It’s over and yet the hurting continues.
With the 2-1 loss in DC the Islanders don’t actually go home. They return to New York and move their stuff west, to Brooklyn. The city, the big time. One thing they’ll be bringing is this bright, shining, amorphous thing called The Future. For the first time in a very, very long time the Isles season did not end with a “We’re just grateful to be nominated” feeling. Heads will roll internally (maybe), heads will roll next season in the division (hopefully).
There’s a sense there’s just one more thing that needs to be done for next year but what It is remains a mystery. An A+ winger for Tavares, a top-3 defenseman to replace Lubomir Visnovsky, and a Special Teams unit that cannot be confused for a Stephen Lynch song are the most vocalized Christmas presents this summer. While Michal Neuvirth was the right pickup at the right time (and subsequently under used) he is a 1A goaltender who is looking for his Jonathan Bernier/Ben Scrivens opportunity, and pay increase, to become a Number One Goaltender. Look for him to be moved at the draft. We have probably seen the last of Michael Grabner as well.
Since the body is still warm and the medical examiner hasn’t put it on the slab yet, and we’re all in mourning, the roster autopsy will need some time. I do take back much of what I said about Josh Bailey at the beginning of the season. He is maturing into the top-6 forward we don’t need, but what we deserve. And that’s a positive. Thomas Hickey deserves some long-term consideration as one third of the Anti-Ovechkin Unit. The AOU (Boychuk, Hickey, Nielsen) quieted the Capitals captain for much of the series and negated him on the power play. Keeping Ovechkin off the scoresheet with the man-advantage is one of the factors that kept the Islanders in the series. That is an amazing feat.
The other? Jaroslav Halak. He was magical, save for Game 5. He’s an Islander for 3 more years at least. Excellent.
For those wondering where Kyle “Opozo” Okposo went, he was found on the milk cartons at the Walgreens at 7th & H NW.
Doug Weight needs to go. As much as it needs to be away from thsi franchise, he is a man of many hats in the employ of Charles B. Wang. The Assistant Coach/Special Adviser to the General Manager/Senior Patrol Leader/Zoo Docent ran a special teams unit loaded with talent into the ground. Under ground. Past the Molepeople all the way to where Hulk was living during Planet Hulk. His philosophy is backwards, his execution an execution. Kyle Okposo is a power forward at even strength but on the point during a power play? The forwards a told to skate up the middle but must peel off to the boards once they gain the zone? Only one player remotely in front of the goalie and two down below the goal line? Gretzky can’t even score from there. If an 0-for-14 PP doesn’t garner serious reevaluation then there’s a bigger issue at play.
Maybe the systemic issues come from higher. Regardless of the situation many Islanders immediately gravitate to the boards to take poorly chosen, low percentage shots. In the event there’s a small skating lane to the net, a heavy-handed approach is used. When presented a shooting lane, an extra pass is executed. When it happens in October or even November it’s a non-issue. This was Game 7 of the playoffs. Take the shot and go to the net. A new system is desperately needed, maybe with a new bench boss.
All the negatives do not eclipse the massive forward strides the team has taken this year. A defined Number One Goaltender for the long haul. Two Top-2 defensemen for the longer haul. Bridgeport graduates who have proven the scouts right time and time again. “The Best Fourth Line In Hockey.” Anders Lee has emerged to be a difference maker. The blueline depth, organizationally, has never been better. Ever. Really, the organization has not been this deep in at least a decade. Let’s not forget that the new co-owners take some level of control this coming season. Change may be afoot.
The long, poorly started summer has two key milestones that the Islanders will (should) be examining; the day after the Stanley Cup is awarded and the Draft. IF Garth and the ownership group believe a coaching change is necessary they’ll have the aforementioned window to make a bench move based on who survived the season. Dan Bylsma, Paul, MacLean, and Todd McLellan top the available list, while the fates of Claude Julien and Ken Hitchcock have not been sealed. Forget Mike Babcock, he’s staying in Detroit.
I think the moral of the story is the future is big, bright, and focused. Prepare for upgrades, not just change for the sake of change. Everyone should be proud of what this team accomplished this year. And keep Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum in your heart. That’s where it belongs.
A special thanks goes out to Bill and Chris for collecting the lost souls of Islanders fans here in DC and giving us a home away from home at The Irish Channel…loving renamed Fort Always Booze during Game 6. What came together quickly and a bit slapdash towards the end of the season became a more fine tuned and expanding group during the playoff run. It’s a great group to be around and we are always looking to add to the ranks. Select Stanley Cup viewing nights and a Draft party are on the horizon. If you can, join us. More info HERE and HERE.
Thank you, New Islanders, for this season of rebirth. Thank you, Verizon Center, for the Blue Point on tap during the playoffs. That was sweet. Thank you, Jaroslav Halak, for being you. Thank you, Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, for want to be Islanders. Thank you, Uniondale, for 43 years. Thank you NVMC for being.
Onward to Brooklyn.