As the hockey season draws near, there are many questions that will face the 2017-18 version of the New York Islanders. After missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, the expectations are still high for the Isles. With an entirely new coaching staff and new blood ready to make an impact, this season could be something special, or the final chapter before major changes is made. Over the next 30 days, our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
If there’s one player that’s name has not been talked about going in to this season for the New York Islanders, it’s Jason Chimera.
Chimera, 38, will be going in to his 17th NHL season this year and the second and final year of his contract with the Islanders for $4.5 million he agreed to on July 1, 2016.
This season could be very different from a year ago for Chimera.
The Islanders going in to this season have a conundrum at the forward position that could affect Chimera in a number of ways. Depending on which of the younger players — Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, or long-shot Michael Dal Colle — makes the team out of training camp, Chimera could see less playing time as the Islanders look to infuse more of their youth in to the offense. The fourth line, unless injuries occur, will pretty much stay the same, and the teams’ second and third lines have a lot of moving parts, that might see Chimera on the outside looking in. Another dilemma facing the 38-year old is the Islanders are deep in the depth department, and a guy with Chimera skill-set is someone the team can afford to be without on a game by game basis.
You would think Chimera would be assured a spot in the top nine after the excellent year he had last season. It took some time for him to adjust on and off the ice, but once he did, Chimera became a key contributor in all facets for his club.
After scoring just once in his first 13 games as an Islander, Chimera would go on to end the year with 20 goals. 15 of those tallies came in the second half surge New York went on, just missing the playoffs by one point. He totaled 33 points in 82 games last season, while finding a niche playing on a line with fellow free-agent signee Andrew Ladd and skilled forward Alan Quine. Chimera also showed how he can still produce at a high rate when he was placed alongside youngsters Joshua Ho-Sang and Anthony Beauvillier. The 38-year old also was one of the penalty-killers on the club and a breakaway threat. There were many occasions last year that “Chimmah” would find the puck on his tape and kick it in to high gear, blasting by opponents with his speed like a train running roughshod on the tracks.
Another quality the Edmonton, AB native provided was veteran leadership and was a strong influence in the locker room. Even when he and the team were struggling the first half of the 2016-17 season, Chimera kept to his nose to the grindstone and helped the team push their way back up the standings. Those are the kinds of character guys successful teams are built around.
So what and where will Jason Chimera’s role this in 2017-18?
If I had to guess, Chimera’s role will be a mentor for those who will be full-time NHLers for the first time this year. Chimera has been around the league for a long time, and guys like Barzal, Beauvillier, and the aforementioned Josh Ho-Sang will all benefit from the way he approaches the game. Two of those players will be fighting to take that spot, despite both being centers, and Chimera being a winger. Chimera in training camp and throughout the season will push both 13 and 72, both speed and skilled, to take his place.
The penalty kill is a facet of the game the Islanders can’t afford to be with without Chimera. His defensive play shorthanded and speed are a game-changer. Chimera’s offensive ability and underrated shot is also something that the Isles coaching staff must continue to exploit this season. His gritty play and enforcer-like mentality is an asset that will make the clubs’ the third and fourth lines harder to play against.
What’s that old saying, “Age is like a fine wine, it gets better with time”? That is the case of Jason Chimera. He showed it last year, and will have every opportunity to repeat it this year.