The New York Islanders’ final drive to clinch a third straight playoff-berth was cut short by a Toronto Maple Leaf’s come-from-behind win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on April 8. Late season call-ups Anthony Beauvillier and Joshua Ho-Sang sparked the Islanders, but the team’s performance in the second half of the season was not enough to overcome the hole they dug themselves
during the first 41 games.
This season was a tremendous disappointment on multiple levels. Coming into the year, fans were hopeful that free agency pick-ups Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera would be enough to fill the gaps left by Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin, however it took a while for them to get acclimated to Brooklyn. While the roster looked legitimate on paper, it did not take long for fans to realize the team was missing major pieces. Ladd struggled next to John Tavares on the first line and no chemistry existed. With Nielsen gone, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome were forced to pick up the slack offensively and defensively. While their offensive production was decent enough, they were a defensive liability. Without Martin, the Islanders did not have enough of a physical presence in games and seemed to lack heart while competing.
The goaltending situation was in flux throughout the beginning and middle of the season, which only added to the chaos and defensive lapses. Jaroslav Halak struggled mentally with the presence of such a solid backup in Thomas Greiss, who pushed him for his job every day. Eventually, the Islanders waived Halak and sent him to the AHL, forcing Greiss into the number-one role. Then at the end of the season, Halak was recalled and put into the starting role, leaving Greiss on the bench as a mental mess. Without any consistency behind the net for a large bulk of the season, the team struggled to find its groove in the defensive zone.
Once the Islanders finally decided to cut ties with Jack Capuano, the team started to compete under Doug Weight. The only problem was that they fired Capuano after 43 games, and at that point, the team was in too far of a hole to climb out of. Despite the late rally, the Islanders would never reach the final playoff spot.
Fan frustration is understandable and warranted. The team was really building something over the last couple of years, having made the playoffs in back to back seasons for the first time since 2002-03 and 2003-04. Young players like Anders Lee, Ho-Sang and Beauvillier were fantastic down the stretch of the season, leading the team to a six-game win streak to close the season, and their performance in 2017 can be seen as a silver lining for next year.
More importantly, next season will be the final year of Tavares’ contract and fans will anxiously await the announcement of a long-term deal, or at least an extension. If new owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin cannot bring him back, they might as well sell the team to John Spano. Tavares is as crucial to the identity of the franchise as Nassau Coliseum was; bring them both back!
It is no secret that the current home of the New York Islanders is atrocious for hockey. Rumors have circulated all year about a potential relocation, and Isles Nation should rejoice in the fact that the team can get out of Brooklyn. Moving the boys back to Long Island would be the greatest thing the franchise can do. Great teams have even better fan bases, and the Islanders might have the opportunity to move back to the heart of its fan base and allow Long Island to party like it’s 1980.
This year was heartbreaking for Islanders fans, but that is not something we are not used to. We can only hope for the best going forward: resigning John Tavares, bringing the team back to Long Island and winning a Stanley Cup.