Mathew Barzal


Graziano: Expectations Low For Islanders, But There Are Reasons For Optimism

Andy Graziano
August 17, 2018 - 12:48 pm

We’re about four weeks away from the opening of training camps around the National Hockey League, and when the New York Islanders report to Northwell Health Ice Center for physicals and on-ice workouts, the rest of the league might not even know it. That’s because, as in years past, there will not be any spotlights shining on Long Island, no intense media coverage of practice, no maximum-capacity fears breached in the locker room.

Some fans take that to heart, becoming personally offended at the slight, as they were last week when NBCSN announced its 2018-19 TV schedule, with the Islanders appearing just once -- a January game against the Chicago Blackhawks. But to a man, I highly doubt any of the players mind at all. In fact, they might even welcome it.

Say what you want about John Tavares leaving for Toronto this summer -- agree, disagree, his right to do so, lying pajama boy, whatever. The increased scrutiny he will be under each and every night will be intense, even more so if he hits a rut or forgets to backcheck and the omission leads to a goal against. That kind of pressure can, in some cases, destroy a player. It’s not a concern among this team.

The Islanders can play loose, and if they can pick up the changes Barry Trotz is guaranteed to implement on the defensive side, they might be able to throw some pie in the faces of all those who are doubting them before a puck is even dropped on the new season. Am I saying, in August, that this is a playoff team? Hell no! I withdrew from the prediction game a long time ago – when I kept getting them wrong.

MORE: Graziano: Rocky Summer Leaves Islanders With A Lot To Prove

What I am saying is there is a possibility, a rather strong one, led by the 2018 Calder Trophy winner, that the Islanders won’t be the worst team in hockey, as some are preaching. They might not even be the worst team in the Metropolitan Division when all is said and done. Here are four reasons for Islanders fans, right now, to be somewhat optimistic.

1. Barry Trotz
The Islanders had a chance to woo the newly minted Stanley Cup champion when it was revealed he wouldn’t be signing a new contract to remain with the Washington Capitals. President/general manager Lou Lamoriello moved quickly to secure the services of the second best head coach the organization has ever had. He brings with him a winning pedigree, tough persona and keen knowledge of just what needs to be fixed and how to fix it. Never mind he’ll soon be slipping a shiny new piece of jewelry on his finger. Trotz has a career winning percentage of .564, which is greater than any Islanders coach not named Al Arbour (.613).

2. Mathew Barzal 
Two hundred seventy-eight points in 202 games with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL and an infamous brain cramp from the penalty box later, Barzal set the league on fire with 85 points in his rookie season, playing in every game and leading his team in scoring. It led to an almost unanimous victory as the league’s rookie of the year. And even playing against better opposition this year after the departure of Tavares shouldn’t slow down the dynamo, whose skating prowess and confidence should be more than enough to compensate.

3. Mitch Korn
Gaining the 60-year-old Korn as director of goaltending, the same position he held with the Cup champions last season, was a huge acquisition by Lamoriello. Korn will oversee Piero Greco, who came to New York earlier from the Toronto Marlies and will be tasked with improving a situation that was downright ugly last season on way too many occasions. With Robin Lehner coming in on a one-year deal and Thomas Greiss looking to improve from a disastrous season, this needs to work. And Korn’s résumé suggests there’s a high probability it will.

MORE: Islanders 1st-Rounder Wahlstrom Going To College

4. Vegas Baby, Vegas
If you thought the Vegas Golden Knights were going to win 51 games and appear in the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion team with James Neal, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault and Marc-Andre Fleury leading the way, you’re a liar. Coach Gerard Gallant galvanized a ragtag bunch of outcasts to outperform even the most optimistic of expectations. The philosophy that pushed the Golden Knights is very similar to how Trotz explained his own vision to The Athletic. Expecting identical results is foolish, but there is no reason why the Islanders can’t push above what is expected to be lackluster results, either. It’s happened. It could happen again.

In the next two weeks, we’ll present the other side of the coin as hockey season draws closer. We’ll stand behind the arguments of the pessimistic Islanders fan and point out some reasons to be leery heading into 2018-19.

For now, stay positive, believe in the vision and plan of Lamoriello and Trotz and let the men work. As it’s been said repeatedly by both, it won’t happen overnight. But signs are more positive than ever before it will, ultimately, happen.