Editorials

New York Islanders: Playoff Chances Are Nose Diving

By Matt O'Leary
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 16: Josh Bailey
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 16: Josh Bailey /
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The New York Islanders playoff chances have taken a big nose dive the past two weeks. Here’s why and what the Islanders need to do.

Just a few short weeks ago, everyone was talking about the New York Islanders being a fun and good team. They had a high flying offense and were winning games in spite of their inept goalie play.

Unfortunately, the Islanders can no longer win despite their poor play in net. Over their last five games, the Isles have a 1-3-1 record.

In four of the five games, the Islanders have given up five goals or more. Four of their last five! So on the year now, the Islanders have given up five goals or more nine times. Yuck!

Keep in mind, the Islanders play in the most competitive division in the entire league so 3 points in their last five games is just unacceptable. Let’s take a look at what it’s done to their playoff chances:

As you can see by this chart the Islanders playoff stock is looking like the stock market crash of 1929.

On December 11, the Islanders beat the Washington Capitals. With the win, they were sitting in second place in the Metro Division feeling all well and good, with an 85.92 percent chance of making the playoffs.

After last night’s loss, the Islanders now have just a 55.32 percent chance of making the playoffs. Just eleven days ago the Islanders seemed like a mortal lock for the playoffs, now it comes down to nearly the odds of a coin flip.

How does your playoff stock dip 30 percentage points in less than two weeks? Atrocious goalie play.

The Islanders hold the league’s worst save percentage. The Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss duo is holding down a .891 save percentage. That “1a 1B” system is looking more like “Washed Goalie A and Washed Goalie B”.

Arthur Staple shared this interesting statistic about teams with a save percentage below .900 and the playoffs:

Oddly enough the last team to make the playoffs with a sub-.900 save percentage was the Evgeni Nabokov led Islanders. We know how that turned out, a first round exit due to a save percentage of .842 from Nabby.

Let’s look at the other two teams to do it. The Flames took an early exit losing to Chicago in six games in the first round. As for Detroit, they were able to make a run to the Cup Final. They ended up falling to the Penguins, but keep in mind they had three players finish above 70 points that year which certainly helps their case in a run like that.

Former Islander Chris Osgood was in net for Detroit that year. Despite an .887 save percentage in the regular season he turned it on in the playoffs and had a .926 save percentage and a 2.02 goals against average.

Osgood’s GSAA went from a -26.46 in the regular season to a 7.10 in the playoffs. That kind of turnaround is unheard of.

The point is, if the Islanders continue with this formula, there’s a slim chance of them making the playoffs and if they do chances are they aren’t going very far.

Why Garth Needs To Act Now

With a relatively young core, you’d think the Islanders can relax and just let themselves develop into a contender right? Wrong! Now’s actually the perfect time to go for it.

Isles Nation actually did a really good job driving home this point so I wanted to share their tweet in this:

There’s no way the Islanders have this many bargain contracts in the future. You’re going to have to start paying these guys and it’s going to be a lot more than $25 million against the cap per year.

When you include the fact that the Islanders have four selections in the first two round of this year’s draft it’s safe to assume that Garth has some chips to use in a deal. The question becomes who, or what are the Islanders going to get.

To me, it’s defense or goalie. In a perfect world, you probably address both. If Calvin de Haan is out for the season you’re losing your third best defenseman and leaving guys like Dennis Seidenberg and Scott Mayfield playing every day which isn’t a championship level defense.

The Solution

So here’s my fix. I’d go out and try to acquire a goalie at all costs. Here’s my two option on what the Islanders can do:

Option A:

In this instance, I have the Islanders and Avalanche making a deal. I know Garth couldn’t get Joe Sakic to budge on his high asking price for Matt Duchene but maybe he can convince him to clear some cap space and help the Islanders out by dangling a pick and prospect in front of him.

If the Avalanche are going to trade a goalie they’ll need one in return. Jaroslav Halak can be a placeholder for the Av’s for the remainder of this year as their rebuild continues. Rebuilding teams usually like to create as much cap space as possible.

Varlamov is a $5.9 million cap hit for this year and next year. Halak’s $4.5 million cap hit expires at the end of this year. Plus if Halak continues to play this way it will help them in the “Tank Olympics” (Getting the number one pick).

In addition to the goalie swap you’d also give up a second rounder (either the Isles or Calgary’s Sakic can decide which one he wants) and a former fourth-round pick in Parker Wotherspoon.

I think Wotherspoon can play at the NHL level, but the Isles are going to have to give up something to get something and they’re in a bit of desperate situation.

Varlamov has .908 save percentage and a 2.98 goals against average. One positive though is Varlamov has only given up five goals or more twice this year. As we mentioned earlier the Islanders have done it twice in the past two games.

At 29-years-old he’s younger than the other two and also has more quality starts this year (12) thank Halak and Greiss combined (11).

Option B:

This is a similar trade to the first one, excluding the prospect. The Islanders again are giving up a goalie, Jaroslav Halak, and a second-round pick (whichever one Buffalo wants) for Robin Lehner. The Sabres are also in the “Tank Olympics” so they’re all about shredding contracts and acquiring picks.

Halak makes $500,000 more than Lehner but you’re giving them a draft pick to compensate the difference. Lehner’s deal expires at the end of this year so both players are like rentals.

Lehner has a .914 save percentage and a 2.76 goals against average this year. Those numbers aren’t fantastic but it’s a vast improvement over Halak and Greiss. Lehner, like Varlamov, also has 12 quality starts this year.

He’s actually been hot of late as well. In his last six outings, Lehner has a .940 save percentage and a 2.17 goals against average. The best stat of all, Lehner has only allowed five goals or more once this year.

Recap

No one is saying these goalies here are world beaters, but they’re certainly an improvement. The Islanders cannot afford to waste an opportunity at making a playoff run with the second highest scoring offense in the league.

Next: Another Bad Tavares To Montreal Take

If Garth Snow sits on his hands, he’s embracing mediocrity and doing a disservice to the team and more importantly the fans. Eventually, the rebuild has to stop, you have to go for it, this is the perfect year to give it a real go at becoming a contender.

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