Note: I will be issuing a series a series of grades regarding the performance of the players and coaches in future blogs. This is a quick overview.
(With apologies to good time rockers Squeeze):
"Now the season is over
I can count the cost"
Many fans had what I feel were misplaced expectations for the New York Islanders this season. They actually believed that, with lots of hard work and a little bit of luck, Coach Ted Nolan's squad might contend for a playoff spot. However, they were really ignoring a very simple fact: This team was never good enough to finish much higher than they did.
Truth hurts, doesn't it?
However, I laud those same fans for their optimism. After all, why should it be a prerequisite that fans have realistic expectations? We deal with enough hard-hitting Reality in our daily lives. If a fan chooses to believe that the Improbable can happen with a hockey team, so be it.
A fan can be as optimistic as they'd like, but anyone who didn't believe that this was a rebuilding year for the Isles was fooling themselves. After the team lost Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti to Free Agency and bought out Alexei Yashin, GM Garth Snow was unable to land adequate replacements in the Free Agent pool. He cannot be blamed completely; Long Island is a tough sell for a variety of reasons. However, it should have been apparent right then and there that this would be a lost season.
Though the team initially started well in October, there were signs that the wheels were perilously close to coming off. Two blowout losses to Toronto and Carolina were harbingers of the fact that, the way the Islanders were constructed, if they didn't give their best effort every single game, just about any other NHL squad would be mopping up the ice with them. The margin for error was virtually nil....and that is a recipe that invites Disaster.
Then, the injuries began to mount. Through the course of the season, the Islanders lost 3/4 of their Top 4 defensemen. Though I don't believe in using injuries as an excuse, the fact remains that if Detroit had lost Nicklas Lidstom, Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall for the rest of the year by early March, there is no way they would've won the President's trophy. I'd even wager they would've had trouble retaining a playoff spot.
The biggest blow to the Islander's season was the one dealt by G Rick Dipietro's unfortunate incident during the All Star weekend. He injured his hip (memorably captured on air by the Network's microphone) and was never the same player afterwards. On many nights earlier in the season, Dipietro was the main reason why the Islanders were able to hang on in close games. Sure, he let in soft goals at times, but he stood on his head on too many occasions to count to steal the victories.
Outside of injuries, the Islander's biggest problem was their lack of scoring ability. They finished second to last in the entire league in Goals Scored. Players like Miroslav Satan, Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie and Ruslan Fedotenko did not deliver on the promise of their abilities. The rest of the lineup was comprised of career third liners who couldn't be counted on for more than 15 goals (at best).
However, all was not bad in Islander Country this year. The silver lining in the Injury cloud was that it opened up opportunities for players like Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Frans Nielsen and Sean Bergenheim. Each of these players took a step forward in their development and, Okposo in particular, gave the fans something to be very hopeful about in the future.
Tonight could be one of the biggest nights in Islander history. At 8pm, the Lottery for the Draft Position will occur and the Isles have a slight chance (8.1%) of obtaining the #1 pick in June. If the Miracle happens, they could lay their hands on Steve Stamkos, a difference-maker just below the mold of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
If that were to occur, it would be worth every bit of angst this season caused.