The week Islanders fans have been holding their breath for is finally over. Both the trade deadline and the first game against Toronto at home have passed, and the fans are almost content.
The anger over the lackluster – re: nonexistent – trade deadline movement was channeled against John Tavares on Thursday evening along with their pre-existing hate for the former-captain. Chants ranged from the fully-expected “We don’t need you” to the more creative “Past your bed-time” and “Where’s your blankie?”. And after such a cathartic, victorious night, Isles fans can take a breath and trust in their team again, despite the let-down on trade deadline day, and the terrible game against Calgary immediately after.
So, the Islanders did nothing at this year’s trade deadline. Surprising? Not really.
Most fans expected much more on Monday. After suffering through the Isles’ flailing mess of a hot potato power play all season, they were expecting a sniper to be added to the offensive ranks. Fans have begged Isles’ management for months to acquire a shooter or promote a prospect in order to help the power play. After all, no team, no matter how defensively solid it is, will advance very far in the playoffs with a power play that only works 16% of the time. So, fans wanted Wayne Simmonds, Mark Stone, or Matt Duchene to shake up the offense and give the power play a much-needed boost. Yet, Simmonds went to Nashville, Stone to Vegas, and Duchene to Columbus. It even would have been great if the Isles could somehow acquire Mats Zuccarello, but he broke his arm in his first game for Dallas. With those options gone, fans can only hope that prospects are rotated into the lineup. A reappearance of Josh Ho-Sang or Michael Dal Colle could possibly spark something. Not that anyone ever hopes for an injury, but prospects have to play somehow when the roster is full.
But Lou Lamoriello is absolutely certain of the foundation he is building for the Islanders. “We weren’t going to sacrifice our plan here,” he said after Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline. “You don’t do something just for the sake of doing it. We’re pleased with where we are.”
All-in-all, he’s not wrong. The Islanders are a good team this year. First place in the highly competitive, very tight Metropolitan Division and sixth overall in the League is impressive, especially when every analyst and expert pegged the Isles to finish dead last in the League. Instead, the offense produces when it has to, the defensive core is solid, and the goaltenders are setting personal records. The only real, gaping hole in the Islanders’ game has been the power play. So, on paper, when it comes to stats, nothing absolutely had to happen. Besides, who would the Islanders have given up? Everyone currently on the team fills a need, and there is considerable chemistry in the locker room. Other teams might have considered acquiring young players like Ryan Pulock, Scott Mayfield, or Anthony Beauvillier in trades, but the Isles’ organization is too interested in those players’ development themselves to give them away this year. As well, the Islanders now have Andrew Ladd and Thomas Hickey. Finally healthy, they are practically newly acquired players at this point after not playing since early November and December, respectively.
The players agreed with their GM, of course, regarding standing pat on trade deadline day. After all, which of them wouldn’t want to stay on with this team that was defying odds and making a miraculous run at the playoffs? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this insane story that, hopefully, ends with the team’s first Cup in 36 years?
“We have such a strong foundation,” Captain Anders Lee said on trade deadline day. “Everything we’ve done this year, we’ve done with this group right here.” He was confident that the Isles just had to get back to basics to make it to the playoffs, commenting that in recent games the team was trying to get “too cute” and needed to re-simplify their game.
AJ Mleczko, a new commentator for Isles’ broadcasts, had similar thoughts before the Isles’ first game after the deadline. “The strength of this group is… the chemistry, and I think for these players there will be a palpable relief,” she said. “There’s so much buildup in this deadline. Whether they’re worried about being dealt themselves or losing their best buddy to another team in the League, for these guys now, this is their team, and now it’s another big push to the playoffs.”
Fans can only hope Lee and Mleczko are right. The last time the Isles played the top-ranked Lightning, the team looked ready for the Stanley Cup Finals, but then they fell apart against the Flames both in Calgary and at home and barely looked ready for their next game. All fans can hope now is that this team is indeed ready – that Lee is right and the players just need to settle down, that Mleczko is right and the players are capable of another big playoff push.
This team, as it is, has held first place in the Metro for almost two months and has set a franchise record with two goalies recording four shutouts in one season. Thursday night against the Maple Leafs, the Islanders looked like a Stanley Cup Finals team once again. They dominated throughout the second and third periods, were truly relentless. But will they be able to keep up that playoffs energy against the lineup of top teams set for March?
So hopefully, Lamoriello is right, and this team, as it is, can with the Cup, no last-minute, big-ticket trades required. The Islanders just need to play every game in the same mindset as Thursday: Like they have something to prove and nothing to lose.
Featured Image: Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images