The New York Islanders have just made some changes between the pipes, but will it influence how the NHL odds makers view them next season. They currently sit at the bottom of the Stanley Cup futures, but could this move make them a smart bet under the right conditions?
The New York Islanders finally acquired a quality goaltender when they traded for Jaroslav Halak. Given his experience and quality, he’s a severe upgrade over the scrubs they’ve trotted out between the pipes. The Isles were a playoff team just two seasons ago and expected to be on the rise. Is the addition of Halak enough to get them back on that positive track?
Halak Should Solve Goaltending Woes
The Islanders have been a complete mess between the pipes over the last decade. Look at some of the following names: Evgeni Nabokov, Kevin Poulin, Anders Nilsson, Al Montoya, Rick DiPietro, Dwayne Roloson, Nathan Lawson, Mikko Koskinen…and the list goes on. The bottom line is that Halak has at least proven himself as a starting goalie in the NHL. And unlike Nabokov, who was the only respectable starter in the aforementioned crop, Halak is not in the twilight of his career. He’s 29-years-old.
As a team, the Isles save percentage was just .899 last season. If Halak can produce a .918 save percentage, which is his career average, the Isles will be much improved.
It’s also worth noting that the Isles picked up a quality backup in Chad Johnson. He had a breakout year with the Boston Bruins last season, going 17-4-3 with a 2.10 GAA. He’s 28 and that wasn’t expected of him, so he’s not likely to duplicate that success. But with Halak and Johsnon, the Isles could very well have their best one-two punch they’ve had in the last decade.
Offensive Help On The Way?
The Isles success or failure next season will be tied to what they did in free agency. Halak and Johnson will be crucial, but so will the team’s offensive additions Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. Both were signings where the Isles overpaid but it seems to be the only way they attract free agents. Kulemin will be earning more than $4 M per season even though he’s scored just 23 goals in total over the last three years. Grabovski had 35 points in 58 games last year, which makes you wonder why he’s earning $5 million a year. In any case, Kulemin’s best season came playing with Grabovski in Toronto when he scored 30 goals. And those days, Grabovski was a 50-point guy. If Kulemin can find his touch playing with Grabovski again, the Isles will have a fairly good rotation of forwards feature them along with John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielson, Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner.
There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ in there – especially considering Tavares is recovering from a major knee injury still – but it is possible this unit is improved.
How To Bet The News
If the Isles save percentage was .920 last season, which is a reasonable number to expect given Halak’s history, they would have allowed the 11th fewest goals in the NHL. Only one team in the top 14 of that category didn’t make the playoffs, so there’s some food for thought. However, the Isles blue line is pretty weak and they may leave Halak out to dry.
This will be a team to monitor in the early months. A good October will infuse confidence, which means they could be in the race for a lower playoff spot in the East. After all, it’s a pretty weak conference. If Tavares is healthy, if Jack Capuano can coach up this roster, if Kulemin and Grabovski rekindle their chemistry and Halak plays like a quality starter, this team could make the playoffs. It’s a lot of ‘ifs’ but this team has had awful luck in recent years. Maybe it’s time things go their way.
It’s hard to bet this team in any fashion right now keep an eye on them. If they produce in October, they could be a good value choice for your NHL picks all season long.