Well, this is a piece that I did not expect to write this season. The All-Star break is officially upon Islander-land with Long Island’s own a surprising leader of the pack in the Metropolitan Division. Yes, you read that correctly. The Islanders are in first place at the All-Star break.
Last week, I did my best to deep dive the Islanders in a more analytical view that was not solely based on self-fulfilling perceptions. Since then, the Islanders have played four games to a 54% attempt share and 68% high danger share via Natural Stat Trick. They have given up a total of three goals (plus one more in a shootout loss). I had pegged them as a solidly average team getting a boost by goaltending. Their performance since is that of a team much better than average.
Even if the team comes back to Earth a bit (which they will), the Islanders have had a long enough run where the mentality has shifted from “Hey maybe this team is good enough to hang around” to “Who is this team going to play in the first round?” And frankly, that’s not without merit.
The above chart from Reagan King’s Corsisles, which averages out some of the key statistical playoff models, shows the math is currently working pretty heavily in the Isles’ favor. And if you have watched the Islanders, you can see they have created a culture of suffocating defense and opportunistic offense. It shows on the ice and in the numbers. Over the last 25 games, they are 11th in score-adjusted attempt share (51.34%), and second in score-adjusted high danger chances (58.32%).
Those are, quite simply, not the results of a team that is over reliant on PDO. While the PDO boost (102.7 over their last 25) does exist, it’s more important to call out the improvement of the Islanders’ underlying numbers. As stated, the way to mitigate PDO ebbs and flows is to improve shot attempt share. And of late, the Islanders have succeeded in doing that.
So, here we are. The Islanders are good. Why wouldn’t they be aggressive at the deadline?
Let’s dig in.
A Second Chance at a Unique Set of Circumstances
Last year, I went onto Lighthouse contributor Garik’s videocast making a plea for former GM Garth Snow to take advantage of the rare case of having two franchise centers on the roster. At the time, the Islanders were well above NHL .500 and looked to be cruising (they were 16-9-3 at the time) with one of the most potent offenses in the league.
Things fell off the rails, Garth Snow did nothing, John Tavares left in free agency, and things looked... fairly bleak.
Well, here we are again — except this time it’s late January and as division leaders, the Islanders are the surprise of the NHL. This year, they have another unique situation — or a combination of them. This year’s edition includes a Hall of Fame coach, a group of players who continue to play at levels above any reasonable expectation, a franchise center still on his entry-level contract, one of the best performing goaltending tandems in the league, and a lot of cap space.
So I’m going to say it again: the Islanders should be adding at the deadline.
This is not my normal point of view, though it may seem that way after two consecutive years of advertising such a strategy. But my reason is simple: the Islanders have uncovered a unique set of circumstances that may be difficult to repeat in future years.
Let’s think about it:
- Hall of Fame coach?
Okay, this is repeatable. Barry Trotz is not going anywhere, and no, I don’t think anyone thinks he sucks.
- Performance above expectation?
Sure this is possible for it to happen again, but is it something you can bank on? Probably not, considering the bar is undoubtedly raised going into next season.
- Mathew Barzal on an ELC?
You got one more year of this. Then he’s going to be expensive. Like, really expensive.
Impossible to predict. Not only do the Islanders not have a signed tandem for next season, it’s been proven that goaltending is volatile year to year and is not correlated to higher salaries.
- Cap Space?
Here one minute, gone the next if you’re not pragmatic about it. (This wasn’t meant to be a cheap plug, by the way… I think.)
And I get the opposing point of view here. There are always reasons not to go through with something. This situation isn’t different. In fact, there’s plenty of logic to the notion that the Islanders are working towards Belmont, that they should hold onto their farm of assets as Lou Lamoriello continues to evaluate, that the team just isn’t ready.
At the same time, gosh, you could have said the same thing in the 2014-15 season.
“The Islanders are working towards Brooklyn.”
“The Islanders should hold onto all of their prospects, including Griffin Reinhart, Michael Dal Colle, and Ryan Pulock.”
“The Islanders just aren’t ready to win yet.” (Okay, that one is the same)
That team, and the subsequent 2015-16 team, also had a similar set of unique circumstances. The former management regime stayed fairly inactive, and that era of Islanders hockey came and went with a singular playoff series victory. Alas.
Now at this point, I’m sure you’re asking who the Islanders could realistically acquire. And I am going to give a total cop out answer here: I don’t really know who is available, what they would cost, and what goes into facilitating trades in the NHL.
Here’s what I will say. The Islanders could use an upgrade down the middle. They could use upgrade on the third line. They could definitely use another scorer, as goals become at a premium for the playoffs and the Islanders don’t really have enough of those pure goal-scoring type of players.
Those are just off-the-cuff observations based on the body of work of this season to date. They may be able to fill one or all of these gaps, but I’ll leave that to Lou Lamoriello.
At the end of the day, things can change very quickly. We saw it from 2012 into 2014, and again from 2015 into 2017. So below are few key future points to remember, as this perfect storm of circumstances present themselves.
When Mathew Barzal’s contract expires, things will change. When the Islanders leave the Coliseum (again), things will change. When the calendar changes to the 2019-20 season, things will change. For now, however, an opportunity has presented itself.
Bottom line, it’s time for the Islanders to take it.