30 IN 30 - NEW YORK ISLANDERS (17th place)
I think we can all agree this Barclays Centre experiment needs to end as soon as humanly possible. Any rink that has an off-centre scoreboard, shoddy ice, and Deutsche-league style car in the corner should be deemed unfit for the NHL. Nevertheless, the Islanders keep trucking along in their less than ideal venue. Maybe this serves as an excuse for the on-ice product, but realistically that falls on GM Garth Snow. He's relied upon John Tavares to carry this team on his back for far too long, allowing any form of support cast to walk away in free agency. This isn't to say the Islanders don't spend money, they just don't spend it wisely, letting Kyle Okposo go for a mere $500K annual difference from that which they gave Andrew Ladd. Same term, older player. With moves like this it comes as no surprise that the Islanders are both flush with mid-tier protection options, and deficient in quality ones you'd go out of your way to keep. Overall, Garth Snow will have his hands full if he plans on turning the once-storied franchise back into a legitimate Cup contender.
PROTECTION LIST STRUCTURE
- Tavares (*NMC)
- Ladd (*NMC)
- Boychuk (*NMC)
- De Hann/Pulock?
- Tavares (*NMC)
- Ladd (*NMC)
- Boychuk (*NMC)
Structure is gonna be key for Islanders. Picking the 7-3-1 will likely force Vegas' hand towards defence. Pick 8-1 and you'll have them swipe one of your few proven complementary forwards. Fairly lose/lose scenario for a team that needs to keep as many of its key contributors as possible in order to compete next year.
At 7-3-1 the Islanders would likely lose Calvin de Haan or Ryan Pulock. That seems clear as day unless they try to sway Vegas in the direction of forward by exposing a forward like Brock Nelson or Ryan Strome alongside them. Leaving Nikolai Kulemin available won't be strong enough bait to draw McPhee away from plucking a younger player.
With the 8-1 model, the Islanders look very exposed up front. This would see the Islanders choosing between Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome as their last protection pick up front, alongside the all-but-guaranteed Anders Lee and the two 'no movement clause' forwards, John Tavares and Andrew Ladd. However, this expansion structure provides more flexibility than some would expect. If Garth Snow decides he'd rather lock up his defence and rely upon young prospects Matthew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang, and Michael Del Colle to fill the hole left by a Vegas selection, he could conceivably protect 5 defencemen with odds in his favour that his entire blueline goes untouched. With Boychuk, Leddy, Hamonic, de Haan, and Pulock off the board in this scenario, the Golden Knights would be forced to go with a forward pick.
This sort of range in protection possibilities puts us in a rather unique position. The Islanders could go (i) 7 forwards, 3 defencemen, 1 goalie; (ii) 4 forwards, 4 defencemen, 1 goalie; or (iii) 3 forwards, 5 defencemen, 1 goalie. Any way we break it down, the goalie selection is a non-factor without a young #1 (or future #1) tender on the roster, and the first 3 forward slots are already set in stone. This leaves us a total of 5 players worth looking at as either final protection list picks or future members of the Golden Knights.
The longest tenured Islander of the vulnerable expansion group is Josh Bailey. Under the 7-3-1 model he is very much safe from having to pack a U-Haul and head west, but under the 8-1 structure Josh is very much a fringe protection pick. Years of underwhelming 30-40 point seasons make his inclusion on this list rather surprising. But 2016-17 was different. He was a new man, putting up 56 points and marking himself as a key playmaker within this team's offensive unit. His advanced stats also display a very passable 2nd line contributor. Although a red flag pops up with respect to his zone adjusted stats. Either he situationally has been quite lucky (unlikely) or he has been protected from defensive start responsibility.
