The night has come. Another season of the New York Islanders hockey after tonight’s game in Detroit will be in the books. Not many teams in the NHL this season can say they have had the up and down season that took place on Long Island these past eight months. But in those eight months, Isles fans saw a rookie go straight to superstardom right before their very eyes, one of the most outrageous defensive teams in the history of the game, and some of their future take large leaps forward, just to name a few. A crucial — probably the most crucial in the club’s history — offseason starting awaits the Islanders and their passionate fanbase, but that’s can be said for tomorrow and the rest of the spring and summer.
Here’s our Rob Taub’s 12 lasting impressions from 2017-18.
1. Mathew Barzal is going to be the next Islander superstar. Depending on if John Tavares does depart in free agency, Barzal proved this year he’s next in line to own the spotlight as a member of the organization. His historic rookie season, ending with the Calder Trophy is only the beginning of what will be hopefully a Hall of Fame career.
2. Josh Bailey proved his breakout season in 2016-17 was no fluke. Josh Bailey had a second straight fantastic season, that included setting a new career high in points and assists. Bailey showed his chemistry with John Tavares and Anders Lee never wavered, and that he was able to experiment with newcomers Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle and continue to produce at a lofty pace, never missing a beat.
3. Anders Lee is the best power forward the Islanders have had in 15 years. What bad can be said about this stalwart from Edina, MN? Nothing. For a second consecutive year, Anders Lee potted another 30-plus goal campaign and grounded and pounded all of this year, making him one of the elite scorers in this league. Lee also deserves credit for how he has continued to be that net-front presence that can’t be stopped.
4. Anthony Beauvillier, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield all took their lumps and are better for it. These three young guns all found their way and had a nice impact on a disappointing Isles club. All play a big part of what the future of the organization will be, and this trio improving and playing with confidence as the season went on was just as important as any of the good things the team did this year. In particular, the second half of the year for Beauvillier and Pulock were eye-opening.
5. The team’s defense and goaltending is need of a complete overhaul. It safe to assume after how south this year went, these two facets are going to be the major focuses for the franchise this summer. Regression was the name of the game this whole year on the blueline and in between the pipes — and the ugly numbers are there to verify it. Both were the miscreants of how downtrodden the Isles season became and are in dire need of a new look.
6. Adam Pelech being protected in the expansion draft now looks really bad on the organization. While many of the players on the Islanders weren’t protected, the shock was seeing Pelech was actually on the other side of the fence. Pelech actually did have a nice start to the season, but the major flaws in his game were exposed nightly when the team’s defense was depleted and he was asked to do much. His value after this year is nowhere even close to what it was when gm Garth Snow boldly decided to keep him protected, something that can be considered a failure.
7. Nick Leddy is still a number one defensemen, but he can’t do it all by himself. The numbers look bad, but Leddy is the clear number one even with his atrocious plus-minus. Once Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan went down, Leddy’s demise began proving that he can only handle such a load for a period of time before he starts to show fatigue and finally break down himself. Leddy is going to finish with his third straight season with over 40 points, but going into next year, he’s in deep need of a partner that can help him anchor the backend.
8. Special Teams were weird all year long. It’s easy to accuse the goaltending and defense for this season being lost, but how the club’s power play and penalty kill performed was head scratching. The early season woes on the man-advantage would turn in to one of the top power plays in the league, while the penalty kill which was solid at the start of the year ended up being the worst in the league. Not having these two dimensions of the game on the same page did the team no favors, most of all, when times got extremely tough.
9. The bottom-six needs to be revamped. In recent seasons, the Islanders had gained the reputation of being a team that could roll four lines. This year, that assessment was thrown into the wasteland. The bottom-six for the Isles could be described however you please — invisible, non-existent, old, battered, etc. Not getting any production from half of the forward corps did irreversible damage to a team that needed everyone to pull the chain, leading to the assumption from me that major changes need to be made if the team wants to get back to when their forward corps was at their best.
10. Injuries were a killer, but they’re not why the team failed so miserably. Whenever you lose one of your most active bottom-six forwards and reliable d-men (Nikolay Kulemin and Calvin de Haan), it’s going to be hard to compensate. That’s for any NHL team. But the Islanders had the depth and several pieces to replace those important players who were hurt. There’s no question the Isles missed Kulemin and de Haan, but team play and resistance on defense were the biggest reasons why this year was a failure.
11. One game changed the entire landscape of the season. So many games this season pointed out why the Islanders were in bad shape. But that December 1st game against the Ottawa Senators — a wild 6-5 loss — the dynamic of what was a great start to the season turned on a dime. After that loss, the season changed before we knew it and it would lead to a much more worrisome feel amongst the fanbase.
12. This team was not as terrible as the numbers showed. Look if you miss the playoffs, there are several details to why. But in the Isles case, they should have been a playoff team. The production they received on offense and the steps taken by their young talent, how the team underachieved so miserably is beyond question. The undoing of the season was hard and painful to watch, but for so many things to go from right to wrong, leaves me, the fans, the pundits, the players, and the entire organization searching for answers.