You could say the Islanders are at a bit of a crossroads.
They are wrapping up what has been a mostly disastrous season on the ice, leaving the future of long-time general manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight in jeopardy (their futures with the team should be in jeopardy, anyway).
Even worse, star center and captain John Tavares, the best player the Islanders have had in a generation, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and nobody really knows where he is going to end up.
When it comes to play on the ice, the Islanders have been one of the best offensive teams in the league. They're averaging 3.17 goals per game, on pace to finish this season among the top 10 in the league. They're one of just two teams in the top 16 in goals for not in a playoff position entering Sunday's games (Florida being the other) and the only team that is, for all intents and purposes, out of the race.
Individually, the Islanders have three of the top-30 point producers in the league with Tavares, Josh Bailey and rookie sensation Mathew Barzal (who is having one of most productive rookie seasons the NHL has seen in years). They also have Anders Lee sitting in the top 10 in goals and offseason acquisition Jordan Eberle on pace for close to 30 goals and 60 points this season.
By offensive metrics, they should be a playoff team, if not a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
The problem? For as good as the Islanders have been offensively, they have been even worse defensively. They have not just been one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL this season; they have been one of the worst defensive teams in recent NHL history.
Just look at some of the numbers and what they have done this season:
— Entering play Sunday, the Islanders were giving up 35.7 shots on on goal per game. Since the start of the 1990-91 season, only six teams in the NHL gave up more per game in a season. Two of those teams were the 1991-92 and 1992-93 Sharks, an expansion franchise playing in its first and second years in the league which combined to win only 28 games over those two years. Another was the 1990-91 Nordiques, a team that won only 16 games and was in the middle of a three-year run where it finished with the worst record in the league every season. Only one other team since 1995 had allowed more than 35 shots per game: the 2013-14 Maple Leafs, a team that ultimately cost coach Randy Carlyle his job.
— The Islanders' back-to-back losses to the Capitals Thursday and Friday were the 10th and 11th times this season they had given up at least six goals in a game (outscored 13-6), most in the NHL. Only one other team in the league (the Chicago Blackhawks) had more than eight. They are the only team since 2012-13 that has allowed six goals in a game at least 10 times in a season.
— The Islanders have allowed at least 50 shots on goal in a game six times this season, by far the most in the NHL.
At one point, they allowed 50 shots in back-to-back games, then did it again a couple of weeks later in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Penguins. The only reason the game went to overtime was because rookie goalie Christopher Gibson pretty much stood on his head all night long.
Following that game, Weight was asked about the lopsided shot totals. He became a little annoyed and attempted to justify it by talking about where the shots were coming from and how it wasn’t quite the same as when they were doing it a couple of weeks earlier. If it was only a one-time thing, it might have been a little easier to accept Weight dismissing the number. But as mentioned above, it was the sixth time this season it happened.
For context, no other team in the NHL this season has allowed more than 50 shots in a game three times or more. Only one (the Devils) has done it twice. Since the start of the 2012-13 season, only three other teams (one of them being the Sabres, an organization that spent three of those years tanking) have allowed at least 50 shots in a game six different times. That is total games. Over a stretch of nearly six seasons.
The Islanders did it six times this season in fewer than 70 games.
Only one other team (the 1993-94 Kings) since 1990 has had at least six such games in a season. The only other team with at least five was the 1992-93 Oilers.
These are not just bad defensive numbers within the context of the 2017-18 season. They are historically bad defensive numbers.
It is the type of defensive effort you see from a team that is either in its first years of existence in the league, or a team that is in clear rebuild mode and has torn its roster down to the studs in an effort to start over.
These Islanders are neither.
This is an established team with a superstar that added a top-line winger (Eberle) to its roster over the summer in an effort to compete. They were in the playoffs two years ago and missed by one point in 2016-17.
It has not been any one thing in particular that has sunk them defensively. Part of it has been goaltending, where the duo of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss has simply not been good enough, both possessing a save percentage south of .910.
They have also had some injuries on the blue line throughout the season (Johnny Boychuk and Calvin DeHaan have missed 20 games each) and they never really replaced Travis Hamonic after trading him to the Flames for a bunch of draft picks over the summer. About the only thing that has gone right for the Islanders this season is that the Flames have also disappointed and could miss the playoffs, potentially giving the Islanders two shots at winning the draft lottery.
But still, these numbers aren’t because guys like Boychuk or DeHaan missed some games, or because Hamonic isn’t there anymore. It’s much deeper than that and falls on everyone involved, from the coaching staff in charge of implementing the system, to the general manager and front office that built the team, to the players on the ice.
When it comes to the latter group, they received a critique from Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky following Thursday’s game when he commented on how shocked he was to see how much space the Islanders were giving them during the game.
Burakovsky: "The Islanders just gave us a lot of room to skate on from the beginning. I mean, my first three shifts, I was skating around and around and around with the puck and making plays. We didn’t really expect that out of them."— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) March 16, 2018
What is most frustrating about this season for the Islanders and their fans is the defensive structure, performance, and effort has wasted what has been a truly exciting team offensively with a number of great individual seasons.
Worst of all, it may have wasted Tavares' final season as a member of the Islanders.
It is still possible Tavares could re-sign before becoming a free agent, but until that happens, nobody knows for sure what is going to happen with him. If he ends up leaving this summer, the Islanders will have made it out of the first round one time in Tavares' nine seasons in New York and squandered what might have been one of his best individual seasons with the team.
That cannot be acceptable.
If Tavares leaves, he should not be the only one that walks out the door. Snow has presided over the roster since 2006 and managed to build only four playoff teams during that stretch, so it’s not like this is an overreaction to one bad performance.
The performance on the ice defensively, as well as what seems to be a consistent lack of answers on a nightly basis, is not exactly a ringing endorsement for Weight to return behind the bench. If Tavares stays, there should probably be new people building the team and calling the shots behind the bench.
It is obvious status quo is not working.