Brock Nelson brings a goal scoring touch to the table, racking up 3 straight 20-goal seasons for the Islanders. The downside is, that appears to be all he's capable of. Although his offensive production may be capped, Nelson has worked his way into the 2nd-line centre slot with an added two-way responsibility bestowed upon him by the coaching staff. But this has come with variable levels of success and a downright concerning 45.0 CF% last season. Even our attempts to adjust for zone start differential couldn't bump this possession number back up. No matter how you much or little emphasis you place upon this, Nelson has been able to turn it around on the scoreboard, owning a solid 52.5% on-ice goal differential over the same 3 seasons. So frustrating as he may be to watch, the underlying talent appears to be there.
As a former 5th overall pick, the expectations placed upon Ryan Strome coming out of Major Junior were outrageaously high. His 100 point production in Niagara (OHL) hasn't been able to translate into consistent scoring success at the NHL level. Since the 2014-15 season, his stats have generally been depressed, allowing for us to draw the assumption that he may only be a player that can ride the highs and lows of a team's success and not one that can set its course. However, turning just 24 this summer, the future is still bright for this young professional, especially with Doug Weight now at the coaching helm. A more creative offensive mind should continue to open up the potential within Strome's game and allow him to attain at least 2nd-line complementary scoring duties.
Calvin de Haan has taken enormous strides as a 2nd-pair defencemen at the NHL level. His puck-moving skills and offensive ability were on display, thanks to his pairing with defensive-minded partner Dennis Seidenberg. His goal differential and on-ice team shooting percentage jumped, while his possession numbers remained stable around the 50% mark. With so many defencemen for the Islanders to protect, de Haan could become the expendable part. Ryan Pulock is knocking at the door and likely to garner power play minutes after his outrageous 0.84 pts/game scoring rate in the AHL. With Pulock in mind, a 12 game sample size isn't big enough for us to assess his possession-based impact with any level of confidence. The Islanders take a risk choosing an unknown professional commodity, but his potential ceiling appears to surpass that of de Haan's, pushing our preference in his favour.
our islanders protection picks
After looking at the body of work for all players, we prefer the 8-1 structure for the Islanders. Within this structure we're gonna stay with the standard 4 forwards and 4 defencemen to make up the 8 skaters. This means that to go along with our core 5 of Tavares, Ladd, Boychuk, Leddy, and Hamonic, we have chosen to protect Ryan Pulock and Brock Nelson. The latter may come as a surprise for some, but after our attempts to watch highlights of Ryan Strome, the player we kept noticing instead was Nelson. His size and shoot first mentality are assets the other two don't have. Although Josh Bailey has proven his worth alongside John Tavares and Anders Lee on the top line, the Islanders should leave him available knowing that the Golden Knights look at the exact same stats we all do and will see his reliance upon linemates like this to contribute. Without many natural goal scorers available in the expansion draft to match him with, his skill set will go under-utilized and his ability to walk away in free agency after one season will scare them. By protecting someone other than Bailey, the Islanders should be able to force McPhee towards de Haan or Strome.
Golden knights selection
Now that the Islanders list is done and dusted, Vegas is left with a choice between the three aforementioned players still available. As noted, Bailey is available for selection in our Islanders scenario, but his looming free-agency could scare a team looking to establish a roster with long-term view. Instead we turn our decision towards the other two.
De Haan provides the Golden Knights a young, puck-moving defenceman capable of top-4 minutes if placed in the right situation. His contract status does strike us as a negative, with current RFA status requiring Vegas to burn one of their 10 selections for 'players without a contract' on him. With highly rated defencemen available elsewhere in the draft, we believe it's in the expansion team's best interest to select a forward with scoring potential whenever one becomes available. For this reason, the Golden Knights will select Ryan Strome from the Islanders and hope to rekindle his offensive touch from 2014-15.
The Islanders are a young developing team with a star player ready to win now. This misalignment could cause John Tavares to second guess the thought of extension with the club. Although a player like Matt Barzal can be a source of excitement, Garth Snow needs to utilize his depth in the defensive pipeline and acquire some much needed depth to this forward group in order to convince Tavares this team has direction. Finding a starting goalie will be a whole other challenge, but if he's lucky he could look to revive a free agent tender like Brian Elliott until he finds a younger option to develop.