Islanders rewind: 2017-18 season failed to deliver on promise

Head coach Doug Weight of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Head coach Doug Weight of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Taking a look back at the New York Islanders 2017-18 failed season.

The New York Islanders 2017-18 season was supposed to be a promising year. After firing head coach Jack Capuano mid-way through 2016-17, the Islanders went from a bottom tier team to putting up one of the better records in the NHL with Doug Weight behind the bench.

The 2017-18 season was supposed to be a return to the playoffs, it was supposed to be a showcase for John Tavares, who was facing free agency, to convince him to stay. It was supposed to be so much more than it was.

And frankly, it started off well…until the wheels fell off out of nowhere.

The Lead-Up

Just think back to the 2016-17 season. On January 17, 2017, the Islanders fired long-time head coach Jack Capuano and replaced him with assistant coach and former captain Doug Weight. When Weight took over the Islanders, they held a 17-17-8 record and were 28th in the league with 42 points.

But somehow Doug Weight was able to rally his players and put up points to quickly jump up the standings. The Isles went 7-1-2 in Doug Weight’s first ten games and the Isles finished a record nine-game road trip going 5-3-1 picking up eleven of a possible 18 points.

Over the remaining 40 games of the 16-17 season after Capuano was fired, the Islanders would go an incredible 24-12-4. That was the second-best record in the league. Sadly, they’d miss the playoffs by a single point.

In the offseason, they moved Ryan Strome to Edmonton for Jordan Eberle and Travis Hamonic to Calgary. The Strome trade was a clear upgrade to give the Islanders more punch upfront while the Hamonic trade was done to move the defenseman closer to home.

Add Mathew Barzal, who was a promising prospect at the time, and the Islanders 2017-18 team was supposed to be better. There was an expectation that a return to the playoffs was not only possible but likely.

I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

The season started off well for the Islanders. In October, they held a 7-4-1 record. While October is typically Brock Nelson‘s month, the trio of Tavares, Bailey, and Lee were all putting up at least a point-per-game. Tavares was particularly great with eleven goals in 12 games.

November was much of the same. By the end of the second month, the Isles held a 15-7-2 record and were the eighth-best team in the league and the second-best team in the division with 32 points.

Everything was trending in the right direction. Sure, the Islanders were getting outshot on most nights but they were winning.

Then December came and something changed for the Islanders. The Isles went 5-8-2 for their first losing month of the season. Opponents had figured out that the Islanders just won’t get in the way of incoming shots so they started raining pucks down on the Isles goalies.

The Isles let up 35 shots or more a night eight times in December. On four of those occasions, they’d have 40+ shot against, including 48 shots against in a 6-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

The issue only got worse. From January 1 to February 16, the Islanders held a 9-10-2 record and had allowed 40 or more shots on eleven different occasions. On four of those occasions, they’d allowed 50 shots or more against.

The Islanders went from the eighth-best team in the league at the end of November, to the 19th best team in the league mid-way through February.

Doug Weight tried to switch the system up, a system he had introduced at the start of the 17-18 season to allow his goalies to see the puck and to increase his team’s possession rate. But it didn’t work. Like at all.

By February 16, the Isles allowed the highest number of shots-against per game with 35.6. From February 17 to the end of the season, the Isles were no longer last in shots-against. With Weight’s change-up, they were able to shave off a mere 1.6 shots against per game.

At the trade deadline, they swapped Jason Chimera for Chris Wagner and brought in defenseman Brandon Davidson. Moves that did nothing to stabilize the Islanders who were in a clear free-fall. They’d fallen and they just couldn’t get up.

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The End

The Islanders ended the 2016-17 season a single point out of the playoffs, but with an improved 2017-18 team where both Mathew Barzal and John Tavares were point-per-game players and Anders Lee put up 40 goals, the Isles finished 17 points back of a wildcard spot.

Clearly, winning isn’t built just on offense. The Isles had the eighth-best offense by the end of the year. But thanks to a league-worst defense with 293 goals-against they crumbled out of relevancy in the NHL. Again.

There was so much promise going into 2017-18. It’s clear that a new coach bounce got the Isles rolling after ‘Cappy’ left in 16-17. But that bounce that couldn’t be sustained when the novelty wore off and when that happened the cracks in the roster as well as Weight’s lack of experience where exposed and exploited by every team in the league.