The Columbus Blue Jackets face their first divisional opponent on Thursday when they host the New York Islanders. Let’s take a look at what’s new with this team since we last saw them in 2019-20.
A new home
What may be the most important change for this franchise is the long-awaited opening of their brand new home, UBS Arena in Elmont, New York. Nassau Coliseum had its charms, but was woefully outdated for decades. A brief residency at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was mercifully cut short. That arena was not built to accommodate hockey, and the hipsters didn’t embrace the secondary tenants as ownership may have hoped.
While the new state-of-the-art digs should be a major upgrade, the fans — and the players — will have to be patient. The opening is not scheduled until November 20, meaning the Isles must plat their first 13 games on the road. That’s a really tough circumstance for the team. If they dig an early hole, it could be tough to dig out of in what proves to be a fiercely competitive Metropolitan Division. On the flip side, if they can at least tread water, then they’ll have a lot of games at home down the stretch as they battle for playoff position.
Hot to Trotz
This isn’t a new change, but it’s worth mentioning how well-coached the Islanders are. In summer 2018, their captain and franchise player, John Tavares, left for Toronto in free agency. At that point, the Islanders had won just one playoff series in the last eleven seasons, missing the postseason entirely in eight of those seasons. How did they respond? They had the fortune of being able to hire Barry Trotz, fresh off of coaching Washington to their first Cup victory. The result? A new, team-focused system which has resulted in three consecutive playoff berths, each with at least one series victory. The last two seasons have seen the Islanders reach the conference finals, losing to the eventual champions Tampa Bay both times.
As long as Trotz is behind the bench, count out this team at your own risk.
General Manager Lou Lamoriello prepared for the expansion draft and free agency by moving some pricey veterans. Defenseman Nick Leddy was dealt to Detroit for Richard Panik and a second round pick. This move earned the Isles $4.125M in cap relief. They then paid Arizona to take the remaining two year’s of Andrew Ladd’s contract. It cost them a second round pick and two conditional picks, but they saved another $4.375M. A final cap move was losing Jordan Eberle to Seattle in the expansion draft. That’s another $5.5M in AAV savings over the next three seasons, but it cost the a still-useful player (16/17/33 in 55 games last season, plus 4/7/11 in 19 playoff games).
There were a number of UFAs and RFAs to re-sign, and Lou just...waited? It was widely assumed that every deal was done in late July/early August when every other team took care of business. The Islanders simply chose to wait until September 1 to announce the bulk of them. It was truly weird. The result? New deals for Andy Greene, Adam Pelech, Casey Cizikas, Anthony Beauvillier, and Kyle Palmieri. The latter was acquired from New Jersey at the trade deadline last season. On the even of the start of the season, Ryan Pulock was signed to an eight year contract extension.
Old dogs, new tricks
Zach Parise’s father JP also played for the Islanders, and after getting bought out by the Minnesota Wild with four years remaining on his 13 year contract, he signed a one year deal with a salary of $1.5M and a cap hit of $750,000.
Another 35+ contract was given to defenseman Zdeno Chara. The 44 year old started his career with the franchise, but that was so long ago that I’m pretty sure they were still called the New Amsterdam Islanders at that point.
What did you think of the Islanders’ offseason? Do you think they are set up for success again?
For more about them, be sure to check out this season preview from Lighthouse Hockey.