The 2011-12 NHL season is behind us—for New York Islander fans, at least. While in New York, Ranger fans could be out on the streets in New York City celebrating their fifth Stanley Cup in 86 years. The Islanders and their fans only can hope some players can develop and go on a run similar to the Rangers this season.
The most glaring story of the season for the New York Islanders was John Tavares. Tavares worked on his skating in the offseason and it showed. Tavares, still just 21 years old, exploded for 81 points this season, 31 of those being of the goal variety. The first line was solid for the majority of the year. Matt Moulson put up his third 30-goal season in three years with the Islanders ,and P.A. Parenteau and Kyle Okposo looked good on the top line when they were there.
The problem for the entire season was secondary scoring. After that first scoring line with Tavares on it, the scoring was virtually invisible. Michael Grabner could not build on his 34-goal campaign from a year ago, and while Josh Bailey took a step forward this season, it was a step, not a leap. Nino Niederreiter, the Islanders' first-round pick two years ago, couldn't have been any more irrelevant, scoring one goal and not contributing an assist in the 55 games he played with the Isles this season. The Islanders need a lot of help with secondary scoring. Whether it is from within the organization, trade, free-agent signing or the draft, they certainly need a boost in that area.
Defensemen were another huge issue for the Islanders. After missing a year with a shoulder injury, Mark Streit looked shaky and never really regained his form until the final month of the season. While players like Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald looked good at times, they have plenty of work to do if they plan on being top defensemen on a playoff-caliber team. Players such as Steve Staios and Mike Mottau were a complete waste for the Islanders, to put it lightly.
The Islanders came into the season the exact opposite how things ended. With Grabner, Tavares and Niederreiter entering the lineup, nobody thought scoring would be an issue. Instead, it was thought it would be goaltending.
The Islanders started off the season with three active goaltenders, and with the process of elimination, Evgeni Nabokov was the only one left standing at the end—sort of. Rick Dipietro was forced to undergo season-ending hernia surgery. When it looked like Al Montoya was going to pull away with the starting job, he was concussed in a game against the Winnipeg Jets. Then Nabokov took the team by the reins and never relinquished the starting job.
Also, Nabokov suffered a minor injury the last week of the season, and while Montoya did return from a concussion, he just didn't look like the same goaltender when he came back.
The season wasn't a total failure for the Islanders. There was plenty to like, including Niederreiter getting a full season under his belt despite the lack of production and, speaking of production, the Islanders' first line was one of the best producing lines in the NHL.
The biggest thing they did, though, was extend the contracts of Tavares, Okposo and Grabner before the season. They can now focus on bringing in some outside talent and the extensions won't become a distraction for both management and the players.
So the question, of course, is: Where do the Isles go from here?
First, everyone has to be reminded that this is a process. The Islanders decided to build their team from the ground up and that won't happen overnight. They now have a solid core of players and they'll look to build on that with Niederreiter hopefully improving in his second season and possibly players like Ryan Strome, Calvin de Haan and David Ullstrom contributing full time next year as well.
Second—and more importantly—they'll need to bolster their defense. Whether that is internal of making a splash and going after a big-time defensemen like Shea Weber or Ryan Suter, they'll need to do what it takes to make that defense better and make life easier for Evgeni Nabokov.