Dec 31, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; New York Islanders fans reacts at the glass when New York Islanders player Andrew Ladd throws a puck prior to the game between the Winnipeg Jets and the New York Islanders at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
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2016 is done and over with. It’ s been a roller coaster ride for the New York Islanders. A 100 point season. A free-agent exodus. And now floundering at the bottom of the league. Here’s a month-by-month review of the 2016 calendar year.
What’s your New Years resolution? Is it self-improvement? Maybe hitting the gym to get rid of the Christmas fifteen? Maybe make a push to get that job you always wanted? How about just being slightly above average? Because that’s all the New York Islanders need to be.
Heck, they could be absolutely average even and reach their goal; make the playoffs. Unlike most sports leagues, over half the teams in the NHL make the playoffs. So if the Isles could be just slightly above average, the playoffs would be a real possibility.
But that’s where they find themselves now. How did they get here?
Over the last twelve months, a ton of stuff happened. Free agents both left and came in. The Isles made history and lost a historic legend. It’s been up and down in 2016.
So to boil it all down, the staff at Eyes on Isles got together to bring out the biggest story lines from each month of the 2016 calendar year.
Mar 15, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Islanders center Mikhail Grabovski (84) skates on the ice before playing the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The Isles came into the new year on a winning streak but played .500 hockey during the first month of the year. They had a nice come from behind victory against the Rangers. That’s always a feel good story. January 2016 was Mikhail Grabovski’s last full month playing for the Islanders. He scored his last two goals in the first two games of February and played one lonely, experimental, sentimental, game in March. But January was his last full month. Brock Nelson has six goals in the month, including a hat-trick vs Columbus, leaving him close to 20 on the year.
But the story that had the greatest effect on everything else that has happened since, was the story of January 23rd. The USA today headlines announced that New York and Long Island were under a “travel ban due to the deadly storm”. Eleven states declared disaster areas, 15,000 flights were cancelled, thirty inches of snow were predicted. Broadway shows went dark. DEAR GOD. NOT BROADWAY!!!!!
This game was made up at the end of the season. Literally AFTER the season was to have ended. It was one of those rare must-lose situations. The Isles pretty much needed to get swept by Buffalo and Philly those last two games to get the second wild card spot, rather than the first. That was what allowed them to play Florida instead of Washington. It allowed them to win their first series since ’93.
Had the game been played in January the Islanders would have been much more likely to win. The Flyers were still struggling to find their footing. On January 23rd The Islanders were healthy, winning, and not resting half a roster with the hopes of losing their way to a victory. Absent that two feet of snow on January 23rd, I fear the Islanders would still be without a playoff series victory in 23 years.
So next time a friend – or message board mortal enemy — asks “What good has Snow ever done for the Islanders?”, you have your answer.
Feb 28, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Matt Hendricks (23) and New York Islanders defensemen Johnny Boychuk (55) battle in front of the New York Islanders net during the first period at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
The Islanders had a decent month of February; they posted an 8-4-1 record for the month. There were a couple of overtime and shootout wins during the month but the real story came on a day where hockey takes a backseat in America.
Super Bowl Sunday, a day that is dedicated to watching football and eating wings with friends and family the Islanders quietly had their most impressive game of the year.
They blew out the Edmonton Oilers 8-1. Johnny Boychuk, John Tavares, Nikolai Kulemin, Josh Bailey and Cal Clutterbuck all had a goal. That’s not counting Kyle Okposo who netted three on the day.
Okposo’s hat trick was an impressive one. Two of his goals even came on the power play. The Islanders ran their former teammate Anders Nilsson out of the net pretty quick in this one. Cam Talbot wasn’t much better either.
The Islanders went on to win two games in a row after this one. They did that twice in the month of February.
Okposo’s hat trick was the standout moment from the month, coming in the Islanders most impressive win of the year. An eight-spot on 31 shots is pretty impressive.
Nov 10, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck (15) against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
March was a very kind month to the Islanders who finished with a 10-4-2 record. There are two moments that stand out from this month and they came in back to back games. The first is the Islanders 6-4 win over the Rangers.
This one was a game for the ages. The Islanders jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period, but the Rangers stormed right back scoring two goals before Johnny Boychuk would add another one. Although Eric Staal would add one more as well…all while still in the first period!
That alone was arguably the wildest period from the Islanders season in 2015-2016. Of course, the second period was dormant. There were no goals scored in this period.
In the third Derick Brassard tied the game for the Rangers. Then Cal Clutterbuck scored a clutch goal, a common occurrence in 2016 and we got this wicked cele.
It’d be the game winner as the Islanders would add an empty netter for good measure. The Isles next game against the Penguins would loom large as well. It was great that the Islanders hung on and won an exciting 2-1 game, but the Isles lost their starting goalie.
Jaroslav Halak would be out 6-8 weeks and we know now that he wouldn’t play another game for the Islanders in 2015-2016.
Apr 24, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; The New York Islanders are congratulated by the the Florida Panthers during the ceremonial handshake line after defeating the Panthers in double overtime in game six of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Barclays Center. The Islanders defeated the Panthers 2-1 to win the series four games to two. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
There is no other news coming out of April bigger than the New York Islanders winning their first playoff series in 23 years.
