Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 8/14/13

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong 1. What does the new division mean? This year the season returns to the full 82 games. With the NHL restructuring the conference alignment, the Islanders have been placed in the Metropolitan division along with the Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, Capitals and Penguins. This means that they will play 30 games this season against these strong teams. The Islanders will play everyone in their division four times except for the Rangers and the Devils. They will play the Rangers and the Devils five times each, with the January 29 game at Yankee Stadium being the most anticipated matchup. However, the Islanders will only play the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum once this season, as the Yankee Stadium game will count as a home game. They will also play the other eight teams in the conference three times for a total of 54 conference games. The Islanders should be used to all these teams except Columbus, considering last year’s entire schedule was comprised of conference games due to the lockout.  The league also announced that all 30 teams in the NHL would play in all 30 arenas, something that the NBA has used for years that has helped the league from a marketing standpoint. That will create a home and home series with each of the 14 Western conference teams visiting Long Island once. The NHL also changed their playoff structure. The top three teams in each division will clinch the playoffs. The two next best teams in each conference will also make the playoffs as “wild card” teams. So divisional and conference matchups will be much more important.  The new playoff format will put a lot more pressure on the teams in stronger divisions and the Metropolitan Division figures to be among the strongest. 2. Can Tavares carry the team again? Does he have to? 22-year-old Hart Trophy Finalist John Tavares has developed into an all-world player and is the team’s unquestioned leader.  He is sure to be among those representing Canada at the Olympics this February and will likely be named the 14th captain in Islanders’ history this season. Tavares led the Islanders in goals last season with 28, a stat that helped him gain a nomination for the Hart Trophy. Tavares will come into this season looking to bring a Stanley Cup to Long Island. But does he have to carry the team? If he does then this team will be going nowhere. With the rest of the team improving as well, I don’t really think this season will be only about Tavares. The Isles have been working on building this young core for a few years now, and they think they’re ready for the challenge 3. What about the goalies? The Islanders re-signed goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to a one-year deal. There is speculation that the Islanders could go after someone like Ryan Miller next year in free agency, but that is yet to be seen and has only been a rumor. I believe that they made the smart move resigning the goalie that was a key piece in the team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The deal is for only one year so the team would be able to go after a guy like Miller at the end of the season if they felt the need for a goaltender. The still-developing Kevin Poulin will likely be Nabokov’s backup and Anders Nilsson will start the season in Bridgeport. The hope is that Poulin or Nilsson emerges as a front line goaltender. The team also drafted two more young goaltenders in this year’s entry draft. The team finally bought out the injury-prone Rick DiPietro so they will no longer have to worry about him, although he will continue getting paid through 2029. 4. How will the new players fit in? On the day of the 2013 NHL Draft, the Islanders traded Niño Niederreiter to the Minnesota Wild for bad boy Cal Clutterbuck. The addition of Clutterbuck shouldn’t go unnoticed, as he is one of the NHL’s top hitters. Placing him on the team with Matt Martin should be fun to watch because between the two, they’ve led the league in hits over the last five seasons. They will probably play on separate lines, and will ultimately create headaches for opponents and their fans. When free agency opened, the Isles signed forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who was selected eighth overall in the 2002 NHL Draft and had 20 points in 43 games last season. Signing Bouchard likely signals the end of Brad Boyes on Long Island. Bouchard will probably take Boyes’ spot on Tavares’ wing on the first line. The Islanders also signed Peter Regin who is expected to be on the third line. 5. When should we see the prospects?  The Islanders have drafted well in recent years and they own one of the deepest pools of young talent in the league. The drafting of the hard shooting Ryan Pulock adds to a strong stable of high end defensive prospects. 19-year-old Ryan Strome should make his NHL debut this year, which is something to be excited about. The hope is that Strome fits into the second line center slot by mid season. Strome headlines a group of talented young players, who along with forwards Brock Nelson and Anders Lee, and defensemen Griffin Reinhart, Calvin DeHaan and Matt Donovan have bright futures with the team. One or more of these players will probably be on the opening night roster, but be sure that you’ll see most if not all of them on the ice this season. -Malamud

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