they are 32 games in and are well behind in the standings for a third straight playoff appearance.
Trailing the third place New York Rangers by 17 points for the last guaranteed spot in the Metropolitan division, they are also behind the last wild card spot holder, the Washington Capitals, by 12 points, giving a game in hand and having to jump seven other teams to make the impossible, possible. With the odds makers placing New York's chances around three percent and a road heavy schedule looming in 2017, there could be more Islanders activity than in years past before the NHL's trade deadline, set for March 1 at 3 p.m. ET.
With the first year of a bye week in the NHL instituted, the Islanders will play on New Year's Eve in Winnipeg and not again until Friday, Jan. 6 in Colorado against the equally puzzling and struggling Avalanche.
Tonight, in Brooklyn, they welcome Kyle Okposo back for his first game in a Buffalo Sabres uniform. After a career that spanned nine years and 529 games with the Islanders, he should get a warm welcome like the one received by Matt Martin and Frans Nielsen before him, after being, at times, under appreciated in producing 139 goals and 369 points.
Okposo is off to a nice start with his new team, even playing without the extraordinary Jack Eichel for the first eight weeks of the regular season, scoring at a 9-13-22 clip in 31 games thus far and producing the game winning assist against his former mates in the Sabres 3-2 overtime victory last week.
"I'm going to try to pass on knowledge, especially watching Johnny for so long and the way he competes and the way he takes care of himself every day. I can pass a little of that on to him. I think Jack can be a superstar in this league", Okposo told Newsday in reference to his new center.
The Islanders, who have won only once in their past six games, and solely thanks to Thomas Greiss' heroics, appear removed from a stretch where they won five of six and collected points in all those games. The struggle for consistency has been marred by a poor transition, abysmal special teams and the continued disappointing play from Ryan Strome and Andrew Ladd compounded by head coach Jack Capuano's line blender that constantly juggles players in a seemingly backwards way to find consistency.
Greiss will earn his second consecutive start tonight coming off a 48-save effort in Boston on Tuesday, a game where the Islanders were outshot 95-44 (75-31 5v5 and 50-29 on goal). With unrestricted free agency coming up and no news of Jaroslav Halak being taken off the trade market or his intentions to remain an Islander, it might behoove general manager Garth Snow and Capuano to anoint Greiss the permanent starter and see if he can rekindle the magic from last season when he finished third in the NHL with a .925 save percentage. In 13 games this year, Greiss is carrying a 2.61 GAA and .918 heading into tonight's game. Shall he prove up to the task, get him signed, with high probability it will be less than the $4.5 million that is due Halak next year. You can then trade the disgruntled goaltender for a draft pick and figure out the backup situation.
On defense, Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey are the two likely candidates to be plucked off the expansion draft list when Vegas is ready to assemble their initial roster next summer. Snow must decide who he values more and try to move one for any type of asset he could acquire. Both have proven to be capable 3-5 defenders and with Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield being inexplicably buried in Bridgeport, there is no doubt losing one for nothing will hurt more than initially thought.
Up front, there is no question New York would like to hold onto players like Brock Nelson and Anders Lee (11 goals in his last 14 games). Where that puts Strome seems pretty clear. After scoring 27 goals and collecting 68 points in his first 118 games, Strome has completely fallen off the map under Capuano's system. His even strength Corsi has plummeted from 53.9 to 50.6 to 42.4 over the past three seasons and he has only produced 12 goals and 36 points in 100 games. Hardly the numbers of a fifth overall selection in the 2011 NHL entry draft.
You would think there are going to be opportunities for Snow to make some changes to the Islanders roster, even before Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin bring in their new team president to oversee hockey operations. But that leads to even more questions from the outside looking in - those who question his ability to do that effectively after this summer's failure in both the free agent and trade market.
Through the multitude of available methods to analyze the Islanders regression this year or the job performance of Snow and Capuano, one only must look at the standings to see it's been a colossal failure in year two of Barclays Center for the on-ice product. Yes, there is still time to eek out a respectable finish to 2016-17, where things perhaps won't look as bad on paper. But this was a team expected to perennially challenge for a playoff berth. One supposed to take the next step forward after finally capturing a playoff round victory.
Those two things, while not impossible, are extremely unlikely now. Once again, fans are left wondering where they go from here.