Cherish this moment in time, won't you? Because this
should better be the last time in a while where the Islanders miss the playoffs without it being at least a marginal disappointment for most fans. (I know fan opinion is varied, but gimme a break here, I'm trying to really capture the spirit of the thing.)
That's not to say missing the postseason in 2010-11 isn't quite possible (and even quite likely, given how tight the OTL-era playoff races always are). But this April should be -- considering where the Isles are in the rebuild and where my mind was before the season -- the last time the more guarded among us are 100% comfortable with the Islanders falling short. Today we can take solace in the little pitter-patter of baby steps in the form of three very good players 21 and under, or perhaps five 25 and under. We can see things moving upward. We can see solid reasons for hope (on the ice, anyway) without feeling like something was wasted this season.
Contrast that with fans of other teams who walked into this season either holding or being told to hold higher expectations of their squads right now. The Flyers after the Chris Pronger trade. The Rangers after essentially subtracting Scott Gomez for Marian Gaborik -- and essentially wasting a healthy year of Gaborik. The Bruins after a strong year fell two rounds too short last season. Even the Lightning after adding Victor Hedman to a nucleus that included Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and a breakout Steven Stamkos.
And that's just a glance at the East.
In the West you had Calgary which expected to contend with the addition of JayBo, Dallas which had ideas of returning to the playoffs, Anaheim which knocked off San Jose last spring and added Saku to help the Finnish Flash once more, Columbus with the implication they would build on last year's first-round sweep, and St. Louis who created what I thought were premature expectations with a miracle second-half run last season.
Whether they bought the expectations or not, fans of those teams all have some funk to deal with. For those that miss the playoffs, it's a bit of a mercy kill by now -- an alternative to an 8th seed execution, playoff ticket money redirected toward food and gas. For those that limp in like (presumably) the Flyers, it's with resignation. For our buddies the Rangers, it's with a boiling feeling of disgust at another year steered without a plan. For the Lightning, it's what was a playoff seed a month ago plummeting under an infighting unproven GM-coach tandem, and squandering another year of Lecavalier and St. Louis' prime.
Depending on how you consume your sports, you might deem lower expectations as pathetic. That's your right. I'm not practicing dime-store psychology or kool-aid advocacy here.
But knowing where I've been as an Isles fan, I'll take the current plan and modest progress -- with reason for hope -- over the maddening aimlessness that came before it. For today, that's enough for contentment: I can look at a third straight playoffs without the Islanders and feel lament, but hardly devastation. I can look at other teams and find solace in lacking their angst. I can digest this playoff miss without taking the knives out -- not yet.
But I know it won't always be this way.