The Islanders season ended yesterday in a case of precision demolition at the end of the Lightning in Game 5 of their series. Their first season in Brooklyn gave fans a bit of a mixed bag. The regular season record was not as good as the previous year, and the Isles finished one place further back in the Metropolitan Division. On the other hand they won their first playoff series in 23 years and had a more competitive than it might look 5 game series with the Lightning.
But, was it a success? Certainly many would argue that breaking that 23 year drought is a success, and you won’t see any arguments from me on that one, that was hanging around this organization like an albatross and it feels good as a fan to not have that around any more.
On a deeper level though, we have to ask about the overall plan. Garth Snow and Jack Capuano have been the architects of this team for quite awhile now, and it’s fair to ask if this season ended as another step towards a Stanley Cup, or whether this team, as constructed and coached, has what it takes. That’ a more difficult question to answer.
The reason it’s difficult kind of goes back to what I’ve been saying since last Summer. Given a team that had made the playoffs, but lost in round one due mostly to a lack of scoring, especially on the power play, Garth Snow chose to, essentially, stand pat. He made some minor moves to bring in Marek Zidlicky and Steve Bernier, and swapped out backup goaltenders, bringing in Thomas Greiss, but clearly management believed that the youngsters would blossom after showing some real promise during the 2014-15 season. A big reason why their record was not as good this season had to do with that simply not happening.
Let’s get specific here. We’re talking about Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson. In 2014-15 they combined for 62 goals and 71 assists. In the 2015-16 season that dipped to 49 goals and 55 assists. More importantly, we also got to see a lot of poor decisions and bad defense out of them at times that didn’t exist the previous season. Poor enough to see them benched, and Strome even sent to Bridgeport for a short time. While Nelson played at around the same level of production, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome regressed, badly. For a team that stood mostly pat during the offseason, and again at the trade deadline, this would prove to be a serious problem.
And, as in the previous season, come playoff time, they were non-factors. (Albeit Lee was a non-factor due to injury)
On defense, the inability of any of the highly touted prospects to even crack the lineup until very late in the season meant the Isles played much of the season with the same holes on defense that they had the previous season. In essence, Leddy, Boychuk, Hamonic, deHaan, Hickey and either Strait or Zidlicky. Or as I like to think of them, 3 second pair and 4 third pair defensemen. Leddy, Boychuk and Hamonic are all good, solid defensemen, Leddy when he really gets skating can even be a borderline top pairing guy, but the other four bring a mix of good and bad on a day to day basis that you’d really rather not depend on for too many minutes. The group still lacks a clear stud top guy. (Ala what we saw from Victor Hedman against the Islanders.)
On top of that gamble, the Islanders also were depending on some of their veteran players playing up to their capabilities as well, but only a few did. Even captain John Tavares was down 16 points from the previous year. Johnny Boychuk, Josh Bailey and Nikolai Kulemin were also significantly less productive while Mikail Grabovski once again couldn’t stay healthy.
All in all, the only area the Islanders actually improved in was in goal. Credit to Jaroslav Halak and Greiss, without them this season may have been a lot worse than it was, and we might still be waiting on that series win.
Anyway you look at it though, the dip in some of the numbers for so many players, and the dip in quality play for some of them, leave me wondering how successful this season really was. Were the Islanders better, or were they just lucky to face a Florida team that wasn’t ready to win in the playoffs yet?
I think, after careful viewing of Round two, that it was the later. Simply put, the Islanders got a Tampa team playing minus an All-Star Center and one of it’s top 4 defense, but still managed to have the play taken to them for most of the series. After catching a rusty team by surprise in Game 1, they were dominated in Game 2. Back home in Brooklyn, the Islanders had late, third period, leads and plenty of chances to extend those leads and put Tampa away, but wound up losing both of those games, finally getting just completely outclassed in game 5.
In a nutshell, Tampa got their opportunity to put away their opponent in Game 5, and did it clinically. Given the chance to put away their opponent in Games 3-4, the Islanders had no such ability to finish off their chances.
Simply put, I think the Islanders management stood pat this season banking on improvement from within, and got about the same team. They got a better round one matchup and won a series, but did not get closer to competing for a Cup. Much of that falls on the GM for not making a significant move, but I also have to say that when you have young players not improving, and in fact, regressing, that is also on the coaching staff.
Will they be back? Who knows? With new ownership taking control of the team this off season, anything could happen. Looking at the roster, I think there will be some changes made, regardless of the coach and GM. I’ll have more on that in another post this week.
How do you feel about the season. Was it a success in your book because there was at least some playoff success, or was it more of a year of standing still? What do you think this team looks like come September?