A new Islanders season is upon us! God help us all.
Here are a few of the many, many questions that have kept and will keep me awake at night throughout this campaign. Don’t expect actual answers.
Will they score enough?
That’s the thing, isn’t it? I mean, they probably will. Not that they have the look of some kind of 80’s style offensive juggernaut, but they have to be better than last year, right? Having one guy go through a 30-game scoring drought would be an improvement over having four or five players doing it simultaneously. That’s the kind of season the Islanders had last year. But the players who are the most prone to long slumps like that - Josh Bailey, Kyle Palmieri, Anthony Beauvillier - have done that prior to last season, too. So who knows?
Under Barry Trotz, we learned that you don’t need to score by the bucketload to win games. But that was done while playing with relentless forechecking and airtight defense. So far this preseason, it doesn’t look like the Islanders are going to run a similar system. Mat Barzal and Lane Lambert both said the goal was to play with more pace and aggression this year. Sounds good. Sign me up for that.
Chatted with Mat Barzal a little today. Thought this was revealing:— Ethan Sears (@ethan_sears) October 12, 2022
"Look at Colorado. Everyone’s up in the play, skating fast. Carolina’s so hard to play against cause everyone is up and aggressive and in your face. That’s kinda how other good teams play now. We gotta adapt."
But do they have the horses for games like that? They did for the style they used to play. I don’t know if those same horses can run a different kind of race. That worries me more than anything.
Is Lane Lambert a good coach?
He’s definitely got the Cone of Silence thing down. Three guys - Oliver Wahlstrom, Scott Mayfield and Cal Clutterbuck - all missed the last couple of preseason games with injuries and no one had any idea what was wrong with them or how long they’d be out until two days ago (thankfully, everyone seems to be out short term only). He’s also not as compelling or philosophical in his post-game pressers as Trotz was, but then again few people are.
The players seem to like Lambert and he’s certainly put in enough time as an assistant coach to deserve a shot at the big chair. It will take time for the players to get accustomed to his systems, which you could see happen over course of their six preseason games. But once the real games start, how will they adjust and follow the gameplan? How will Lambert adjust to obstacles and problems that arise? We won’t know until it’s happened. And by then, it might be too late.
There’s a lot of pressure on Lambert to get this team to perform at a playoff level. There’s going to be precious little leeway for slumps and lost points, certainly from the fanbase and maybe from his bosses, too. That’s an awful lot for a rookie head coach to take on. That luscious head of slicked back hair might start getting a little frayed over the course of the season.
Is the “Summer of Just Romanov” gonna haunt the Islanders?
I hope not. That wouldn’t be fair to Alex Romanov, who seems like a heckuva nice guy. Again, maybe this team can make another internal transition to a different level. Five years ago, an offseason that yielded Matt Martin (again), Leo Komarov and Robin Lehner resulted in the Islanders’ best season since the Dynasty era. This version has more talent than that one did, plus the experience of three playoff runs. If they end up having success, then their quiet summer will look like a genius move by Lou Lamoriello. If not, the guys signing the checks should start asking some very hard questions. Maybe they already have.
So is this a playoff team?
If you ask me now, I would have to say no. I’ll be happy to be wrong, so don’t put this down as an official prediction or anything. The start of the season is always full of excitement and high hopes for most fans but I’m the opposite. I just think about everything that can go wrong and how much better all the teams around the Islanders got and I just get very sad. It feels like everything is stacked against them. But then again, I always feel like that.
We have seen firsthand how a team with low expectations can come out of nowhere and put together a spectacular season. The Islanders did it once not long ago. They’re going to have to do it again. Because aside from a few picks here and there, they’ve been left off most playoff predictions. Maybe, as Mike and I said on Islanders Anxiety, that’s their natural state. But at some point, they’re going to need to put up points and win games to show they have what it takes to make the playoffs.
So it’s all doom & gloom again? Typical. You’re an idiot. You know, it’s people like you that...
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. Sometimes I wake up and can also see a scenario in which the Islanders are Top 12, maybe even Top 10, in scoring, power play and penalty killing - not best in the league but not too shabby, either - and with Vezina-level goaltending. They could finish third in the Metro and win a round in the playoffs. I think that would be a reasonable rebound season and show that, no, they’re not going away and, yes, least season was an aberration. Plus, there’s a chance of a trade or big breakout season by Wahlstrom or Kieffer Bellows that could change everything.
Trade for who? Patrick Kane is a popular choice. I can see that happening. But how about RFA-to-be Timo Meier, especially if the Sharks are fish food as expected? I stumped for Jonathan Marchessault (2yrs/$5M AAV remaining) last year and will again. Alex Killorn has killed the Islanders for years playing for the Lightning. He’s a UFA at season’s end. None of these guys are gonna come cheap, but any one could be the jolt the Islanders need in either the regular season or for the playoffs.
But, hey! It’s the 50th anniversary! That’s cool, right?
It sure is. I’m just thankful that the Islanders are still here to celebrate 50 years on Long Island, and that they weren’t moved some time before their 40th anniversary. I’m looking forward to alumni appearances, video packages, giveaways, remembrances and whatever else the team has in store for us. I love that stuff. Talking about old Islanders is one of my favorite pastimes (BTW Weird Islanders: The Podcast! returns on Friday, Oct. 21st) and this season figures to be a bonanza of them.
I’m just afraid that if the current Islanders slump, or aren’t playing at a playoff pace, that the tough crowds at UBS Arena will make it uncomfortable for whatever legendary Islander is getting trotted out on the blue-and-orange carpet that night. I hope that doesn’t happen. Without those guys, we wouldn’t be here still cheering this team on. Yes, that goes for the ones who sucked, too.
So no matter what happens this season, please don’t forget to reflect on 50 years of often insane, occasionally glorious, and almost never boring Islanders hockey. There’s no team like this anywhere on the planet. It’s ours, even when we hate them.
I’ll try not to do that this year.
What if they get off to a bad start?
Then they’re screwed. The end.