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The 2018-19 New York Islanders should find solace in a great season

“We’re a family”.  Those words uttered by Captain Anders Lee is all you need to know about the New York Islanders this season.  They competed together as a team, won as a team, lost as a team, and have the ultimate team identity.  Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz had an uber-successful first year at the helm and brought back a team identity that had been lost for a very long time.

The Islanders up to this season were the laughing stock of the league, which is something Islander fans have gotten used to.  They had two homes, which really meant that had zero homes.  They didn’t have a captain, as he walked away from more money to go back home to Toronto.  They fired their coach and GM, who had them at a place where they were statistically the worst defensive team of the decade.  On top of all this, they hadn’t been to the playoffs in two straight seasons and after expectations were inflated during their 2015-16 run, they looked to be one of the worst teams in the league.

That all changed with the genius of Lou and Barry, who instilled a team first mentality into each and every one of these Islander players.  They brought a pride back to the Island crest.  They brought a sense of responsibility back to the Island and a standard to uphold.  Without them, and without the help of new owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin, the Islanders would still be meandering near the bottom of the league and would have the identity of being run by a clown show.

The professionalism the ownership and management group brought trickled down to the team.  The team was extremely disciplined, winning the Jennings Trophy for least amount of goals given up in the NHL season.  They had pride and an innate ability to never be out of a game.  They had tenacity and a familial instinct, one that can only be present when the guys on the team genuinely love each other and want to fight for each other.

This Islanders team was fun to root for all season because they were exactly that;  A true team.  Sure they lost in the second round of a wide open Stanley Cup Playoffs and sure they blew some opportunities to advance but they also learned the harsh reality that sometimes you just don’t have enough to power through.  They were the Little Engine That Could all season and they finally ran out of steam, but it’s no reason to get down.

There were many storylines throughout the season that caught our attention;  The two most prominent obviously being the departure of former captain John Tavares and the mental and physical struggles of new goaltender Robin Lehner.

For the Tavares situation, all that needs to be said at this point is that this team proved that they can win without him and that the stock of a team shouldn’t be put into one player.  Everyone ruled them out and wrote them off before the season because of one player, and in hockey you just can’t do that.  They can take pride in the fact that they are a good team with or without John Tavares.

The second and more important storyline is the mental and physical health of Robin Lehner.  Lehner became a fan favorite immediately when he spoke out about his addiction to alcohol and pills, and his struggles with bipolar disease.  Lehner is now clean and sober and had one of the most remarkable seasons for a goaltender.  He is a Vezina Trophy candidate along with Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy.  He is looking for a new deal from the Islanders and he is a UFA, along with Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson and Captain Anders Lee.

The team may look a bit different next season.  With uncertainty hanging over the head of many of the UFAs, the Islanders may swing for the fences and try to snag an Artemi Panarin or a Jeff Skinner instead of settling for Brock Nelson or Jordan Eberle.  They’re both good players but the Islanders need a major upgrade at forward in order to compete for the Stanley Cup.

Another intriguing storyline that was intriguing through the season was the emergence of the young D corp, including Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews and Scott Mayfield.  Not for nothing but Garth Snow deserves some praise for being able to sign Pelech, Pulock and Mayfield for dirt cheap and keeping Toews in the minors while he honed his craft.  Toews looks like a natural and the other three were stalwarts throughout the season.

At the end of the day it’s a disappointing season because expectations were heightened each step of the way.  However, the imprint this season will have on future seasons and the impact that Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz have had on this franchise already is immense.

Thank you New York Islanders.  You’ve exceeding expectations and although the season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, it was still a successful one.  Thank you for restoring pride in this once downtrodden franchise.  Good things will come from this season.  It may hurt now but better things are on the horizon for the New York Islanders.

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