Welcome to the final set of Bits of the year 2018, loyal LHH commentariat. Throughout this calendar year, we’ve covered a wide variety of Islanders news on this forum, and, as fans of this team, experienced a world of change, including watching that world get turned upside down over the summer. It feels fitting that one of the last games they played in 2018 was against the Maple Leafs. It signaled a bit of closure from the wild year it was, and if you want to get really corny and philosophical and artsy-fartsy with me about it, a thrashing of John Tavares’ new team is the perfect way to enter a new year without him, especially in the context of the positive direction the team seems to be headed in with new management and coaching.
Not to get too deep into my feelings or the myriad reasons for them, but 2018 was a difficult year for me, personally. I’m a diehard Isles fan in all situations, through ups and downs theirs and mine, but I especially look forward to hockey when things aren’t going well in my own life. While a good portion of 2018 was not so great for the Islanders, it ends with surprising promise for the next year and the years ahead - I’d like to think the same for me, as well.
Above all else, I just want to thank all of you for reading along with all the posts I’ve put up on this site over the last two-and-a-third years, even though more than half of them are compiling other people’s words. Since I started writing here, this site has become synonymous with hockey to me - I look forward to my turns to post the way I look forward to each Islander game. Lighthouse Hockey is more of a community than it is a blog, and it means the world to me that you haven’t run me out of it... yet (just wait, though: I’m quite annoying when you get to know me, if you haven’t noticed already). There haven’t been an overwhelming number of positives to report on throughout 2018, but I suspect 2019 has a bit more of them in store.
That being said, folks, we’re not quite done yet, and neither are the Islanders. They close out the year with a road game in Buffalo, taking on the surprising Sabres in a game with a slightly-earlier-than-normal start time of 6:00 p.m. You can leave your FIG picks for this one here, if you so please.
- Goalie Robin Lehner admits “it’ll be a little weird” during his return to Buffalo, where he spent the last three seasons and enjoyed some good times, as well as some of his deepest personal struggles. [Newsday]
- Saturday night’s win was a metaphorically emphatic door slam to the Tavares era, a Ken Campbell hot take I can actually get behind, but to say they’re better off without him simply isn’t true, whether we like it or not. And he bared his bitter ass when he edited Mat Barzal’s “hockey mecca” comment about Toronto, as seen below (emphasis mine). [THN]
“We also know that Mat Barzal, Tavares’ replacement in all categories, is well equipped to replace the former captain. Barzal’s natural hat trick against the Maple Leafs in the Islanders 4-0 win Saturday night, the first-ever meeting between Tavares and his former team, put a very tidy exclamation point on that. Thrust into a starring role, Barzal has embraced the pressure that comes with it and under Trotz is a far better player in his own zone. He sure looked like a player on a mission to prove everyone that the sky is not going to fall in just because Tavares left town. ‘Anytime you play on Hockey Night in Canada and come into the mecca of hockey, you try to play a good game,’ Barzal said. ‘If you don’t come prepared to play against these guys, they’ll eat you up.’”
- Saturday night’s win also revealed one of the biggest motivators for the Islanders’ players this season was the near-universal predictions that had them at the bottom of the league without Tavares. [Yahoo]
- “For Matt Martin, the special return was coming back to the Islanders” is a great lede. The forward stayed focused when he played the Leafs for the first time, once again a constant in an NHL lineup. [Newsday]
- The deVON Toews era is off to a lovely start, as the Isles’ newest defenseman looks like one of the veterans out there. [LHH]
- In news that no one cares about, the Railers made a minor trade, sending forward Austin Block to the Manchester Monarchs for apparently no return. [ECHL]
- Remember yesterday, when I included a bit about something having to give in Edmonton? Two-and-a-half hours after my post, the Oilers traded away defenseman Chris Wideman and the better of their two third round picks this year (their own and the Isles’ from the Brandon Davidson trade) to the Panthers for locally-born defenseman Alex Petrovic. [C&B | NHL]
Yet another overpay to downgrade by GM Pe—... good god, he’s on the horn again!
- No, Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli wasn’t done yet. After the first trade announcement, the local media reported about his balls being in the air or something and before the afternoon was out, he shipped out somewhat decent forward Drake Caggiula and defenseman Jason Garrison for worse defenseman Brandon Manning (who just so happened to be the guy that broke Connor McDavid’s clavicle his rookie year) and 23 year-old Swedish defenseman Robin Norell, who isn’t even in North America anymore. [C&B | NHL]
- These moves, the latest in a desperate string of them for the Oilers’ GM, reveal that he, as well as his team, are fighting for survival. It seems that is the point Mark Spector is trying to make here, but he still manages to lug a big ol’ bucket from Chiarelli’s well back home in the process. [Sportsnet]
- Meanwhile, in dumping a player deemed untradeable by many in Manning, the Blackhawks positioned themselves well for when Henri Jokiharju returns from representing Team Finland at the World Junior Championships and get back a decent player in Caggiula. [The Athletic]
- In the wake of Stars CEO Jim Lites’ profane comments to the media about his two stars, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, their GM, Jim Nill, has rejected the language and tone of the comments, but support the message behind them. [The Athletic | NHL]
- The players’ union, the NHLPA, released a statement yesterday condemning the comments as “reckless and insulting.” [Yahoo]
- And Scott Burnside, in his own unsurpassable style, carries a bit of water himself for Dallas owner Tom Gaglardi, much to the fierce chagrin of Mooterati.
- The Swiss nearly came back to defeat Russia at the World Juniors yesterday, but the Russians prevailed 7-4 in the end. [Recap | Boxscores]
- Greg Wyshynski has some predictions for the year 2019 and they include Scott Gordon earning the gig full-time with the Philadelphia Flyers, while Joel Quenneville returns to the St. Louis Blues. [ESPN]
- Aaron Dell, his father, and his Sharks teammates are rallying around Ryan Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed in the gruesome Humboldt Broncos bus crash this past April. [San Jose Mercury News]