Islanders Moving Back to the Big Time
After five straight seasons without play-off hockey, long suffering fans of the New York Islanders finally look set to have something to smile about this spring.
Currently 7th, the Isles are 3 points clear of 9th placed Winnipeg with 6 games remaining – so close you can almost taste it.
It’s been a remarkable season for Jack Capuano’s side. Few envisaged them even being on the bubble, let alone inside the top 8, and a run at the 1st overall pick seemed more likely than a run at the Stanley Cup. Capuano was one of the favourites to be the first coaching casualty of this shortened season.
But here we are, in the home stretch and in the mix.
The Isles rise back toward the top of the NHL has been in no small part down to John Tavares stellar play. The Mississauga native potted 31 goals and 81 points last season; so it is not like this level of performance is new to the former 1st overall pick. But somehow Tavares has remained the NHL’s most unheralded superstar – until now.
Whether you take the written definition of the Hart Trophy (‘the player judged to be most valuable to his team’) or the often held belief it is simply ‘the best player award’; Tavares deserves at the very least a nomination after scoring 24 goals (approximately a fifth of the teams total goals), 42 points and playing like an absolute beast in some games this year.
The Islanders have also benefitted from something of a resurgence in form from Evgeni Nabokov, particularly of late. The Russian puck stopper has given them great goaltending when they needed it most to help move a respectable roster up the standings and in to the play-off picture.
It’s not just the short term success Isles fans have to look forward to either. Tavares may be the corner stone, but the organisation has a number of gifted players already on the roster and several good prospects in the system.
Whilst the team looks set to lose Mark Streit to free agency in the summer, Travis Hamonic and Andy MacDonald are solid NHL defencemen and the previous ugliness with Lubomir Vishnovsky seems to be truly in the past, with the veteran blue liner inking a two year contract extension recently.
With Griffin Reinhardt and Calvin DeHaan in the system, as well as the emergence of Thomas Hickey (at last) the Isles has a solid defensive corps moving forward.
If the club can unlock Kyle Okposo’s potential, and Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson continue to excel the team also has a strong group of forwards. The likes of Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey provide excellent support to the teams scorers and much like their defence they have some strong prospects in the pipeline; notably Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Strome.
Whilst there is always room for improvement, that is hardly a bad roster to be moving forward with!
One area which may be a concern in longer term is netminding. Nabokov is 37 now, Rick DiPietro’s NHL career is probably over but the club has high hopes for Kevin Poulin and the impending move to Brooklyn may help the franchise attract a better calibre of free agent, including a goaltender.
And there lies another reason to be positive – whilst the Nassau Coliseum was rocking for last nights Islanders vs Rangers game, it has largely become an ugly reminder of how far the team has fallen since in 1980s hey day.
The move to Brooklyn presents a new start, a fresh start, and the potential to attract new fans and fill their home arena again. All of which helps attract people to the franchise, something I alluded too earlier.
I admit to being a complete Islanders convert this season. It’s a club that has always been on my periphery and have grown in my ‘affections’ this year(something I have blogged about before); they’ve been a lot of fun to watch and I’m looking forward to seeing the orange and blue in the play-offs this year, and for many years to come.