(Note: This is the beginning of a series covering all 30 NHL teams in 30 days, from worst to first, as according to VUKOTA. This is the same material that would have been available in a 2009-10 Puck Prospectus Annual had we published one.)
2008-09 Goals For: 201 (29th on Offense)
2009-2010 Goals For: 212 (30th on Offense)*
2008-09 Goals Against: 279 (T-28th on Defense)
2009-10 Goals Against: 253 (24th on Defense)*
2008-09 Point Total: 61 (30th in Points)
2009-10 Point Total: 79 (30th in Points)*
2008-09 Team GVT: - 78 (30th Overall)
2009-10 Team GVT: - 33 (30th Overall)*
2009-10 Offense: 2.63 (30th on Offense)*
2009-10 Defense: 3.04 (T-24th on Defense)*
2009-10 Total: -0.41 (30th Overall)*
Team Contention Status:
Eastern Conference Playoff Contenders (1st Round +)*: 20.4 %
Eastern Conference Noisemakers (2nd Round +)*: 6.1 %
Eastern Conference Contenders: (3rd Round +)*: 1.8 %
Stanley Cup Contenders (Stanley Cup Finals)*: 0.5 %
Stanley Cup Champions*: 0.1 %
*2009-2010 VUKOTA Projections (Bayesian Ratings derived from VUKOTA)
Years from now, perhaps Islanders fans (or whatever they are called in Kansas City, Phoenix or Hamilton) will look back at 2009-10 and say that it was the start of their new dynasty, the rookie season of highly-touted #1 overall draft choice John Tavares, the next Sidney Crosby. Perhaps, but for now, there will be very little joy in Uniondale for a fan base following what will once again be one of the worst teams in the NHL. In fact, why hedge our bets? VUKOTA has the Isles pegged for the league’s basement again, and you know what? Having the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft wouldn’t be that tragic of a development towards continuing a long rebuilding process. Several years of number one choices in a row did wonders for baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays. Eventually, that is.
New York Islanders - Forwards
Predicted VUKOTA VUKOTA VUKOTA VUKOTA 2008-09
Name Age G A P Offense Defense Shootout Total ESTR
Kyle Okposo 21 20 24 44 +5.7 +1.8 -0.1 +7.4 +0.23
Trent Hunter 29 14 20 34 +2.9 +1.4 -0.1 +4.3 -0.26
Sean Bergenheim 25 13 12 25 +2.3 +1.5 +0.0 +3.7 -0.15
Frans Nielsen 25 11 21 32 +1.9 +1.6 +0.2 +3.7 +0.01
Doug Weight 38 10 20 29 +2.2 +1.1 +0.0 +3.3 -0.78
Richard Park 33 11 16 28 +1.4 +1.7 +0.0 +3.2 -0.55
Blake Comeau 23 10 16 26 +1.3 +1.0 +0.0 +2.4 -0.75
Jesse Joensuu 22 6 8 14 +1.0 +0.6 +0.0 +1.7 -0.40
Josh Bailey 20 11 19 29 -0.1 +1.2 +0.0 +1.1 -0.19
Jon Sim 32 8 8 17 +0.2 +0.7 +0.0 +0.8 -0.57
Jeff Tambellini 25 6 8 14 -0.5 +0.2 +0.1 -0.2 -0.99
Nate Thompson 25 4 5 9 -1.5 +0.6 +0.0 -0.8 -1.31
John Tavares 18 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
With essentially no forwards of any note, C John Tavares may find himself as New York’s best forward as early as his rookie season. Last season’s opening night captain, RW Bill Guerin, departed for the Cup-winning Penguins at the trading deadline, while 38 year old C Doug Weight is way past the point of being anything more than a familiar name and the ephemeral “veteran presence”. The long-awaited Tavares certainly has the credentials to be an NHL superstar. Selected by the Oshawa Generals of the OHL at age 14, he went onto break Wayne Gretzky’s OHL scoring record for 16 year olds and became the all-time OHL goal scoring leader in 2009. He was CHL Rookie of the Year in 2006 and 2007, and of course, the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. If that wasn’t enough, the Mississauga, Ontario native even boasts sports bloodlines: His uncle John Tavares is the National Lacrosse League’s all-time scoring leader. All of that is good, because the Islanders need him to become Sidney Crosby. Harsh to say, but anything less will probably not suffice to resurrect the Islanders, and the second coming of Sid the Kid might not even be enough.
One forward with a good shot at outproducing Tavares in 2009-10 is RW Kyle Okposo, the 7th overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, who now has a full year in the NHL under his belt. After a cup of coffee with the Isles in 2007-8, Okposo joined the team for a full 65 games last season, putting up respectable numbers (18 Goals, 21 Assists, 39 Points, -6 plus/minus, 0.60 points per game) for a 20 year old kid on the worst team in hockey. Barely older than Tavares, the Minnesotan of Nigerian descent has shown a confident scorer’s touch, that is, when given the chance. It would stand to reason that the promising sophomore would be paired with the freshman wunderkind, perhaps the start of a highly productive partnership. Being the beneficiary of Tavares’ setup skills can only help Okposo’s counting stats going forward. Therefore, look for the winger to exceed VUKOTA’s predicted 44 points and +7.4 GVT.
As for the other forwards, Trent Hunter, Sean Bergenheim and Frans Nielsen would be adequate third line contributors on a playoff team. More intriguing as far as upside are youngsters Jesse Joensuu and Josh Bailey. Joensuu in particular doesn’t have much to show yet, as far as NHL credentials, but he has the look of a solid contributor. Joensuu played in Finland’s SM-Liiga at the age of 16 for his hometown Porin Ässät (Pori Aces), becoming the youngest player ever in the league. As a 20 year old in 2007-08, he led the team in scoring, at a 0.63 P/GP pace. Success at a young age relative to your league generally portends well, although scouts see his ceiling as a 2nd line player at most. The rest of the bunch under contract are more or less replacement-level placeholders until the Isles develop a better core.
