Year after year, the New York Islanders and Barry Trotz have fought their way through the postseason only to lose twice in two years to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. The Tampa Bay Lightning are gearing up for a three-peat, but the Isles’ largely unchanged identity and roster, plus a return to form for their captain could mean that it’s finally their time for the Cup.
Where they left off
The New York Islanders have been the underdogs in the playoffs in the last few years, but they’re poised on the edge of cup success. The Isles have continually gotten better and better, refining their game and playing to their defensive strengths, building on each season. Sure, they aren’t scoring flashy goals or running up the score, but they can exhaust a team, capitalize upon neutral zone mistakes and force turnovers like it’s child’s play.
In the 2018-19 season, the Isles exited in the second round of the playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The next year, the Isles exited in the Eastern Conference Final against eventual champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. They lost to the Bolts again in the Conference Final last season.
If the Isles are going to win a Cup, it’s going to be with this core group of players in the next one to three years, and it feels inevitable ... if they can get through the buzzsaw of the Eastern Conference.
2021 Entry Draft
The Islanders are a team that succeeds with a homogenous, singular style of play, and the team is able to hone their on-ice narrative through developing their young players. The Islanders held six picks in this past entry draft, with their first pick used to select Aatu Räty at 52nd overall.
Räty is a picture-perfect addition to the defensively-minded Isles. He’s a physical, powerful center who’s known for his hard shots and punishing presence. Despite his size and physicality, Räty is agile, with soft hands and quick thinking. He played the majority of the 2020-21 season with Kärpät in the Finnish Liiga, where he played 35 games, putting up 3 goals, 3 assists and 18 penalty minutes.
Räty’s the closest to NHL-ready of their 2021 prospects, with the majority of the Isles’s picks coming in late rounds.
The Islanders’ picks are as follows:
- Round 2 (52nd overall): Aatu Räty
- Round 3 (93rd): Tristan Lennox
- Round 4 (125th): Cameron Berg
- Round 5 (157th): Eetu Liukas
- Round 6 (189th): Aleksi Malinen
- Round 7 (221st): Tomas Machu
The Islanders roster hasn’t changed much (and it isn’t solidified yet), but there’s been a few notable additions and departures from the roster.
Jordan Eberle was the biggest loss, taken by the Seattle Kraken in the Expansion Draft. He was an expected loss, even with his cap hit, but his absence provided the Islanders with $5.5 million in cap space and some wiggle room for a few veteran signings.
When I say veteran, I mean veteran — the Islanders brought in NHL legend Zdeno Chara on a one-year contract. Chara needs no introduction, but his reduced role in Washington last season still benefited the team, and he’ll play a significant role in the locker room for the Islanders as they try to reach that next level. Chara played 55 games last season, posting 2 goals, 8 assists, 44 PIMs and a +5 rating. The move brings Chara and the Islanders full circle; He began his career when he was drafted by the team in 1996, and made his debut for the Isles in the 1997-98 season (the same year I was born). He was eventually traded in 2001, but Chara’s now returned for a second chance at the cup.
When Zach Parise was bought out by the Minnesota Wild, rumors began swirling about where he would land next, and it seems to be that the Islanders will be his next home. Parise had been a healthy scratch for the Wild a few times last season, and while his offensive production has slowed in recent years, he’s another veteran presence who will play a reduced role to support the team in the locker room. The 37-year-old played 45 games last season, totaling 7 goals, 11 assists, 6 PIMs and a +7.
Captain Anders Lee was unable to play for most of last season and all of the postseason after a torn ACL and subsequent surgery, but he’s likely to be back for the beginning of the regular season. Like other high-profile players who were unable to play during the playoffs, fans will always wonder if their team could have won the cup if only things were different. This next year will test the theory that the Islanders could have beaten the Lightning, if only Anders Lee was back in the line-up.
Daily Faceoff sees the line-up like this:
Anders Lee — Mathew Barzal — Kyle Palmieri
Anthony Beauvillier — Brock Nelson — Josh Baily
Zach Parise — Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Oliver Wahlstrom
Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck
Adam Pelech — Ryan Pulock
Andy Greene — Noah Dobson
Zdeno Chara — Scott Mayfield
What can we expect in 2021-22?
The only reasonable expectation seems to be a Stanley Cup Final appearance. The Isles play a devastating, modern trap style of defense, and while they aren’t the most offensively gifted team, the Isles have had no problem shutting down the neutral zone. Their off-season roster changes only add to their already successful on-ice narrative. This year, it’s about refining their game and competing for a cup.
The San Jose Sharks will play the New York Islanders twice during the regular season. The first game is on December 2 at Nassau Coliseum. The teams will face off again on February 24, 2022 in San Jose.