The 2018-19 season might be over for the New York Islanders. But this end, cruel and bitter, is really just the start of a promising beginning.
The future is certainly not here and now for the Isles a team that is just starting to scratch the surface of its potential. Despite a 5-2 season-ending loss in Game 4 on Friday night, this chapter’s close isn’t the ending of the story.
This is a team with solid role players in their prime and several young stars. Their average age is skewed slightly by the presence of a couple of veteran players, but the impact players on this roster are unmistakably young. Leading goal scorer Anders Lee is 28 years old and Mathew Barzal, who led the team in points in the regular season, turns 22 years old this month.
That is an intriguing balance of experience mixed with rising stars. It’s the kind of roster blend that can build on this year’s success in the regular season and their run in the playoffs.
With the returning talent that gelled this year and young stars like Barzal developing, the Islanders can definitely take a step forward next year. For a team that finished just a single point off the top of Metropolitan Division, it is clear that the Islanders are not far off.
Of all New York’s hockey teams, only the Islanders can lay claim to a postseason berth this year. Their opening-round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins showed a team that matured very quickly and had the guts to succeed in playoff hockey.
Their loss to the Hurricanes only underscored that while they are a good team, they’ll need to upgrade and add some reinforcements.
They enter an offseason where they know must get better. Although they were the top defensive team in the league during the regular season, the Islanders can’t solely rely on their defense if they are to take that next step. They must improve on their 2.72 goals per game if they are to challenge for the top of the division and the conference next year.
There’s no doubt that Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello is already planning the team’s offseason strategy. You can be best be assured that he’ll be looking to improve the team via free agency or trade.
But in the here and now, the Islanders remain a special team. They returned playoff hockey back to the Island and defied expectations in doing so.
The Islanders were supposed to be in a rebuild this year and the national media predicted a lackluster season for the team. Few thoughts they would be competitive. No one truly saw them as contending for the playoffs.
Barry Trotz in his first year on the bench for this team instilled confidence and belief that should only grow these summer months. Friday night was not the ending most had hoped for or envisioned when the playoffs started.
It is, though, a later ending to the season than most had predicted last fall.
For that reason alone, this season was a success.
A team that wasn’t supposed to amount to anything instead captured the hearts of its fanbase. The Coliseum was rocking in April, just the way it should be.
Pride is back in Long Island. It won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.