On the heels of their first playoff berth in six years, expectations for the New York Islanders have heightened entering the 2013-14 season.
The offseason had mild turnover to the roster that almost pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs last season.
Newcomers Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Peter Regin and Cal Clutterbuck will likely join rookies Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and maybe Anders Lee as new faces this year, as the Isles will look to return to the playoffs and make a deeper push this time around.
Here are five headlines we can expect to read along the way, including a potential blockbuster deal.
Lost in the criticism of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov during last year's playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins was the fact that the Islanders did not have an answer to the Penguins' top goal scorers on defense.
In the 2013 regular season, the Islanders finished 21st in goals against. They gave up four or more goals in 15 games during the regular season. They only managed to win three of those games.
With the offseason all but in the books, not all that much has changed on the blue line.
Former captain Mark Streit signed with the Flyers this offseason, and Radek Martinek will not return. Otherwise, the defense is similar to what they had last season.
Calvin de Haan, Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan will all compete for a roster spot, but none project as an immediate top-pairing defenseman.
Should the Islanders be in a position where they feel confident in their ability to make a deep playoff run, there may be several options as a rental that could help boost their defensive unit. Dan Boyle (Sharks), Dion Phaneuf (Maple Leafs), Nick Schultz (Oilers), Niklas Hjalmarsson (Blackhawks) and Kyle Quincey (Red Wings) are just a few names that are due for unrestricted free agency in the 2014 offseason.
How many points John Tavares would've had in a full season last year is something fans will soon stop wondering.
The 2013 Hart Trophy finalist was on pace for a 48-goal, 32-assist season over 82 games in 2013.
Fans can expect at least 40 goals and 50 assists from the talented forward, which would make this his best season to date. The supporting cast this year is arguably the best he's had to date, and now that the team's got some confidence and success to go off of, the sky's the limit.
He'll do it all while donning the "C" on his sweater for the first time in his career.
Ryan Strome draws a lot of comparisons to John Tavares. One thing that JT dealt with early was a possible move to the wing. Tavares never made the move, but there wasn't a player of Tavares' caliber already at the center position when he came up.
And if Strome has a good camp, which he should, he could be skating alongside Tavares and Matt Moulson quite a bit at right wing.
Should this happen, Strome will have a pretty big year. As John Tavares learned in his 54-point rookie year, however, playing for a low-profile team like the Islanders generally makes it an uphill struggle to get serious consideration for what may well be a deserved award.
Islanders fans can take solace in knowing that Strome should have an explosive campaign, in which he establishes himself as a top-six forward with a very bright future. However, don't be surprised if he is not a finalist in the Calder Trophy race because of bigger names like Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin or Seth Jones—all expected to play equally significant roles for their respective clubs—having solid years.
Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier oughta just put Ryan Miller out of his misery and send him on his way this offseason.
While I'm sure Regier's hope is that Miller will be more in demand as the trade deadline approaches, it's just hard to envision his stock going anywhere but down.
Between the amount of games the scheduled unrestricted free agent would be playing for his new team and the fact that his numbers are bound to take a hit, playing behind one of the worst teams in the NHL, if Regier doesn't deal Miller this offseason, odds are he'll probably be had at a reasonable price.
That's where New York, who's been rumored to be talking to Regier about Miller this offseason, comes in.
The solution to the Islanders' goaltending situation is not on their current roster—or in their system for that matter—at least not in the short term.
Names like Jaroslav Halak, Tim Thomas and James Reimer will be thrown around as potential acquisitions, but, ultimately, Miller will be the one who makes the most sense for the Islanders. And with his playoff and Olympic experience, he could be a major upgrade over Evgeni Nabokov.
If the Islanders are lucky, maybe they can get away with not giving up any top prospects in the process.
It's far too early to anticipate who the Islanders would play or where they'll finish in the Eastern Conference, but this team will have what it takes to not only make the playoffs but advance to the second round. What happens after that is anyone's guess at this point.
Expect the Islanders to be much more consistent next season. As the trade deadline nears, it won't be a shock if the team is in a position to make one or two moves to strengthen their defense and goaltending.
If they can do that successfully, there's no reason to think they can't at least push through to the second round.