Expansion Draft Preview: New York Islanders

This is one in a continuing series of articles outlining the options available to the Seattle Kraken during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. To learn more about the draft, please see our Expansion Draft Primer.

Check out articles like this one for every NHL team on our Expansion Draft Previews page.

“John Tavares signed with Toronto; so, who even plays for the Islanders now?”

That’s pretty much the first thought that pops into your head when you hear the New York Islanders’ name mentioned. Who *does* play for the Islanders anymore?

The answer is, a lot of guys play for the Islanders; and as it turns out, a lot of expensive guys. There are 6 forwards, 2 defensemen, and a goaltender earning $5 million AAV or more on the Islanders’ roster — nearly half the starting lineup every night. Not that it’s helped their fortunes any, mind you.

In the last 15 seasons, the Islanders have earned their way into the playoffs just 6 times. Two of those were in the most recently-completed seasons, following the departure of the aforementioned Tavares — who, to this day, is booed by the goombahs in the cheap seats whenever he steps onto the ice in Brooklyn. Or Queens. Hempstead? Montauk? Wherever the Islanders are going to be playing home games next.

Coach Barry Trotz has instituted a defense-first system, and it’s working — when the team can also put up offensive numbers. They went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, despite letting in one more goal than they scored during the regular season. Defensive competence is all very well and good, but you can’t win games 0-0 — somebody on your team has to put pucks in the net.

Scoring has been by committee since Trotz’s arrival (or more accurately, Tavares’ departure), and last season’s individual stats illustrate that very clearly. The Islanders had 9 players score 10 goals or more last season; but the highest goal tally for any single player was just 26. A look at their playoff performance shows how they dominate defensively: they allowed 2 goals against or fewer 16 times in 22 games.

The fact that there are no McDavids, Matthews, or Crosbys on the Islanders means there is a wide swath of players who will need to be protected in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. The Islanders were one of the teams who adopted the 8-and-1 protection scheme during the draft in 2017; that appears to be unlikely this time around. In fact, the way the Islanders’ front office has crafted their current lineup, New York is able to protect every key player on their roster who isn’t exempt.

Let’s dive in…

Protected List

First we’re going to deal with the two elephants in the room with respect to the Islanders’ roster. One of the four defensemen that the Isles were eager to protect in the last draft was Johnny Boychuck. Unfortunately he suffered a gruesome eye injury in March of 2020, and has not been in an Islanders uniform since then. He has indicated that he will retire once his contract expires at the end of this season.

The other big name on the Islanders that warrants scrutiny is Andrew Ladd. The 35-year-old multiple Stanley Cup-winner has been plagued by injuries for several years. He has played just 30 NHL games over the last 2 seasons, and none so far this year. He is officially on the Islanders’ taxi squad at present, but he is listed as being on injured reserve. If Ladd does not suit up for the Islanders this year, he — and his $5.5 million contract with two years remaining on it — will be declared exempt from the draft. We are proceeding on the assumption that this will be the end result.

When you eliminate those two guys, and compare the list of eligible players against the Islanders’ stats sheet for the year, it becomes abundantly clear who will and will not be protected for the upcoming expansion draft. We thus assume that New York will adopt the 7-3-1 protection scheme, and the following players will be protected:

Forwards: Anders Lee, Matthew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier

Defense: Nick Leddy, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

We will note here that the two names not on this list who are making a tremendous contribution to the Islanders’ fortunes this season, forward Oliver Wahlstrom and goaltender Ilya Sorokin, are exempt from the draft.

No Thank You

There are players that we expect to be left exposed that are either 1) too expensive, 2) not performing, 3) too old, or 4) fall into two or more of the aforementioned categories. As such, we will be dismissing the possibility of selecting any of the following players:

Forwards: Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas, Leo Komarov

Defensemen: Thomas Hickey, Andy Greene

Goaltenders: Cory Schneider

It should be noted that Clutterbuck, Komarov, and Hickey are signed for one more year with the Islanders; the remaining players will be UFA at the end of the current season.

Who’s Left?

The list of remaining choices does contain three roster players, each with their own benefits, and each with their own question marks.

LW Matt Martin, $1.5 million AAV, expires 2024. If you’re going to select a player with 3 years remaining on his contract, you better be sure it’s a reasonable cap hit — which fortunately is the case with Martin. The 31-year-old has played nearly all of his 12-year NHL career with the Islanders, posting the kind of numbers you would expect from a 3rd-line winger: 114 points in 580 games, and under Trotz’s system his plus-minus and penalty minutes have both eased towards acceptable levels. There isn’t any offensive upside here, Martin is a bottom-six forward, full stop.