Sure, there were newsworthy events leading up to it – clinching the playoffs for the second straight year, the injury bug, and incredible, super amazing rise of Alan Quine. Nothing can compare, though, to the complete elation of John Tavares’s series-clinching overtime goal and the far-reaching consequences of advancing to the second round.
It was a mind exploding, blowing the roof off the joint moment (thanks for coining that at least, Mr. Ledecky). It was a realization of the kind of star John Tavares is. It was exciting and magical, especially knowing the Isles were playing a little longer than the Rangers.
It was a moment.
It was a glorious moment that lasted just a bit longer before the Tampa Bay Lightning did their work and the Isles disappeared into the Black Hole of their own season-long making.
Living in that moment was blinding. It threw a blanket over the fact that the Islanders in no way deserved to win that series. It covered up the fact that they were outplayed throughout and rode the backs of a goaltender playing out of his mind a superstar who practically willed the victory so.
It erased – at least for a moment – the season long regression of a majority of the team, the mishandling of its youth, and the uncertain future of its core. What’s worse is it probably solidified Jack Capuano’s job, allowing management’s misguided commitment to him and current staff to become albatross around its neck.
May 8, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA;Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) and teammates congratulate each other after they beat the New York Islanders in game five of the second round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Islanders 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
April sight the highest high in the Islanders franchise for the last 23 years. And the May happened and that ecstatic feeling of maybe, this is our year was stomped out of our minds as we were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games.
The series started well for the Isles. They took the first game in Tampa 5-4. The momentum from that Florida series was seemingly carrying forward.
Taking one on the road in the playoffs is the perfect outcome for the Islanders. Going back to Brooklyn tied at one a piece with a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead in front of the home fans? Perfect.
As predicted the Lightning took the second game of the series 4-1. It was a convincing victory that normally would have shaken any Isles fans confidence. But this was the playoffs!
Of course, the Lightning would take both games in Brooklyn by a margin of 7-5. And then kill the series off in Tampa with a four-goal shutout.
That’s fine. The Isles had put together two 100 point seasons back-to-back. They had gone to the playoffs in back-to-back season. Every year the Isles took a step forward, 2016-17 shouldn’t be any different.
(EDITORS NOTE: caption correction) Jun 24, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Kieffer Bellows shakes hands with Islanders owner Chalres Wang after being selected as the number nineteen overall draft pick by the New York Islanders in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft at the First Niagra Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
June is a relatively quiet month in the hockey world. It’s the month before free agency starts so there’s a lot of speculation on what teams should and should not do.
This past year it was the buildup of what would happen with Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and Matt Martin. Most assumed Okposo was gone but I think people believed that Martin and Nielsen would return. We know how that turned out.
The NHL draft was the big story of the month. The Islanders drafted Kieffer Bellows.
Dec 23, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres right wing Kyle Okposo (21) skates against New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy (2) during the first period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The storm clouds were brewing over Brooklyn even before the New York Islanders entered the month of July. The lack of good news (or news in general) from their three big pending free agents was a problem.
But hey, Garth Snow had a plan and it included some kind of fantastical wooing of Steven Stamkos. Daring to dream, man, that’s got to be Snow’s m.o. at this point, because making things happen just isn’t.
So, reality set in when Stamkos didn’t make it to July, and it was onward and eventually downward. Snow made no attempt to hold onto Kyle Okposo and failed in his attempt at keeping Frans Nielsen in the fold. Whatever the reasoning on both sides, these were huge losses that Snow had to make up for. Matt Martin eventually walked and took the majority of the Islanders toughness and the rest of their heart with him.
Let’s face it, free agency is a pit of despair for the Islanders. There was actually some light there when Johnny Boychuk actually chose to stay, but c’mon. No one in their right mind with any real choice wants to play for this team. Whether it’s Long Island or Brooklyn, coaching or personnel. John Tavares can’t sell this team and every July is a sickening disappointment.
This July the Islanders landed Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, and eventually P.A. Parenteau. On the previous season’s numbers alone, Snow actually had replaced goals with goals and then some. He’d gone out and gotten big time leadership and hey, Chimera is really pretty fast. Parenteau was familiar and had chemistry with Tavares. It was actually the only financially responsible move Snow made.
Hindsight is 20/20 and no one has a crystal ball so short of actually doing the impossible and landing a guy like Stamkos, Snow as doomed to fail in July. With the waiving of Parenteau (leading the Devils in goals currently) and impossibly slow starts for Ladd and Chimera, it’s all magnified.
The lesson of July should be clear. The Islanders were on an upswing with consecutive 100 point seasons. Not only did they fail to keep core players, they failed to truly lure viable free agents. Ownership has to change the culture of the organization. Sadly, July and everything after haven’t opened their eyes to this.
Oct 9, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Legendary New York Islanders coach Al Arbour is remembered during a moment of silence before a game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
A relative lull in the off-season, this month would be the calm before the storm. The ho-hum signings of July had been discussed to death and there was still plenty of nothing to do but wait for the season to start. It was at this very inconspicuous point that the Islanders would retain my fandom despite what was to come.
