Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Normally, being in dead last in their division would just be “another season” for New York Islanders fans. This season was supposed to be different. All-World Center John Tavares has done his part but the roster lacks depth to compete with even the more mediocre teams in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders made a move for Forward Thomas Vanek who has made a positive impact on the ice, but the Islanders lack of success may force them to move him before the March 5th trade deadline. Assuming they can’t move Vanek, the club will have to make an important decision to try and resign him for a fair amount of money, or let him walk in free agency. Either way, moving fan favorite Matt Moulson for Vanek may have been a bit short sighted considering Moulson could have been kept past this year for less than what Vanek may cost.
Being from New York, I have always had a soft spot for the Islanders as over the last 20 years, they have been forced to watch the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils grab all of the headlines. Whether it was through major free agent signings or Stanley Cup championships, the Islanders have always played third fiddle to their hometown rivals. Ownership and management of the organization has been truly dreadful since the early 1990s. Heck, even ESPN made a 30 For 30 documentary about John Spano duping ownership and fans about his ability to purchase the Islanders. This was the only real headline worthy story the Islanders have produced since their Stanley Cup run nearly 30 years ago.
It appeared that the last few years of draft picks and signings were pointing the club in the right direction, and for the most part, there is still a good foundation for future success. I just hope for Islanders fans sake that the Vanek trade isn’t the first in a long line of poor decisions that loyal followers of team have seen since the Clinton administration. Here are three stars not named Tavares who could play a major role in tonight’s contest with the Chicago Blackhawks:
1) Kyle Okposo – “Under the radar” is a nice way of describing the little recognition Okposo is getting in the New York hockey market. He has been a contributor for the last few seasons, but this year he is a legitimate tag-team partner to Tavares. Six points in the Islanders last two games (both wins) forces the ‘Hawks to make a point of stopping Okposo.
2) Evgeni Nabakov – Now here is a goalie who is not afraid to see 35 to 40 shots a night. Few goalies over the last few years have had as much success as Nabakov has, especially with regard to save percentage. The Islanders are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, but Nabakov has done his part. He has seen an average of nearly 31 shots per game, among the league leaders in that category. Nabakov needs to have a big game for the Isles to have any shot.
3) Frans Nielsen – The theme here is simple: The Islanders need to keep the offensive pressure up, or hope Nabakov saves 40 to win. Nielsen is a good hockey player, but he is going to have his hands full dealing with any line the ‘Hawks throw at him. He has played well as of late and if the Blackhawks shut down Tavares and Okposo, Nielsen will have to be the guy to step up.
The Blackhawks and Islanders face off on Long Island at 7 PM Eastern.
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