The Islanders Have a Massive Issue

The Islanders Have a Massive Issue

Photo Credit: nypost.com
The Islanders started the Stadium Series game the best way they possibly could’ve. Through the first 25 minutes, they had a 4-1 lead and were absolutely dominating in all facets of the game. Even when the Rangers showed signs of life as they made it 4-3, an early 3rd period goal by Alexander Romanov put those signs away…until the last 5 minutes. The same repetitive things that we’ve seen time and time again by this team this season showed up again: Terrible penalties and blown leads. An atmosphere that was practically filled with Rangers fans erupted as Kreider and Zibanajad tied the game on 2 different PPs from 2 mind-numbing penalties from Mat Barzal and Scott Mayfield. Panarin stole the puck off a bad turnover from Noah Dobson in OT, and the Rangers walked out of MetLife Stadium with an incredible comeback as the Islanders had another horrendous collapse in a disgraceful loss…

The same struggles that the Islanders suffered with Lambert have still been there with Roy. Roy has done a great job trying to instill the Islanders with new habits so far, but it hasn’t changed many things for the team (the terrible PK, 3rd period collapses, blown leads). Now, has it all been bad under Roy? Absolutely not. The team looks way more aggressive, Sorokin has looked way better (excluding Sunday’s game, which you cannot blame him for), and the turnovers have been way down compared to Lambert’s time. In addition, players like Barzal, Dobson, Nelson, and Palmeri have benefitted from Roy’s more aggressive system.

Photo Credit: thehockeynews.com
You can blame lots of reasons for these struggles this season, but you have to blame GM Lou Lamoriello. I have actually liked Lou as he has brought lots of positive things to the island during his tenure (Barry Trotz, Sorokin, Horvat, Varlamov, Lehner, Pageau, Dobson’s development, and many other additions). However, he has had some head-scratching decisions over the last 2 years and this is where he will be blamed. Scott Mayfield had an okay season in 2023 (6G-18A-24P, +8 rating, 168 blocks), but he had some terrible penalties (83 PIM in 82 games), and too many turnovers (64 giveaways). Mayfield has been with the Islanders since 2013, and he was entering his age 32 season. Lou decides to reward Mayfield with a 7 year, $24M contract ($3.5M a year), which has backfired incredibly. Not only has Scott looked slower and worse, he only has 5 points and a -6 rating in 40 games this season. It also doesn’t help that he cost the team the game against the Rangers (3 horrendous penalties), and he basically has to grab opposing players to stop them from skating around him. Mayfield has been a liability for the Isles, and I don’t see any team wanting to deal with his terrible contract in a trade.

Another negative of Lou was his situation with Pierre Engvall. Engvall was solid with the Islanders when they traded for him last season (5G-4A-9P in 18 games) and played a top-6 role during the playoff push. Since he was a FA going into the offseason, a 3 yr or 4 yr extension would’ve been nice to see. However, Lou locked him up for a staggering 7 years ($3M per season), which keeps him with NY until his age 35 season. This signing has also backfired heavily as Pierre has struggled with only 8 more points in 29 more games and has committed multiple turnovers that have lost the team games. It also doesn’t help that he was benched multiple times by Lambert, and Roy may have to do the same. A third mistake from Lou during his time has been his trades. Excluding Horvat, he has basically killed the Isles’ draft capital for trading for good (not great, but good) players. Trading a first round pick + 2 minor leaguers for Kyle Palmeri and Travis Zajac was not a good choice by Lou. Zajac isn’t on the team anymore, while Palmeri has dealt with injuries and inconsistency (hasn’t scored more than 34 pts in a season with the Islanders). In addition, trading a first rounder and 2 other picks for J.G. Pageau in 2020 was a bit of an overpay. Pageau is an amazing special teams player, a good playmaker/center, and is very undervalued, but he is not worth that much capital as he hasn’t eclipsed 40 points in a season with NY so far. This has led to the team having the 32nd ranked prospect pool in the NHL, which is a very bad place to be at. Furthermore, the decision to fire Barry Trotz is still baffling to me as he turned the Islanders from a defensive disaster to a crisp, defensive team that was incredibly dangerous in the postseason over his tenure. Changing from Trotz to Lambert has affected the Islanders negatively, as lots of sloppiness and uncertainty have overcome this team during the past year and a half.

