It’s not LeBron James. It’s not Mike Trout. It’s not the New England Patriots. There isn’t a better story across all four major sports than the New York Islanders making the 2019 NHL playoffs.
There just isn’t a better sports story across all four major North American sports during the 2018-19 sports season than the New York Islanders making it to the 2019 NHL playoffs.
They’re a better story than a 34-year-old LeBron James not being able to carry the Los Angeles Lakers into the playoffs. It’s a better story than Mike Trout’s $430 million 12-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Angels. And it’s a better story than the New England Patriots winning their sixth Super Bowl.
Written off for dead by almost anyone out there, the New York Islanders banded together to reach 103 points on the season, home-ice advantage in the first round, and even a Jennings Trophy thanks to the fewest goals against on the season.
Name an outlet, every single one of them had the New York Islanders near the bottom of the league. They were counted out at the start of the season and proved everyone wrong in the end. That’s a great story.
The Plan Worked
When Lou Lamoriello took over as team President and then General Manager, the strategy was clear. Build a team that would be competitive and hard to play against night in and night out. The Islander weren’t going to dazzle you with skill, but they’d work harder than you.
On July 1, the New York Islanders lost arguably their most skilled player and brought in what felt like a parade of bottom six players. Free agents such as Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, and Tom Kuhnhackl were brought in as well as Matt Martin via trade.
These were all high charactered NHL-veterans that would step in and give the team that “hard to play against” vibe.
Even the Robin Lehner acquisition wasn’t met with high regard. After all, he was for all intents and purposes released from Buffalo for what seemed like poor play.
And because of that any news outlet with a voice doomed the New York Islanders before the season started:
All were wrong. I don’t blame most of them. Deadspin, in classic Deadspin fashion, went way overboard with their take and now it’s Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz that are laughing.
This team was written off for dead because of the players they brought in, because of the player they lost, and because of their ideological approach to how they’d play the game.
But the New York Islanders were successful because of that ideological approach. They were hard to play against. The team was strong defensively. And the players they brought in gave them exactly what they wanted.
None was more important than Robin Lehner who finished the season with a 0.930SV% a 2.13GAA, six shutouts, and a 25-13-2 record.
The New York Islanders were successful in 2018-19 by doing exactly what they said they’d do. No one believed it could be done, but here we are at the end of the 2018-19 season and the Islanders are second in the Metropolitan Division with 103 points and home-ice advantage for round one of the playoffs.
That’s what makes the New York Islanders the best sports story of 2018-19. It’s not the drama of a fall from grace like LeBron. It’s not the shock of the biggest contract in league history. And it’s not a team continuing its dynastic run.
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The best sports story of the 2018-19 season is how a team defied the critics and the nay-sayers to believe in themselves and believe in the system and made it to the postseason, comfortably.