As the start of the season draws nearer for the New York Islanders, it’s time we begin to discuss expectations for every player, along with some other members of the organization.
Looking across the board, expectations for the Islanders this year are wide-ranging. As we conduct this exercise, we will outline both the ceiling and floor for each player this season and then set our expectations somewhere in the middle.
Midway through last season, there was speculation over whether or not Islanders’ president of hockey operations and general manager Lou Lamoriello would make a move ahead of the trade deadline. To signal that he was indeed going for it, Lamoriello acquired Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks and immediately signed him to an eight-year contract extension worth $8.5 million per year.
Horvat was eighth in the league with 31 goals at the time and provided an immediate boost for the Islanders alongside Barzal on the top line. However, once Barzal suffered a lower-body injury that forced him to miss the remainder of the regular season, Horvat’s play fell off.
Down the stretch, Horvat scored just 12 points with four goals at a time when every game was a must-win for the Islanders. Even with Barzal back in the lineup for the playoffs, Horvat only accounted for two points in New York’s six postseason games.
Horvat’s performance was surely disappointing compared to what expectations were of him when he was brought to Long Island, and he was quick to acknowledge it.
“I’m not trying to make excuses by any means, but it was a lot of pressure on myself and my family [this year],” Horvart said back in May. “Would I have liked to score more goals? Of course. I hold myself to a high standard and hold myself accountable. But I think it’s something that’s going to make me better in the long run.”
Horvat was on pace to score 51 goals before being traded last year. His numbers came back down to earth when he joined the Islanders, but that seemed to coincide with Barzal’s injury. And if Horvat’s problem truly was getting adjusted to his new environment, that shouldn’t matter this year after having a full offseason to get acclimated.
With a summer to get ready and Barzal, who is widely considered one of the league’s best playmakers, back healthy, Horvat should return to form as a do-it-all center who can anchor the Islanders’ top line for years to come.
While a few things may be different for Horvat this year compared to last, one thing that will remain the same is the Islanders’ play style.
The Islanders are notorious for their gritty style of play that emphasizes defensive structure, which is vastly different from how Horvat played in Vancouver. Horvat is a sound player in his own zone, but without the free reign he had with the Canucks, it’s no surprise his numbers regressed on a team that prioritizes defense.
There’s little chance the Islanders depart from that strategy this year, so that might mean Horvat’s numbers won’t be as eye-popping as many hope.
In retrospect, the expectations of Horvat at the time of the trade last year may have been too high. But now that he’s had the offseason to settle in, expectations are even loftier for this season.
We saw just how dynamic he and Barzal can be together. If they can find that chemistry once again, expect Horvat to bounce back this season. However, we should take the time now to measure exactly what that means.
Horvat was on pace to score 50 goals for the first time in his career last year. It’s a rare feat and one that hasn’t been accomplished by an Islander in two decades. But while he didn’t reach the half-century mark, Horvat still led the team with 38 goals.
This year, I’m expecting Horvat to light the lamp at least 25 times, but I’m willing to bet the over.
But I don’t have much to lose if he doesn’t. As for the Islanders, it’ll be $8.5 million down the drain.