RD Scott Mayfield, $1.45 million, expires 2023. Right-shot defenseman, 6’5″ and 223 lbs, decent plus-minus numbers, plenty of hits and blocked shots; what’s not to like in this top-4 blueliner? As it turns out, skating, passing, and shooting. I would describe his skating style as “lumbering”; his breakout attempts usually start with an ill-advised stretch pass that fails; and he does not demonstrate much power or accuracy in his shot from the point. He has drawn a shit-duty assignment, having to cover for his defensive partner Nick Leddy every time he rushes up ice and gets caught out of position — which happens frequently — so it’s possible that a change of scenery will improve his fortunes. At just 28 years old, and with a budget-friendly contract, that just might be a chance worth taking.

LW Michael Dal Colle, $700,000, RFA. Here we land at the biggest question mark of them all. Dal Colle was drafted in the first round, 5th overall, in 2014 — ahead of some names you may have heard of: Kasperi Kapanen, David Pasternak, and William Nylander. It goes without saying that Dal Colle has not lived up to the expectations everyone had for him. He had staggering output in Juniors, posting multiple 90-point seasons with the Oshawa Generals. But once he jumped up to the AHL, as a member of the struggling Bridgeport Sound Tigers, his output began to waver. He is now getting 4th line minutes under a defensive system that he is clearly not suited for — but then you see him play, and he’s grinding it out, doing his job. The effort is there, and at 6’3″ and 200 lbs. he is effective in an “energy line” role for the Islanders. Dal Colle is clearly being mismanaged, and his confidence is in the shitter. But with a league minimum contract, and his astounding offensive potential, a new organ-eye-zation and a fresh lease on his hockey career might just be a win-win for both Dal Colle and the Kraken.

Minor Problems

The challenge the Kraken have in front of them is that they won’t have a dedicated farm team for their first season. This restricts their options in terms of what kind of work-in-progress players they can acquire in the expansion draft. Because without an AHL club for which they can call the shots, they can’t directly manage the development of their young players.

Michael Dal Colle is a perfect example. The play here might have been to select the struggling forward from New York, sign him to a “prove-it” deal, and then give him every chance to succeed with similarly-situated young forwards on the farm team. In a perfect world, that would be possible; but then the initial arena deal in Palm Springs fell through, forcing a one-year delay of the inaugural season of the NHL Seattle-owned AHL club, and the Kraken will have to share an unaffiliated farm team for the 2021-22 season.

So, without direct control over their AHL affiliate team, meaning the Kraken have little influence over a player’s minutes, his line-mates, and his power play opportunities, Dal Colle could wind up in the press box as often as in the lineup. So there’s not just the risk of signing the youngster; there’s the risk that his development might get bungled by a minor league coach who thumbs his nose at the Kraken’s instructions.

Fairy Tales

I would love this situation to have a fairy tale ending, where the upstart new hockey team takes a chance on a black-sheep winger, who seizes the opportunity and goes on to finish in the top 10 in the scoring race. But I live in the real world; and so do the Kraken. For that reason I believe Michael Dal Colle is off the table, and the choice will come down to either Matt Martin or Scott Mayfield.

With Martin you get a dependable, if uninspiring, winger to play alongside an equally utilitarian Cody Eakin or Luke Glendening on the 3rd line. With Mayfield you get a hulking body on the blue line who will give you 19 minutes a night on the middle pairing and manage the defensive responsibilities for himself (and if necessary, his idiot partner).

Martin has a reasonable cap hit, but at $1.45 million AAV Mayfield is a genuine bargain if you are going to utilize him on the middle pairing. The decision may come down to each player’s performance this season, and what the Kraken are in need of when some of the other decisions have been made with respect to other teams.

Either choice would be fine; neither choice would be much more than that. We need to get used to that being the case with most of the choices the Kraken are faced with in the upcoming expansion draft.

You can check out the potential Seattle Kraken selections from the New York roster this weekend, when the Islanders host the Buffalo Sabres. Game time is 9am Pacific on Sunday, March 7th, and is available nationwide (excluding blackouts) on NBC.

Author: Tim Currell

4 thoughts on “Expansion Draft Preview: New York Islanders

    1. We have Bailey and Leddy as being protected, and I am familiar with Leddy’s play — to say I’m not a fan is an understatement. Koivula is interesting; Bellows needs to work on his defensive game; the problem exists in that Seattle will not have an AHL affiliate for the first year of their existence. So taking on players who still need AHL seasoning is an issue.

  1. Being an Islanders fan it was tough getting by the first few paragraphs. Tavares has been gone well over two years and was mentioned twice. The Islanders also made to the Conference finals last year. This is why Islander fan hate Canadian Hickey media.

    1. Honestly, you guys get the shaft. The Blackhawks are on NBCSN a dozen times a year, even this past season, and they haven’t won shit in a half decade. The Islanders make the Conference Finals last year, and this year you’re on national TV — what, once? Twice? Nobody knows who’s playing there because the league never features you. That’s not your fault, it’s the league’s and the network’s.

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