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Islanders vs. Analytics: Is there finally peace?

WESTPORT, CT - FEBRUARY 08: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) In this photo illustration, a RadioShack calculator is shown on February 8, 2015 in Westport, Connecticut. RadioShack, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last Thursday, represented an older era of home electronics and consumer items. Despite numerous attempts to keep with the times, the home electronics retailer couldn't compete in an era of Amazon and Apple. RadioShack was started in 1921 to supply equipment for amateur or ham radio enthusiasts. At its height, the company grew to have thousands of stores throughout America parts of Europe and South America. (Photo Illustration by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WESTPORT, CT - FEBRUARY 08: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.) In this photo illustration, a RadioShack calculator is shown on February 8, 2015 in Westport, Connecticut. RadioShack, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last Thursday, represented an older era of home electronics and consumer items. Despite numerous attempts to keep with the times, the home electronics retailer couldn't compete in an era of Amazon and Apple. RadioShack was started in 1921 to supply equipment for amateur or ham radio enthusiasts. At its height, the company grew to have thousands of stores throughout America parts of Europe and South America. (Photo Illustration by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders haven’t received much respect from the analytics community for some time now. Since the departure of John Tavares, the Isles haven’t been seen as a dangerous team in the slightest regard.

And when you consider what happened to the roster in 2018 it makes sense. But that was three seasons ago. For three seasons straight, the Islanders weren’t given much of a chance to make noise in their division or make the playoffs.

They did so in all three years. As the 2021 season approached fans braced themselves for the lack of respect to show up again. Except it didn’t.

New York Islanders finally given respect by projection models

The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn’s (subscription required) model for the 2021-22 season believes that the Islanders will make the playoffs and that they’ll win their division too. That’s a departure from the usual. Even Dom will say that his model hasn’t been kind to the Islanders over the previous years.

So what changed? It wasn’t the Islanders roster. The 23 man squad has been virtually the same since 2018. There has been some change, but the Isles have tinkered around the margins of their roster. So again, what changed?

It was the Islanders transformation into an analytics darling of sorts last season. In 2020-22, the Isles held a 52.01 xGF% (10th best in the NHL) at 5on5. Compare that to the results over the two previous years:

  • 2018-19: 50.03 (15th)
  • 2019-20: 48.84 (20th)

(xGF% from NaturalStatTrick.)

Expected goals-for isn’t the best stat, but it’s widely seen as a good predictor for success. The fact that the Isles have been in the bottom half over the first two years of Trotz’s tenure and moved up to the top ten in 2020-21 is a big reason as to why the Isles are finally getting some respect.

So is there finally peace between these Isles fans and projection models?

Well there always should have been. These models are never perfect and just give a sense of how things look at that time. And based on how the team looked on paper from 2018-19 through 2020-21 there was no reason to believe they’d have performed better.

Still Uncomfortable?

Some Isles fans still won’t be comfortable with the notion that their team is being respected. It’s just not natural. If you find yourself in this camp, may I present this model that not only places the Isles outside of the top three spots in the Metro but they aren’t even in a playoff spot.

That might make some Islanders fans breathe a sigh of relief at a return to normalcy.

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