Islanders Celebrate National Dog Day – A number of Islanders took pictures celebrating National Dog Day. This transformed into several events this year promoting pet adoption on the island.
As a pet owner, I found this endearing and it was a good reminder of how involved in the community this team can be. They used to do it as a way to make up for the fact that they were terrible. Continued involvement after their back to back playoff trips (even if they’re bad again now) makes me want to root for them despite the miscues of team management.
Al Arbor Memorial – The Islanders also held a memorial for the one-year anniversary of the death of Al Arbor. Long-time Islanders fans will never forget the influence of one of the greatest coaches in any sport. Seeing that the team itself and the players are paying tribute is encouraging. Knowing that the team still has a sense of their own storied history gives me hope that someday they may replicate those results to some degree.
Involvement in the community and a firm grasp on the treasured past of this team is important. Coming off their first season at their new home and after posting their first playoff victory in quite some time, it was good to see the team not only acknowledge, but nurture its roots.
Dec 31, 2016; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; New York Islanders center Ryan Strome (18) celebrates his goal with teammates during the second period against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
The singing didn’t look promising at first, for obvious reasons. But with 13 points in 28 games, it seems like it’s paid off for the Isles.
But the big move was re-upping on Ryan Strome. Offering the fifth overall draft pick in 2012 a two-year $2.5 million contract. It wasn’t the money that made this deal so important. It was how long it took and what it meant.
Ryan Strome was that former 50 point player in his second full season with the team turn 27 point player the very next season. Who was he?
The Islanders certainly didn’t know. So they tossed some money, and some term at Strome to show them what type of player he actually was. Then, they’d sit down again in 2018 or leave it to the last minute again.
Dec 27, 2016; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils right wing PA Parenteau (11) celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Oh, October, a month of new beginnings and great anticipation. The Islanders were coming off of their first playoff series win in 23 years, and fans were anxious to see how they would build off of it.
One of October’s biggest storylines was the roster turnover. The Isles said goodbye to Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, and Matt Martin. During the off-season, they signed Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, and brought back PA Parenteau. Many assumed the first line would be Ladd-Tavares-Parenteau, but the Islanders surprisingly waived Parenteau on October 10.
The Islanders wanted to go a little younger by keeping Anthony Beauvillier and Matthew Barzal on the roster. They also made the curious decision of keeping three goaltenders.
The World Cup of Hockey in September may have been a detriment for the Islanders. John Tavares and Canada would win the gold, but the problem was the practice time Tavares missed.
Tavares and Ladd weren’t able to develop the chemistry we would have liked to see. Ladd got off to a slow start and was soon off of Tavares’s wing.
One of the best highlights from October came in the home opener. The Isles hosted the Ducks and Josh Bailey won the game in overtime. The Islanders got their first win of the year and Bailey had himself a highlight reel goal.
The Isles ended October hosting Matt Martin and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Islanders had a nice tribute video for Martin and won the game 5-1. The Islanders ended October 4-5-0 and we were beginning to see they had more questions than answers.
We wanted to make this year in review as positive as can be, but November was a terrible, terrible month for the Islanders.
It started with an awful 6-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The first of three losses to Tampa in just under two weeks to the Lightning. Three losses where the Isles were outscored by a margin of 14-2.
The losses didn’t stop there. The Isles went 4-5-5 the entire month of November. Picking up 13 points from a possible 28. And soon the Islanders found themselves at the bottom the Division, Conference, and the League.
It was bad times for the boys in orange and blue.
This was supposed to be a year of growth, like the two before it. But somehow the Islanders had regressed and regressed badly. Almost as if they had done a full 360, to the years before John Tavares, where they regularly toiled at the bottom of the standings.
Was it the guys they let leave in free agency? Like Kyle Okposo? Who was having a seemingly great time in Buffalo. Or the guys that they brought in to replace them? Like Andrew Ladd, who only had three points by the end of the month.
Dec 27, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Islanders left wing Anders Lee (27) reacts after scoring during the third period against the Washington Capitals at Barclays Center. The Islanders won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Anders Lee. Before December he had four points all season. Through the month of December, he put up eleven points. Eight goals and three assists.
For most of the season, it looked like the Islanders were destined to have to rely entirely on the heroics of John Tavares. Tavares is an elite player few can equal. But he, by himself, cannot drag this team to the playoffs. Even though he can literally play the game with his stick on his back.
It’s no coincidence that with the emergence of Anders Lee the Islanders started stringing together more wins. Through the month of December, the Islanders went 7-5-2, and are now eight points out of a wild-card spot with two games in hand.
Maybe with better goaltending, and not going up against the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets at their peaks would have made that record much better.
Anders Lee was Mr. December for the Islanders. Without his Sidney Crosby like production starting on November 23rd and continuing on for the entire month of December the Isles might very well be in sole possession of the Nolan Patrick golden ticket.
With a huge 6-2 statement victory over the Winnipeg Jets to close out 2016, the Islanders now start 2017 with a nice five-day break before heading to Colorado on January 6th, 2017. Happy New Years everyone. And may 2017 be better than 2016.