Where Do The Islanders Fit In The Metro Division?

The New York Islanders appear to be more or less set for the start of training camp, and their roster will almost look identical to last year’s Islanders squad that began the 2014-2015 season. With some of their division rivals having made some big changes this off-season, it’s hard to predict where the Islanders will finish in the Metropolitan Division this upcoming year.

The Isles signed Thomas Greiss to a two-year contract to back up Jaroslav Halak. Aside from signing prospect Kirill Petrov to a one-year deal (hey, remember him?), the Islanders were quiet on the free agent front.

Recently, Kevin Poulin was re-signed to a one-year contract. This looks like the organization’s last ditch effort at keeping Poulin in the mix going forward.

According to Arthur Staple of Newsday, Garth Snow has been in discussions with Marek Zidlicky about a contract with the team. With Lubomir Visnovsky still in free agent limbo, it appears that Zidlicky would be a veteran replacement to assist on the power play and likely play as a mentor to possibly Ryan Pulock on the bottom-six pairing. But that still remains to be seen.

With the exception of the aforementioned players, the New York Islanders will look the same next year. That is unless Garth has another last second trick up his sleeve like he did last year with Leddy and Boychuk, but does lightning really strike the same place twice?

The Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers did not make many significant or noteworthy moves to improve enough to necessarily make them threats to the Islanders’ chances of finishing in a top three spot of the Metropolitan division. However, a few other teams did.

The Columbus Blue Jackets added Brandon Saad, who will absolutely contribute to their offensive production. They were a team that was close to making the playoffs last year, and Saad’s experience, combined with the goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky, will just continue to make them a threatening presence every year.

Will Saad be enough to lead them past game 82 of the regular season? I don’t think so, but they will likely give a lot of headaches to the teams in the six through eight spot of the standings towards the end of the year.

The New York Rangers made some big moves, but didn’t exactly bring in some big players. They traded Cam Talbot and Carl Hagelin and brought in draft picks, Antti Raanta, Emerson Etem and most recently Jarret Stoll. They also will be without the services of Martin St. Louis, as he officially announced his retirement this summer.

Adding some key depth players might be the best thing for the Rangers, after failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals after going down swinging to the L.A. Kings the year before. However, these changes don’t exactly make the Rangers an “obvious” contender on paper. With that said, the Rangers have had poor starts in back-to-back seasons to either end up losing in the Cup finals, or just missing the championship round. Bottom line, the Rangers are going to be a dangers team with Alain Vigenault behind the bench, as he has consistently found a way to get the most out of his players each year.

When we look back to the Olympics from a few years ago, fans of Team USA will recall of the leadership and play of T.J. Oshie. Now he will be playing in our nation’s capital with Alexander Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson, and the rest of the high-speed and physical roster of the Washington Capitals. Braden Holtby also had a tremendous showing in this year’s playoffs, which earned him a long-term contract extension with the club.

But despite their overall talent, the team has lacked the leadership required in order for them to make a serious dent in the playoffs. Oshie might remedy that problem for the Caps, definitely making them a much more difficult team to play against every night.

The team in the Metropolitan Division that likely has made the most noise is the Pittsburgh Penguins. They were already a constant threat with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin a one, two punch for their hockey club. But now they also have Phil Kessel in the mix to make them that much more challenging.

They also added Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Eric Fehr. Bonino has the most potential for offensive production, while Cullen and Fehr have proven to be valuable depth players with their previous clubs.

But the real question will be how Kessel meshes with his new team. Despite his obvious talent, many fans in Toronto weren’t exactly sad to see him go. In fact, the organization was flat out sick of him. Will his personality fit with a locker room of players that know how to win championships? It’s hard to say, but at the same time, his presence on the ice with Malkin and Crosby is going to provide an uphill battle for any team that faces them.

In order for the Islanders to build on last season’s success and keep up with their neighboring teams, they will have to rely heavily on players such as Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee. Each of them will be looking to take the next step in their development.

All three had an impressive season this past year, but each player also hit strides where their production fell off. This isn’t exactly alarming, as they were all almost equally inexperienced when it came to the grind of a full 82-game season in the NHL.

But with another year added to their resumes, they will absolutely have to bring their play to the next level if they are going to help the Islanders compete alongside of the Penguins, Capitals, Rangers and Blue Jackets.

John Tavares will undoubtedly continue to lead the way, but will Kyle Okposo continue to be the same player he was before his eye injury? Let’s hope so, especially as he enters a contract year and will likely be looking for a major pay raise the following summer.

All in all, the Islanders will certainly have their work cut out for them as they enter their first season in Brooklyn.

-Rob McGowan

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