To wrap things up, Lou has done some incredible things as the GM/president of the Islanders. He has taken them to 2 conference finals, 4 playoff appearances in 5 seasons, and developed a massive core (Dobson, Nelson, Barzal, Romanov, Sorokin, Horvat, Pelech, Pulock) to build around. On the other side, his questionable decisions have caused the Islanders to flirt as a wild card team who finishes with around 90-95 points with no clear position of buying or selling instead of a dominant team who is a top seed in the Eastern Conference and finishes with around 100 points a season.

All Star Worthy

All Star Worthy

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With the 2024 NBA ASG approaching in a few weeks, there were many well-deserved selections to represent the Eastern and Western Conference reserves. Knicks PG Jalen Brunson (27.3 PPG, 6.5 APG, 41.3 3P%), Magic SF Paolo Banchero (23 PPG, 7 RPG, 5 APG), 76ers PG Tyrese Maxey (25.9 PPG, 6.4 APG, 1 SPG), and Raptors F Scottie Barnes (20.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG) were all selected to the ASG for the first time in their careers. Curry, Lebron, Giannis, Jokic, Doncic, Tyrese Haliburton, and more were selected as starters. However, there were a few players that deserve their recognition, even though they weren’t selected for the annual game in Indiana. With that in mind, here are 4 ASG snubs that were definitely worthy of being voted as a reserve/starter…

1. Kings PF Domantas Sabonis

A big reason why the Sacramento Kings sit in 5th place in the West (29-20) is because of the contributions of Sabonis. Sabonis has always been known for being a double-double machine ever since his breakout 2019 season with the Indiana Pacers. Ever since he got dealt to the Kings, his playmaking has gone up considerably. After averaging over 7 assists a game last season, Sabonis has upped his APG to over 8 this season (7th in NBA) while maintaining over 13 RPG (1st in NBA) and averaging 19 PPG. He is shooting around 62% from the field (highest in his career) and 43% from 3PT (2nd highest in career). In addition, Sabonis already has 45 double-doubles and an outstanding 15 triple doubles (he had 14 all of last season). All of these factors show that he is definitely worthy of being an All-Star.

Photo Credit: thenewyorktimes.com

2. Kings PG De’Aaron Fox

Another reason for the Kings’ success so far has been the stellar play from De’Aaron Fox. Fox has been a stud for the Kings ever since his sophomore season, as he has had 5 straight seasons of recording 20+ PPG with at least 5 APG. This season, he has increased his scoring (27.3 PPG) while maintaining his other stats (5.3 APG, 4 RPG). He has also recorded his highest SPG average (1.8), which is one of the highest among guards in the NBA, and has shot his most efficient from 3pt range at a higher clip (37.8% on 8 attempts per game). Fox is well-deserving of a trip to Indiana, as he has been outstanding and integral for the Kings so far this season.

3. Jazz PF Lauri Markkanen

The Jazz have rebounded from a horrendous start to the NBA season by going on an incredible run and rising up to a play-in spot in the West (25-26). A big part of their excellent stretch has been from Lauri Markkanen. Markkanen was amazing in his first season in Utah (26 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2 APG) and has followed up with a nearly identical line this year. He has shot nearly 50% from the field, over 40% from 3PT, and nearly 88% from the FT line, which are all incredible for a big man. He has been consistently great for a red-hot Jazz team that is quickly rising in the Western Conference. Lauri should’ve been rewarded for his efforts by receiving a trip to Indiana.

4. Pistons PG Cade Cunningham

When you read about the Pistons, you usually think of their 6-43 record, or anything historically terrible. In the midst of their historically bad season, Cade Cunningham has been a bright spot in Detroit. He is averaging over 22 PPG, 4 RPG, and 7.5 APG (9th in NBA). He has also shot a career high 44.8% from the field and 34.4% from 3pt. In addition, Cade has averaged a steal per game and has recorded 9 double doubles this year. With all the pain Detroit has gone through this year, Cunningham receiving an ASG invite should’ve been a pleasant surprise for a season to forget for the Pistons.

