So. This season hasn’t been great so far.
After the New York Islanders won their first playoff round in 23 years in a new building in Brooklyn, things were looking up, even with a bad possession year. And yet, 12 games into the season, the Islanders are 4-6-2, a poor possession team, and essentially at the bottom of the conference (the Carolina Hurricanes have 1 less point, but a game in hand).
Free agents Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera are underperforming, to say the least. Ladd has 1 assist in his 12 games, and it came off an empty net goal. Chimera has 3 assists.
Jaroslav Halak is being shopped around the league after his agent put the Islanders’ goaltending situation on blast on Twitter.
Now, Travis Hamonic’s out 4-6 weeks with a thumb injury. It really is Woe-vember.
It’s easy to say the season is lost, and that the Cup window is closing, and that John Tavares is going to Toronto. But there’s some recent history that shows that all is not lost, and sometimes you just need a year or two to reload.
Enter the Lightning
In the 2012-13 lockout season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were at a similar juncture. In 2012, they missed the playoffs. In 2011, just a year before, the Lightning had made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, before losing to eventual cup champs in the Boston Bruins.
On March 24, 2013, the Lightning were 13-18-1. GM Steve Yzerman fired Guy Boucher and hired Jon Cooper, who was the team’s AHL affiliate’s coach. The Lightning ended up getting third overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, selecting a guy you might’ve heard of named Jonathan Drouin.
Now, fast forward. The Lightning are a top team in the Eastern Conference, made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2015 and the Eastern Conference finals in 2016. Some of this is due to getting a little lucky with undrafted players like Tyler Johnson and late round picks like Ondrej Palat. Some of it is due to good drafting since Yzerman took over.
But there are a lot of similarities here. The major differences between these two teams are a real top defenseman (while Nick Leddy is an excellent player, he isn’t at Victor Hedman’s level) and a competent second line. Steven Stamkos, like John Tavares, hasn’t exactly been playing with the best in the league. He has often played with Alex Killorn, Ryan Callahan, and Valtteri Filppula, similar to Tavares’ struggle to find a real #2 guy to go with him. Stamkos was even switched to the wing by Jon Cooper, a move that he wasn’t happy about. Yet, the Lightning continue to thrive.
The second line is really what makes the difference – the Islanders had a flash of it in 2014-15 with The Kid Line of Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, and Ryan Strome. Since then, they haven’t been able to recapture that level of play.
In 2014, the Isles were at the bottom of the league after a hopeful playoff performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins the year before. They picked up Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang, Ilya Sorokin, Linus Soderstrom, and Devon Toews, who have all been praised. Dal Colle (5 goals, 1 assist in 10 games) and Ho-Sang (1 goal, 5 assists in 10 games) are currently performing well in the AHL and had strong training camps, so it’s likely we see them contributing in the NHL soon.
Consider the Isles’ 2014 similar to the Lightning’s 2012. Now, 2016 could be similar to 2013. The Islanders are a struggling team in need of a new voice in the locker room. If Garth Snow wants to save his job, he’s going to have to find someone new to coach the team.
Whether you think Jack Capuano is a bad coach or not, the team has plateaued under his tenure. A different voice with some more modern play ideas may be able to get more out of struggling young players like Ryan Strome and Calvin de Haan, among others.
Once there’s a new coach brought in, let the kids play. Anthony Beauvillier has impressed, but give Mathew Barzal a chance to succeed. Let’s see what we have in Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang in Bridgeport. The team will probably be bad, but at least it will be intentionally bad, and ideally bad enough to get a lottery pick in the draft, one that can contribute soon. This would be the second reload year, like Tampa’s 2013.
The Islanders have enough pieces that there’s no need to tear down the team. The defense is one of the better ones in the league, but the offense is severely lacking. On the bright side, the Islanders’ best prospects all have high-end offensive ability. There’s potential to be a great team, and there’s a map to get there in teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning.
At some point, the New York Islanders have to reap the benefits of their rebuild. This team is more talented than their current record, but it’s hard to evaluate how much more talented it is without a new system. And if they can follow the Lightning’s path, the goal of winning a Stanley Cup gets that much closer.