The 2018-19 New York Islanders laid the foundation for future organizational success after a surprising Stanley Cup Playoffs run.
It wasn’t the ending the New York Islanders or their fans deserved, but that can’t take away from how positive the 2018-19 season was.
As the pain of a sweep subsides for the Islanders, reflection on a historic campaign begins to settle in.
Before the final rosters were even decided, nearly everyone had written off the Islanders as basement dwellers.
Coming off of the most porous defensive campaign in the last decade, the hockey community wrote them off as a lottery team especially after 2018’s free agency frenzy.
By the time the regular season concluded, the Islanders not only clinched a playoff spot, but also secured home ice for the first time in 31 years.
The Islanders’ 103 point finish was the franchise’s highest mark since 1983-84, and the tandem of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner — both coming off career-worst season — captured the franchise’s second-ever William M. Jennings Trophy.
Just as Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello had promised at the beginning of the season, players like Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and most of the offense (save for Casey Cizikas) traded in individual success for the success of the team.
All season long, the guidance and structure imposed by Trotz became contagious as the wins continued to pile on. Gone were the country club days of old as the Islanders embraced what it meant to be part of something bigger than any of them.
Once December came around, the Islanders started rolling. From Dec. 15 through Jan. 20, the Islanders went 15-3-0, by far their best stretch of hockey during the season with three shutouts.
By far the roughest patch of the season was the weeks after the trade deadline. Lamoriello made the decision to double down on the squad he assembled in July and not seek offensive help, which ultimately ended up being their downfall in their second-round series.
Through the month of March, the Isles offense hit their roughest patch of the season, managing at least four or more goals in only four total instances, twice against the 31st place Ottawa Senators.
Once the season was all said and done, the Islanders achieved all the following franchise milestones:
- Second William M. Jennings Trophy
- Highest single-season save percentage (Robin Lehner, .930)
- Most shutouts in a season (11 total, 6 for Lehner and 5 for Greiss)
- Highest goalie tandem save percentages (.927 for Greiss)
- Best finish in the post-cup era
- Third-lowest goals-against in franchise history
So, as the first of Lamoriello’s five-year plan comes to a close, there’s plenty for the Islanders and their fans to be proud of.
A rag-tag group of players brought together to build the foundation of hard work and systems play found a way to earn a playoff berth for the third time in five years and brought the franchise’s first sweep since the 1983 Stanley Cup Finals.
After everything is said and done with this NHL season, the Islanders finish years ahead of schedule. With the bar set for next season, what’s next for this group of Islanders?
For starters, locker clean out takes place on May 6 and exit interviews will be conducted soon after. Lamoriello and Trotz will sit down and see where their group stands.
The Islanders have a core of impending free agents and several tough decisions to make.
Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Robin Lehner, Jordan Eberle, Valtteri Filppula, Tom Kuhnhackl, Luca Sbisa, Dennis Seidenberg and Tanner Fritz will all be UFA’s on July 1 with Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle also entering RFA status.
While it won’t impact the team cap-wise next season, it would be wise to have Barzal sign a contract extension this summer for the 2020-21 season.
Given how thin the Isles proved to be at Center, Nelson should be a top priority along with both Lee and Lehner out of their immediate crop of would-be free agents.
One would imagine Filppula would be welcomed back after an admirable performance this season, but the idea will be to upgrade with Matt Duchene or at least some upgrade (Jason Spezza will be out there, too).
There will be plenty of time for speculation once the Stanley Cup is awarded. For now, the Islanders and their fans can admire this season and the foundation put in place for years of success to come.