That happy feeling we all got after the NHL announced they had a deal for a new CBA has not worn off. Today’s a great day, and I didn’t have to do a single thing to make it that way. It’s just nice looking forward to hockey again. It’s nice being able to talk about the New York Islanders.
NHL fans are buzzing, and are excited to watch their team back on the ice. With very little time to prepare for opening night, there is much to talk about. Who will be on the roster? Who’s injured? What are the line-ups?
Like most hockey fans, these are all questions Islanders’ fans are seeking answers to. We’re craving hockey, and want to know what’s next. Well, I don’t have all the answers, but I can definitely make some predictions, and provide some predictions for the start of the shortened 2013-season. Islanders’ fans: Here’s what we should expect after the lockout.
First off, all fans are probably going to see a lot of injuries. I remember the last lockout, and the effects it had on play when the game came back. A lot of players missed time with groin injuries. Only a handful of the Islanders’ roster players have been active during the extended off-season, and as I’m sure plenty of the others were “staying in shape,” it’s not the same as in-game action.
With the anticipation of a plethora of injuries, Islanders’ fans can at least be thankful for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Nino Niederreiter, who I did not anticipate to be in the Islanders line-up in October, will most likely see plenty of NHL action. Other young players, such as Casey Cizikas, David Ullstrom, and Matt Donovan, will also be seeing some time in the NHL. Consequently, this could give the Islanders an advantage. Although it isn’t the case with all teams, some organizations around the league will be seeing a lot of rust from their guys. Seeing that the Islanders have plenty of players down in the AHL who were expected to see time in the NHL, the Islanders may have an early jump at the beginning of the season.
Speaking of rust, Evgeni Nabokov (I missed typing these names) was also inactive during the lockout. In my opinion, that’s kind of scary news because I believe our playoff hopes ride on him. Nabby can be stellar, but seeing that he was hurt several times last season should be a concern. It’s possible the Islanders invite a goalie to camp (not John Grahame), but the Islanders may have to ride one of their young netminders for parts of the year. Kevin Poulin had a great December, so one would have to assume he would get the green light if something happened to Nabby. The Bridgeport kids deserve a shot at this point anyways, and the fact that they’re in game shape may also be favorable for the Islanders during the 2013 season.
What about the players who are of real concern? Three players come to mind right now: Travis Hamonic, Jesse Joensuu, and Michael Grabner. I know Jesse Joensuu may not be the biggest concern for Islanders’ fans, but I pegged him to be in the Islanders’ line-up in October over Nino Niederreiter. Jesse had a great start in Finland’s SM-liiga, but fell to an injury in November. The injury occurred on November 19th, and he was expected to have a two-month recovery. He might be back in time.
The other two players have big roles on the Island, though. One surprise for fans came this morning: Michael Grabner has an abdominal tear. There is no timetable on his return, and he hasn’t played in Austria since November 30th. As I’ve said, Michael could score 50-goals in any given season with the chances he gets, so he could be a huge loss for an Islanders team that was anemic on offense outside of the team’s first line. He is also a solid penalty-killer, and his 4-on-4 play could boost the Islanders to several overtime wins.
Travis Hamonic suffered a concussion at the beginning of December and has not been on the ice since. He’s expected to start skating this week, though, which would be huge for an Islanders’ defense that could use all the help it could get.
And if you thought the Islanders were just missing a 6th-defenseman, you’re wrong. It never ends, but apparently, Lubomir Visnovsky wants to stay in Slovakia. He’s currently mulling an offer from Slovan Bratislava of the KHL. The Islanders gave up a 2nd-round pick for Lubo at the 2012 NHL Draft, and has been a pain in the ass ever since. He’s probably writing ways to fake his own death as I write this.
Either way, it’s his choice, and if he doesn’t report, the Islanders will have a huge hole to fill. Training camp invites will probably be sent to a few defensemen in the mean time, as the Islanders desperately need some players outside of their AHL-affiliate. They’ll have to make due regardless, though. No team is going to cry for us, so they just need to play well and get it done. Someone needs to step up. The only guarantees on defense for this organization right now are Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, and Matt Carkner.
On offense, Islanders’ fans should expect John Tavares to continue to improve. JT leaves Switzerland as the highest NHL point-scorer at this time (17-25-42 in 28 games), and looks to be playing well on both sides of the ice (+16). Tavares will be the key to this offense, so expect him to be prepared to see the scoresheet a lot. Matt Moulson will be the main benefactor. The newly signed Brad Boyes should be expected to play as well as PAP did last season, too.
Also, expect the Islanders to look into a true #2 centre. Ryan Strome might get some time in the NHL, but don’t count out Brock Nelson in the mean time (currently injured). True, both are very young, but Frans Nielsen plays better in his #3-centre role, and Marty Reasoner is not an option. Depending on whether or not the Isles feel Strome is ready, or better off on the OHL, the Islanders will be looking at Strome or Nelson for, at least, a few games.
As I mentioned before, I also did not have Nino in my starting line-up if the season started on time, but that may have changed. Nino has been great in Bridgeport. There are many who would say he should be in Bridgeport all year, but if the Islanders are going to bring up Ryan Strome, or better yet, his line-mate Brock Nelson, Nino will probably come with him. Nino, who scored 1 goal last season, has 17 goals and 33 points in 33 points. Yeah, the same Nino that everyone labeled a bust is playing at a point-per-game ace in the AHL right now. Expect him to be in the NHL, and expect him to be given the keys this time.
The rest of the offense has been sketchy at times, but have been unstoppable at others. Obviously the numbers won’t be as high as they usually are because of a shortened season, but we must see improvement from Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey in 2013. If not, expect some trades, although KO may not be involved in any of them.
If the Islanders fall out of the hunt at any time, expect expiring contracts to be moved. This includes the contracts of Evgeni Nabokov, Brad Boyes, Mark Streit and Josh Bailey. If there’s any reason why the Islanders’ really need Lubo, it’s to add him to this list as well. The Islanders will be looking to prepare their team for 2013-14 early if they flop at the beginning.
So…now we have some hockey to look forward to. Whether the schedule’s 48-games or 50-games, it doesn’t matter. The Islanders have a chance to make the playoffs this year. Any team could get hot, and in a shortened season, that’s all it takes to get in. I know it’s been forever since we have seen the Islanders win 5-in-a-row, but it can obviously happen. The team needs to put together 60-minute efforts, and they need to play for each other. One thing I’ve noticed in Bridgeport is that the players there stick up for each other through all 4 lines. The Islanders need to play for each other this season, and if they can do that, these guys have a shot.
Hockey’s back. Support your team. Let’s go Islanders.
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