Uniondale, N.Y.-Let me preface this article by saying I am not a Knicks fan. But after the Knicks were eliminated in the 2nd round of the postseason the other day, it got me thinking about the Islanders.
Most of the chatter on sports radio in New York right now seems to boil down to one question: Was it a successful season for the Knicks? They have not won a playoff series in 13 years, and last year was the first time in many that saw a postseason win. The prevailing answer for Knicks seems to be yes, it was a success.
This is where the comparisons between the Knicks & Islanders end. The Knicks are an aging team with a couple of young guys sprinkled throughout; they have a couple of excellent players, but whether they have a bona fide superstar is debatable.
What would be successful for the Isles next season? We all know this year was definitely a success. Let’s look at what the Isles accomplished this year:
- They made the playoffs for the first time in 6 years
- They won a home playoff game for the first time in 11 years
- For the first time in many years, goals were not really at a huge premium
- They got secondary scoring, even in the playoffs, and took the big, bad Pittsburgh Penguins to 6 games
- Kept a mid-season losing streak from spiraling out of control and ruining their season
The Islanders are a young team with 2013 a true bedrock from which to build upon; they’ve exceeded expectations by most accounts. The Isles also have this superstar named John Tavares-need I say more? He is ‘slowly’ coming into his own and he is just 22 years old. I cannot imagine the pressure of being a superstar at 22.
Then again, at 22 I was logging games at ESPN and putting highlights on SportsCenter, so maybe I DO understand the pressure!
Of course there is still a lot left to accomplish, but assuredly the bar has been raised. The question now becomes what must the Islanders do to take the next step towards securing a winning future:
- They MUST win a playoff series for the first time in 21 years
- They have to do better than an 8 seed. It will now be 12 years since that happened
- With the new divisions, the new playoff seedings, and the Penguins and the Rangers still in the division, it’s going to be tough to win the division. But they should definitely NOT be fighting for their playoff lives in early April.
- We all know this coming season will likely see the end of the Isles full time tenure on Long Island. We have had the wool pulled over our eyes for enough years to know that if they can get out of their lease, they will. They saw how loud the building got this season. They need to make sure that happens one last time.
So, say we have the Isles in the 2nd round next year. Now what? Well, the possibilities are endless. I can still remember the headline in Newsday in 1993, after the Isles went to the Conference Finals. It said “Suddenly Isles Have Shot At Cup”. Of course they would go on to lose to the eventual Cup champion Montreal Canadiens, but that was a very special time for an underdog team. Wouldn’t that be great to see next year? A Conference Finals appearance by the New York Islanders. As the popular meme has said: Why Not Us? Really, once you get in, anything is possible. The Kings proved that last year.
Of course, first things first. It will be a full season, and they still haven’t made the playoffs in a full season in 6 years. And, like I said before, the new playoff seedings and new divisions can make things interesting. The Isles will be joined by Carolina, Washington & Columbus in their current division, with Winnipeg moving out West and Detroit and Columbus moving to the East.
According to my calculations, based on this year’s stats, that would place the Islanders 4th in their now 8 team division. The top 3 teams make the playoff in each division, with the next 2 best records in the Conference getting in as well. Again, the Isles would get in to the playoffs. They would finish just behind Detroit, but just ahead of Columbus for 8th, edging them in the Regulation/Overtime Wins stat 20-19. Unfortunately, they would still have to face the Penguins. Hopefully this year teaches them that nothing is easy down the stretch and you need to win every game.
We all know that Wang & Co. won’t be going out and opening up the piggy bank that easily. But, if they could fill some much needed holes from outside and within, (Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Matt Donovan, Aaron Ness), there is every reason for other teams to be fearful of the New York Islanders in 2013-14!