Photo Credit: Steven Ryan
Lets be honest, No one saw this coming. ESPN said they’d finish last, Same with NBC Sports. There wasn’t a lot of hope but here we are, at the all star break, and the New York Islanders are in sole possession of first place.
Lets quickly recap the off season. He who shall not be named leaves for greener pastures. I’m not particular order, they signed Robin Lehner who was thought of as a talent but a head case. We have now learned Lehner was fighting a drinking problem and undiagnosed bipolar disorder which has made him a new man and a new goalie, so a good risk. Valtteri Filppula, who was said by some in the analytics community to be the worst everyday player in the league last year, was signed to a one year deal. Leo Komarov was signed to an absurd 4 year contract. Matt Martin was traded for but in doing so they gave the team that took their captain the thing they needed most, cap relief. Then to top it all off the one acquisition that could’ve had some offensive upside Jan Kovar (yes remember that was a thing) said screw you guys I’m not going to the AHL I’m out, then proceeded to play in the AHL for the Bruins before going back to the Czech league. Even with positive regression defensively coming all that was a recipe for disaster but there was shining, bald headed, beam of light leading the way. Barry Trotz.
You have to go back more than a decade to 2007 when Ted Nolan was hired to see the last time the islanders hired a coach with previous NHL experience. In between then and now we endured the tenures of Scott Gordon, Jack Capuano and Doug Weight to varying degrees of success, well varying for the last 2 Scott Gordon just stunk. That all changed when the reigning Stanley cup winning coach was brought it and the difference is staggering. Even when the team was good over the course of the last 4 years there were games you could turn off after 5 minutes, games they just didn’t have it, games we lovingly called “cappy blowouts” and then “Dougie Blowouts” but that doesn’t happen anymore. You can see the commitment from everyone to the system and guys like Johnny Boychuck and the 4th line boys who looked to be past their prime and on contracts that would be a pain for years to come that are now back to their 14-15 season ways. He and his staff have been instrumental in making Mat Barzal a better all around player, Robin Lehner and Brock Nelson into the 2 way scorer we all hoped he’d be. The 4th game of the season they played the defending presidents trophy winning Nashville Predators for the second time in a week, this time in their building after losing to them 4-3 at Barclays center. The islanders went down 3-0 and I had a “well here we go” feeling, but for the first time in my Islander life something happened. Apparently there is a thing called intermission adjustments and you don’t have to slam your head into a brick wall for 3 periods and lose 5-1. The isles came out and scored 2 in the second to make it 3-2 heading to the third. Now they still lost 5-2 (with one being an empty netter) but it still showed me something, that no matter how bad they looked on paper this coach would keep them in games.
Now there’s is still a lot of work to do. Being 3 points up in first with 33 games left is an accomplishment but not the end goal. Sure they’re are playing with house money but why not stick to house for once? Sometimes the slipper fits and midnight never strikes and while it probably will eventually, lets enjoy this because it doesn’t happen often for the boys from Nassau.