My Team Made the Playoffs But They Have No Chance – Islanders Edition

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Last year, the New York Islanders made the playoffs as the first wild card. They lost in the first round to Carolina in six games. The Hurricanes finished 20 points higher in the standings, and while the Isles were competitive in the series, the final result seemed pretty inevitable.

That team finished with 93 points and a plus-21 goal differential. I think the Isles made the playoffs in 2022-23 mostly because the Penguins slipped just below them, and the Capitals fell off a cliff in terms of results.

In 2023-24, the Islanders rode a late-season hot streak to finish third in the Metro division, leading to another first-round matchup with the Canes.

They finished with 94 points – 17 points behind their first-round opponent. More importantly, they finished the season minus-17 in goal differential. Somehow, the Capitals grabbed the second wild card spot with a minus-37 goal differential.

Both of these teams are in the playoffs because, again, the Penguins weren’t very good, the Devils fell apart spectacularly after finishing with 112 points the season before, and the Flyers’ early-season success did not hold up as the season wore on. (See also Detroit in the wild card race.)

In truth, when looking at the conference standings, the Eastern Conference has six quality playoff teams, but eight teams make the playoffs. The Islanders and Capitals beat out the other teams for those spots, primarily by losing in overtime more often. (The Isles only won 39 of 82 games – not an example of greatness.)

Last year, the Florida Panthers ran to the finals from the second wild-card spot. I think that was more a matter of a good team that didn’t find their way with a new lineup until partway through the season. They may have barely gotten in but were also a plus-17 goal differential.

That goal differential jumps out this season because it’s rare that a team that gives up more goals than it scores by a significant margin makes the playoffs, let alone two in the same division. It doesn’t bode well for either of those teams getting out of the first round, and I would not be surprised to see the Isles out by this time next week.

This brings us back to the Islanders season and where they go.

There are issues. The team’s top looks pretty solid; Barzal, Dobson, Nelson, Horvat, and even Palmieri were a solid core this season. Pelech and Pulock, when healthy, were also solid parts of the team. Sorokin took a slide from recent seasons, and that is concerning. Varlamov got hot and helped get them to the playoffs, but Sorokin is the future for the Isles, and they need him back. (Granted, the injuries on defense didn’t help him any.)

Lee and Pageau took up $12 million in cap space and combined for 31 goals. As much as we love Anders, $7 million for 20 goals and 37 points isn’t good money management. The cap next year does not favor the Islanders making significant improvements in the offseason. They only have eight forwards under contract next year and maybe $6 million in cap space. Their AHL affiliate finished dead last this season.

I don’t think they stand a chance in the playoffs this year, and I don’t think the future is bright unless they find a way to get away from some of these contracts. I don’t know who wants Lee and Pageau, though. It might be more likely we see Nelson go instead.

It might be another rough offseason for Isles fans.

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