Photo Credit: thedetroitboys.com
An Expected Firing and An Unexpected Replacement

An Expected Firing and An Unexpected Replacement

Photo Credit: nhl.com
Lane Lambert being fired from an underperforming New York Islanders team was not so much of a surprise, but HOF goalie Patrick Roy as his replacement? That was a huge shock from the Isles and 81 yr old president/GM Lou Lamoriello as his firing of Lambert was definitely due…

Lambert’s record with the Islanders in one and a half seasons was 61-46-20. This isn’t a terrible record, but it isn’t great when factoring in the talent on the Isles. The team barely made the playoffs last season with a 42-31-9 record (93 pts) and the team rode off Lambert’s message as they consistently came back in games and were led by Ilya Sorokin’s tremendous play. This season has been a different story. The team has had incredible highs (an 11/12 game point streak, a top PP unit, a scoring tear throughout December), but that has been marked by lots of inconsistency (on both ends), losing streaks (7 games in November, 1-6-0 in their last seven), a horrendous PK, and their inability to hold leads. In addition, their defense has given up way too many shots (35 a game), which is absolutely unacceptable. Sorokin hasn’t been himself so far (13-11-9, 3.21 GAA, .908 SV), but the Islanders’ porous defense has completely left him to dry in the majority of games.

Lambert also had some mind-boggling choices with his lines. After F Casey Cizikas got injured and was placed on IR, he separated his 2 best forwards, Barzal and Horvat, and moved Barzal down to the 3rd line while moving Simon Holmstrom to the 1st line. Remember, this is not an insanely offensive team like Edmonton, who can separate McDavid and Drasitatl. The Islanders are a bottom 10 team in goals per game (2.93). Another example is the treatment for Pierre Engvall. 27 yr old Engvall hasn’t been anything to write home about (5-9-14 in 41 GP), and was benched twice this season by Lambert after turnovers in the previous games. A much older and slower Matt Martin inexplicably lost the Isles a point in Nashville and stayed in the lineup the next game. It was those choices that made fans want Lambert gone multiple times throughout the season.

Photo Credit: theScore.com
Lamoriello went with Patrick Roy as the Isles’ new head coach (notice that there’s no “interim” next to that). Roy was known as a fiery, passionate, and strict coach in his tenure with the Colorado Avalanche and the QMJHL. He had a 130-92-24 record with the Avs and won the Jack Adams in the 2013-14 season while he finished 524-255-66 with Quebec and won a Memorial Cup and QMJHL Championship. The new coach was arguably the best goalie in NHL history, as he was an 11x All Star, won 3 Vezinas, 5 William Jennings, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006. Islanders fans should hope that this hiring can lead to a spark and the team climbing back into the playoff race after falling into 6th place in the Metro Division. Furthermore, Roy can potentially help Ilya Sorokin regain his form after a mediocre performance throughout the regular season.
NHL Midseason Player Award Predictions

NHL Midseason Player Award Predictions

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The regular season for the NHL has nearly reached the halfway point as many NHL teams have played close to 41 games so far. There have been lots of surprises from many new players and the usual bunch (McDavid, Pastrnak, Draisaitl, Matthews), which has created an exciting award watch for NHL fans. With that in mind, here are my predictions for each NHL award through the midpoint of the year…

Art Ross Trophy/Hart Memorial Trophy

There have been lots of different participants in the Art Ross/Hart Trophy race so far compared to past years. J.T Miller, Quinn Hughes (a defenseman!), Sam Reinhart, Elias Pettersson, and Filip Forsberg. Artemi Panarin and David Pastrnak have looked like beasts this year as they both have 55 points. However, 2 players are running ahead of everyone else: Nathan McKinnon (22-43-65 pts) and Nikita Kucherov (28-39-67 pts). Both of them have 42 more games to play and it will be exciting to see who finishes with more points. On a Lightning team that hasn’t played up to their standards (19-17-5, 5th in Atlantic), the 30 year old superstar Kucherov will heat up even more as the Lightning find their stride and narrowly beat McKinnon to win the Art Ross. With that being said, the Lightning are barely standing tall with Kucherov going off, so who knows where Tampa would be without him? Give him the Hart too!

Winner: LW Nikita Kucherov (TBL)
Runner-ups: C Nathan McKinnon (COL), LW Artemi Panarin (NYR)

Photo Credit: thespokesman-review.com

Calder Memorial Trophy

Out of all the rookies this year, the most dazzling one has been superstar Connor Bedard. He has looked great for a struggling Blackhawks squad as he has been scoring at a near point-per-game pace (15 goals, 33 points in 39 games) and was the clear front-runner for the award. Over the weekend, Bedard had to leave a game vs the N.J Devils with a fractured jaw and was placed on IR. The star can still win the Calder, but it will definitely be a closer race than it originally was. D-man Luke Hughes has been solid for the Devils, as he is 3rd among rookies in assists (16) and points (23), and has been red hot lately. D-man Brock Faber has been solid for the Minnesota Wild as he has been playing over 20 minutes a night and has a plus-minus of +9 (T-1st among rookies). Furthermore, Jackets center Adam Fantilli is having a nice rookie year as he is 2nd in points (24) and 3rd in goals (11). Typically, fractured jaws take 4-6 weeks to play, so Bedard can definitely still be in the thick of the race if he returns by early-to-mid February. Even while missing several weeks, he will win the Calder in his opening season as a Blackhawk.

