The Islanders vaporized a lot of demons this season.
They won 45 games. They had 100 points in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1982. They made the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 2004. They made it to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Their brightest spots were both expected and unexpected. They signed a goalie for back-up money who turned in league-leading numbers and they have a no-doubt superstar and captain in his prime. They also added to an already enviable prospect pool.
And yet...those possession numbers
In terms of underlying numbers, the Islanders finished 18th in the NHL in 5v5 corsi for percentage, just a shade below the 50% mark for the season. Last season, they were seventh in the league. This season, every regular skater finished well below the possession heights set last season, with over half of them coming in under 50% CF. The team's goal differential dropped from a +22 last season to a +16 this season.
The dip in possession might be a one year aberration or it might be the start of a downward trend. The latter would be a serious problem.
You didn't need a fancy site like Corsica.hockey to see it, either. On more nights than I could count, the Islanders coasted on good goaltending and timely scoring rather than a swarming, more reliable possession game. Only a few players could be counted on to score consistently throughout the season. Everyone else was relegated to cameo appearances.
While it got them results, it didn't make for an easy ride, even into the playoffs where they mostly chased the Florida Panthers for six games. Most pundits picked the Panthers to win the series.
And yet...a moment we'll never forget
When John Tavares scored in double overtime of Game 6 in their first round playoff series, he did more than just eliminate Florida. He gave every single Islanders fan on Earth something they hadn't felt in a very, very long time: Overwhelming pride.
That wraparound goal - that ended a 23- year playoff victory drought - finally made sphincters unclench across six continents. The streak was over, and we could all move on with our lives and breath easier this Spring than we have in two decades.
The elation and excitement in Tavares' face as he leaped into Thomas Hickey's arms after scoring is the personification of what we all felt together at that moment no matter where we were. I will never forget that image for the rest of my life.
Eight teams had been sent home from the playoffs. The Islanders were not among them. They had moved one round closer to the Stanley Cup. So close you could dream about it and not have people tell you you were crazy.
And yet...the excitement stopped at the second round
The Islanders were outmatched in the next round by a playoff-tested Tampa Bay Lightning team that took whatever punches the Islanders threw, countered when they had to, then went in for the kill with deadly precision. For much of the five game series, the Islanders gave the Lightning everything they had. And they still lost. In the final game, their tanks were sadly, depressingly empty either due to a lack of talent, leadership, coaching, all three or none of the above. We'll probably never know for sure.
Changes in talent are coming.
Four Three of the team's longest-serving players could be in for a move through free agency. Other, less expected moves could be in the works, too as Garth Snow looks for upgrades.
Coach Jack Capuano will stay based on the strength of the team's overall results and his relationships with his players, but questions linger as they do for all longterm coaches that haven't won the big one. For a coach who preaches not sitting back and always being in attack mode, the Islanders have a tendency to do the exact opposite of both. Which means either he's lying to us about the message or it's not getting through to the players or they're incapable of playing that way for a full season.
Changes are also coming to the front office, as two new majority owners take over. That could mean a major shift in the philosophy of how the team is run. Or it could not. No one has any idea.
That's a lot of unanswered questions for one offseason. Maybe too much for one team to figure out at once.
And yet...it's not been this fun in decades
This is unquestionably the best time to be a Islanders fan in decades. Not since the early 1990's has this franchise been this well-stocked. Maybe not even since the dynasty. There are professionals at every position, some the best the team has had in years. Not all of them get the attention they deserve, which makes them feel even more special to us.
For the first time in years, you don't have to justify or defend your choice to be an Islanders fan. The bandwagon is open for business. You have a choice of players to pick as a favorite because they're legitimately good, not because they're just here for two consecutive years.
This is a team players want to be a part of going forward, despite a constantly-stoked, maple syrup-scented hot stove trying to prove otherwise. Keeping much of the team together for several seasons has created a tight family dynamic that most aren't eager to walk away from. The players have experienced the same disappointments fans have and coalesced through the tough times. They're proud to be Islanders, proud of what they've accomplished so far and want to establish the franchise as a true contender.
After a couple of lost generations, kids can become Islanders fans because of reasons other than their parents watched Pierre Turgeon or their grandparents told them stories about the good old days. These are the good days.
And yet...we heard a lot about a building
The new era will be played in Brooklyn, not in Nassau County, where old fans die hard. The first season at Barclays Center wasn't a smooth one by any means.
First the scoreboard was bad, then the seats were bad, then the trains were bad, then the food was bad, then the horn was bad, then the car in the corner was bad, then the commute was bad, then the practices were bad, then security was bad, then the fans were bad, then the partnership was bad, then the ice was bad.
And every time a new media contingent came in, the cycle started all over again.
And yet...they adjusted, the new home is 'home' too
During the course of the season, complaints were heard and adjustments were made. By the end of the regular season, routines were set and a comfort level had been achieved. Lots of fears and worries had been conquered or brushed aside entirely.
When the playoffs started, everyone forgot about the sticking points mainly because they couldn't hear themselves think inside Barclays Center. Islanders fans showed they didn't need Nassau Coliseum to be one of the loudest, most raucous and most electric fanbases in the NHL. They brought the noise to Brooklyn and gave their team everything.
Throw in the fact that the team gets paid gobs of money to play there - more money than they ever received from the greasy fingers in Nassau that couldn't be bothered to lift a finger to care for the Coliseum or let someone build a new one - and the Islanders' "Plan B" remains a good home.
And yet...raised expectations mean difficult decisions
The expectations have changed again and the time for sideways progression is over. The team's focus has to now be on taking a significant step towards a championship.
That's going to mean difficult decisions and higher stakes than anyone has seen in a long, long time. They might not be as prepared as we or they think they are to make that big leap.