In just two days the new hockey season begins. For the New York Islanders, there are many questions that they will face in 2017-18. 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.
Our Rob Taub will give his thoughts on what to look for from the blue and orange this season.
John Tavares has been the heart and soul of the New York Islanders since the day he was drafted number one overall in 2009.
He’s done just about everything the organization could have asked for in that time, but he still has more to offer. Still just 27, Tavares is about to enter the prime of his career, plus he has a huge decision to make regarding his future at some time during this season. In essence, this year is not only crucial for Tavares, but for the team as well.
Last year was a weird year for Tavares.
Yes, he did win gold with Canada in the World Cup of Hockey, but Tavares wasn’t able to develop chemistry with newcomer Andrew Ladd because as soon as the tournament was over, it was only a few days before the season began. After that conundrum, Tavares did put up 15 points in the first 20 games, but it seemed like something was missing. That extra gear was missing from the captain, and it was missing from the team as they slogged through the rest of the first half of the season.
The Islanders made a coaching change just as the second half of the season got underway which breathed new life in to Tavares. Once that move was made, Tavares went on a rampage with 20 points in 17 games. He and his line mates — Anders Lee and Josh Bailey — combined for 50 points in that time, also making them one of the top lines in the NHL for a short period. Tavares continued his strong second half, helping the Isles get in the mix for a third straight playoff berth.
With five games left and the team still fighting for a wild-card spot, Tavares awkwardly stepped in a rut behind the net in a game against the Devils, causing him to leave the game injured. That injury would force Tavares to miss the last four games of the year. Without him, the team missed the playoffs by a point. Tavares ended the year with 66 points, which still was tops on the team, but was his lowest point total since 2013-14.
Tavares hasn’t been a Hart Trophy candidate since that 2012-13 season. But this season his name should not only be back in the conversation, but he should be acknowledged as a “dark horse” to win.
He should be in the running, because he finally has two players opposite him that can raise his game to another level. Anders Lee and trade acquisition Jordan Eberle, are without question the best linemates Tavares has had since he was drafted. Tavares developed a fantastic chemistry with Lee from a year ago, while he and Eberle have been friends for a while, dating back to their time in juniors together. He and those two will produce a lot of points.
Tavares will also be looking to regroup from an ok season a year ago. He did put up a solid amount of points, but Tavares did have his struggles. The injury and missing the playoffs will also be the ultimate motivation for Tavares to be at his very best this season.
We can also throw in there, that because it’s a contract season, Tavares should go all out. Most players in a contract year, put up superb numbers to showcase themselves to other teams. But with how loyal he is, and how good he is, Tavares doesn’t need to show other teams to get them salivating at the chance of getting him.
Having stiff competition — Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Patrick Kane, etc. — should be another motivator for Tavares to go out and have an MVP type campaign. Is Tavares on these players level? It’s debatable. He needs to shatter that notion in 17-18.
In every way possible this year, the pressure is on Tavares. It’s time for him to rise to the occasion, even more than he’s done in the past.
The Islanders have a lot of expectations to live up to this year. But, as it has been every year now, it will Tavares that has to lead the way. Tavares playing like a Hart candidate, and maybe winning it, will be the ultimate satisfaction.