The Countdown until September 15th, the day the NHL CBA expires, officially began a few days ago. One has to hope that the NHL will come to terms quickly, so us fans don’t have to live like it’s 2004-05 all over again. Until a new CBA is in place, I can only imagine that it may seem as if there is a roster “freeze.” The uncertainty on whether or not the NHL will be in business next season will have players hesitant to join new teams, and GMs hesitant to make too many moves.
One of the teams that are most likely “frozen” is the New York Islanders. The team Islanders fans see now is probably the team they will see in Pittsburgh if the season opens on October 12th. Lubomir Visnovsky, Brad Boyes, Matt Carkner, and Eric Boulton are the team’s newest additions, and unless the team has any surprises in camp (I think this will happen), the Islanders roster is pretty much set.
Obviously, there will probably be a few changes as the season goes on, as I’m sure the Islanders have learned that, when a line isn’t clicking for 41 games, it’s time to change them. So, with that being said, what do I think the Islanders opening day line-up is going to look like regarding their forwards?
Islanders Lines For Opening Night:
Matt Moulson-John Tavares-Brad Boyes
Josh Bailey-Ryan Strome (first 9 games)-Kyle Okposo
Michael Grabner-Frans Nielsen-Matt Martin
Jesse Joensuu-Casey Cizikas-Eric Boulton
OK. This is how I see it, and let me tell you why.
The first line is pretty standard. PAP left the Islanders for greener ($$$) pastures. Brad Boyes joined the Islanders for a fresh start. Boyes will be looking to re-discover his 30-goal form, and the best way to do this is by matching him with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. JT and MM have thrived together since they began playing together on the Island during the 2009-10 season. Both players have shown an increase in production for each of the three seasons they have been on Long Island. Boyes play-making and goal-scoring abilities should be more than enough to make Islanders fans forget PAP.
The second-line is a bit more complicated. Although I don’t think Strome will be here all season (I think Casey Cizikas will take his place when Strome is sent back to Juniors), I think Strome gets his 9 games. He will center Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo for two reasons:
1) Because KO and JB need to prove they are capable of playing as the top-six forwards that they were drafted to be (otherwise, one will be traded)
2) These guys have the most NHL-experience on the Islanders offense besides Frans (who is not a winger, nor is he meant to be a top-six forward)
Strome will get his chance, and unless he scores a point per game, Strome will be sent back to Niagara for one last season.
KO and Bails showed chemistry together for the final 20 games of the season, but those two now have to show they can produce together when it matters. Okposo and Bailey are both solid two-way forwards (both ranked in the top-20 in takeaways last season), and both have the ability to score. I see this line forcing a lot of turnovers, which will lead to scoring chances, which will hopefully lead to results on the score-sheet.
The Islanders third-line is interesting. Frans Nielsen goes back to the slot where he should be featured, which is the Islanders 3rd-line centre. He can go back to playing his game, and do so with Michael Grabner, who has played his best next to Frans.
Last year, the Islanders made the mistake of going into the season with a second-line of Grabs, Frans, and KO. That line never took off. This year, the Islanders should come out with Matt Martin next to the pair. Martin will open up space for the speedy Grabner, increase his hits total with some extra ice time, and chip in 10-15 goals if he finds a way to crash the net.
With Martin opening the ice, Frans, a more than capable playmaker, will have more opportunities to feed the Gremlin. The puck will find the open man (Grabs), which will lead to even more chances for a player that never seems to be short of them. It’s more of a matter of actually converting these scoring opportunities into goals.
Now, on the fourth-line, I see a new line of Jesse Joensuu, Casey Cizikas, and Eric Boulton. I don’t think the Islanders can come back with anyone from last year’s fourth-line because there was nothing good about that line last year. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure the 4th-line is what damned the Islanders.
As I previously said, I think Casey will be bumped up (because he will impress) when Strome leaves, but Casey is the ideal bottom-six forward. He works hard, especially in the corners, kills penalties, and gives the other team the problems that a bottom-six forward is supposed to give. Although I would love him to stay on the 4th-line all year, he showed chemistry with Okposo during his 15-game run with the Isles, so that, along with his offensive capabilities, makes him a good candidate to move up.
On the wing, Jesse Joensuu will be taking Nino’s spot as the big-man on our 4th-line. The difference? A lot. Jesse is no longer expected to be a high point-producer. I see him scoring 10 goals, but that’s it (which is still 10x better than anything Islanders fans saw from that line last season). Jesse will hit, fight, score, and have the experience required to play a role that Nino was never fit for. As Nino is getting 1st-line minutes in the AHL (as he should be), Jesse will be taking a vital 9-12 minutes of ice time on the 4th-line.
Then there’s Eric Boulton. He won’t be in the line-up every night, but against the rival Penguins in Pittsburgh, Boulton will be trying to send us his message: the Islanders have an enforcer that can be depended on. Boulton will do his thing for us the first few games, and probably for another 50 throughout the season. He will show us what it is to have an enforcer that can add value to his ice time.
Yes, so there are a few noticeable omissions. Marty Reasoner is not there, and although I think Islanders fans will see him a few times this season, I just don’t see him being on the Island too much longer. He was terrible, and like I said, the Islanders probably won’t look to feed him back to the Coliseum’s occupants. An “improvement” over Zeke, Konopka actually scored more goals than the guy who had scored 14 goals for Florida the previous year.
Unlike Reasoner, I think David Ullstrom will see time on the Island, and if there is any player that I hate to omit from the line-up, it’s him. If Joensuu goes back to Europe, Boulton is scratched, someone falls to injury, or if they move him back to centre (his natural position) when Cizikas moves up, Ullstrom will find time on the Island. I think he’s a valuable piece to the Islanders, and was more than impressive last year. He absolutely earned a spot on this team.
The Islanders have a lot going for them, and I believe this line-up is way better than anything the team had going into camp last year. When we entered last season, the Islanders line-up looked great because of a 40-game sample that made the Islanders one of the best teams for the last half of the 2010-11 season. Now, things have been put into perspective. There’s a firmer grasp of what the Islanders have, and I think the Islanders will get it right this year. From Tavares and down, the Islanders will show some real improvement.
Filed Under: New York Islanders
About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: www.IslandersOptimism.com E-Mail: ChristopherTriantafilis@gmail.com Twitter: @ChrisTriants