New York Islanders, 41-29-12, missed the playoffs, $2.9 million cap space
Biggest changes: Right winger Jordan Eberle arrives from theEdmonton Oilersafter a disappointing 20-goal, 51-point season. The 27-year-old sniper, who had a career-high 34 goals in 2011-12, is being reunited with Islanders captain John Tavares. The two were unstoppable in the 2009 World Junior Championships, combining for 14 goals and 28 points in six games, and they have reunited a handful of times in World Championships since. On paper, the Islanders appear to have won the deal, giving up Ryan Strome, who never lived up to his fifth-overall selection in 2011. To make room for Eberle's $6 million cap hit over the next two years, the Isles parted ways with injury-prone Mikhail Grabovski and his $5 million cap hit. They also dealt reliable defenseman Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for a first-rounder and a pair of second-rounders, fortifying their future but leaving a gaping hole on their blue line and penalty kill. Goaltender Jean-Francois Berube was taken by the Vegas Golden Knights, freeing up Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss to battle it out for the No. 1 job between the pipes.
Case for: There is probably only one thing that will keep Tavares -- who is less than 10 months away from unrestricted free agency -- in Brooklyn, and that's a legitimate chance to win a Stanley Cup. A lot has to go right to put that process in motion. Straight-talking head coach Doug Weight, who had the "interim" tag taken off after getting the Isles within one win of the playoffs, is a good start. And if left winger Anders Lee (who scored a career-high 34 goals) can find chemistry with Tavares and Eberle, the Isles might have one of the most dangerous top lines in the East. Rookie right winger Joshua Ho-Sang, 21, is talented enough to be in the Calder Memorial Trophy conversation. And if Anthony Beauvillier, 20, and Mathew Barzal, 20, prove ready for prime time and Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey continue to produce on the second line, the Islanders should score enough goals to get into the playoffs -- if the defense steps up.
Case against: Entering his 12th season as Islanders general manager, Garth Snow is feeling the pressure to win. If Tavares' contract situation drags on all season (and there is a good chance it will) and the Isles have trouble keeping the puck out of their net (and there is a good chance they will), this could mark the end of the Tavares-Snow era. Even if the Isles score more goals than they did last season -- when they finished sixth in the conference with 239 -- they'll need to be much better in their own end, where they allowed 211 goals, ranking 11th in the East. Having a healthy top pairing of Nick Leddy, who won a Stanley Cup in Chicago, and Johnny Boychuk, who did the same in Boston, will help. But behind them, it could be a struggle with Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, Adam Pelech, right-shooting Ryan Pulock (15th overall in 2013) andDennis Seidenberg, 36,sharing time on the bottom two pairs. That will place even more pressure on Halak and Greiss to be at the top of their games.
Trade bait: It would be unthinkable for the Islanders to trade Tavares, right? After all, the guy has put up 537 points in 587 games and is a two-time Hart Trophy finalist as MVP. But if he is not under contract by late February, it would be worse for the Islanders to let him walk as a free agent and get nothing in return than to keep him on a team destined to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. That's why everything is riding on a successful season in Brooklyn. If the Islanders are not in the playoff hunt near the trade deadline, Snow also could consider getting what he can for Eberle, who would be attractive to a Cup contender willing to take on one more year of his contract.
Goalie situation rating: 5. Now that the failed three-goaltender experiment is behind them, the Islanders can focus on giving Halak, 32, and Greiss, 31, a chance to win the starting job. Halak survived last season's banishment to the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, where he went 17-7-1; and he actually put up a decent record with the Isles (12-9-5), although his goals-against average (2.80) and save percentage (.915) were off his career averages of 2.41 and .917. Halak is in the final season of a contract that pays him $4.5 million, and his future in the NHL depends on this season's performance. Greiss, armed with a three-year contract extension that averages $3.3 million, appears to be the favorite. He played in a career-high 51 games last season and won a career-high 26 games (26-18-5). Like Halak, his goals-against average (2.69) and save percentage (.913) were worse than his career averages (2.51, .916), which suggests the Islanders need to tighten up their defensive-zone coverage in their first full season under Weight.
Scout's take: "It's been proven in the past that contract situations with star players can be a distraction. But I think the fact that Doug Weight was a star player himself will actually help Tavares in that regard. It's clear they are going to be playing a much more entertaining, highly offensive game than they have in the past. I think they'll be right in the hunt again this year."
Prediction: 7th in Metropolitan