Had things turned out a little differently for the Islanders this past Thursday, they would have battled the Tampa Bay Lightning in game seven of the Eastern Conference Final on Saturday night instead of the Lightning facing Dallas in game one of the Stanley Cup Final. The Islanders’ overtime loss in game six against Tampa Bay ended their surprising run through the post-season in the bubble and has sent them into an off-season that figures to be pretty eventful.
While Islanders fans are still feeling the sting of the loss, the overriding emotion is that of excitement about the summer into fall of playoff hockey and the expectation that this is a team that is going to be a contender year in and year out. After all, how many teams have a fan base that greets them at the airport in the middle of a pandemic when they arrive home after a loss in a conference final?
For the first time in a long time, there is a legitimate reason for the Islanders fan base to be excited and here are five reasons why…
It All Starts At The Top: The success or failure of a sports franchise certainly depends on having the right coach and having good players, but the ultimate reason why an organization wins or loses rests squarely the ownership and the commitment they make to doing things the right way. In the Islanders case, the ownership group led by Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, along with Dewey Shay and the Estate of Charles Wang, is everything that that Islanders Country could ask for. Whether it’s hiring the right people, giving the franchise the resources it needs to be successful, or just taking some time to listen to how the fan base feels about things, this ownership group gets high grades for what they’ve done since taking over in 2016.
Adult Supervision: Back in the glory days of the Islanders, the franchise was in the capable hands of Hall of Fame General Manager Bill Torrey and Hall of Fame Head Coach Al Arbour. Together, that dynamic duo led the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups and nineteen straight playoff series wins and they did it with a roster chuck full of homegrown draft picks like Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin along with key acquisitions like Billy Smith in the expansion draft and trade deadline deal that brought Butch Goring to Long Island in 1980.
And now, almost three decades after “The Architect” and “Radar” ran the show, there are two men in charge that has restored credibility to the franchise in terms of hockey operations.
With Hall of Fame General Manager Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Barry Trotz at the helm, the Islanders have a hierarchy that has experience and a championship resume that they have brought to Long Island. Lamoriello, the 2019-20 General Manager of the Year in the National Hockey League, led the New Jersey Devils to three Stanley Cup titles while Trotz, the 2018-19 NHL Coach of the Year in his first season with the Islanders, won a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals before arriving in Islanders Country.
In two seasons under this duo, the Islanders went from being out of the playoffs, to a first round playoff win in season one, to a berth in the Eastern Conference Final this year.
A Desired Destination: In years past, it would take a lot to convince a free agent to sign with the Islanders. Sometimes it would take overpaying and there were times where players actually took less money to go elsewhere. But now, for a myriad of reasons, the Islanders should be a franchise that elite players would want to come to. From strong ownership, to Lou and Barry, to a being a team that was just in the NHL’s final four, to what will be a spectacular new home coming a year from now, the task of recruiting a top free agent, getting your own players to re-sign, to even some players maybe even taking a hometown discount to want to stay, the Islanders are now prime real estate. The Islanders have transformed from a house that is a “fixer-upper” to a home that is a “million-dollar listing”.
And speaking of high-priced real estate…
Finally…A New Barn: Nassau Coliseum will always be the home of the Islanders. It was home from the very beginning in 1972 until the team moved to Brooklyn in 2015. And even during their time in Barclays Center, if you asked an Islanders fan where home was, he or she would say “The Coliseum” or “The Barn”. The Islanders made a part-time return “home” in 2018 and the number of games there grew over these last two years to the point where if the Islanders do play home games next season, they are all expected to be at Nassau Coliseum.
But at this time next year, the Islanders will, once again, say goodbye to “The Barn” and this time it will be for good.
After years of failed attempts for a new arena on Long Island, rumors of other markets trying to lure the Islanders away and a temporary move to Brooklyn, the Islanders are finally getting a permanent new home on Long Island…UBS Arena at Belmont Park. Even with a temporary halt to construction because of the pandemic, UBS Arena, part of a $1 billion project that will include retail space and a hotel, is scheduled to open for the 2021-22 season and it’s going to be amazing for the franchise, the players, the coaches, the staff and the fans. For those who have been following the construction photos and live webcam, have taken a ride past the site, or have seen the renderings, the Islanders new home is going to be a game-changer for a franchise that has endured so much over the years.
For some fans, it may seem like just a dream given the past history, but UBS Arena is real and it’s going to be spectacular!
Room For Improvement: The Islanders had a talented roster in 2019-20 that featured a mixture of veterans and youth. From players like Captain Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and trade deadline acquisition J.G. Pageau to Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, and Ryan Pulock, the Islanders stormed through the post-season and were actually one of the last three teams in the bubble because Vegas lost to Dallas before the Islanders series with Tampa Bay concluded.
But the Islanders roster that finished the season will look different when next season starts…maybe even dramatically different.
There are a number of unrestricted free agents including goalie Thomas Greiss, forwards Matt Martin and Derick Brassard, and defenseman Andy Greene. Some cap room will have to be cleared to get restricted free agents Barzal, Pulock and Devon Toews signed and that could include trading away the contracts like those of Johnny Boychuck, Nick Leddy, and Andrew Ladd. The Islanders will also want to have the ability to go after a free agent or two including Florida Panthers forward Mike Hoffman who would certainly help an Islanders power play that sputtered throughout the postseason.
Moves are going to come soon as the draft is approaching October 5-6 and free agency begins October 9th. There’s also Russian goalie Ilya Sorokin along with prospects Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom that could become regular contributors next season.
The Islanders came up just a bit short of their ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup this season, but while there is still a bit of sadness, there is no shortage of excitement about this emerging team and rejuvenated franchise. From top-flight ownership, to championship management, to a world-class new home, to a team filled with talent, these are exciting times for the Islanders.