Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
The Islanders finished the 2016-17 season on a six-game winning streak, which included wins over four teams that did not advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the end, it wasn't enough to continue their modest two-season playoff streak.
An ugly first quarter, marked by questionable defensive coverage, poor transition play, a powerless play and questionable management decisions will have them watching 16 teams compete for the ultimate prize from their living rooms. The fact that their 94 points are just two shy of the NHL record for most while missing the postseason (2014-15 Bruins had 96, 2006-07 Avalanche and 2010-11 Stars had 95) is no consolation, especially to the captain.
"Overall, as a team, it's disappointing, not making the playoffs," John Tavares said. "There are so many games to look back on, the opportunities we let slip away, and that's definitely frustrating. In a sense, it's a step back. What did we have, 94 points? So, three wins off last year. But, it's such a fine line. We need to step back, reflect and prepare to get where we need to be."
As the offseason begins, there are more questions than answers for an organization that still has only one playoff series win in the past 23 years. So, let's dive in and analyze the good, bad and ugly of a season that started all wrong. Later in the week, we'll dive into where we go from here.
In a 41-win, 94-point season, as bad as you might feel today, there had to be some good, right? You bet there was. It just might take until June to fully see it. I get it. Take your time.
Let's start with Anders Lee, who was unquestionably the team MVP. If you would have told me that after his first 18 games, I would have had you professionally evaluated, as the power forward had a lone tally in that span. He concluded by scoring 33 goals in his next 63 games, finishing with a career-high 34 in addition to 52 points.
To put that in perspective, only Auston Matthews, likely Calder trophy winner, scored more in the same span. He also led the team in power play goals, game-winning goals and shooting percentage. It's the sixth-best single season franchise goal total in the 2000s.
Look beyond meager scoring totals (9-15-24 in 66 games) to appreciate how good a season 19-year old rookie Anthony Beauvillier had. Buried in Jack Capuano's anti-youth movement earlier in the year with sporadic appearances, it wasn't until Doug Weight took over and gave the rookie consistent playing time that he began to shine at both ends of the rink. If the organization sees him as a Frans Nielsen replacement, he's off to a pretty good start.
Joshua Ho-Sang came in and energized the entire offense with his creativity and flair, not to mention offering an alternative to Nick Leddy when it comes to breaking the offensive zone with speed. Some of his passes were sublime. And while he definitely needs to become a more complete, mature player in terms of his decision-making, this could be the gamble that pays off in a huge way. Credit to the player for putting all the distractions behind him and growing up in a hurry to earn his promotion.
Josh Bailey…Just leaving it at that is more than enough to draw out the entire Isles Twitter spectrum as I sit back and watch the world burn. Seriously, though, 43 assists and 56 points thrust him, maybe unfairly, into a first-line role with Tavares. Along with Lee, they became a true #1 line for the team this year and produced in spades, at times almost unstoppable when they started cycling down low. It's taken a long time, but maybe the Josh Bailey we saw this year is the one we see moving forward. In fairness, I can see where there could still be skepticism, however.
New York gave up 26 more goals than the year before, and allowed greater than five goals in five of their last 12 losses. Without question, the defense took a step back.
Did Nick Leddy score 11 goals and 46 points, both career highs? Yes, he did, and in addition to wanting to invite him to your next party just to watch him skate around the guests at full speed, his pairing with Travis Hamonic was a main reason for the 6-10-4 start that put the Islanders too far behind a division that was outrageously good this year. They were bad, led mostly by the unforeseen regression by Hamonic, who had a year to forget, whether he was on the ice or not.
The Islanders ended up relying way too much on 35-year-old free agent signing Dennis Seidenberg, who had a fine season, adding 22 points and a + 25 rating, averaging just under 20 minutes a night in 73 games. But that shouldn't have been, and wasn't initially, the plan. Thomas Hickey didn't help things by seemingly breaking down in the season's final 20 games, due to taking a targeted beating by opposing forechecking forwards (he's the team leader, by far, the last four seasons in hits taken).
Unfortunately, the team's most consistent start-to-finish defender was Calvin de Haan, who had his best season as a pro. I say unfortunately because he looks to be No. 1 on the list to be an expansion draft casualty in June, lost to the Vegas Golden Knights. Only Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ladd waiving no-trade clauses can possibly save that.
The power play (15 percent, 28th) lacked the building blocks of success -- movement and pucks to the net. For a team with some gifted offensive stars, its mind boggling just how bad at crucial times it really was. And goaltending was clearly not as good as it was a season ago, with Thomas Greiss falling from .925 to .913, 2.36 to 2.69 with no support being offered from J.F Berube, regardless of how poorly he was handled by management. We'll deal with the Halak issue next.
They were 27th in 5v5 possession (Corsi), 24th in 5v5 save percentage and 29th in faceoffs.
Three goalies. Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss were a very formidable duo last season and both played huge roles in New York advancing into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But GM Garth Snow would not waive Berube and expose him to waivers as he had fallen in love with talent I'm still not sure how he evaluated (since he didn't play nearly enough at the NHL level). Everyone, from beat writers to columnists, bloggers to fans, thought the situation would be rectified by training camp. It wasn't. And it proved costly.
Berube's play was substandard even by backup standards to the point the Islanders wore down Greiss in his first go-around as the unquestioned starting goaltender, and cost the team probably four to six points in the standings. Granted, Halak was not good to the point of being sent to Bridgeport right after Christmas. He had only six wins in 21 games and poor peripherals, mirroring the inconsistency of the defense in front of him. But, as a proven veteran, he deserved better than being caught up in Snow's personal vendetta with agent Allan Walsh over a tweet.
By the time Halak was recalled, it was too late, as the Islanders would no longer control their own destiny over making the postseason, seeing their hopes end not with a loss of their own, but a comeback victory by the Maple Leafs over the Penguins. That is fully on Snow and there is no other way to analyze it. He let his personal feelings come before organizational success, probably the biggest no-no of all in this time of judgement that rests squarely on recent successes and failures.
Forget Andrew Ladd, who bounced back nicely after battling a back injury to finish with 23 goals. Or Jason Chimera, who put in a solid 4th line contribution of 20 goals. Or relying on Beauvillier to replace Nielsen. The mismanagement of the goaltending comes down to the defining factor in the entire season. One that sees a team miss by a single point.
Only time will tell if it's enough of an offense to bring about major change to the organizational structure at the top. Because, barring a trade, I fear the roster will not look much different come October. Fans, players, and especially a franchise captain about to enter the final year of his contract deserve better.