New York Islanders

The New York Islanders took another major -- and cathartic -- step in their slow and steady rebuild under Garth Snow when they won a playoff series for the first time since 1993. But getting that monkey off their back was more a victory for the fans and Brooklyn than for management, which already had plans to remove critical pieces of that squad. Three of the long-term Islanders who shared in that achievement were allowed to walk via free agency, and now the question is whether they are poised to take another step forward or stall.

Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin’s free agency departures were expected. The loss of Frans Nielsen was not. The Isles brought in an older Andrew Ladd, P.A. Parenteau, and even older Jason Chimera to replace Okposo and Martin, but in-house would-be centers like Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome have never been asked to do the work and minutes that Nielsen logged for so many years. This team is older, not necessarily better, with the threat of a return to questionable goaltending -- a strength last year with Thomas Greiss ably backing up Jaroslav Halak -- lurking if they make the wrong move.

THREE QUESTIONS

  1. Will older additions like Ladd, Parenteau, and Chimera add the right ingredients or backfire?
  2. Will young forwards Nelson and Strome step up, while prospects Pulock and Barzal add life?
  3. What becomes of the Islanders’ three-headed goaltending monster?

BEST CASE SCENARIO

The Islanders enjoy the fruits of new young blood like Ryan Pulock and Mathew Barzal, avoid the Jack Capuano temptation to over-rely on an aging seventh defenseman (this year: Dennis Seidenberg), and veterans like Ladd and Chimera add just enough leadership to carry the team past the second round of the playoffs. Halak is kept and healthy, with he and Thomas Greiss forming a formidable goaltending duo for the second season in a row.

WORST CASE SCENARIO

Ladd, Parenteau, and Chimera show their age, Capuano relies on Seidenberg at the expense of Pulock, management hubris sends Halak packing while Greiss declines under the heavier workload, and J-F Berube shows why you don’t bet on young goalies based on AHL team success and how much you like their work habits. The Isles narrowly miss the playoffs in a tight and tough Metro race, raising all the questions you don’t want to hear next summer heading into John Tavares’ walk year.