Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
Training camp is now less than four weeks away for the New York Islanders, as players will report for physicals on Wednesday, September 21 at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow, New York.
This will not be the same team from the top down that we saw last season in Tampa, losing to the Lightning 4-0 on May 8, bowing out of the second round of the playoffs in five games. This summer brought many changes in management and personnel that will shape where the organization is headed after three playoff appearances in the past four years and advancing past the first round in 2015-16 for the first time since 1992-93.
Jon Ledecky/Scott Malkin: The Islanders new management team (85% stake) took over officially on July 1, but has been behind the scenes for the past two years watching the team and how it is run. Ledecky this summer has made it his priority to work with the management team at Barclays Center to address fans' concerns, holding a session with the media in Manhattan and then following up with two town hall type discussions with fans themselves. Beyond all that, rumors began leaking of New York pursuing other 'options' in the New York metro area for a possible new arena. Whether this was just a clever ploy by Ledecky or something more serious remains to be seen. Either way, it was a brilliant way to exert your authority and show right from the start you are taking fans complaints and gripes seriously. Initially, Ledecky doesn't seem like the type to sit around and purely rely on the team performance on the ice to dictate how active he is. He seems very vested and involved on the business side, already with Malkin being more the 'silent partner' type.
Big losses up front: Maybe John Tavares really was bothered when close friend Matt Moulson was traded to Buffalo a couple seasons back when general manager Garth Snow took a chance on Thomas Vanek. But Tavares understands by now it's a business and even though he loses some close friends this off-season, I can't see him being deterred in the least from his ultimate goal of seeing this team through four rounds of playoff hockey.
Kyle Okposo was a great soldier, spending his entire nine-year career with the Islanders before shuffling off to Buffalo this summer. After putting up 184 points in 210 games over the last three seasons, he was limited in some facets of his game, especially on the defensive side of the puck. Maybe that's what Snow saw in the future when he decided to not even hold extension talks with the winger prior to him becoming an unrestricted free agent. Have to admit, he made the right call ultimately with the aforementioned Moulson deal.
Frans Nielsen is probably the hardest Islander to replace, as he 'wanted a change' and took a less gratuitous offer from the Detroit Red Wings to join the proud and outstanding franchise in free agency. Nielsen just started to discover his offensive game, producing 153 points in 239 games the last three seasons and scoring 50% of his career goals (25,14,20) over that same span. He was, clearly, the team's best defensive forward and that is where the loss of his invaluable contributions will be felt the most.
Matt Martin was a warrior on the ice and a teddy bear off it. Always welcoming to all kinds, whether it was the media or fans, he spent countless hours in the community spreading good vibes to almost everyone he encountered. On the ice, it's clear Martin was a one dimensional fourth line winger, and with fighting on the decline across the league, was the easiest of the three to replace in terms of pure production.
New faces: Out with the old and in with the new as the popular saying goes. Andrew Ladd joins and should, riding shotgun with Tavares, replace Okposo's offensive numbers while bringing much more responsible defensive hockey. Add to that his valuable experience of 769 NHL games and two Stanley Cups, and you can clearly see why his contributions were so coveted by Snow. Ladd should be an extremely suitable and positive replacement for Okposo. The expectation is that head coach Jack Capuano will be placing an 'A' on his sweater.
P.A Parenteau, by all accounts, including his own, was longing to return to the Island and reignite the fire that led to offensive numbers he produced while playing with Tavares back in 2010-2012 (120 points in 161 games). Now 33 years of age and coming off a productive season in Toronto (20-21-41 in 77), if he approaches 60 points here yet again, there won't be a disappointed person across the entire organization and fan base. Belief around the league might be Nielsen to Parenteau is a step-down for New York, but this guy can still play.
Jason Chimera has spent the last six and a half seasons with the Washington Capitals and last year, at age 36, produced 40 points, playing 14 minutes a night under Barry Trotz. It was two points from his career high, set in 2013-14, and his 20 goals tied a career high. Chimera has always had remarkable wheels, and that speed and tenacity on the forecheck should replace Martin with little difficulty.
Youngsters: Ryan Pulock will get the extended look this year that fans have been waiting for. Penciled in to begin the season in the top six with the departures of Marek Zidlicky and Brian Strait, it's finally time to see what the 21-year-old, Mantioba native has for us all. We know about the booming slap shot and his power play proficiency, but it will be how he plays in his own end that will define his season.
All eyes in camp will be focused on Michael Dal Colle and Joshua Ho-Sang but they are more than likely ticketed for Bridgeport. Everyone should really be watching Matthew Barzal closely. His only options are the big club or back to Seattle of the WHL for a fourth and final season of junior hockey. He almost made the club last year and with hip issues this summer now behind him, stands an even better chance this time around.
Shane Prince will get an opportunity as a third liner, but the play of Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome could define how productive and dangerous the offense ultimately is. Lee struggled before heating up, then breaking his leg. Nelson started with a flurry, then tailed off meekly in the second half leading into the playoffs. Strome's entire season was a disaster and it will be interesting to see how mentally strong he is entering camp.
Three goalies?: With Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss away from camp due to World Cup of Hockey commitments, J.F Berube will be the man at its onset. Either way, New York cannot expect to carry and keep happy all three for very long. This is a situation that might not get worked out until teams see just how healthy Halak is, as he figures to be the logical trade candidate. He might not see any minutes in Toronto, so this could drag into the season and become a distraction.
Hockey is coming, fast and furious. The summer is almost over, the leaves will be starting to change color and the crisp, morning air will soon work its way in. Before you know it, some will be sitting at Madison Square Garden on October 13, others waiting for the home opener on Sunday, October 16. How these changes affect the actual product on the ice remains to be seen.