The journey for the Islanders towards the franchiseâ€™s fifth Stanley Cup begins tonight. Excitement and anticipation for this year has been building for months now, but now the real thing begins.
So letâ€™s be real. And what that means is acknowledging that the Isles are about to embark on their most important campaign in recent memory.
â€œI think for the team, the same thing goes, we were close last year, we had a taste of how close we can get to playing in a Stanley Cup Final,â€ Mathew Barzal said last week. â€œI think that it didnâ€™t sit well with us afterward.â€
The past two years have been wonderful and brought pride and respectability back to the franchise. But now the dynamic has shifted. The vibe is different, as it should be. The bar is higher then itâ€™s been in a long time, and rightfully so. Almost in the same light as the organization was just before they began their dynasty, the IslesÂ have reached the point under the where winning is now expected.
Forget about proving people wrong, which it seems they will have to do again because thatâ€™s how things just are outside these parts. No, that shouldnâ€™t be the message. It should be not just contending for a Cup, but winning the silver chalice.
This Isles team are in a good enough position to possibly win it all.
It starts with the aforementionedÂ Barzal, who will have all eyes on him after signing his new three-year deal that will pay him $7M a year. 2021 will be his fourth season in the NHL and all signs point to him breaking out and becoming a star. Then behind are Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson, who are all expected to have huge seasons. The bottom-six should be better with a full season of J.G. Pageau, the fourth line being intact, and an injection of youth with Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows. And on the backend and in goal, they are strong. The introduction of stud netminder Ilya Sorokin and pairing him with his fellow countrymen Semyon Varlamov couldÂ give the club a big boost.
All of those things combined, along with this being the final chapter for the organization at Nassau Coliseum before they move into their new home at UBS Arena next season, and determining who will be here for the future in regards to the Seattle expansion draft, only add to the significance of this year.
The Islanders have had expectations coming into important seasons before. In 2013-14, they were coming off a first-round defeat to the Penguins the previous spring where they pushed them to the limit in six games. Many thought then they were ready to take another step, but they would falter that season and miss the postseason. 2016-17 saw them fail to qualify for the postseason in two years after making it to the second round for the first time in 23 years the previous year.
Now itâ€™s different. The stability provided from Lou Lamoriello on down and world-class coaching from Barry Trotz and his staff are the reason why.
Thereâ€™s a lot at stake for the Islanders this season. Itâ€™s their most important season in quite some time.
Letâ€™s drop the puck.
It doesnâ€™t need to be reiterated how much Matt Martin means to the Isles and loves along Island. But how he described his feelings yesterday hit more for some reason.
“I just wanted to see it through here and be a part of this franchise as long as I can be,” Martin told reporters. “I call Long Island home now. They showed the trust and investment in me for four years. My goal is to go and pay that off to them. My heart was always to stay here. My plan was always to stay here.”
Four more years of that is something Isles fans will treasure.
Ross Johnston and Martin being in the lineup together should make for some extra activity. And being that itâ€™s the Rangers they open with, we might see some more of this:
Ross Johnston just rag dolled Tony DeAngelo pic.twitter.com/4F9IS4MZLe
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) January 14, 2020