The Islanders are fighting for their playoff lives. Currently, they hold the last wild card spot in the East. Here to tell me all about it is Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey, the home of the Islanders on SB Nation.
Copper and Blue: After a less than auspicious start to the 2016-17 NHL season, the Islanders are playing meaningful hockey at this point in the season. There's been a coaching change along the way, and the club as gone 13-6-3 since Oiler favourite Doug Weight has taken the helm. What's the reason Weight has had success so far? Additionally, would you like to see Doug Weight remain as head coach for the Oilers? Why or why not?
Lighthouse Hockey: The way these coaching changes often do, Weight has provided: a) the proverbial "fresh" voice after many players heard Capuano for the bulk of their NHL (and in some cases AHL) career, b) a few minor tweaks that broke long-entrenched habits of Capuano (e.g. a simple willingness to match lines a little more, double-shift Tavares for better matchups, and use their best player in more situations), and c) simply a chance to refocus.
Despite lots of often warranted criticism for Garth Snow's summer moves, I thought this was still at least a playoff bubble roster. Under Weight they are finally playing like it. You wonder if longtime NHLers Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera who didn't grow up under Capuano are happier under a guy like Weight.
For selfish reasons, Weight is great because he doesn't treat lineup decisions and rationales like state secrets. He's always loved to talk hockey -- a natural gift of gab -- and he's fairly direct in the media while being respectful of players. Certainly if he stuck around, we'd be much more aware of the reasons for coaching decisions, whereas with Capuano we were often left guessing thanks to coachspeak and an overabundance of "keep it in the room" language.
But do I want Weight to stick around? I just want the best available coach, whoever that is.
Copper and Blue: Thomas Greiss looks to have secured the number one position in the Islanders' crease right now. There were a few murmurs among Oiler faithful about swinging a deal to acquire Jaroslav Halak, but his cap hit makes it all but impossible to interest a team that's looking for a backup. What does the future hold for Halak and the New York Islanders?
Lighthouse Hockey: The Halak saga is the weirdest thing...except it fits perfectly into the Islanders' checkered goalie history. It ranges from disappointment in his injury history -- and the Isles aren't the first nor the second team to experience that with him -- to a bizarre attachment to Jean-Francois Berube (I wrote a bit about that here: http://www.lighthousehockey.com/2017/2/28/14768510/new-york-islanders-trade-rumors-jaroslav-halak-berube). Now perhaps they've finally come around to realizing they might need Halak as insurance in case Berube continues to struggle as backup.
But as has been the case since an injury ended his season before the playoffs last year, they still want to be rid of his salary. They wouldn't deal him at the deadline reportedly because no one would do it without them retaining salary (so: no change there). They'd no doubt hope Las Vegas claims them, but I wonder whether George McPhee, having recently worked for the Islanders, will share the same bias to steer clear of him.
Copper and Blue: Tell us about a player who's overachieved in 2016-17.
Lighthouse Hockey: In a season like this, I don't think anyone has overachieved. But you could say both Josh Bailey and Anders Lee are performing at the peak of their abilities. They've been left as Tavares' wingers for long enough to develop real chemistry, and each is using his strengths -- Bailey's passing, defensive conscience, Lee's size, ability around the net -- to make that line shine on many nights. Which a top line with a franchise center should.
Copper and Blue: Fresh off signing a seven year deal in the offseason, Andrew Ladd has struggled. In 60 games, Andrew Ladd has 23 points (17-6-23). What's holding him back?
Lighthouse Hockey: Literally, a back injury has held him back. They were quiet about it, but the tea leaves seemed to reveal what was up after he had a few games of mid-season. That said, he is what he is. He started the season on the top line, and when they didn't produce right away -- Ladd thought they were gelling fine but just not getting bounces -- Capuano panicked and broke them up.
Ladd's previously been a player who can put up nice numbers in that role, which he had with some very good linemates in Winnipeg, but drop him to a different line and he's just a steady, smart player. Not a $5.5 million player, heavens no, but a smart players. He's shown more of that lately.
Copper and Blue: Jordan Eberle's name has popped up in trade talks with the Islanders. I'm really not thrilled about sending Edmonton's best true right winger unless the return is substantial. Is there interest for Eberle? What would a fair trade look like?
Lighthouse Hockey: It sounds like the Islanders have coveted Eberle, just as they've coveted Matt Duchene and perhaps Taylor Hall -- some reports had them more interested in Eberle than Hall last summer -- for at least a year. Reports also suggested the Isles balked at parting with Travis Hamonic, which has been the topic of major, long-running, tedious debate at Lighthouse Hockey. (I assume if Hall was on the table, it would've taken more than Hamonic, though it's completely unclear what and of course it's moot if the Isles truly wouldn't consider parting with Hamonic.)
Expansion draft considerations aside, if the Oilers would (still?) do Hamonic for Eberle I wouldn't think twice about saying yes. Personally I think the difference in their on-ice value is leveled off by the difference in their contracts and how they'd fit each team, though you could argue Hamonic's injury history raises alarm. If the Oilers needed a non-Barzal forward prospect or NHL forward to be thrown in for a larger deal, it's still worth considering.
Follow Dominik and crew at Lighthouse Hockey
Dominik is on Twitter at @LHHockey