Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
Even with a sloppy, 6-2 loss in Columbus on Saturday evening, the New York Islanders have still made quite a recovery from the first two months of the 2016-17 season. Heading into the end of November with a record of 6-10-4, the team recovered and has since won five of seven, picking up points in six of those games to climb back to a reasonable mark of 11-11-5 as we near the middle of December.
It might not be enough, however, to lift them back into the playoffs for the third time in four years, however, when all is said and done.
The early season struggles have the team in such a hole that, with the rest of the Metropolitan division practically on fire, they would have to play their best hockey over the past three seasons to catapult over the five teams in their way in the division and seven that stand between them and a wild card spot.
Sportsclubstats.com is an interesting website that tracks each teams playoff chances game by game, using a computer simulation run millions of times to get the probable results.
As of today, only three teams have worse playoff odds than the Islanders' 9% - Vancouver, Arizona and Colorado. Using the site's algorithm, the Islanders largest percentage of 14% is for them to finish 16th in the conference, dead last.
To prove how much of a mountain the Islanders must climb, they have to pick up 66% of all possible remaining points to equal last season's output of 100. With 55 games remaining on the schedule, if the Islanders were to go 31-17-7, for example, that would only improve their playoff odds to 58.6%, according to the statistical website. Out of the over 150 million simulated runs of New York's remaining games, the result seen most was 26-23-6, which would give them a final record of 37-34-11 for 85 points and a 30% chance of finishing 13th in the conference.
Looking around the division, you can easily see why the Islanders cannot realistically hope for the teams in front of them to falter. The New York Rangers, current leaders at the top of the Metro, are 6-4-0 in their last ten, but have won their last three. Pittsburgh is 7-3-0, won five. Philadelphia, 9-1-0 and won nine, Columbus, 7-1-2, winning six straight and Washington, tomorrow night's opponent in Brooklyn, are 6-3-1, winning four in a row.
Sure, there are other teams in the Eastern Conference struggling and not playing to expectations. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers are all playing well below what was expected of them before the puck was dropped in October and are only marginally ahead of the Islanders pace. Detroit is likely the most disappointing, especially considering they signed Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek this past summer, although they did lose Pavel Datsyuk. Tampa is without captain and scoring leader Steven Stamkos to injury and Florida has been an absolute mess health wise and just inexplicably fired their head coach.
That is not said to make light of the Islanders plight or expected to make fans feel any better. But, with the rise of social media, it's easy to get caught up in the commotion and think you are alone on an island, struggling like no team has ever struggled before. The bigger question moving forward is what these teams do about it. Do they have the internal fortitude to lift themselves from the pit and go on an unbelievable run? It's certainly possible, as the Anaheim Ducks proved last year. Do they go out and make a move to bring in some new blood? Trades are becoming harder and harder to execute in the salary cap era, especially with an expansion draft looming next summer.
While Jonathan Ledecky and Scott Malkin continue their search for an executive to slot into the president's role, overseeing hockey operations, it's general manager Garth Snow's problem to try and solve, as it has been since the summer that saw the departure of long-time stalwarts Kyle Okposo, Nielsen and Matt Martin. While Jason Chimera has replaced Martin offensively, and then some, he has not brought the same energy to each and every shift. Andrew Ladd, while playing better recently, is still light years off the pace needed to replace Okposo. And there was no replacement for Nielsen brought in. Maybe, someday, Casey Cizikas is that guy, but in a direct comparison to Frans, there just cannot be one made at present.
Some fans are wondering what the team might look like had Snow traded Travis Hamonic for Taylor Hall and P.A Parenteau remained after training camp and was slotted next to John Tavares, where they worked magic back from 2010-2012. It's a fair dream to have, as both could have been executed. But Snow held onto Hamonic, one of the heart and soul leaders, and consulted with head coach Jack Capuano in letting Parenteau walk after a slow, defensively challenged training camp.
Ryan Pulock must be protected in the expansion draft, Calvin de Haan could be placed on the trade block for the same reason and Ryan Strome was skating with the fourth line, alternating with Nikolay Kulemin, today at practice, per Newsday's Arthur Staple. J.F Berube has essentially wasted two seasons in Brooklyn and in all likelihood, will be an unrestricted free agent and allowed to walk for nothing, an option he most certainly will take. Jaroslav Halak was placed on the trade block and there has been no word if he is off that list.
We don't know what the Islanders will look like come the fall of 2017, after all is said and done, but one safe assumption could be made at this point - they will look nothing like they do on December 12, 2016. For better or worse.