5. New York Islanders (2022-23 42-31-9, 92 points, 4th in Metro):
The Islanders’ playoff hopes rest firmly on the shoulders of their stellar goaltending duo, Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov. Sorokin was spectacular last season, saving +38.5 goals above expected and boasting a .924 save percentage. If he can replicate those numbers and get the team into the playoffs, he’ll be a Vezina Trophy favorite.
Varlamov, the other half of this formidable tandem, is one of the league’s better backup goalies. He had a .913 SV% last season and saved 3.5 goals above expected. Even when Sorokin takes a breather, Varlamov keeps the Islanders competitive in most games.
Their blue line, led by Adam Pelech, remains a top-half unit in the league. Although Noah Dobson might need to improve defensively, he brings puck-moving skills, as does Ryan Pulock. Depth isn’t an issue either, with reliable options like Scott Mayfield, Sebastian Aho (no, not that one), and Alexander Romanov.
However, the Islanders have a glaring weakness, and that’s their offense. While they have some firepower, it pales in comparison to other teams. General manager Lou Lamoriello recognized this when he acquired Bo Horvat before the trade deadline from the Vancouver Canucks. Horvat had a career year with 38 goals and 70 points, but there isn’t much offensive support around him.
Brock Nelson notched 37 goals last season, but can he repeat that performance? Mathew Barzal is a playmaking wizard but lacks a scoring touch. Anders Lee and Kyle Palmieri have 20-plus-goal potential, but Palmieri needs to stay injury-free.
The bottom-six forwards aren’t significant contributors in scoring, and their power play was the NHL’s worst last season. While their goaltending and defense should keep them in playoff contention, the offense remains a puzzle, likely keeping them on the outside looking in come the Spring.