This week's edition of the Eastern Edge looks at the 2016 offseason outlooks for the Islanders and Capitals …
After covering the offseason outlook for the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers last week, we continue our march through the Eastern Conference. This week will see the spotlight put on the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, the two teams eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The focus will be put primarily on the short-term rather than the long-term future, although the developments of the next few months will certainly have a great impact on keeper leagues as well.
Teams previously covered
New York Islanders
For the second straight year, the Islanders qualified for the postseason and for the first time since 1993 the team won a playoff series. The Islanders captured the first wild card spot with 100 points but for the most part looked like a rather average squad.
The Islanders were a solid plus-16 in goal differential (227 goals for, 211 against) but were below-average in the shots department. The team finished 19th in shots for with 29.3 per game while they finished 20th allowing 30.4 shots per outing. The power play struggled given the talent in the lineup at just 18.3 percent, good for 17th in the NHL while they were dominant killing 84.5 percent of their penalties (fourth-best).
With many of the more casual poolies basing their draft lists on the previous year’s stats, do not be surprised if John Tavares falls a bit in your draft this fall after a disappointing 70-point effort. Despite the setback, he is a threat to win the Art Ross any year. Snagging him outside of the top-five would be a major victory for your squad.
Unfortunately, the Islanders will potentially suffer some key losses up front as both Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen become unrestricted free agents in July. The loss of one or both would create some large holes in the lineup that would be difficult to fill. Obviously, this would create some cap space for some signings, but there would also be opportunities for some in-house alternatives to step up.
The young trio of Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome underwhelmed as a whole this year, but with more needed from them next year, look for increases in production from the trio. Strome has by far the biggest upside of the three, but his lackluster performance this year raised some concerns. He is a worthy gamble in case he ends up playing with Tavares next year, but try to avoid selecting Strome too early to minimize the damage if he flops again.
Josh Bailey has been a huge disappointment thus far in his career with personal-bests of just 15 goals and 41 points to date. With that said, he continues to get looks on the scoring lines and even sees time next to Tavares. This makes him a good short-term addition in deep leagues when the conditions become favorable.
Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin have been major disappointments after signing lucrative contracts with the Islanders in the summer of 2014. However, they are worth mentioning because their contracts help with opportunities which can leave younger, more fantasy-relevant options in lesser roles.
Other players in the mix include Shane Prince, who has been excellent in the AHL but has sometimes struggled at the highest level, and Alan Quine, another AHL star who had a solid playoff run with the Islanders. Of the two, Quine stands more of a chance to make an immediate impact but with so many bodies in the way both are long shots.
Former first-round pick Michael Dal Colle is also a candidate to be with the Islanders next year. His draft position helps immensely as the team is more likely to make room for him to succeed including a spot next to Tavares. He is worth a pickup in the later rounds.
Likewise, last year’s first-round pick Mathew Barzal could be with the Islanders next year. His chances improve if Nielsen leaves and no suitable replacement center is brought in via free agency or trade. At just 19, short-term expectations should be kept in check, though.
In multi-category leagues, the Islanders possess a trio of forwards who excel in the peripheral statistics. Casey Cizikas, recently re-signed to a five-year contract, wins a lot of faceoffs and hits frequently while offering decent secondary offense. Cal Clutterbuck is one of the league’s top hitters and has hit double-digits in goals in all but two years since becoming a full-time NHLer. Matt Martin, who may in fact leave as an unrestricted free agent this summer, is the league’s reigning hits champion while also finishing eighth in PIM.
On defense, the Islanders are led by Travis Hamonic who was subject of trade talks this year but has since rescinded his request to be moved. His 21-point campaign was disappointing for those hoping he would ride the momentum from 2014-15 when he had 33. Looking at his career numbers it appears this year is the norm and last year the exception.
Also playing a key role is Nick Leddy, the offensive catalyst who set a career-high with 40 points. He has played at this level in both of his years with the Islanders but with big changes on the horizon among their forward ranks it is difficult imagining Leddy topping 40 in the near future.
Johnny Boychuk has some offensive potential but this year he shifted to a more defensive role with just 48 percent of his shifts starting in the offensive end. The team brought in Marek Zidlicky to provide some offensive help which is a sign of how the team prefers to utilize Boychuk. Look for youngster Ryan Pulock to play the role occupied by Zidlickly moving forward.
Calvin de Haan does not provide much offense but can be valuable in some multi-category leagues with his triple-digit totals in hits, blocks and shots on goal. Meanwhile, Thomas Hickey is a nice depth defenseman but does not provide much in terms of fantasy value.
