The New York Islanders are a team on the rise after an unexpected playoff appearance following the condensed 2013 lockout shortened season. They are a young team with a young star cornerstone player and a solid supporting cast of role players.
The Islanders have had an offseason so far which can be described as quality over quantity. They did not make too many moves but the moves they did make were impactful.
In fair balance, they also lost a big piece, Mark Streit, who in my opinion is a terrific defensive hockey player. He is also an important leader in the locker room who will be missed.
The Islanders offseason moves will have an impact on the New Jersey Devils as they will continue their storied rivalry again next season in the newly minted Metropolitan Division.
Forwards: A Star in the Making
The Islanders have some talent up front with skilled players such as: Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Matt Moulson, Josh Bailey, and Matt Martin.
The key, the catalyst, to this offense and to this team, John Tavares, is a mega star in the making. Tavares had 28 goals and 19 assists in 2013 (www.si.com). He is the key player in this offense, and has progressed nicely in his career with the Islanders. He will also be their feature player for marketing the team when it moves to Brooklyn to play at the Barclays Center in a few years.
The issue I see with the Islanders from my perspective, is their depth at Left Wing is not great, though they may still have some moves to make here this summer to address that and round out the roster.
I give the Devils the definite advantage at that position with Patrik Elias, Ryane Clowe, Andrei Loktionov, and Rotislav Olesz. The Devils get a balance of scoring, physical forward play, and strong passing ability from that group of players.
The Right Wing position was improved during the offseason with the Islanders acquisition of Cal Clutterbuck via free agency. He has totaled 62 goals in his career previously with the Minnesota Wild (www.si.com). That type of complementary scoring is needed on the Islanders to offset some other roster changes.
Kyle Okposo is also a very solid player for the Isles, he is growing into that role on the wing as a facilitator.
In my opinion, the Devils are better at right wing as well particularly with the addition of Jaromir Jagr. Michael Ryder, Steve Bernier, and Stephen Gionta are all better players than the Islanders personnel at that position.
The center position is pretty evenly matched between the two rivals. The before mentioned Tavares is a star player, and the Devils counter with Travis Zajac who has had 20 and 25 goal scoring seasons in his career (www.si.com). Zajac is capable, when healthy, of being a dynamic offensive hockey player with great hands and excellent shooting capability.
The second line center is Frans Nielsen for the Isles, and he is a very similar player to Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus has had multiple 20 plus assist totals in his career, and Nielsen has done the same for the Islanders. He is the playmaker who gets the other line mates an opportunity to score.
Josh Bailey represents one of the offseason moves for the Islanders which demonstrated their commitment to keeping young players for the long haul. Bailey signed a 5 year contract extension, and has a shown a lot of promise in a short amount of time. The Devils have a young center, Adam Henrique, who has proven to be a clutch player in big games during the 2012 playoff run.
Defending the blue line
The Islanders this offseason agreed to contract extensions with Travis Hamonic and Thomas Hickey. This kept with the theme of the offseason that the Islanders did not bring in many players from outside the organization, instead they focused on retaining their own current players from leaving via free agency.
However, I mentioned earlier, they did lose Mark Streit (27 points, 5th leading point total on the team) and he also had a -14 in 2013, which is going to be very hard for the current roster to replace.
I give the decisive edge to the Devils when comparing these two units. New Jersey has more experience and depth, and they have young prospects like Peter Harrold, Eric Gelinas, and Adam Larsson. The Islanders still have some work to do to fill out their defensive corps but most of the top flight free agent defensemen are off the market at this point.
The Islanders, to their credit, moved quickly to bring back Evgeni Nabokov, who was a key reason the team made the playoffs in 2013 (23 wins) (www.si.com). The deal is low risk too, a one year deal, so if Nabokov cannot replicate that performance than the team can move in another direction.
The Islanders also moved to sign backup goaltender, Kevin Poulin, to a one year contract. The team is clearly keeping their eyes open for other long term options at this critically important position.
The Devils tandem of Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider are collectively better at this position. Nabokov has had a couple of big years but is no comparison to Brodeur when looking at their respective career numbers.
Overall, I think the Islanders are on their way to achieving their short term goal: be a contending and good hockey team when they move to Brooklyn. The rivalry will improve from past years, but in the short term, I still give the Devils the edge when comparing the personnel on both sides.