Benefiting from the Lockout, Part I: New York Islanders

Hamonic

Over the next 10 days, I am going to discuss the five teams that stand to benefit the most from the lockout, as well as the five teams that stand to lose the most.

Neither the owners nor the players want the outcome of the ongoing CBA negotiations to be a lockout, but both sides are prepared to remain in the sidelines for the first few months of the 2012-13 season.

Back in 2004, there were several players and teams that came out of the lockout refreshed, recharged, and ready. Teemu Selanne is the most obvious example. The Finnish Flash used the year off to completely rehabilitate his wonky knees, and he has been one of the best forwards in the NHL since that time.

Several young players spent an extra year developing, including Eric Staal and Jason Spezza, who both dominated the AHL. Staal emerged as a superstar after the lockout ended, racking up 100 points 2005-06 and leading Carolina to the Stanley Cup, while Spezza led Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Final just one year later. The elite draft crop from 2003 was given another year of developmental time, as NHL teams weren’t able to rush players from the CHL or Europe to the NHL. The 2005-06 rookie crop was one of the strongest ever, and several players benefitted from more time developing, including the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, and Zach Parise.

This time around, there are several young players who will either stay in Major Junior or Europe or go down to the AHL if the start of the season is delayed. In general, the younger teams like Edmonton and Long Island stand to benefit, while the aging teams like San Jose, Detroit, and Vancouver stand to lose out. However, it isn’t that simple.

Read on to find out one team that would be able to use the lockout to develop their young talent properly.

5. Long Island

The Islanders are getting awfully close to taking the next step to playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference. With a lockout, they would be able to spend a little bit more time developing some of their future core pieces. Goaltenders Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin would get a chance to prove they are ready for bigger NHL workloads.

Defensive prospects Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness, and Calvin de Haan would remain in the AHL for one more year, working on improving their respective defensive games (all three are more offensively-inclined). 2012 top pick Griffin Reinhart would return to the WHL for at least one more year. Forwards Nino Niederreiter, Casey Cizikas, and David Ullstrom would all be eligible to play in the AHL. All three project as integral parts of the Islanders forward group. There would be no pressure on the club to rush OHL star Ryan Strome, who isn’t NHL ready just yet. Travis Hamonic, one of the best young defensemen in the NHL, would also be eligible to play in the AHL in 2012-13.

Brock Otten, a scout who follows the OHL, has mixed thoughts on Strome’s NHL readiness.

“My gut says he’ll probably end up sticking in New York, with some of the holes they have in their top 9. I’m not entirely sure he’s ready, but at the same time, I don’t know what he has to gain from heading back to the OHL for another year. Niagara will be in mega rebuild mode (most likely), so if he does come back, I’d expect him to be dealt to a powerhouse at some point. “

Off the ice, the lockout would give the Islanders more time to work on their arena problems. The club plays in Nassau Coliseum, one of the worst in professional sports. There have been rumblings of a potential move to Brooklyn, to share an arena with the Brooklyn Nets.

The arena in Brooklyn is called the Barclays Center, and the man behind it, Bruce Ratner, wants the Islanders there.

“And I am trying like hell to get the Islanders to make Barclays Center their new hockey home,” says Ratner, sweeping his hand across the big arena where workers in cherry-picker buckets installed acoustic panels on the domed ceiling as others installed black seats. “They will play a pre-season game here against the Devils.”

If the season is delayed for a few months, Long Island could emerge with a more confident top pairing defenseman (Hamonic), a rookie ready for regular minutes (Donovan is the odds-on favorite on the back end), and two young forwards ready to play tough minutes in a checking capacity (Ullstrom and Cizikas). It would also allow Strome one more year of OHL development before turning pro in the fall of 2013.

The last lockout had a profound impact on Long Island, as Jonathan Willis notes:

“Garth Snow appears to be reversing some of this trend in that he has chosen to retain, for the most part, many of the talented young players that the Islanders have drafted. He has added depth players through the waiver wire in Michael Grabner and by unrestricted free agency in Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau. The Islanders remain an enigma of an NHL franchise, but their current rebuild needs to be weighed against its modern lifespan, est. 2006.”

Tavares is ready to take the next step into the NHL’s elite, but the rest of the team isn’t… yet.