Winner: C Connor Bedard (CHI)
Runner-ups: D Brock Faber (MIN), D Luke Hughes (NJD)

James Norris Trophy

There have been many candidates in the mix to receive the Norris Trophy. Evan Bouchard, Victor Hedman, Charlie McAvoy, Adam Fox, Josh Morissey, and Rasmus Dahlin are deserving players for the award. However, 3 of them have separated from the rest: Noah Dobson, Cale Makar, and Quinn Hughes. Dobson has taken strides in both sides of his game this season, as he has scored at a point-per-game pace (32 assists, 38 points in 39 games), has a +20 plus/minus, and 89 blocked shots. In addition, he is one of the leaders in TOI through the NHL (26:33) as the Islanders have dealt with many injuries to their d-line. For the Avs, Cale Makar has continued to be one of the best defensemen in the game with 47 points (35 games), 64 blocked shots, and a 24:34 TOI. The frontrunner in the Norris marathon is Quinn Hughes. Hughes showed steps of a breakout the last 2 seasons, as he had 68 and 76 points respectively. The d-man has been tremendous and vital to a surprising Canucks squad that is one of the top teams in the NHL to date. He has 49 points in 39 games (10 G, 39 A), a +26 plus/minus, and 24:33 TOI. As long as Vancouver and Hughes keep rolling, he will be taking home some hardware!

Winner: D Quinn Hughes (VAN)
Runner-ups: D Cale Makar (COL), D Noah Dobson (NYI)

Photo Credit: apnews.com

Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy

Sam Reinhart (28 goals), Zach Hyman (25 goals), and Brock Boeser (24 goals) being three candidates for the Maurice Richard Trophy has been a pleasant surprise to watch this year. All of them have sustainable paces, but it won’t lead to any hoisting of a trophy. Auston Matthews is in the lead with 30 goals despite playing in only 36 games and is in contention to win another Maurice Trophy. He has been a prolific goal scorer for his entire career, as he’s only scored under 40 goals in 2 of his 7 seasons (excluding this season). Nikita Kucherov definitely has a chance, as he is in line to win the Art Ross/Hart with his outstanding play for the Lightning. However, Kucherov won’t be winning 3 trophies as Matthews will heat up and take his 3rd Maurice Trophy in the last 4 seasons.

Winner: F Auston Matthews (TOR)
Runner-up: LW Nikita Kucherov (TBL), C Nathan McKinnon (COL)

Vezina Trophy

Just like most of the other awards, this year’s Vezina race is different from the previous few years. Star goalies like Ilya Sorokin (12-7-8, 3.17 GAA, .909 SV%), 2022 Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin (16-8-0, 2.76 GAA, .908%), last year’s Vezina winner Linus Ullmark (13-5-2, 2.74 GAA, .917 SV%), and Jake Oettinger (11-7-2, 2.93 GAA, .901 SV%) have struggled or not performed to their career standards. This has paved the way for new goalies to enter the mix. Jeremy Swayman (11-3-4, 2.43 GAA, .922%), Connor Hellebuyck (20-6-3, 2.27 GAA, .921 SV%), and Cam Talbot (14-9-3, 2.17 GAA, .923 SV%) have had incredible performances throughout the year for their respective teams. Adin Hill (10-2-2, 1.93 GAA, .933 SV%) was having an unheard-of start for the Golden Knights that was similar to Ullmark’s season last year before he got injured. Hill is supposed to return next week, which would boost his chances of winning the Vezina if he stays healthy the rest of the way. However, the Bruins won’t be getting back-to-back Vezina winners as Hellebuyck will keep the Jets soaring to the playoffs with his 2nd Vezina of his career. Since Swayman plays in more of a time-share and an amazing defensive system, Hellebuyck will get more starts if he stays healthy and his chances of winning the trophy should only increase if this standard continues for the rest of the regular season.

