As 2017 comes to a close, let’s look back at the year for the Islanders and forward to an exciting 2018.
A New Head Coach Is Named
In the first few weeks of 2017, the Islanders said goodbye to Jack Capuano and hello to Doug Weight, who took over behind the bench as the interim head coach. The team finished out the season winning six straight games, but came up one point short of getting into the playoffs.
When the season ended, the Islanders announced that Weight would remain the team’s head coach and it’s been fun to watch him continue to mold his team.
He’s had a strong relationship with many of the players for several years and seems to really connect with them. Weight is straightforward and expects a lot from the team. He is emotional, smart and has surrounded himself with a coaching staff full of former NHLers carrying invaluable playing experience.
It has been a strong start to the season, and as the Isles approach the halfway point, there are high expectations for 2018.
Anders Lee Is On Fire
Anders Lee hit his stride in December 2016 and hasn’t looked back since. The Isles’ top line winger is thriving and will ring in the New Year with 24 goals through 38 games. Yes, you read that correctly! What’s even more impressive is that he’s scored a total of 44 goals in 2017 AND that’s more than John Tavares! Lee shows no sign of slowing down and the combination of him with Tavares and Josh Bailey is rock solid for the Islanders.
An Early Gift for Islanders Fans
For much of 2017, Isles fans have worried about the future of the blue-and-orange. Specifically, where would their team play long-term? Well, that big question was answered the week before Christmas. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the Islanders won the bid to build a brand-new arena at Belmont Park. I think it’s a win for everyone!
The players will be taking the ice closer to where they live, and closer to their state-of-the-art practice facility. The fans will be able to get to and from the arena by driving or taking the train. This makes it an easier commute for those that live out in Suffolk County, many who have missed out on going to games in Brooklyn because of the distance.
The new location will still make it easy for fans living in the New York metro area, too.
I had faith that Jon Ledecky and the Islanders would find a way to get a deal done. Now, the anticipation of the new arena will keep us occupied in 2018!
Now lets look ahead for what to watch in 2018.
Mathew Barzal burst onto the NHL scene in October but in 2018, I think we will see the rookie at his best. He is dazzling to watch and knocked off several NHL firsts already. Barzal’s hat trick and an overtime game-winner in back-to-back games have many shaking their heads in wonderment.
But he’s also one of the most competitive players I’ve encountered. I know they all have to be competitive to make it at this level, but there’s something special inside Barzal. He won’t be satisfied until he wins the Calder Trophy and helps the Isles to a long run in the playoffs. I feel as if we are watching a superstar develop right in front of our eyes.
It was a day to remember for Mat Barzal, as the rookie recorded his first career hat trick in the 5-2 win over the Jets. See how he managed to complete the feat.
Speaking of the 2018 playoffs, I know it’s a few months away but I don’t expect the race to loosen up at all. If you take a look at the standings, it’s tight with just a few points separating first and fifth in the Metropolitan Division. That’s without the Penguins in the picture.
My good friend and colleague Stan Fischler, predicts the Pens will be the team to fear in the second half of the season. I agree they will shift into high gear, but I think it will be a battle to the final game to solidify who’s in and who’s out of the playoffs. I have a good feeling the Isles will stay on course and make it to the postseason this go around.
O Captain! My Captain!
With the Belmont decision made the next big question for Isles fans is John Tavares. People ask me almost daily if I think he will stay or go. My answer has been the same since last season. I’m not worried at all.
Tavares has said time and time again that he likes playing for the Isles and hopes to work something out with the organization he was drafted by. I did speak with him at the Belmont Park press conference and had an even better feeling that he was in it for the long haul. I would be surprised if the captain made a decision public before the summer, but don’t sweat Isles fans. I think he wants what we all want … to win a fifth Stanley Cup for this storied franchise.
On a personal note, I’ll always look back at 2017 as one of the most exciting times in my life. I got engaged to my best friend, Brendan Gorey, at the end of March. We met at an Islanders game just two years before our engagement and my life will never be the same. We are looking forward to many years of happiness together and plan to get married in Ireland, July 21, 2018. I can’t wait to say YES! YES! YES!