Now that teams are advancing towards the Stanley Cup Finals, we'll review the seasons of teams as they're eliminated from the playoffs. Obviously, the last team reviewed will be the one that wins the Cup.
Now the next team to be eliminated from the playoffs: The New York Islanders
Our prediction: We thought the Islanders would make the playoffs this season in a wild card spot because they finally seemed to have the ingredients to make an impact. Once they were in though, we liked the Washington Capitals a hair more and felt the Islanders would be eliminated in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in seven games. (
The truth: The team did slightly better than a wild card spot in finishing third in the Metropolitan Division. But true to the prediction, the team was out in seven games against the Capitals.
So what was good?: The Islanders finally have a team that can not only compete, but can contend as well. At the ripe old age of 24, John Tavares has legitimately established himself as an elite forward in the league. Further, Kyle Okposo was relatively on-par with what he did last season despite injuries, showing that he can be a sufficient compliment to Tavares. The youth movement was definitely served this year, as Ryan Strome and Anders Lee established themselves as bonafide top-six forwards for the team. When you factor in the production the team generated from Frans Nielsen, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey, it's clear to see that solid secondary scoring was essential in keeping the team competitive this season.
The defensive aspect of the team wasn't too shabby either. Though the team's top defender looked to be Lubomir Visnovsky at the start of the season, the acquisitions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy (in addition to the emergence of Travis Hamonic as a legit Top-4 defender) meant that he could play the role of veteran defender instead of being the guy who was called upon to drive the team. Nik Kulemin may not have had the same level of offensive production that he had with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he provided the team with a solid penalty killer with or without Mikhail Grabovski (who suffered through injury issues during the season.) Jaroslav Halak finally has a bonafide starting position and he didn't disappoint (even if the performances of Chad Johnson and his replacement, Michal Neuvirth, did.)
So what happened?: Playoff teams aren't born overnight. So while the young guns playing on Long Island showed more swagger than they have in the past two decades, they ultimately had to face off against a Capitals team that wants to do more than underachieve (and are likely also tired of being reminded as such by fans and the media.) The Islanders gave the Capitals everything they had and took them to the limit, but experience (if not better defenders for the Capitals) played a difference here.
So what's next?: The biggest move the Islanders are going to make in the off-season is relocating from Long Island's Nassau Coliseum (the only arena they've ever known) to the far more modern Barclays Center in Brooklyn. While Lee, Nelson, and young defender Thomas Hickey will need to be re-upped (with the former two likely in line for a nice raise), the team doesn't need to do anything crazy other than find solid compliments for their core. Would Visnovsky take a lower-paying deal to stay with a club who could use him as a Top-4 defender? It would be nice if both sides could find a way. Otherwise, the Islanders have options, and will be a better destination for free agents and trade interests than they've been in the past.