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.
It goes without saying that Andrew Ladd’s first season as a New York Islander was quite interesting.
Ladd signed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract with New York on the first day of free agency a year ago. He was brought in to replace winger Kyle Okposo, not only on the first line with John Tavares, but from a leadership standpoint in the Isles locker room. As the season got underway, it was clear that Ladd was still getting used to his surroundings, but something was nagging him. That notion was clear when after just few shifts in to the first game of the season, Ladd was removed from the first line. He would get a few more shots there, but couldn’t seem to get on the same page as Tavares.
The struggles for Ladd to adjust continued.
He would finally notch his first goal as an Islander in his 13th game of the season, and scored again in the next contest, but went scoreless again the next 11 games. Something was clearly wrong with Ladd. The 30-year old’s struggles combined with the Islanders poor play over the first few months of the season prompted fans and others around the league to ask: Was this really the player the Isles thought they were going to get when they gave him a seven-year deal?
Through 33 games, Ladd had just five goals and eight points. But once he was finally given some rest for a back injury he was dealing with since the beginning of the year, Ladd looked refreshed and began to turn it on.
In the next 45 games, Ladd would score 18 goals, ending the year with 23. This was the sixth time in his career he scored 20-plus goals in his career. He would finish the year third on the team in scoring. His fantastic turnaround and leadership helped the Islanders surge their way in to wild card contention after the All-Star break. They would end up missing the playoffs by a point, but it was Ladd who was one of the main catalysts that helped get the team to that point.
With his first go-around with the club behind him, there should be better days on the horizon for Andrew Ladd.
Now 32, Ladd this season will be more comfortable in his digs. He and his family are now well settled off the ice, and he won’t have to learn a new system on the ice. He showed that he can contribute throughout the lineup, and that once he gets the puck on his stick, he possesses a wicked shot. Another reason why Ladd could bust loose in 2017-18: motivation. Ladd said that after he and the team missed the playoffs last season, he had a whole summer to think about it. He will do everything in his power to help the Isles get back to the playoffs.
There’s a few more factors that could lead to 2017-18 being significantly better for Ladd.
1. He could find himself on the other side of Josh Ho-Sang on a nightly basis. Ladd’s style of play can clash with Ho-Sang’s flash, which could make for a very formidable second line. 2. Ladd’s proven he can produce even with the extra depth guys who aren’t in the lineup every night. His overall play with the likes of Stephen Gionta and Alan Quine, showed how valuable Ladd is to the forward group. 3. He and fellow veteran, Jason Chimera make a solid duo with their combination of size and skill. When those two were together last season, they put up points and caused havoc for opponents. And if they are thrown together at times this year, it might be the same outcome.
If the Islanders are going to return to the postseason in 2017-18 and become a contender, its players like Andrew Ladd that will have to be leaned on. Ladd was brought here to have an impact, and while it took him some time to find his legs a year ago, this year he should come flying out of the gate and soar the entire season.