So with an 18-point improvement, the Islanders' 37th season is complete. It's their third consecutive Atlantic last-place finish and third consecutive sub-.500 finish -- the 17th sub-.500 season in their history. But it's not all bad. There are signs of progress, with reasons to hope for further another jump next year.
Below is a comparison of the last two seasons, in terms of raw rates and league rank. There was improvement in the key areas -- chiefly, overall record and five-on-five play -- yet a dropoff on both special teams units. The faceoff improvement is likely a sign of a young team getting better at this important yet hard-to-peg skill.
|Rec.||RegW ||OTW ||SOW ||OTL ||SOL ||GF/G||GA/G||5-5 F/A ||PP||PK||FO|
As Dennis Green could discern just from a glance at the Islanders' stat ranks each year: They are who we thought they were. If you wanna lottery 'em, then lottery their arse.
Below-average but not abysmal special teams in 2008-09 could not overcome a bottom-feeding performance in goals, goals against, and 5-on-5 play. Meanwhile, bottom-three special teams in 2009-10 were simply par for the course, as their 5-on-5 play and goals against remained in that territory, albeit noticeably improved over the previous season.
Two Spins on the Shootout
It's tempting to say -- particularly for an anti-shootout activist* as myself -- that the Islanders' 18-point improvement this season is inflated by additional trips (and wins) in OT and the shootout. But you don't get to extra time unless you're tied in regulation, and you don't end up tied in regulation unless you're staying in games. The Isles were far more competitive in almost every game this year; so they managed 10 more "ties" this season over last, and their 14-11 record in extra time was hardly a sign of them feasting on bonus points. (Cup contender Chicago? 15-8 in extra time this year. Phoenix? A ridiculous 19-7 in extra time, including 14-6 in shootouts.)
*Well, my opposition is more moral and aesthetics-based, rather than a campaign against teams who thrive playing by the league's existing rules.
Meanwhile ... how much of the improvement was simply having professional goaltending and fewer devastating injuries? How much was due to an even weaker East?
The Way Forward
What I see is a team that's getting better but still has a long way to go. How much of that comes through internal growth, and how much comes via additions in the first round of the 2010 draft and via free agency, that's an open question.
Importantly, Garth Snow and company are already setting themselves up to be taken seriously in 2012-13, perhaps even 2011-12. But for next year's professed playoff push, they're going to need some help this summer. Thankfully, both Snow and Scott Gordon -- surprisingly frank about the rebuild plan in post-game interviews last night -- have acknowledged that necessity, and sound ready to strike. I hope the right available players are ready to be struck by a Cupid arrow in orange and blue. (Sales pitch: Did I mention we'll have pretty jerseys? The retro, de-RBK-ified kind?)
* * *
Looking at those numbers -- and any you care to add to the picture -- what do you see? What's your biggest worry in terms of how this team goes about improving on those figures? That can include draft/free agency discussion of course, but you may have ideas about in-game execution and, :cough: those special teams.
**AYP, as in Adequate Yearly Progress, is a bogey-acronym only an educator in the No Child Left Behind era would know. I apologize if the headline gave you a fright, but bureaucratic terms make me laugh and think of "Brazil" -- not Robyn Regehr's Brazil, but Terry Gilliam's.