New York Islanders - Defensemen
Predicted VUKOTA VUKOTA VUKOTA VUKOTA 2008-09
Name Age G A P Offense Defense Shootout Total ESTR
Mark Streit 32 12 39 51 +8.4 +5.3 -0.1 +13.6 +0.69
Bruno Gervais 25 3 13 16 +0.8 +2.3 +0.0 +3.1 -0.54
Andy Sutton 34 2 9 11 +0.8 +2.0 +0.0 +2.8 +0.91
Freddy Meyer 28 3 9 13 +1.1 +1.3 +0.0 +2.4 -2.10
Radek Martinek 33 3 8 11 +0.7 +1.5 +0.0 +2.2 -0.42
Andrew MacDonald 23 2 6 7 +0.4 +1.2 +0.0 +1.6 N/A
Jack Hillen 23 2 7 9 -0.1 +1.1 +0.0 +1.0 -0.39
Brendan Witt 34 1 7 8 -0.7 +0.8 -0.1 +0.0 -1.52
New York’s success story of 2008-09 was the Norris Trophy-caliber play of defenseman Mark Streit. The 31 year old Swiss developed from a 0.23-0.47 P/GP performer in his first two years with Montreal to a 0.76-0.77 P/GP performer with the 2007-08 Canadiens and the 2008-09 Islanders. Think what you will about plus/minus rating, but when a player on a team as bad as last season’s Islanders posts a +5, you know that he's earned it and more. The Islanders leaned heavily on the 4 year NHL veteran, whose 25:13 TOI was 50% more than his highest in Montreal. Hopefully, Streit will be able to handle that kind of workload over the long haul.
Bruno Gervais and Andy Sutton are the best of the rest on the blueline, while Freddy Meyer and Brendan Witt in particular should be ex-Isled as soon as possible. As with the bulk of the forwards, just replacing most of the defensive roster with league-average players would give New York a big boost.
New York Islanders - Goalies
2009-2010 VUKOTA Projections 2008-2009
Name Age Goaltending Shootout Total Save % GAA
Martin Biron 32 +10.9 -0.3 +10.6 0.915 2.76
Dwayne Roloson 40 +8.4 +1.0 +9.4 0.915 2.77
Rick DiPietro 28 +0.9 +0.0 +0.9 0.892 3.53
The enigma of the Islanders offseason has been: “Exactly how many number one goalies does a team need?” You would think that Garth Snow left his fantasy hockey team on autopilot, as it reminds me of a fantasy football draft where the “AI” happily drafts Kickers and DST’s by the dozen for the absentees. Yann Danis and Joey MacDonald are gone, while it is now Martin Biron’s and Dwayne Roloson’s turn to “step once more unto the breach”…with the aforementioned breach being the continued absence of “Islander-for-Life” Rick DiPietro. The little-known Yann Danis, lost to division rival New Jersey, would have made more sense as a backup than one or the other of the two veterans that Snow brought in.
It’s uncanny that both Biron and Roloson had essentially identical stats last season: A .915 save percentage and a 2.76 (or 2.77) GAA. Twins, maybe? The difference is age and resume. The 32 year old Biron cannot point to a season with a gaudy .933 save percentage, as Roloson posted with the Minnesota Wild, back in 2003-04, but it seems likely at any rate that both goalies will regress from their performances last season. If and when DiPietro is healthy, it’s anyone's guess which of the three will be playing for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
New York Islanders - Big Picture
Aside from the few individual bright spots, as a team the Isles were pretty dreadful in all phases of the game. According to GVT, they ranked 29th on offense, 30th on defense, 25th by goaltending and 30th overall in 2008-09. While the presence of Tavares and the continued development of Okposo may give the offense a slight boost, the only other improvement may come from Cerberus (the three-headed goalie from hell). In 2008-09, New York’s power play converted at 16.9%, 23rd in the NHL, while the penalty killing 79.8%, 22nd in the NHL.
What’s left for the Isles to do? In the short term, resign Dean McAmmond. In 2008-09, the 36 year old made less than $1 million, and he deserves honorable mention for managing to scrape together a +16 plus/minus rating between the floundering early season Senators and the constantly floundering Islanders. McAmmond’s 0.50 P/GP was his best since 2001-02 and he was good for a +0.71 ESTR, highest on the team for players with over 500 minutes of ESTOI. On the flip side, with declining “Suitcase” Mike Sillinger safely retired (and the journeyman was underappreciated before that decline), it remains for management to stay away from the big red button that either causes Thomas Pock to be resigned or triggers nuclear war, we forget which (his -0.8 Total GVT per VUKOTA is the lowest amongst the remaining unsigned free agent defensemen).
Long term, the Islanders should stay away from quick fixes. The Tampa Bay Rays scenario alluded to previously was no joke. For a franchise with limited resources, there is an incentive to keep the team losing games. Another high draft choice or two, with the right picks made, and all of a sudden, the Islanders could have quite a dynamic young nucleus, before Tavares cashes in three years from now in free agency. In fact, exactly the wrong long term approach is to have above average goalies inflate win totals on a rebuilding team. New York would be better off getting their fans jazzed up about the development of Tavares, Okposo and those future pieces, while having below average goalies (where have you gone, Joey MacDonald?) drag down wins and keep them picking high in the Entry Draft.
Whatever happens this season, remember that it has been worse (Lest we forget the ridicule of the mid-90’s “Gorton’s fisherman” jerseys by Rangers’ fans) and that, with some reasonably good management, it will get much better in the near future.
Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site www.icehockeymetrics.com.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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