On Saturday night, the 45th season of New York Islanders will come to an end. For the second straight season and the seventh time in the past ten seasons, the team will not be playing postseason hockey. The disappointment of another consecutive playoff-less season has the fans and pundits around the league asking what direction the Isles are actually heading. This year was set to be the most crucial for the franchise in a very long time, mostly revolving around captain John Tavares entering the final season of his six-year, $33 million dollar deal he signed back in 2011.
There have been many rough seasons in the history of the franchise. But with how 2017-18 unfolded for the Islanders, from the highest of highs to the start of the season to the complete implosion and utter downfall, this year definitely puts itself in some unceremonious company.
The question remains. And our Rob Taub tells us where 2017-18 will go down in Isles lore with the other years that ended with the club underachieving.
When the 2017-18 campaign was set to begin for the Islanders, the message was simple: Playoffs or bust. Coming into the season, the team was ready to take off with a healthy John Tavares, a new addition to the roster in Jordan Eberle, and rookie forwards Mathew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang. Defensively the team was in the midst of its youth movement (Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield). While in goal, the team was placing all its chips on the Jaro Halak-Thomas Greiss tandem to lead the way.
After a shaky start to the year, the Islanders seemed to find their footing. Especially on offense. The top two lines of the team — Lee-Tavares-Bailey and Ladd-Barzal-Eberle — quickly turned in to one of the best top-six forward groups in the National Hockey League. The Isles also were getting exceptional play from their defense, most of all, number one d-man, Nick Leddy.
By the time November ended, things were going along smoothly for New York. At one point, the team was 15-7-2 and had a 9-0-2 mark playing at Barclays Center. As the calander turned to December, things started to turn, and turn the opposite way.
Injuries and poor defensive play started to rear its ugly head. And despite still scoring a boatload of goals offensively, Doug Weight’s club began to struggle heavily to keep the puck out of their own net. Even in making adjustments and defensemen Ryan Pulock stepping up his game at both ends of the ice, the Isles weren’t able to stop the bleeding. February and March became a blur, and before anyone knew it, New York fell completely out of playoff contention and found themselves eliminated for a second straight year after three playoff appearances in four seasons.
Here’s just a few of the positives that from a lost year in 2017-18: Two 80-plus point players in John Tavares and Mat Barzal, the Calder Trophy Winner in Barzal, a 40-goal scorer in Anders Lee, career years for Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle, Anthony Beauvillier, the possibility of having five or more 20-goal forwards, a top-ten power play, and finally the arrival of Ryan Pulock as the future of the clubs blueline.
To sum up, the 2017-18 Islanders, how the amount of talent assembled just went straight off the tracks just leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
Now looking back at not even just this decade, the 2017-18 season does hold similarities to unfortunate seasons of the past. We can even go back to the prior season.
2016-17: The year was set to be the coming out party for the Islanders after they won their first playoff series in 23 years the previous spring. They brought in veterans Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera for the leadership and experience. But that version of the Isles did a reverse of 17-18. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the first half of the year, while the team was one of the NHL’s best in the second half of the season falling short of the playoffs by one point. Josh Bailey did set a career high in points with 56.
2017-18 rank: Higher. The Islanders in 2017-18 had so much more firepower compared to the team in 2016-17. But overall team production and defense, the difference between the 16′-17′ team and this year’s club is miles apart.
2013-14: These Islanders looked ready to take a big leap from just making the playoffs to possible contender. GM Garth Snow kept most of the team’s core from the prior lockout-shortened season and was leaning on veteran goalie Evgeni Nabakov to repeat his performance that got the team to the postseason. Snow did make the bold move trading fan-favorite Matt Moulson for Thomas Vanek at the end of October.
That team couldn’t get out of their own way until they turned it on late December. For a two and a half month stint, Thomas Vanek, John Tavares, and Kyle Okposo made up the best first line in the league. Once Tavares went down in the Sochi Olympics, the season and another possible playoff appearance went out the window. Thomas Vanek was dealt to Montreal for very little at the trade deadline and the team stumbled to the finish line despite winning eight of their final 13 games.
2017-18 rank: Higher. 2013-14, the Islanders didn’t have the same talent and the horses offensively the 17′-18′ squad was surrounded with. That team was never built to be a playoff team compared to this season. And injury-wise, yes Tavares was lost from February on, but losing Nikolay Kulemin and Calvin de Haan for the entire season when the team was rolling were daggers.
1987-88: The dynasty had already ended, but the Islanders were still a very competitive team. That team still fielded an aging Denis Potvin, Brian Trottier, and Ken Morrow, but they were stockpiled on offense with Pat LaFontaine, captain Brent Sutter, Mikko Makela and Alan Kerr. The 87′-88′ club ended up winning the Patrick Division and some thought another run at a fifth Stanley Cup was possible. Instead, they were upset in six in the Wales Division Semifinals by the upstart New Jersey Devils.
2017-18 rank: Lower. When you win the division compared to missing the playoffs, of course it’s never going to be ahead. Both these Isles teams were constructed with some high-end top six forwards and had a mix of old and young on the blueline. Plus post-dynasty against playoffs missed the year before? Definitely below.
1991-92: The 1991-92 New York Islanders were given a whole new look just a few weeks into the season. Pat LaFontaine was dealt, Brent Sutter was traded, and in were Pierre Turgeon, Ray Ferraro, Derek King, Benoit Hogue and several others. Problem with this team, they weren’t ready for primetime despite the balance they had throughout the lineup.
2017-18 rank: Even. If you examine the two lineups and the numbers, they’re a ton of similarities. Defense and goaltending were the holes that were exposed because in both years they ranked at the bottom in goals against. Crazy to believe, both the 91-92 team and 17-18 team were in the top ten in the league for goals for.