The players are no longer getting coffee in the locker room and whispering to each other, "Cappy still here?"
A third goalie isn't being stashed on the roster, and limiting the reps of the excellent No. 1 and 1As, because of the long-shot notion he's the next Patrick Roy.
The distracting façade of job interviews of questionable candidates for a President of Hockey Operations position that never got filled -- despite the Islanders' embarrassing first half of last season -- is over.
At a time when every major league has become a young man's game (see: tonight's baseball game), the Islanders are no longer favoring safe retreads over special, young talent.
The bet here is that the Islanders learned from last year -- the first one under the complete watch of Jon Ledecky and transcontinental view of Scott Malkin. The "Look at Us, the Smartest Guys in the Room (and whadaya think about a ninth playoff spot, Commish?)" era is hopefully over.
As a result, and because of the simple fact that they have the player personnel to get it done in a conference that is not steeped in quality, the Islanders will qualify for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Of course, that's not really anything to rejoice about. The franchise is so far into a rebuilding project, its start date becomes murkier by the season. Let's put it at 2009, after the Islanders revived the gory days and the gift of John Tavares arrived. Eight years later, just making the playoffs -- and no, it won't be a smooth ride start to finish -- is not good enough.
Doug Weight can coach and he can talk. He's the best Islanders coach since Peter Laviolette. Like Peter, as a passionate talker, Weight has about a three-season window before the message gets stale. Doug knows this from all the coaches he played for. With so much at stake this season, the Islanders couldn't have a better person doing the coaching and all the press briefings.
The defenders are the weak spot, but not because of the trade of Travis Hamonic -- amazing human, good and gritty defender, member of the Frans Nielsen "He was so underrated, he got overrated" club. Another defenseman will arrive before the trade deadline.
Weight will play Josh Ho-Sang, Mathew Barzal, and Anthony Beauvillier plenty and put them in position to succeed. It's doubtful all three kids will, because that's not usually how sports works. If one struggles, Garth Snow has some depth at the position. He also has the resources to make an impact trade.
Andrew Ladd is not to blame for the contract Snow desperately gave him after Nielsen and Kyle Okposo left (Heard Ladd was in my neighborhood late last June and I had an image of Snowy yelling, "Do not let Ladd leave the Island without a deal!"). Ladd is a good player. Play him.
Any team that can roll out Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck has the luxury of two bottom-six forwards with the rare ability to change a game in one shift -- together or separately.
Islanders scouts thought they had a future third-line, 1,000-game player when they picked a high school football star named Anders Lee late in the draft. They got a 30-goal scorer. Jordan Eberle won't stink. Tavares seems like a good hockey player.
Having Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss is a blessing for any head coach. Takes away too much thinking.
Here's the part where we throw in two qualifiers. Like every team, they have to stay healthy enough. Like every team called the New York Islanders, they have to not shoot themselves in the foot with silly stuff.
The talent and tenacity, buzz of youth, goaltending, coaching and (lordy, please) normalcy should result in a 6-to-10 point improvement over last season, and a postseason berth.
Today's Tweeted Question
@Isles_Fanatic asked: What makes Pierre McGuire so confident that the Isles will have difficulty re-signing Tavares?
Asked him for you, Fanatic. "I'm concerned," Pierre texted. "The fact a deal wasn't done in the offseason, when the Isles didn't acquire Matt Duchene, makes you wonder. Not having a building also causes a problem. Just concerned."
I don't agree with everything Pierre had to say on the Tavares issue on the NBC conference call, but you have to give him this: technically, he's already right. If re-signing Tavares was easy, it would have been done in the last few months.
Today's Guests: Weekes, Faber and Feinstein Bring Optimism
Kevin Weekes and I would sit together sometimes on the Islanders' plane in 1999-2000 and discuss his future in broadcasting. Now a studio analyst for NHL Network, Weekes believes the Islanders will make the playoffs. This is the barrage of texts Kevin sent this morning:
"Isles will be faster and more dynamic offensively…Ho-Sang, Barzal, Eberle means more pace and skill…Biggest miscalculation last year was handling of Halak after he was the best goalie at the World Cup. Had he been there all year, Isles would have made the playoffs…Him and Greiss are a strong pair...Defense is still a bit thin…They missed the playoffs by a point last year, but they learn from it and get in this year!"
Raised in Mount Sinai, Long Island, Samantha Faber won a gold medal with the U.S. National Team in 2008 and starred at the University of New Hampshire. Today, in addition to being a coach and skills instructor, she is a star of the Connecticut Whale of the National Women's Hockey League, which begins its third season this month. (Disclosure: I'm the league's communications consultant). Sam and her brother, Matt, are life-long Islanders fans and their family were 15-year season ticketholders at the old barn. Sam and Matt wrote this together:
"You would think the Tavares issue would be too much for a team that didn't make the playoffs last year to overcome, right? Not so fast. Tavares is the consummate pro and won't let it be a distraction. The forward core looks solid. Islander fans will soon understand why Garth Snow did not pull the trigger and include Barzal in a trade for Matt Duchene. Barzal has vision, speed and high skill. It was robbery that the NHL.com reporters did not have him on their top fifteen Calder Trophy watch. Our biggest concerns are on defense. Nick Leddy is one of the more underrated defensemen in the league. After that, there are lots of questions. Halak and Greiss are both starting goalies. Prediction: Fourth in the metro, first wildcard spot."
John Feinstein, the long-time Washington Post columnist, best-selling author and regular on ESPN's "Sports Reporters" who grew up on Long Island, is an Islanders superfan. Whenever he talks NYI, he drops the polished delivery and just lets it rip. Here's Feinstein's email:
"I am usually loathe to predict anything good for any of my teams - especially the Islanders. Feels like the kiss of death. BUT, I honestly believe if Weight had been the coach from day 1 last season they would have made the playoffs. Eberle has GOT to play well and has GOT to score a lot of goals if he's going to be on the Tavares line. The goaltending has to be more consistent than last year. I think it helps that the Caps aren't going to be nearly as good as they've been (least I hope not), but it comes back to this: I think Weight's the right coach. Love his passion. So, I'll vote yes on playoffs and start hiding underneath my couch momentarily. The only thing that really matters the next few months is re-signing JT. If they don't do that, they might as well just compete in the ECHL from now on."
Worth the Admission: Josh Ho-Sang proved a lot of people wrong, quicker than many believed possible (my hand is up) and, at times, did it spectacularly. But what's next after justifying his admirable self-confidence and with everyone -- opponents and press for starters -- more focused on him? It's fascinating to watch. Lots of people will be buying $18 tickets on StubHub to see him this season in Brooklyn.
Monument to Failure: Take a look at the October schedule of NYCB Barely Alive in Uniondale. There's a haunted house thing all month in the Exhibition Hall. In the main arena, there are two events in 31 days: a Bruno Mars concert and a Brooklyn Nets preseason game (woo-hoo!). You think this is going well for the arena's management (you know, the people who run Barclays) and Nassau politicians? Think about what it could have been, and what it became. So far, an extraordinary dud on so many levels.
Top Acquisition: Second-year play-by-play man Brenden Burke is a gem. He's clear, passionate, ego-less, entertaining, and sets up Butch Goring well. Selecting announcers for these rare openings is challenging. You get buried in hundreds of links and CDs, just about everyone sounds great, and somehow you have to pick the ideal person who'll bring the passion every night and mesh well with the analyst, production crew, team management, and the players. Here's hoping Burke makes the Country his home for a long time.
If the Islanders don't crush it out of the gate, can we agree to not obsess over those charts that say they're down to a 23 percent chance of making the playoffs? In early November? Please? No?
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