“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
The New York Islanders have suffered. Some fans more than others, but have suffered together as a family. They’ve been bent, broken and yet both players and fans are still around hoping to be in a better shape than what they used to be. During the summer the organization was broken down and built up again. The loss of captain and star of the Islanders for nine seasons, John Tavares and the hiring of new GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz, the expectations put on the 2018-19 Islanders was not great, to put it nicely. In fact, the word suffer may have been used to describe how the fans would have to deal with another possible rebuild staring at them in the face. Even the fans themselves had low expectations for this year. Oh what a difference 40 games (and coaching) can make.
As you better know by now, I never look at the standings from just strictly the points. I always do the percentages. Having written that, let’s take a look at the Islanders at the halfway mark of the season by their pace:
1. Tampa 129
2. Leafs 109
3. Caps 108
4. Isles 103
5. CBJ 102
6. Bos 102
7. Pens 102
8. Buff 98
The Isles are on pace for 100-105 points and are sitting right in the thick of a playoff race including the hunt for first place in the Metro division. No one, including me (92-97 point pace to finish the season) would have believed it was possible for the Isles to be this high midway through the season. The NHL or any hockey community was remotely close (below 85 points) in thinking that the Isles would even sniff a playoff spot. Because of the summer changes, low expectations were set (rightfully so) on a team that smartly started the season with zero expectations. Now with the team that has bonded and won together, they are beginning to see that everyone is ready to add greater expectations for this season. That boys and girls is not the way to go.
For the rest of this season, keep with the zero expectations mentality. The reason why I say this is because Lou Lamoriello inherited a team that is not really of his making. Yes, what we discovered this half season is that the system works with enough quality coaches and players who are willing to buy into the system. That’s not enough. Heading into the trade deadline from now until the end of February, here are the three criteria’s that will determine who stays and who goes on the Islanders.
First: Who wants to stay an Islander? Do the players want to continue to play in two arenas (for now) in the short term for a chance to play in a brand new “Old-School” facility in the long term? Do the players even want to play in Brooklyn anymore? Are they not interested in playing the current style that Barry Trotz is delivering for the long term? There’s a couple of them that may not want to and I’m pretty sure you know who.
Second: After what Isles fans experienced last summer, go with the idea that EVERY free agent (including the restricted) are at least available when Lou gets on the phone with other general managers and gets an idea of what his players are worth. With the prolonged, early success of this season the Islanders can be patient a little longer to get better value in return. Do Islanders fans really want to see Anders Lee and Brock Nelson continue to play in an Islanders uniform without a contract extension after the trade deadline passes? “In Lou we Trust” will only go so far, but make no mistake, Lou’s loyalty is to the Islanders and he will not hesitate to trade any player if there’s a deal that’s good for the team and the players are unwilling to devote the same loyalty.
Third: Do some of the players even fit in with Trotz’ system? Yes, the team as whole is winning, but certain players are just not suited for this style of game. Bringing in other players who better fit the system will only improve the team over the long haul, so I wouldn’t expect Lamoriello to be getting into the rental deals come the deadline.
And I would put zero expectations on the Isles spending anywhere near the cap ceiling this year either. If anything, you should see a salary cap restructuring with certain players coming/going, but you should still see them around the 10 million in space when the trade deadline is over. Why be Garth and spend to the ceiling and miss the playoffs, when you can be Lou and do the job for about %12 less?
If there’s one thing that Islanders fans can take away from this first half, it’s that the system works with the proper coaches, there’s a plethora of young prospects nicely developing at their respective levels and with the upcoming proper player moves, the team will thrive heading into the ultimate goal that is Belmont in just a few short years. As far as setting high expectations for the rest of this season, don’t do that either. As I have stated before, setting any kind of high expectations on the Isles right now will only cause more pain for you if they don’t make the playoffs because this team still doesn’t have enough of Lou’s involvement, yet. Sit back, enjoy that knowing that any changes made during the second half of the season is merely to put the low expectations of the past behind Islanders fans and to look ahead towards higher ones.
“Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies.”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations