By Joe Barone
You could really get caught up in the chaos and festivities this time of year. The stress of families discussing politics at the dinner table, what gifts to purchase for what people and hosting over 25 loudmouths at your house can wear you down.
A New York Islanders power play can also wear you down.
But, there are many reasons to be thankful this holiday season, especially if you’re an Islanders fan. Now is your chance to sit back with a mug of hot apple cider and reflect on what you’re thankful for. Here, let me help pick the 10 best things Islanders fans, like yourself, should be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Your team is off to a much better start than last season: After 21 games in 2016-17 the Islanders were 7-10-4 and at the bottom of the league. This season, it’s the exact opposite. As of Thanksgiving Day, your favorite team is 180 degrees better than a season ago – 11-7-2, good for fourth place in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. Believe it or not but for the last decade, the trend around the NHL is that more than 75 percent of teams sitting in a postseason spot by Thanksgiving will be playing for the trophy in April.
Your top line is one of the best in hockey: Hold off your negative remarks about Josh Bailey. Though he has been a human punching bag to some Islanders fans, Bailey has found success, especially this season. He leads the team in points (26) and assists (21) in 22 games played. Anders Lee is having another strong start after a career year a season ago with 11 goals and 10 helpers, and John Tavares is John Tavares. Does anything else need to be said about the Captain? This may be one of the most dangerous lines in all of hockey and they don the blue and orange.
Nick Leddy has blossomed into your star defenseman: Remember that fleece of a trade general manager Garth Snow pulled off prior to the 2014-15 NHL season? The Chicago Blackhawks needed to make a deal to get under the salary cap and the Islanders needed a young defenseman in the fold. This made New York and the 23-year-old Leddy a perfect match. The Islanders shipped defenseman T.J. Brennan and Ville Pokka and the rights to goaltender Anders Nilsson for Leddy. Snow would also trade for Johnny Boychuk and the two have been united ever since. By the way, Leddy is fifth on the team in points and first in average total ice time (22:06).
Peter Chiarelli: This didn’t happen just once. This happened twice. Garth Snow has Peter Chiarelli on speed dial and why not when he can continue to make trades like these. The same year Snow brought in Leddy, the general manager called up Chiarelli from the Boston Bruins and swapped two second round picks in the 2015 and 2016 NHL Draft for veteran defenseman and Stanley Cup champion Johnny Boychuk. In 2015, the Islanders gave Griffin Reinhart to Chiarelli, now with the Edmonton Oilers, for the 16th and 33rd picks in the draft, a pick they used on Mathew Barzal. This past offseason, Snow robbed Chiarelli one more time when the team shipped the underperforming Ryan Strome for a dynamic playmaker in Jordan Eberle. Strome has three goals and seven assists. Eberle has eight goals and eight assists. If you ever see him, be sure to thank Chiarelli for his gifts.
Mathew Barzal’s rookie campaign: Speaking of Chiarelli, the 16th pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, that was once his, was used to take Barzal from the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. The Islanders were patient with Barzal and groomed him in the minors before he finally cracked the team fulltime in 2017-18. In his official rookie campaign, Barzal has found chemistry with Andrew Ladd and Eberle and is fourth on the team with 20 points. He has also seen valuable power play time.
Doug Weight as coach: Since the Islanders fired Jack Capuano and replaced him with Doug Weight, a fresh voice was inserted into the locker room and the players love it. Weight is a player’s coach, considering he has played with or against some of the veterans in the room. He is also fairly media-savvy, cracking jokes during press conferences on a daily basis. New York is 37-19-6 with Weight behind the bench. Not bad.
The goalie battle is increasing competition: When you think about the Islanders, you can’t put your finger on an exact starting goalie. In reality, New York has two: Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak. Though either has not run away with the competition, both goalies continue to push each other in practice and on game day. Weight has said it will be about the matchup but for the time being, ride the hot hand. Both goalies are solid and would be starters on the majority of teams around the league.
You still haven’t lost to the Rangers at the Barclays Center: If you ask any Islanders fan, beating the New York Rangers would probably top their list of most desirable things as an Islanders fan. You may not like the Barclays Center but something about it seems intimidating for the rival Rangers. The Rangers are 0-3-1 in Brooklyn and have been outscored by the Islanders: 13 to 6. The next time the Blueshirts come to Kings County is on February 15, 2018. Mark your calendars.
Your new ownership is committed to keeping the Islanders in New York: As if the Islanders moving to Kansas City, Seattle or Quebec was really going to happen. That was sarcastic. Even if the Islanders and Brooklyn have an alleged rocky relationship, owners John Ledecky and Scott Malkin are not giving up to right the ship and build an arena at Belmont, New York. They’re taking the necessary steps to boost fan engagement and give the diehards a strong product to root for on the ice. I am as confident in this happening as Tavares resigning. Hint: that is very confident.
John Tavares is still a New York Islander: I understand how stressful this time of your life is. Your franchise, generational player is entering the final year of his contract and can be free to sign wherever he chooses. It’s tough to think about. With that said, I still maintain my belief that Tavares will resign with the team that drafted him. After all, he speaks highly about the organization all the time. For now, sit back and watch the show with Tavares leading the way. He’s a special athlete.
Back in August of 2016, Tavares said: I don’t really have any reason to leave… I’ve always expressed my love for playing for Long Island. It’s where I started; it’s all I know in the NHL. The opportunity they’ve given me, I would love to see it all the way through and win a Stanley Cup.”
Of course Tavares has voiced more support for the organization since August 2016.