Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
In terms of playoff elimination the Islanders have been hovering around the rim of the precipice for some time. To use an old adage, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet, but she’s tuning up. Even still, the playoffs are not the only factor to consider when looking at the NHL season.
Strictly speaking, with 25 games remaining in the 2013-14 season, the Islanders could reach 100 points on the season. The current Eastern Conference leaders, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have 78 to date. Obviously, every team above the Isles in the standings will continue to gather points as the season progresses. With their current deficit of ten points to the closest playoff position, the trick is to earn points at a rate which exceeds that of at least some of those above them in the standings.
At this point even the most diehard believers would concede the likelihood of overtaking the pack and sliding into a playoff position is fading with every passing day. Losing three straight games last week, all of which were against Eastern conference teams and two of which were against divisional rival New York Rangers, served to drive this point home. Coupled with this the team is forced to deal with the possibility that one of their top scoring wingers, Thomas Vanek, may be opting out of the team’s long-term plans. Most would be forced to agree things are looking pretty bleak for the Isles at the present time.
Is the season over, as some would suggest? No, of course it isn’t; as stated above, there are 25 games left to go. Are the playoffs off the table at this point? Maybe perched on the edge of the table, tilting somewhat, but not off just yet. Is the season a complete waste of time if the playoffs are missed? That seems to depend to some extent on who you ask. It certainly would be nice to see the team make a huge push and qualify for the post season, but will failure to do so make the entire season a waste of time? To some the answer probably is yes. Consider, though, the fact that a week from now captain John Tavares will be on the ice in Russia, helping his nation’s team defend their Olympic title. Based on many of the selections – not to mention many of those declined – on both North American teams, the players were selected or not based on their regular season performances to that point. So it’s fair to say the regular season counts for that much.
What about individual awards? Tavares was a Hart Trophy finalist last season and by all indications is a favorite to duplicate this year. That has little to do with the team’s final standings or their playoff position. Almost all of the individual player awards are based on regular season performances, in fact. Or how about watching great rookie performances from such players as Brock Nelson, Matt Donovan and Calvin de Haan? The anticipation of watching these great youngsters develop in the years to come has got to count for something.
From a more practical standpoint, for several years the impression I’ve gotten is that the Islanders’ playoff hopes have been dashed almost form opening night each season for several years. If the playoffs were all that mattered, then surely Twitter wouldn’t be afire with so many people watching the team’s fortunes daily as closely as they do. Even though the Coliseum is far from a sellout each night, it sure seems as though the Isles have a large following. Judging by the heated reactions to each loss – indeed, each perceived poor play – one is left to assume the regular season matters an awful lot.
Facetiousness aside, of course the regular season matters. The night in, night out battles; watching the lineup changes on game day; the armchair experts deciding which line combinations would work the best; the #Isles world proclaiming who’s to thank after a win, and who to blame after a loss. It’s an 82-game grind filled with emotional ups and downs that, give or take a disgruntled fan or two, the same group of people watch annually with the same amount of fervor and passion.
As a journalist I don’t have all the answers (some might argue I don’t have any of them). At the heart of it all I’m a fan, just like each person reading this. As I approach my fortieth season following the blue and orange I have known my share of joys and disappointments. Even after all that time, I don’t have the answers to the ills that plague our team. But I do know this: whether I’m happy or upset with the team; whether I follow them all season or start tuning in only if a playoff berth is assured; whether I choose to focus on the positives and enjoy the team for what it is, or dwell on the negatives and be miserable all year; the New York Islanders are going to perform exactly the same way. Kind of makes sense to be happy and enjoy the ride, doesn’t it?