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New York Islanders Are Cup Threats, Should be Treated as Such

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The thing about adhering to stock narratives when discussing the Islanders is that it shouldn’t be “a thing” anymore.

So this is a familiar sight
So this is a familiar sight
Al Bello/Getty Images

It's time for a sit-down talk. We have something to tell you. Did you find a chair? Are you sitting? OK, here it is: the New York Islanders are good. Like, super good. Threats-to-win-the-2015-Stanley-Cup good.

This isn't unbridled optimism talking. Just facts and numbers.

Still, there's a good chunk of the hockey-watching public that can't (or won't) accept just how good the Islanders are. They instead rehash canned storylines having to do with Mike Milbury's front office tenure (not exactly timely); that quagmire of a rebuild (which is, you know, over); and oh-man-have-you-guys-heard-about-the-Coliseum-it's-so-old-and-not-trendy (self-explanatory).

This isn't unbridled optimism talking. Just facts and numbers.

The Coliseum and its asbestos aside, none of these things bear mentioning in relation to this year's club.

If we wanted to start the discussion about how the Islanders are one of the NHL's top teams, we might start by recapping their record (39-19-1, 79 points), their position in the Metropolitan Division (first) and the Eastern Conference (second), and how three-game losing streaks are as bad as it's gotten on the Island all season.

We might. But that would be rote and unimaginative. So we won't do that.

What we will do is frame their 2014-15 campaign in the context of the day. Which is to say: as it relates to puck possession. Because as we've come to quantify with increasing precision over the past six-plus years of the #fancystats era, controlling the puck leads to more shots on goal which leads to more scoring chances which leads to more goals which leads to more wins.

And wins, as we've learned since the inception of the NHL, are important things to have if you're a team interested in lifting the Stanley Cup. After all, no team wins the Cup without winning the season's final game.

The stock market, circa 2007 The Islanders, possession monsters

Whether you've made your peace with the idea that goals are relatively random events in the grand scheme of a hockey game—which tells us everything we need to know about your acceptance of advanced stats in general—or you think "fancy stats" is a four-letter word and the root of all evil, the Islanders have been fancy-statting their way to one of the best regular seasons in franchise history.

Possession-wise, the Isles are currently the NHL's dominant force. As of this writing, they're second in the league in score-adjusted Corsi at 5-on-5 (54.5%), first in score-adjusted Fenwick (55.7), and first in score-adjusted shots on goal (55.3).

Those aren't flash-in-the-pan numbers. Those are season-long, kicking-ass-and-taking-names numbers. Borderline-NSFW numbers. Elite numbers, is our point.

Let's compare, shall we?

Here are two charts showing the Isles' (orange/blue) Corsi for percentage (CF%) 25-game rolling averages this season in comparison to a few other Cup-contending teams: Anaheim (orange), Chicago (black/red), Montreal (blue/red), Nashville (black/yellow), St. Louis (yellow/blue), and Tampa Bay (gray/blue).

NYI vs. Cup contenders, 25-game rolling CF%

Of the teams on the short list to challenge for the Cup, the Islanders are the best at controlling the run of play at 5-on-5, as indicated by their end-point on the top chart. An average of 25-game CF% totals shows the Isles right around 55 percent, which is ridiculous.

Possession-wise, the Isles are currently the NHL's dominant force

(For reference: +5% in the Corsi department over an extended period of time—enough for a good sample size, which is what we have here—puts the Islanders well into "team scheduled to make a deep playoff run" territory. So.)

Only the Lightning are in the same league from a full-season perspective; Chicago has generally been strong all year too. Both of those teams also have an Islanders-like distribution of positive-possession games (bottom chart), which is telling. In short: they win the possession battle most nights. Related: people seem pretty willing to anoint those teams as contenders.

Considering the numbers, it's strange that the Islanders haven't been getting similar hype. Which brings us to our next point...

Deadline Moves? No team is perfect, but the Islanders are pretty close

We find ourselves a bit bemused at having to remind the naysayers national media that this version of the Isles is one of the most complete teams to ever exist in, like, franchise history or whatever, but such are the times in which we live.

No, the Isles don't need to make a trade. This roster is the finished product with which Garth Snow and Jack Capuano are willing to go to war. There is no need to add anything to it.

Snow had the best offseason of any NHL GM—and it's not close—which was capped off by him moving mere draft picks and prospects for Johnny Boychuk(!) and(!) Nick Leddy(!) less than a week before the start of the regular season, but somehow there exists this perception that he owes it to the team to make yet another move at the trade deadline that will magically put the Islanders over the top. (For real this time!)

This is confusing/unsettling/wrong/rotflolololol.

Why is a trade absolutely necessary? When 100 percent healthy, the Islanders have more players than they have roster spots. Their backups have been at or better than replacement-level. Their ideal lineup is already in place and ready to be iced at some point before (and during) the playoffs.

Yes, injuries are things that may happen at some undefined point in the future—Mikhail Grabovski and Kyle Okposo come to mind, because recency bias—but to use the "what-if" game as a means of arguing that a trade has to be made is a cop-out often used by talking heads when they're scrambling to say something, anything, about any team.

A house built on sand, etc. etc.

That line of hypothetical reasoning is like when columnists knock the Isles for not having "the type of postseason experience it takes to win." Which: huh?

Boychuk and Leddy already have championships to their names. Jaroslav Halak, Travis Hamonic, Kyle Okposo, John Tavares and others all have prior postseason experience. And last we checked, there have been teams in history that won Stanley Cups despite not having won them the year before.

It feels like things have gone so well for the Islanders this season that the media has been a) forced to pay [the slightest of] attention to them, and b) reduced to grasping at straws when trying to find any glaring issues.

The penalty kill aside, when the fan base's biggest complaint is about which player should be the team's seventh defenseman or whether the backup goaltending has been better-than-replacement level, that's a sure sign that this team is for real.

The only other legitimate question mark is whether Halak will get hot and reprise his performance from the 2010 playoffs. And based on his 11 consecutive wins earlier this season—and his franchise record-tying 32 wins overall—there's a good chance he reverts to his career numbers sooner rather than later.

No longer should anyone be dismissing the Islanders as this year's upstart club likely to flame out come the postseason. Arguments about trades or the Isles "not having what it takes to win" don't hold water at this point. What they're doing on the ice can't be considered "cute" anymore. After all, it's been happening since Oct. 10 and has continued all season long.

Unless by "cute" you mean "dominant" in which case, yes: it's "cute."

Charts courtesy of War-On-Ice.com. That site is the best.