Islanders center Mat Barzal (13) controls the puck against the Flames on March 11, 2018, at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary.


Graziano: Previewing Islanders, Metropolitan Division Ahead Of Opener

Anything Can Happen, But Isles Don't Seem Like Playoff Team

Andy Graziano
October 04, 2018 - 10:41 am

The New York Islanders have submitted their opening night 23-man roster, and with some surprising omissions, the team travels to Carolina to open the 2018-19 season Thursday evening against the Hurricanes.

The team announced that center Jan Kovar, a depth signing for $2.5 million at a position of need, has been sent to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League along with defenseman Devon Toews, who had an impressive training camp and, in almost all eyes, did enough to not only warrant a roster spot but a top-six role ahead of veteran Luca Sbisa, who "earned" the largest contract for a PTO since 2015.

The summer of Lou has raised some eyebrows in its infancy, leading some fans to wonder if things will ever truly be different for an organization cast in chaos for the better part of the past two decades. Such judgment is hasty considering the team has not played a game yet, and it’s almost assured that head coach Barry Trotz will change things in a big way behind the bench. But you can’t blame the fans for being leery given what they have seen to date.

Now, all things being equal, the chances are high that Kovar (should he remain in North America) and Toews will find themselves on the big roster sooner rather than later, but you would be hard-pressed to argue that the team New York is icing to start the season is its best one.

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In a Twitter poll Wednesday, when asked about an over/under of 83 points for the Islanders this season, 60 percent of respondents voted for the over (729 total votes as of this writing). With that said, let’s peek into the WFAN crystal ball and try to predict what the Metropolitan Division will spit out this winter. (Teams listed in order of predicted finish.)

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Washington Capitals finally got past their old nemesis last year en route to the Stanley Cup, but I feel Pittsburgh is primed for a return to the top spot. They still have the best overall offense in the division, Olli Maata continues to improve seemingly shift-to-shift, and Matt Murray will bounce back with a solid season in goal.

2. Washington Capitals
Still the Stanley Cup champions, still have Alex Ovechkin, who will be hungry for repeat success. Still have Evgeny Kuznetsov. Still have John Carlson. Still have Braden Holtby. You get the picture.

3. Philadelphia Flyers
Were improved last season behind a bounce-back season from their captain, Claude Giroux. James van Riemsdyk returns for a second stint to bolster the offense, and Ivan Provorov is the real deal. If they get any kind of goaltending, watch out.

MORE: Graziano: Pulock Confident As Ever As Preseason Nears End

4. Columbus Blue Jackets
As long as they have Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, they will be tough to play against. Once those two leave, as assumed, all bets are off. But for this year, they’ll be in the playoff mix.

5. New Jersey Devils
With Cory Schneider banged up, can Keith Kinkaid carry the load in goal? I’m not sold just yet. New Jersey should benefit with more support of MVP Taylor Hall, as Nico Hischier is expected to take a leap offensively. Will Butcher anchors a young, mobile defense.

New Jersey Devils left wing Taylor Hall

6. New York Islanders
Of course, it’s why they play the games, and anything can happen (see: 2017-18 Golden Knights), but on paper, this doesn’t seem to be a playoff team. Mathew Barzal is a stud, and Oliver Wahlstrom/Kieffer Bellows/Noah Dobson/Toews wait in the wings for what should be a promising future. But playoffs in 2018-19? The Islanders will see you again. But not yet. Not yet. What to do with Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee come the trade deadline?

7. New York Rangers
New coach David Quinn is at his best working with young players, and he’ll have plenty at his disposal this year in Manhattan. Filip Chytil is big and has tons of skill, but just needs some seasoning. I’d keep Kevin Hayes and move Mats Zuccarello by the deadline. The biggest question faces them in goal. Henrik Lundqvist has now seen three years of declining production, and at age 36, he still has three years left on his contract with an $8.5 million cap hit. Ouch!

8. Carolina Hurricanes
Scott Darling is hurt already, leaving the pipes to Petr Mrazek. They lost Jeff Skinner in the offseason. They are not happy with once-promising defenseman Justin Faulk. Calvin de Haan (given good health) and Dougie Hamilton will help. But unless Andrei Svechnikov and AHL sniper Valentin Zykov combine for 80 goals, it could be a long season in Carolina.

Follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyGraz_WFAN