For the first time in decades the Islanders are truly a relevant NHL franchise. The dramatic culture change is the largest this organization has seen since the hiring of Mike Milbury. These positive changes have created the most optimism we have seen the nineties. Yes, there were a few glimmers of hope along the way, but this time is different. The hiring of Lou Lamoriello has brought tremendous clout to the organization, that coupled with an ownership group that has done what no one else was able to, secure a long-term home for the franchise. Not only have they told everyone who will listen things are different, they have shown that they will be different as well. After a concerning start to the calendar year, this ownership group proved that they plan to make the Islanders one of the top organizations in the league (and left a lot of our hot takes in April looking rather ridiculous). This is still a scared fanbase but for the first time in a long time, there is hope.
There is hope with this franchise. Islander fans can dream big for the first time since 2001. Any player that is rumored to be moved could end up coming to the Islanders. Expect the Isles to make some sort of splash this week. With plenty of assets, and Lamoriello at the helm no deal seems to rich for the Islanders right now. He has never been one to shy away from a tough decision, so don’t expect Lamoriello to mellow as he gets older. There will be no complaints of him being asleep at the wheel.
This whole thing hinges on the return of John Tavares. The narrative has changed throughout the league. Outside of Islanders Country, hockey fans knew that Tavares was as good as gone. Over the last few weeks the narrative has changed. Many around the league believe that he will return, and the fears of Islander fans will be calmed.
While there are similarities to the offseason before the 2001-2002 season, this is very different. First and foremost, the Islanders have more talent now then they did finishing up the 2001 season. They are starting from a much better place. Second, Lou Lamoriello is a better executive than Mike Milbury. I don’t feel that point needs much explaining. The biggest difference may be ownership. Remember in 2001, Charles Wang was viewed as a savior of this franchise very much like Ledecky and Malkin (it should probably be written Malkin and Ledecky). Trading for Alexi Yashin and Michael Peca was a culture change for the penny pinching Islanders. Unlike Wang, Malkin and Ledecky were able to solidify the arena deal. I know many fans are tired of seeing ownership take it bows, but with the benefit of hindsight this may be the pivotal moment in the franchises history. The cost certainty that comes with this new building has allowed ownership to start making the moves needed to take this team to another level.
This fanbase still has plenty of scars. These scars will continue to shape the fanbase moving forward. There will always be a cautious optimism at least until there are more results. Much of this fanbase is still expecting John Tavares to leave, and the Islanders to continue being the laughingstock of the league. Those days are over, at least for a while. The Islanders go into the draft as maybe the most interesting team in the league. It is time to get excited about this team, it has been too long since we have truly had this level of optimism. For once those of us under forty will know what it’s like for the Islanders to be a true factor in the league. Good things are on the horizon. Hopefully. Maybe. Probably.