A year that began with so much promise for the New York Islanders, with the team’s surprising playoff appearance last spring and spirited first-round performance against the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins, has since turned sour, revealing an organization dealing with the same problems that seem to plague it year after year. Hoping to build on the team's first postseason berth in six years, the Islanders instead have sputtered in the first half of the 2013-14 season. Here are three questions that face the Isles in the new year:
1. Will Jack Capuano keep his job?
The beleaguered coach miraculously retained his post despite one of the team’s most stunning free-falls in recent history -- a 10-game winless streak that spanned from Nov. 19 to Dec. 10. Whether that was because general manager Garth Snow felt coaching wasn’t the issue, or whether the organization was too cheap to cough up the money for a suitable replacement, is still unclear. The team hasn’t quit on Capuano, though, despite all the recent travails. Most recently, they rallied from a three-goal deficit to knock off the Minnesota Wild in a stunning 5-4 comeback win on the road Sunday night. Still, the team’s playoff hopes look bleak, as they remain mired in 15th place in the Eastern Conference standings with an abysmal 12-21-7 record and only eight non-shootout wins.
2. Will Garth Snow trade for a goaltender?
Snow took a gamble early in the season, spurning the team’s most immediate needs (i.e. goaltender, top-pair defenseman) to deal Matt Moulson to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Thomas Vanek. Though on paper Vanek provided a slight upgrade over Moulson on the wing -- he is, after all, a two-time 40-goal scorer -- the Islanders continued to struggle because of their obvious deficiencies from the net out. That became particularly apparent with veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov on the shelf for an extended period beginning in mid-November. Youngster Kevin Poulin has been impressive at times, but the Islanders could still use a bona fide starter to bolster the position. Snow has reportedly been working the phones in search of said piece, with Sabres netminder Ryan Miller’s name a hot one in trade rumors. Anaheim appears to have a surplus in goal, which could make the Ducks a possible trade partner. And as our own Pierre LeBrun recently reported, Michael Neuvirth is looking to get out of Washington. Will Snow be able to pull off a deal that could address what remains the team’s most pressing need?
3. Will Vanek re-sign with the team?
The value of the blockbuster deal that sent Moulson and a pair of high draft picks to Buffalo for Vanek will likely hinge on whether Vanek, a pending unrestricted free agent, chooses to re-sign with the Islanders. If so, the Isles lock up a dynamic scorer to play with superstar center John Tavares for years to come. If not, they traded away Tavares’ best buddy, with whom he had irrefutable chemistry, for a high-priced rental. Though Snow has shown an ability to re-sign some key players in the past despite rampant skepticism -- Nabokov, Lubomir Visnovsky -- the Islanders’ collective struggles have not provided much of a selling point for Vanek. Many assume the 29-year-old will be packing his bags for Minnesota next year. Snow may have to make a tough decision on whether to move him even before that, with the trade deadline only a few months away and the time to re-sign him dwindling.