A Cinderella Season

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

The key reasons to the New York Islanders new found success


Stats relative to January 31st, 2019


After losing their franchise player to free agency, the New York Islanders were projected to be a basement team in the NHL this season. After spending 9 seasons with the team that had drafted him 1st overall in 2009, John Tavares decided that it was time to move on, to take the once in a lifetime opportunity to play for his hometown team the Toronto Maple Leafs. The once disappointed and bitter Islanders fans now have every reason to gloat as their team sits in first place of the metropolitan division, far from where everyone thought they would be a mere half year ago. But how could it be that the team that had missed the playoffs by 17 points, finishing 22nd overall last year and had lost their star player in the offseason for nothing be sitting in 6th overall this season? Ironically, while being just ahead of the very same team that stole Johnny boy away from them, making it that much sweeter for Isles fans. Well, there are a few reasons behind this Cinderella story as the team hopes to prove many people wrong while continuing to dominate the league in the process.


Drafting Well

Outside of the obvious pick of John Tavares in 2009, the Islanders have a fairly good track record with picking a player in the first round who has panned out to be an NHL player in some regard. With that being said, from 2009-2014, the Islanders had a top 5 pick in every one of those drafts outside of 2013, but the players drafted from then on have been late round picks, but really good ones. So, let’s go through all the New York Islanders first overall picks from 2009 to present and the impact they have made on the team.

* 2015 28th overall pick acquired pick by trading EDM 2015 2nd (33rd overall) and FLA 2015 3rd (72nd overall) to Tampa for this pick

* 2015 28th overall pick acquired pick by trading EDM 2015 2nd (33rd overall) and FLA 2015 3rd (72nd overall) to Tampa for this pick

* 2015 16th overall pick acquired in the Edmonton Griffin Reinhart trade

* 2015 21st overall pick traded to Buffalo along with Matt Moulson and a 2015 2nd round pick for Tomas Vanek

* 2015 28th overall pick acquired pick by trading EDM 2015 2nd (33rd overall) and FLA 2015 3rd (72nd overall) to Tampa for this pick

* 2017 15th overall pick traded along with 2019 2nd , Mikhail Grabovski and Jake Bischoff to Vegas so they would take Jean-Francois Berube in expansion draft – pick became Erik Brannstrom

* 2018 12th overall pick acquired from Calgary alongside a 2018 2nd round pick, a conditional 2019 2nd round pick for Travis Hamonic and a conditional 2019 4th round pick


Needless to say, outside of a few bad trades (especially that 2017 trade with Vegas my goodness), the New York Islanders have done an excellent job at not only drafting well, but making good trades in the process. When looking at some of their smarter deals, in the grand scheme of things it can be said that the Islanders gave away Strome, Reinheart, Hamonic, 2015 3rd round pick (72nd overall) and a conditional 2019 4th round pick for Eberle, Barzal, Beauvillier, Dobson, Ruslan Iskhavoc (Calgary’s 2018 2nd round pick) and a conditional 2019 second round pick.


Not a bad haul whatsoever.


The players they are left with through the draft or traded for are all either currently on the team or eventually will be. Now, of course it can be argued that every first-round pick should make the NHL but there have been many cases of busts or underperformance over the years. Looking at the Islanders track record they have potential stars in Barzal, Wahlstrom and Dobson while the likes of their other picks being solid depth players on a young and upcoming team. They were even able to salvage picks like Reinheart and Strome who may not have lived up to their initial potential.


Goaltending

The Islanders have never really had an issue with scoring, which is a great attribute to have that often leads to a winning team right? Well in this case, despite being above league average in scoring over the past 4 seasons, they managed to make playoffs just twice. Oddly enough, this is the first year over their last 5 where they are below league average in scoring, but luckily their goalies have come up big, unlike in prior years. Below is a chart to help better visualize the New York Islanders goaltending woes yet prominent scoring in comparison to league average.

*Made playoffs


It can be said that if the Islanders had even league average goaltending, there is a good chance they could have been a consistent playoff team over the past 5 years. Unfortunately, that was not the case as they have managed to make playoffs twice, and only once made it out of the first round. Not necessarily a bad track record, there are certainly worse teams around the league, but when you are consistently scoring above league average, there really is no reason for missing the playoffs regularly. After cutting ties with veteran goaltender Jaroslav Halak, the Islanders went out and took a chance on free agent goaltender Robin Lehner: a 27-year-old 2nd round pick in 2009 who was poised to be Ottawa’s future goaltender but never really panned out and was eventually shipped off to Buffalo, where we put up solid numbers on a horrendous team. After years of substance abuse and struggles with mental illness, Lehner got the help he truly needed and putting hockey aside, and it is excellent to see him finally doing well and being at peace with himself and his life (congrats Robin). With that being said, he is having a career year posting an outstanding 2.02 GAA and an incredible .931 SV%.


However, we also must give credit where it's due and that is for their other goaltender who has had a major bounce back year. After owning a horrendous 3.82 GAA and a 0.892 SV% in 27 games played, Thomas Greiss has helped split time with Lehner playing in 27 games while having a 2.50 GAA and a solid .920 SV%. This goalie duo maybe one of the best in the league, and surely one of the sole reasons that this Islanders team is top of their tough division.


Management

Newly appointed General Manager Lou Lamoriello came in to be the saving grace for a fanbase who had wanted former-GM Garth Snow out of office for years, and he has been just that. After starting his tenure with some questionable moves in signing former Toronto Maple Leaf Leo Komorov to a four-year deal at $3 million per, he was not only able to successfully address the team’s biggest weaknesses in goaltending, he also snagged one of the best coaches in the league, Barry Trotz. A Stanley Cup champion in just the past season, Trotz decided that it was time to move on from the Washington Capitals and the Islanders made him an offer he simply could not refuse. It is quite clear that the Islanders have adopted a new style of play that has led to their new-found success. They play a more physical game, especially with what the Edmonton Oilers would call an “identity line” in fan favourite Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. One of their biggest strengths is clogging up the neutral zone and making it difficult for opposing teams to get a clean zone entry. This was something the Capitals excelled at and one of the many reasons they were able to bring home the biggest achievement in all of hockey.


Lou and Barry have helped turn this organization around for the better, and despite having an extremely high PDO that may not be sustainable, management, goaltending and the help of their young skilled players have all contributed to their success. Although they may not always be a top of their division for many years to come, they certainly have the potential to battle for a divisional spot. Their future looks bright if they can continue to draft well and play the way they have been so far this season. Take it game by game and try to ride the highs for as long as possible and the Islanders will have a fun season, and many more to come as well.



Stats from NHL.com, hockey-reference.com, and hockeydb.com

Contract Research from CapFriendly.com

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