Now that the draft and free agency period is, for the most part, finished with the Islanders, it's time to briefly look back at the 2013 New York Islanders. Despite it being a short season, it was a good experience, not just for the players, but the fans as well. It was a step in the right direction, but what most Islanders fans need to realize is that nothing is a guarantee next year. Especially after the performance the Islanders gave in the playoffs. No more back-up goalies to start against the Isles.
First off, the lockout stunk! No question about that. But what I did get to experience were the Sound Tigers of Bridgeport, the Islanders AHL affiliate. Good young prospects who still needed time to develop but were worth the price of admission. What I wasn't expecting was how much help the Isles got from them, namely Colin McDonald and Casey Cizikas solidifying a fourth line with Matt Martin for years to come. I'll take those two over Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo any day. Then Garth Snow goes out and drafts Thomas Hickey, Brian Strait and Joe Finley in the waiver wire draft. At the time it looked like a sign that Snow was going to let the younger players in Bridgeport develop more while adding enough depth to a short season. Turns out, the Islanders had done some heavy scouting on these players and now Strait and Hickey look like mainstays on the defense. Finally then MIA defenseman Lubomir Visnovski comes to Long Island and what do you know, signs an extension to be an Islander.
In a matter of just a few short months, the Islanders looked like a team with a lot of depth and properly developing their young players. Then the season began and some fans were already looking forward to Seth Jones by the end of February. With that came the second half of a season that may go down as the turnaround of this franchise. For the second half of the season, the Islanders went on to a 15-7-5 record, good enough for eighth place in the Conference and a playoff berth for the first time since 2007. Within those two months, the fans attitude and perception had changed for the better, especially when you could hear "We want playoffs!" during the post game interviews on the Coliseum ice. Then the playoffs came. Six games, two of them going to overtime with the Penguins and suddenly you have a change in culture. This was no longer a laughing stock franchise that teams could take for granted. This was no longer an old building needing to be demolished ten years ago. Pride was restored, faith was brought back and the players who call themselves Islanders got an experience they want to get back. It's fun to play and to be a fan at Nassau again.
Coming into this 2013-14 season, fans are expecting more from their team than just a first round exit, as evident from all the arm-chair general managers picking players who now have bloated contracts from other teams and some fans showing their disgust with the Islanders by not going significantly over the salary cap floor. I would like to argue against those fans by simply stating a fact that the Islanders have one off the deepest prospect pools in the NHL. Simply by not rushing any of them this past year makes them even more ready to fill in when necessary. Make no mistake though, making the playoffs did get tougher this year with the additions of Detroit and Columbus to the Eastern Conference, but without a deep pool of young players like the Islanders have, those teams needed to spend and spend big just to be competitive. So what is the next step for the Islanders? Consistency. There's a big difference between an 82 game schedule and a 48 one. The players believe in each other, in the system, in the coaching staff. They've matured and they're still room to grow. If the Islanders make the playoffs again next year they will have gained something else for themselves and fans, something that will last a lot longer than what fans have not experienced in many years: a tradition.