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New York Islanders Decade Debrief: Better Built Late Than Never

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The last decade of Islanders hockey was... eight years, plus two more.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Announces Start Of New New York Islanders Arena At Belmont Park Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Waitaminute. Weren’t these decade retrospective things supposed to come out, like, two weeks ago?

I guess... We’ve never been big on deadlines around here anyway.

It’s okay because the story of the Islanders’ last ten seasons (a decade ends every year when you think about it) is one about a team that took its sweet time before finally finding itself.

The Islanders of 2009-10 were a far cry from the Islanders of 2019-20 and that’s not just because the names on the uniforms have changed thanks to the inevitable march of time and professional sports. The previous teams were full of hopes and wishes for the future, a rebuilding franchise starting from the bottom and trying to form a brand new foundation.

The current team is about results. Period. The guys in charge have told the players what the foundation is and they’re all, to a man, on board.

A lot of my hesitation to write this (and really anything over the last 18 months) has to do with He Who Shall Not Be Named, the player who represented the majority of the last decade of Islander hockey. I don’t need to tell anyone here the whole story again. We believed in this guy and put all of our dreams of glory on his shoulders for nine years. And then he left. It was kind of a big deal.

It wasn’t just him playing for the Islanders between 2009 and 2019, of course. Tons of guys wore the jersey throughout a rebuild that never was fully actualized. The Islanders had some good teams and some fantastic players. But none of them added up to a sustained infrastructure of success that carried over into the next decade, as had been promised.

Does that render the last 10 years a total waste of time? No. Not at all. There’s a sizable number of major moments that have been compiled here and elsewhere across the internets that manage to remind us why we even put up with all of this nonsense.

We saw them race to an unlikely playoff berth in a wacky shortened season. We saw the Islanders’ first playoff series victory since TWO DECADES earlier. We saw some incredible individual seasons. We saw a fight night no one will ever forget. We saw comebacks that aren’t supposed to happen. We saw the team sold to new ownership that incredibly, for once, appears to have actual money and the will to spend it.

We saw the team lose a vote for a new arena, then move to another new arena that wasn’t the right fit, then find a spot for a new, new home, then make an unlikely, triumphant return back to the old arena then finally, at long last, begin construction on the kind of state-of-the-art arena that the franchise has been desperately begging for since forever.

Belmont Park would qualify as the biggest news of the decade on its own, even without a player or coach in sight. But in a twist few Islanders fans probably could have predicted, the team that will move into that shiny new home might actually be pretty good.

Late in the decade, the franchise was re-started once again, this time with a new GM and a new coach and staff. If the first eight years were characterized by instability and a lack of sustained success, the last two could be described as the exact opposite. Lou Lamoriello, Barry Trotz and company have given the Islanders the kind of bedrock they’ve needed since the end of the Dynasty era. They are in lockstep to the point where there the Islanders can almost be considered boring, something they haven’t been in recent memory. Or really any memory.

It doesn’t hurt that they generally win more games than they lose these days. Are they perfect? Absolutely not. The “get-one-more-than-the-other-team” philosophy can be dangerous territory when your bottom six doesn’t score and most of your top six goes ice cold from time to time. Despite their place in the league standings, this is a team that is still a few major pieces away from being a serious Stanley Cup contender.

But the coaches know they have to win and the players know they have to win and, so far, they’ve been winning. It’s been a long, long time since the Islanders have been strictly in the business of winning hockey games and not focused on just basic year-to-year survival.

For years, the word “identity” was thrown around a lot without any tangible meaning. Their “identity” was of a likeable patchwork roster prone to long losing streaks, bad luck and short bouts of success.

Their current identity is as a team of stifling structure and timely but not overwhelming scoring by committee. No quotation marks necessary. That’s it. These are your New York Islanders.

All it took was eighty percent of a decade to find themselves.