However the rest of this regular season winds up for the Islanders, this much is clear: Missing the playoffs would be a disaster for the organization.
On several levels.
First is just the obvious of the wasted opportunity. The Islanders built a huge cushion with a 16-3-2 start thanks to a franchise-record 15-0-2 run. Even after a so-so December, the Islanders were on a pace for 114 points. Now, they won’t get to 100 points without another much-needed winning streak.
And this is after president and general manager Lou Lamoriello sent a conditional first-round pick in 2020 (top three protected), a second-round pick in 2020 and a conditional third-round pick in 2022 (only included if the Islanders win the Stanley Cup this season) to the Senators for Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Plus, Lamoriello sent a second-round pick in 2021, along with minor-league defenseman David Quenneville to the Devils for Andy Greene.
Acquiring those veterans was a sign the Islanders were “going for it” this season, not to mention needed reinforcements after long-term injuries to top-pair defenseman Adam Pelech and identity-setting center Casey Cizikas.
A playoff miss would be a serious step back after the Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan Division last season and reached the second round of the playoffs in their first season of the Lamoriello/Barry Trotz regime, even if they did get swept by the Hurricanes.
And it would lead to questions about next season’s playoff chances, given how well the Flyers have developed in their first season under Alain Vigneault and how the Rangers have progressed with Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, the player the Islanders should have locked up. The Capitals and Alex Ovechkin and the Penguins and Sidney Crosby aren’t going anywhere, either.
A playoff miss would again highlight the Islanders need to add more scoring “pop” to their lineup, something Trotz said at last season’s breakup day. To be fair, even if the Islanders make the playoffs, this should be an offseason priority.
Lamoriello went hard after Panarin last summer. But the sides could not conclude a contract agreement and Panarin took less money to play for the Rangers.
Would Taylor Hall fit the bill? The former Hart Trophy winner certainly appears headed for unrestricted free agency after the Devils swapped him to the Coyotes as a rental.
The Islanders also need to get younger with their roster and having any combination of first-rounders Oliver Wahlstrom, Kieffer Bellows and/or Simon Holmstrom develop into a full-time NHLer would help on that front and, presumably, with the team’s scoring.
But a playoff miss would also highlight how the Islanders are locked in with the core of their roster and the long-term viability to have success with it.
Top-six forwards Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson are all signed to long-term deals. Pageau just agreed to a six-year extension. New deals are presumably coming for impending unrestricted free agents Mathew Barzal and defenseman Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews.
These are the Islanders, this season and in the coming seasons, that management is counting on to be a perennial playoff contender. Particularly with a new arena coming at Belmont Park in 2021.
A playoff miss this season calls all that into question.
Defenseman Thomas Hickey, brought up from the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport on emergency recall on Thursday, has had a rough season. Injuries have limited the 31-year-old to 14 games for the Sound Tigers after he spent the past seven seasons mostly as an Islanders’ regular.
But that’s not Hickey’s main concern right now. His brother Dan, 33, was diagnosed in September with glioblastoma. That’s the same, aggressive brain tumor that Rush drummer Neil Peart succumbed to in January after a three-year battle.
It’s Dan Hickey’s second battle with a brain tumor in under two years.
The organization has allowed Thomas Hickey the freedom to travel back to Calgary to see his brother as much as possible.
“I have one job, and that’s to be there for my family,” Thomas Hickey said. “This [playing hockey] is my job but it sort of comes second to everything else. In saying that, hockey is such an important outlet to me. It keeps me healthy.”
Thomas Hickey was planning another trip to Calgary this week, regardless of whether he remains on the Islanders’ roster or not as the team starts its Western Canada road trip on Tuesday in Vancouver.
He said his brother thrives on the visits.
“He’s a special person,” Thomas Hickey said. “I haven’t heard him complain once. So, I think that gives you good perspective. He’s a positive guy. He loves people and loves his friends and family. We’ve got people seeing him every day and that’s what keeps him happy.”
Picked from the pod
Current MSG Networks analyst Butch Goring became the eighth player from the Islanders’ squads that won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83 to have his number retired when No. 91 was lifted to the rafters — the “toy department” in Goring parlance — at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 29.
Goring was the guest on Episode 24 of Newsday’s Island Ice podcast to discuss the honor and, among other topics, the notion that he was the “final piece” to the Cup puzzle when he was acquired from the Kings on March 10, 1980.
“Nineteen seventy-eight, 1979, they suffered a couple of tough losses,” Goring said of playoff eliminations to the Maple Leafs and Rangers, respectively. “But that was a really good hockey team. They could have easily won Stanley Cups. Listen, I wasn’t coming in there and becoming a superstar. They already had enough superstars. I was coming in there to do what I could do. Bill Torrey, Al Arbour, they knew exactly what kind of player they were getting and that’s why they wanted me. I just walked in there and I was comfortable with who I am.
“I never felt pressure to do anything different,” Goring added. “I knew my game, in my own mind, could help them. But they were a great team. They didn’t need a whole lot of help. They, maybe, just needed to get a little confidence in themselves, more than anything else.”