Yes, it is August and yes, we should be preparing for the football season which is two weeks away. However, it's never too early to take a look at the NHL futures market and get ahead of the action there. BetMGM has just released odds on each NHL team to make the playoffs and their over/under for points this upcoming season. One team immediately stuck out to me.
The Islanders had a miserable season
The New York Islanders made the Eastern Conference Finals in both 2020 and 2021. They were arguably the toughest competition the Tampa Bay Lightning faced en route to their back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in those two seasons. As a result, understandably, the hype was high for New York entering the 2021-22 season. They were amongst the most popular bets to win the Stanley Cup.
New York's season was, for all intents and purposes, over by Christmas. Sure, they were dealt a bad hand. The team opened the season with a 13-game road trip as their new arena wasn't ready until right around Thanksgiving. They finished the road trip at 5-6-2, which while far from great, was decent enough considering the circumstances.
However, the season fell apart late in that road trip and at the very beginning of their home schedule. If you recall, the NHL had to postpone their season for a few days in late December and early January because there was a league-wide COVID outbreak. For the Islanders, that outbreak happened a month before the rest of the league. They were forced to play through their outbreak, icing half of their minor league team on a nightly basis.
When you wrap all of that into one bow, the Islanders ended up losing 11 straight games (0-8-3) from November 7 through December 5. You're not going to recover from losing 11 straight games in the NHL. It was curtains on the season.
Are the Islanders a bounce-back candidate?
Now you might be thinking, "well, COVID isn't really impacting sports anymore and the arena is ready this year so there won't be any crazy road trip." That is true. The rationale is there as to why the Islanders are an intriguing pick to bounce back this season. However, even if you eliminate the 11-game losing streak, the Islanders played at just a 93-point pace in their other 71 games. 93 points doesn't usually get you into the playoffs. You need to be closer to the 96+ point range.
We think fondly of the Islanders because of their back-to-back deep playoff runs, but it's worth considering those circumstances. In 2020, the Islanders were on the verge of tail-spinning their way out of the playoffs before the pandemic shut down the world. They had lost seven straight games before the stoppage. If that was a normal season, there's a very good chance they don't even make the postseason. In 2021, it was another shortened 56-game season that they took advantage of.
The Islanders could be a dangerous team if they make the playoffs due to their goaltending, defensive prowess and physical style. However, making the playoffs is the hard part. The Islanders are currently -130 favorites to make the playoffs this upcoming season, and in my opinion, that's way too much credit when you consider last season and the offseason they just had.
When you look at the Islanders, there's no denying they can keep the puck out of their net. Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov are arguably the best goaltending duo in the league. Sorokin currently has the third best odds to win the Vezina in 2022-23, behind only Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
However, the weakness comes on offense. The team has needed an elite forward talent since John Tavares departed for Toronto in 2018. The organization realizes this as well, which is why they pushed so hard to keep Tavares. It's why general manager Lou Lamoriello has reportedly made pushes for the likes of Mark Stone, Artemi Panarin, and Gabriel Landeskog in the past.
This past offseason, the Islanders were linked in some capacity to J.T. Miller, Johnny Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri and Matthew Tkachuk. All four are players capable of chipping in 70+ points, but all four players went elsewhere. The Islanders' only offseason move was acquiring Alexander Romanov from Montreal, a depth defenseman more known for his physicality than any offensive upside.
When you look at the Islanders' forward core outside of Mathew Barzal, it's an aging group that is already on the wrong side of 30. Anders Lee is 32, Brock Nelson will be 31 in October, Kyle Palmieri is 31, Josh Bailey will be 33 in a month. Usually, players don't get better once they reach this age. Even younger forwards like Oliver Wahlstrom, Anthony Beauvillier and Kieffer Bellows have seen their development stall. Barzal, who many view as a potential superstar, has capped out at 62 points over the last four years.
The Trotz effect
Earlier, I said the Islanders did almost nothing this offseason. One of the few things they did do was fire Barry Trotz, their former head coach. Trotz ranks third in NHL history all-time in wins. He's the active leader in wins with 914 and has a Stanley Cup on his resume with Washington in 2018.
If you look at the Islanders roster, the talent level pales in comparison to most teams in the league. I'm pretty confident in saying that Trotz's coaching abilities caused this team to vastly outperform its talent level over the past four seasons.
The Islanders replaced Trotz with his former assistant coach in Lane Lambert. Hiring an all-time great's assistants doesn't work as often as you'd expect. Ask the many coaches who have come off Bill Belichick's coaching tree. If we're staying with hockey, ask Capitals' fans how it worked out for them when they replaced Trotz with his former assistant coach, Todd Rierden.
It's hard to upgrade from Barry Trotz. There's a reason almost every team with a coaching vacancy interviewed him after the Islanders fired him before Trotz decided to take the year off from coaching. Lambert might be a fine coach, but he'll almost certainly be a downgrade from one of the very best in the league.
Islanders will miss playoffs again
Full disclosure, I am a diehard Islanders fan, but it's important to be real with ourselves.
The Islanders missed the playoffs by 16 points last season. I remember decorating my Christmas tree last December and trying to cope with the fact the season was already over. This team didn't miss the playoffs by a few points on the last few days of the season. They weren't close. They were planning their summer vacations before the New Year.
The team fired Trotz who got the absolute most out of this group that anyone could have realistically expected. They struck out in epic fashion trying to land any player with a modicum of offensive talent. The core is another year older.
The teams around them improved as well. Columbus finished just three points behind the Islanders last season, and they added Johnny Gaudreau who was second in the league in points. The Devils are young and growing, and they improved their goaltending over the offseason. Carolina should remain elite and the Rangers aren't going anywhere either. As far as Washington and Pittsburgh falling off with their older stars, hockey people have been predicting that for five years now. I'll believe it when I see it.
New York ranked 23rd in expected-goal rate last season. They didn't drive play. They finished 16 points out of a playoff spot despite getting tremendous goaltending from Ilya Sorokin, who finished second in a lot of key goaltending categories. You can't expect much more from your goalie.
The Islanders are +100 to miss the playoffs in 2023, and the plus-money is an absolute gift. This is an extremely flawed team that got rid of their biggest strength (coach) and did nothing to improve their biggest weakness (offense) after a year where they weren't very competitive to begin with. Bet it now before the normal world starts thinking about hockey in a month from now and moves this number.