Wow, what a brutal end to such an emotional season. Thinking back to that early February 5 game losing streak, how it was just supposed to be another one of those seasons. Every media outlet predicted we'd be bottom 5 for sure, and we were right on track to proving them right. And then John Tavares happened. Put the team on his back at the age of 22, the same freaking age as me. (ouch...) He scored 28 goals and just keeps getting better every year. No doubt that a Maurice Richard award or two await this kid. When JT came back to Earth it was the heart of the core that picked us back up. What a second half for Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, and Frans Neilsen. John Tavares gets a lot of the media play for being the Heart Trophy Candidate, and deservedly so, but without the emergence of the second line the Islanders do not make the playoffs. Fact.
Right from the start of the year I was immediately impressed with the level of effort, determination, and sacrifice from Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Colin McDonald. Tip of the cap to them this year. On a nightly basis these guys left it all on the ice. The three of them have turned into huge fan favorites, and fact that they totaled 43 pts between them is a sweet bonus. I feel like it doesn't get talked about enough that Matt Martin just lead the league in hits for the second year in a row. Last year he amassed 374 hits, winning the title by a margin of 81 hits to Dustin Brown's 2nd place effort (Martin also played 2 less games). I already own a JT jersey (like everyone else), but you can bet on the fact that the next sweater I buy will be #17's. What an animal, and he's a stoolie.
The only unsatisfying part of the offense this year was the role of Michael Grabner. He scored 16 goals, but I think along with myself Isles fans expected more out of him. Why is Frans Neilsen not giving him endless amounts of penalty shot/breakaway training? Seriously, if Grabner scored on 50% of his breakaways he could have had 25+ goals. Seriously though, every single game this season there was that one (sometimes two or three) moment(s) where you were just absolutely astonished at how much faster he is than virtually everyone else in the game (and by the game I mean the whole freaking NHL). Watching the defense scramble to catch him was like Wile E. Coyote chasing Road Runner. Not a shot.
Also to quickly address the defense, the defensive effort of Hamonic and A-Mac. Two studs on the blue line, tough to see MacDonald's season end like that, the top defensive duo was incredibly impressive this year. I see an assistant captaincy in the future of Travis Hamonic for sure. Excited to have Lubo locked up for 2 more, never really knew how good this guy was till he came to the Eastern Conference, and now it's easy to understand why they loved him so much back in Europe. As for Streit, while he's still an effective offensive defenseman and solid power-play quarterback, I'm not so sure I want him back if he's asking to get paid more than $3.5M or if he's looking for more than 3 years. He's 35 and has been somewhat of a defensive liability at times. He finished the year with a team worst +/- coming in at -14. If he goes, Tavares gets the C, it's a no brainer. I was also real impressed Thomas Hickey. While I think it was the right call to keep Carkner in the lineup against Pittsburgh, Hickey had an impressive year, and the 24 year old once 4th overall pick of the LA Kings is playing the best hockey of his career. He moves the puck very well. Him and Lubo finished with a +9 and a +12 respectively, the two highest plus-minuses on the team.
I think the biggest concern going into the offseason is the goaltending situation. So here we've got a 37 year old free agent that came up big for us down the stretch but really didn't do much to help us win in the playoffs. I also won't hesitate to point out that he developed a reputation in San Jose for playing well in the regular season but not being reliable in the playoffs. I think we need to seriously explore other options, considering Kevin Poulin is an young, unproven NHL starter. Roberto Luongo would be awesome to get back to Long Island, but at the right price. It's definitely not worth taking on the full brunt of that contract. Oh yea, and there's Rick DiPietro. Just in case you're curious he finished the season in Bridgeport starting 18 games, going 9-9 rocking a 2.93GAA and a .893 SV%. That'll be all, Rickity DiPietroll.
I know there
were are a lot of Garth Snow haters, but you have no choice but to salute this guy for his efforts. Great call by the GM not rushing up any of the young guys and allowing them to at least have a training camp before entering their first NHL seasons. Also, nobody talks about the fact that we just paid Brad Boyes $1M to score 35 pts. Sure, he played with Tavares and we can probably find a better winger for the cornerstone of the franchise, but talk about bang for your buck. Boyes wasn't a stiff either, he may have had a bad stretch in Buffalo but the guy's got a wicked wrist shot and can finish. It's definitely going to be fun to get a look at the young guys next year wiith Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Nino Niederreiter all looking to make the squad. And there's David Ullstrom, Anders Lee. Don't expect to see Keith Aucoin, Marty Reasoner, or Eric Boulton back. Not really losing too much there.
So I guess I should address the question in the title right about now, huh? Now that we've proven that we are, and will continue to be relevant in the NHL, what's the deal with Isles Nation? Unfortunately still being at school in PA I couldn't get to any of the playoff games (I've only been to 1 in my life), but watching on TV you could tell how long Isles fans have been waiting for this. Starting with the "We Want Playoffs!" chants toward the end of the season and the raucous atmosphere for the 3 playoff games, I guess it leaves me wondering about the fanbase moving forward. Are we fully committed to the boys in blue or are the only sellout games going to be against the smurfs and our playoff games? After seeing what this team is capable of, and how much fun they are to watch, to see the old barn get hyped up a lot more often during the regular season would satisfying. Being a lot of people's "token" Islander fan, I can't tell you how many times someone came up to me or texted me saying just how entertaining this team is, specifically how much heart they play with. You can't help but root for them.
RIP 2013 season. All you diehards and bandwagoners out there can consider this though. Next season, we enter with expectations. Goosebumps.