There’s no way this year’s playoff performance by the New York Islanders will be followed by another lost season and a spot in the draft lottery drawing.
That was the case in 2014, as the Islanders fell off the map due to disastrous injuries and some poor personnel choices following their surprise berth in the 2013 playoffs. That team was boosted by excellent performances from John Tavares and the rest of the team’s youth in the lockout-shortened season, one that bought them the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, but a sequel would be suspended until this year’s campaign.
The coming year feels different. This summer will be different and the entire vibe more hopeful, even on the heels of New York’s first round loss to the Washington Capitals Monday in the nation’s capital.
Given the Isles’ talent and recent run of management coups, the only way to go is up.
The Islanders made the jump that all (good) rebuilding teams suddenly make after a period of years, turning their talent and picks into a competitive NHL product before anyone else sees the wins coming.
And without a rotten string of injuries to stand in the way of that talent, the Isles’ kids made good on their promise this season.
Take, for instance, the team’s list of leading scorers.
It’s a list that includes nine players with 10 or more goals and 13 players with 20 or more points — and nine of those 13 players are 25 years old or younger.
That’s a forward group that helped make the Islanders the fourth-highest scoring offense in the NHL this season.
One of those forwards, captain John Tavares, came within a point of the NHL scoring title this season. So this is a group with star talent and playoff-caliber depth. Go a bit further down the roster and you’ll find at least four or five others under the age of 25 who contributed to the Islanders’ impressive scoring depth, and that all goes without mentioning the names the team still expects to see graduate to the NHL roster over the next few years.
Names such as Griffin Reinhart, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang and Sebastien Collberg, all part of a group Hockey’s Future ranks among the top-three prospect groups in the NHL.
The NHL may be trending toward a defense-first game once again, to the chagrin of everyone who doesn’t own a copy of the New Jersey Devils 1995 Stanley Cup retrospective on VHS. But a potent attack is still going to carry a club handily into the postseason, as it did for the Islanders this year.
And just getting there is no longer an easy thing in the East.
Bear in mind that it took the Pittsburgh Penguins 98 points to back into the playoffs as the East’s eighth seed this year. Last season, Detroit and Columbus reached the East playoffs with 93 points apiece, while only four of the eight qualifiers collected as many as 98 points.
The East was a tougher field this season than a year ago, yet the Islanders were still virtual locks to make the postseason from the season’s first few weeks thanks mostly to their unwavering offensive attack. Obstruction or not, that’s a recipe for annual playoff appearances.
Just getting there on a consistent basis may not be enough for Cup hopefuls, but it’s also a lot more valuable than many give it credit for. Ask Peter Chiarelli or Darryl Sutter.
For the Islanders, just getting there could almost be a given — given that GM Garth Snow continues the fine work he did last offseason, that is.
The Islanders were a surprise contender out of the gate not just because of the prospects they graduated to the NHL, though they were numerous. Their offseason began with the trade-and-sign deal with goaltender Jaroslav Halak and continued with free agent acquisitions Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.
The Russian duo were advanced stats darlings and Snow locked them both up to deals on the same day. They would go on to contribute 24 goals and 40 points, becoming key pieces of the Islanders’ enviable depth.
So, too, were late preseason trade acquisitions Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. Snow acquired the duo as cap casualties from Boston and Chicago, respectively. They formed the Islanders’ top pairing throughout the regular season, and both re-signed with the team at later points in the regular season.
All told, that’s fine work for a club that was a lottery hopeful only the year prior.
There’s still work to be done
on Long Island in Brooklyn, where the club finished in the bottom-third of the league in both total defense and penalty kill percentage. However, there are key talents at key positions. There are no personnel weaknesses on this club that can’t be improved through added experience or a select few acquisitions, and the team is still so young that salary cap space won’t be a concern for years.
New York may still be searching for the first playoff series win of the John Tavares era, but that first win is no longer a matter of if, but when.
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