The past few seasons have been dismal for the New York Islanders, finishing last in the Atlantic Division each of the past five seasons. Will this season be any different? Islander fans have reason to believe that it won't be. However, that may not be such a negative thing.
Take last year for example. The four teams in the Atlantic Division that finished ahead of the Islanders sported the four best records in all of the Eastern Conference.
This year may be no different, and on paper, it seems that the Islanders are a virtual lock to finish last in the division for the sixth year in a row. It's not the end of the world for the Islanders, though. They were in the thick of the playoff race for the majority of last season until the team flopped down the stretch.
One thing that I expect is John Tavares to take his game to even a higher level. He has elevated his game each year, and last year, he raised it so much that he was practically a point-per-game player. This year, I expect him to be better than a point per game. I'm thinking 50-plus points in 48 games played.
I also expect Tavares' wingman, Matt Moulson, to be his usual self, possibly leading the team in goals this year.
Tavares and Moulson are the givens of the Islanders. Surrounding them, however, are more than enough question marks.
Assuming the Islanders use him correctly, I see Nino Niederreiter bouncing back this season. If he is fortunate to find himself on the top six at all, he could have a solid year.
I think Mark Streit is also going to bounce back in a big way. After missing the 2010-11 season, Streit often looked shaky for the Isles last season; he looked pretty comfortable, however, during the last month of the year. I think he carries that on to this season and has a solid season as the No. 1 defenseman on this team.
Michael Grabner was a key scorer two years ago for the Isles, leading the team in goals. Last year, he was pitiful. I think this year he meets in the middle and ultimately has a solid year.
Expect guys like Evgeni Nabokov, Travis Hamonic and Frans Nielsen to put up repeats of last season (I think those guys are pretty reliable).
But I believe all won't be good this season for the Isles. I keep hearing about how great of a player Kyle Okposo is, but still don't see it. I expect another average-type year from Okposo, and I don't think he'll ever take that leap into stardom that Islanders fans expect him to take.
Brad Boyes isn't the answer, either. I'm expecting another mediocre year from him. Unless he's paired with Tavares, I expect his numbers to be below average.
I think Lubomir Visnovsky doesn't want to be here. I believe it will show. Islander fans are going to be wishing he stayed overseas before the year ends.
Of course, there's Rick DiPietro. What can't be said about him? I expect more of the same from him.
When he gets a chance to play, he'll be out of position, let in softies and have an overall mediocre year. Unfortunately, I expect him to see more playing time than normal because of the shortened season. I also expect the Islanders to not buy out DiPietro when the season is over. The Isles already have one of the lowest payrolls in the league and that big contract to DiPietro helps them reach the salary floor.
Last season, the team finished 14th out of 15 teams in the East and missed the playoffs by 13 points. For a team that bad to make minimal moves in the offseason, the Isles can expect little improvement, which is what I expect from the Islanders. They may move up a few slots, but this team is at least a couple years away from reaching the playoffs.
I predict they'll finish 21-21-6 and finish 12th in the Eastern Conference.