In the crease, the Islanders are at a crossroads. Jaroslav Halak has been the team’s No. 1 option the last two years and has played well in New York. He is injury-prone, though, which allowed backup Thomas Greiss to have a breakout year. Barring a trade sending Halak elsewhere, look for the two to split the starts much like what Halak went through in his time with the Blues. This could prove to be a frustrating situation for fantasy owners next year.
The league’s best team during the regular season with 120 points, the Capitals had just about everything go well. This includes finishing seventh or better in goals for (248 – second), goals against (191 – second), shots per game (30.6 – seventh), shots against per game (28.4 – sixth), power-play efficiency (21.9 percent – fifth) and on the penalty kill (85.2 percent – second).
It should be noted how difficult it is, especially in an era with a salary cap, to maintain such a high level of play for consecutive years. This would likely affect support players more than the stars as they are the ones who rely more heavily on their environment to produce.
The Capitals’ top-six is fairly set with Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. The former three eclipsed 70 points while the latter two reached the 50-point mark, giving the Capitals balanced scoring in addition to their star power. Williams, 34, should be considered a bit of a risk for next year due to his age but he should not be written off, either. As with most veterans, look for him to slide a bit on draft day.
Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky are competing for the final top-six spot. Johansson had the most overall ice time, but Burakovsky has more upside and found chemistry with Kuznetsov. Look for Burakovsky to cement his spot next year, which puts him in line for an increase in production, as his ice time continues to climb. Having a talented player like Johansson on the outside looking in could lead to a revolving door on the wings. Poolies should be mindful of these situations as strong depth typically hurts players individually.
Jason Chimera was a revelation with 40 points including 10 on the power play after a subpar 2014-15 season put him off the fantasy radar. An unrestricted free agent next month, he will have trouble getting much a raise or term considering he is 37 years old. Also, heading to a different team likely puts him in a less favorable role than he played on an elite team like the Capitals. He would be better off doing everything he can to stay put and try to replicate this year and prolong his NHL career.
The only appealing Capitals’ depth forward is Tom Wilson who is already a stud in multi-category leagues. He is already among the league’s best in PIM and hits and is slowly developing his touch as an offensive player. In keeper leagues, he is a must-own because he combines certainty in his current production and could become an elite player if he becomes a regular offensive contributor.
Should the Capitals need reinforcements, there are some forwards who will be pushing for a promotion. Jakub Vrana has the most long-term upside and was outstanding in the AHL this year, but he may be kept down if he is not going to play a prominent offensive role. The same goes for Riley Barber who also had a strong rookie year in the AHL. Stanislav Galiev, who has been in the minors for a few years, might make more sense to play a limited role with the Capitals next year.
On defense, Matt Niskanen led the way in ice time and responded with 32 points. Aside from his 46-point effort in 2013-14 this has been about the most we can expect from Niskanen offensively. Meanwhile, John Carlson continued to play like a defensive star, but injuries prevented him from challenging his career-high of 55 points set in 2014-15.
One overachiever on the blueline was Dmitry Orlov who produced despite not being put in a position to succeed. His 29-point total was achieved despite just 16 minutes per game and 32 seconds of ice time on the power play per contest. Obviously he benefited from a positive environment, as everything went well for the Capitals this year. Consider him a red flag for 2016-17. The team has its pillars in place, so there is not a lot of room for Orlov to improve.
While Brooke Orpik was out for half of the year with injuries, he offered strong multi-category value when healthy. He has proven to be able to push the 20-point mark on a yearly basis and provides a lot of sandpaper. He was on pace to finish among the league leaders in both hits and blocked shots.
In the near future, Madison Bowey will push for ice time with the Capitals. He will likely not be a regular in Washington, but when he is called up, he will push Orlov for secondary power-play minutes. With Connor Carrick having been dealt at the trade deadline, Bowey is now the Capitals’ top offensive prospect on the blueline.
In goal, Holtby has established himself as the top fantasy goalie. Not only is he at the top of his game but the Capitals provide him a great environment to pick up wins. However, playing at this level is difficult to sustain. The peripherals should remain intact but repeating 48 wins will be next to impossible. After all, Holtby tied the all-time record for wins in a season. This does not happen often.
Backup Philipp Grubauer has maintained good numbers aside from his 8-9-1 record which is bizarre behind such a strong team. At 24 years of age, he has potential but will need a major injury to Holtby to get a chance to showcase himself in Washington. Those waiting for him to emerge as a starter somewhere else will have to be patient and hope for a trade similar to how Jonathan Bernier and Martin Jones escaped their backup roles.
Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.
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