The first few days after the end of the season … I need a break.
I understand why players usually respond to questions at the end of the season with comments about needing time to decompress and refocus. Eighty-two games are grueling both mentally and physically. I may only step on the ice for postgame interviews at Barclays Center, but these last few months have taken a toll on everyone surrounding the Islanders.
I still struggle to put my finger on why the Isles didn’t make it to the playoffs this season. Yes, the defense wasn’t what they needed. Yes, they gave up too many goals for most of the year. But there were so many positives to be excited about. The crew discussed this over the last several games on our broadcast. There were some really great moments for the team and fans throughout the season. Plus, there are several players to be excited about moving forward with this franchise.
It makes sense how frustrated the players, coaches and fans are right now. No one wants to see the Stanley Cup Playoffs kick off without the blue-and-orange for the second year in a row.
Now, here are mine…
After years of speculation, Isles nation rejoiced this past December with the announcement of a new arena at Belmont Park. It was hard for many of the fans when the team left the Coliseum for Brooklyn. It has been a fun three years with the new and old fans at Barclays Center, but this new arena will give the Isles roots back on Long Island.
The plans for transportation and a state-of-the-art arena are so exciting. The shovel isn’t in the ground yet, but ownership wants to move this project along quickly. For now, Long Island fans will have to look forward to a handful of games at the Coliseum next season. While the arena is still under construction, there will likely be a 50/50 split with home games in Brooklyn and at the Coliseum. I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from fans. The new arena is going to be amazing and I can’t wait to see it completed!
I’ve covered some amazing games over the last decade. Walk-off wins for the Tigers, “The Big Chill” featuring Michigan and Michigan State hockey as well as countless Red Wings playoff games. My favorite Islanders moment is still the Tavares overtime winner against the Panthers to clinch the playoff series in 2016. But what I saw from ice level in the Isles amazing comeback win over the Red Wings February 9 was absolutely unbelievable.
After Tyler Bertuzzi’s five-minute penalty, the Isles scored goal after goal after goal in the third to get back into the game and force OT. Then, Brock Nelson capped off his hat trick for the win. I was right by the glass watching the celebration in disbelief. I know it wasn’t the playoffs, but games like that don’t happen every season. For those who watched all of it unfold, it was a season highlight for sure.
Brock Nelson speaks with Shannon Hogan after recording the game-winning goal and his second career hat trick in the Isles' 7-6 OT win over the Red Wings.
Mat Barzal was better than advertised this season. It was such a thrill to watch him develop as the season progressed. It was even more fun watching the fans and media around the NHL witness his talent for the first time. Reporters from other cities would ask if he was the real deal when we arrived for the morning skate. By the end of the game, they were all believers too. Barzal created so much offense for the team this season and helped bring the very best out of the guys on his line. I can’t wait to see what he does next season, and for years to come.
Mat Barzal speaks to Shannon Hogan after recording two goals and an assist in the Isles' 5-4 win over the Flyers.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Hands down, the player of the year for me was Anders Lee. He was steady and continued to build off his breakout 2016-17 season. He knows his role and has darn near perfected scoring from his office, battling in front of the net. He really wanted to hit that 40-goal mark. As the goals piled up down the stretch, not one of his teammates or coaches doubted him. The celebration in Detroit as he finally netted No. 40 stuck with me for days afterward.
Anders Lee talks to Shannon Hogan following a dramatic win over the Panthers in overtime, crediting his teammates on his 40-goal season and speaks on what's to come.
I will also never forget the goal that was originally credited to him against the Rangers two nights prior. Anders Lee is an honest, hard-working player. He wouldn’t take credit for something he didn’t believe he deserved. Ultimately, his real 40th goal was a beauty. I see Lee as a strong leader on this team. His teammates and coaches respect him for his work on the ice and in the community. For the second year in a row, all of the players stuck around to support his Anders Lee’s Kan Jam charity event, which raised more than $113,000.
As always, there were dozens of highlight-worthy goals by the Islanders this season. But the one that jumps out the most to me was the overtime game-winner against Philly. John Tavares showed why he might be Superman and Josh Bailey had the game-winner to help the Isles win at home.
Speaking of Bailey, it was another career year for the Isles veteran who earned his first All-Star nod and signed a six-year contract extension. The first line forward looks to continue building on his personal success from the past two seasons, with the hopes of a push to the playoffs next year.
It’s hard for me to even write about Stan Fischler leaving MSG Networks. A few years ago when we celebrated his four decades of hockey, I wrote a blog chronicling my favorite moments with the Maven. The bottom line, I’m going to miss him. I know our friendship will continue, but the first home game without Stan next season will be really hard. I’m proud to have worked with Stan these last four seasons. I’ve learned so much and laughed so much. He has left his mark on the hockey world and on my heart. If you missed our tribute to Stan in his final game with MSG Networks, grab a box of tissues and give it a watch.
BIGGEST QUESTION MARK
Almost every time I talk with fans they ask me about John Tavares. “Do you think he will stay? Come on, you can tell me.” I’m sorry to say, but I honestly don’t know. At the start of the season, my gut told me he would remain with the team and sign an extension. But in the final month of the season, I wasn’t feeling as confident the captain would remain.
I still think the Isles have a great chance at keeping him, but ultimately John is going to do what’s best for him and his family. He’s been kind and gracious in my four years working with the Islanders. He works so hard and wants nothing more than to win a Stanley Cup. I hope to have many, many more interviews with #91 in an Islanders jersey. But if not, I wish him well. It would be a huge loss for the Islanders, but they do have another star in the making … Mat Barzal.
Islanders hockey may be over for a few months, but the NHL is in full swing with the playoffs. Some great hockey is going on right now that Isles nation really wants to be a part of. The work this offseason by the players, coaches and front office, is all to help set the team up to get back to the postseason next Spring.
All we can do as fans is hope for the best, and start the countdown to October.