Because the New York Islanders (8-18-5, 21 pts) have taken up residence in the Metropolitan Division basement, and because they are holders of more points than only one other NHL team, there’s a major question warranted by their on-ice performance, a question not usually posed until January. (We’ll make an exception here.) And that question is especially worth asking considering the (somewhat misguided) preseason hype surrounding a team fresh off a playoff appearance for the first time since 2007: Is a postseason berth still an attainable goal for the 2013-14 Islanders?
Based on their near-perennial November collapse—the team went 4-10-1 in this year’s edition—it would appear that the playoffs are a pipe dream (read: fever dream, at best).
We’re well past the quarter-pole of the NHL season, with most teams having played 30 or 31 games so far. It’s no longer acceptable for players to roll out the “it’s-still-early-we-have-plenty-of-time-to-turn-things-around-and-wait-a-minute-what-do-you-mean-it’s-December-already?” line when questioned by reporters after a loss.
The Isles are currently on pace for 57 points this year (H/T @ReaganKingIsles). Not a misprint. That’s 57 points over a full 82-game season. If you passed the AP calculus exam, you already did the math and figured out that’s less than one point per game. If you didn’t pass the AP calculus exam, or you refer to calculus as “addin’ and subtractin’ but with all them drawin’-type things,” we ran the numbers for you. (Just trust us: it’s less than one point per game.)
For reference, the Islanders recorded 55 points in a lockout-shortened 48-game season last year, good for an 8-seed in the Eastern Conference and a ticket to the dance, as the kids say. That. Was a thing. That happened.
But let’s forget about that for a second and try to predict the future. “Onward and upward” and the like. (Which is the only direction the Isles can go at this point.)
First, let’s assume that 85 points is good for the final playoff spot this season, which is approximately how many points the Carolina Hurricanes are projected to have by season’s end. (Disclaimer: All projections contained herein are based on the Eastern Conference standings prior to the Dec. 9 games.)
Sidebar: if you’re curious about how the rest of the standings would turn out (based on points-per-game projections), here you go: 1) Boston, 115 pts; 2) Montreal, 108 pts; 3)Pittsburgh, 108 pts; 4) Tampa Bay, 102 pts; 5) Detroit, 98 pts; 6) Washington, 93 pts; 7) Toronto, 93 pts; and the aforementioned Hurricanes at no. 8.
(If you weren’t curious about the rest of the standings…OK let’s be serious of course you were curious. Ipso facto: you’re welcome.)
To reach the magical 85-point plateau, the Islanders would need to turn in a 28-15-8 record over their remaining 51 games. Seeing as how they’re playing .258 hockey right now, a jump to a .549 winning percentage seems…unlikely.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that it’s going to take a miracle on par with anything in the Old Testament for the Islanders to make the playoffs this year. It’s a hard truth, but life is unfair.
Now that the math is out of the way, let’s look at some of the fans’ reaction to what they’ve seen from the Islanders through 31 games. Because the eye test is just as important as the numbers, if not more so. (/ducks hailstorm of criticism from the advanced stats crowd):
The #isles are — above all things right now — a mental MESS. One things goes wrong, and they can’t climb out, they dig a deeper hole.
— Andre Garabedian (@FilamentDesigns) December 10, 2013
— Jon Zella (@jonzella) December 10, 2013
— Jonnie R (@Killer_Croq) December 10, 2013
— George Pace (@GeorgeAPace) December 10, 2013
@MichaelWillhoft The Isles are: frustrating, disappointing. Failing at the basics of hockey: goaltending and special teams.
— Chad Stevermer (@stretch3281) December 10, 2013
@MichaelWillhoft This team is destroying my soul. I’m numb inside… THANKS OBAMA!
— Rosstones (@Rosstones) December 10, 2013
@MichaelWillhoft everybody, myself included, was tricked by 1.5 months of really good play last year, but the team shouldn’t be this bad.
— Harrison (@goisles29) December 10, 2013
@MichaelWillhoft frustrating, thought they turned the corner last season. Rebuild isn’t over. Won’t be until those d prospects are here.
— Lindsey Spag (@Lindseyspag) December 10, 2013
We all knew the Isles’ current five-game west-coast road trip would likely provide an indication of what to expect for the rest of the season, and so far, the results haven’t been good. Losses to the St. Louis Blues (5-1), Los Angeles Kings (3-0) and Anaheim Ducks (5-2)—even though they’re three of the NHL’s best teams—haven’t given Islanders fans hope that this team can right the ship.
Should you consider this season an exercise in futility if your goal is to see the Islanders make the playoffs? Possibly. The fans know just as well as the players in the room that this season hasn’t gone according to plan. But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope at all, or that there’s nothing worth watching with this team.
Uber-prospect Ryan Strome—he of the AHL-leading 33 points—is set to join the big club when the team arrives in Phoenix, just in time for him to get his first NHL action against the Coyotes. If you’re not excited about seeing what Strome can do at hockey’s highest level, maybe don’t watch hockey anymore because you’re doing it wrong.
No, Strome probably won’t save the season, but his impact on the team has the potential to create something positive in what’s quickly becoming a lost year.
Perhaps he’ll make the jump to the NHL seamlessly. Perhaps he’ll inject some life into the Isles’ locker room. Perhaps he’ll play well enough to convince Thomas Vanek to re-sign in the offseason. Who knows?
While the playoffs might be out of the picture for the Islanders, the rebuild is still progressing. All rebuilds hit the skids at one point or another, and the lack of improvement from core players since last year has certainly slowed the one on Long Island. But, the organization’s best prospects, like Strome, haven’t been penciled into the lineup yet.
Take that for what it’s worth.
Did you know you can follow me on Twitter? Well, you can (@MichaelWillhoft). Do that, and then we can talk about whether Ryan Strome will score all the goals or ALL TEH GOALZ.