Winner: G Connor Hellebuyck (WPG)
Runner-ups: G Jeremy Swayman (BOS), G Cam Talbot (LAK)

3 Surprises and 2 Concerns from the Islanders’ Season So Far

3 Surprises and 2 Concerns from the Islanders’ Season So Far

Photo Credit: espn.com
Heading into the 2023-24 season, the New York Islanders were coming off a quiet offseason that was headlined by extending several players to long-term deals, such as star goalie Ilya Sorokin, backup goalie Seymon Varlamov, forward Pierre Engvall, and defenseman Scott Mayfield. They had a successful regular season as they clinched a wild card spot in the playoffs, but they got eliminated in 6 games by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Through the team’s first 32 games, it has been a solid start as they have a 15-8-9 record, good for 39 points and 2nd place in the Metro. Behind their record has been some surprises and a few concerns to be aware of…

Surprise #1. Noah Dobson’s outstanding start

Noah Dobson showed some solid growth last season as he became the quarterback on the power play and recorded 49 points (13 goals, 36 assists). However, he left management and fans displeased with his growth on the defensive end. This year, he has found a new level on both parts of his game. Dobson has been a near point-per-game player (5G, 28A) so far, which is a rarity in the Islanders’ defensive structure. However, his defense has taken a massive leap, as he consistently makes great plays to prevent goals in his own end. His TOI has increased to 25:32, one of the highest in the NHL, with the Islanders’ injuries to their defensemen, but he has proven that he can live up to the task. Can Islanders fans see him holding up the Norris Trophy at the end of the season? If he keeps up this pace, he definitely can!

Concern #1. The struggling penalty kill

Ever since the good old days of Doug Weight, the Islanders have usually held a top penalty kill in the NHL. Even when they switched from Barry Trotz’s heavy defensive scheme to Lane Lambert, they had the 9th best penalty kill (82%). This year, the PK has been horrendous as it is last in the NHL (73%). It has definitely lost them several games that they could’ve won (for example, against the Devils in November and against the Bruins a couple days ago). There was a stretch where the Islanders gave up a goal on 10 of their 17 kills. That’s a 41% successful rate, which is unheard of! The Islanders have been better lately with the penalty kill, but they must fix it soon to stay in a playoff spot in a Metro division that is beginning to heat up.

Surprise #2. The Islanders’ scoring as a team

Last year, the Islanders attempted to play with a more aggressive approach than in years’ past under Lambert. They eventually reverted back to a structure similar to Barry Trotz’s as the playoffs drew closer. The Isles had the 23rd lowest goals per game in the NHL (2.95) and lost many games because of their inability to score (especially in shootouts). While their scoring rate is closer to the middle of the pack this season (3.06, 15th in NHL), it has been very high over the last 12 games (3.66 goals per game). The Isles have 4 players scoring at a near point-per-game pace (Dobson, Barzal, Horvat, Nelson) and 11 players with at least 10 points. In a year where Ilya Sorokin hasn’t been at his best, this eruption by the Isles’ offense is vital until the goalie finds his form.

Concern #2. Ilya Sorokin’s play

Ilya Sorokin’s numbers this season are considerably down from the past few years: 9-4-7, 3.04 GAA, .914 SV%. Now, those numbers aren’t terrible for any goalie, but they aren’t good for a superstar like Sorokin who has never had a GAA over 2.40 in his career. It isn’t all his fault as he still makes spectacular saves every evening, but the easy goals have been getting by him more often this year. In addition, the Islanders defense allowing nearly 35 shots a game isn’t easy for any goalie. However, Ilya has been one of the worst NHL goalies on the penalty kill this year, which has dragged down the team’s PK. He has had several Sorokin-type games this year, including saving 32/33 shots vs the hot Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night. If Sorokin gets hot, this Islanders team can definitely ride off him and make the playoffs. If this trend continues, it may be a harder path there.
Photo Credit: amnewyork.com

Surprise #3. The Islanders’ power play

Along with the scoring outburst by the Islanders in the past month, their power play has heated up in a big way. After recording one of the lowest power plays in years last season (15.2%), they are 5th in the NHL so far (25.6%). There are some reasons why this power play is so much different from last season’s with the same players. For one, the Isles hired a new PP coach and moved John MacLean to assistant coach. Another reason can be the Islanders’ PP lines. Recently, Dobson and Reilly have been the only D-men on the PP lines as Nelson, Barzal, Horvat, and Palmeri make up the first line while Engvall, Lee, Pageau, and Fasching/Wahlstrom make up the second line. The Isles have shot the puck way more on their recent power plays, which was their demise last season as they would pass way too much before attempting to shoot. In a start where the team’s penalty kill has been dreadful, the PP has been a pleasant surprise to watch so far.
Photo Credit: amnewyork.com