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The Cup Contention Clock's Ticking On the New York Islanders

The New York Islanders still have plenty of time to make the playoffs, but their Cup contention status looks bleak.
Ilya Sorokin

As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 80s, this writer was captivated by the New York Islanders. Mike Bossy, Dennis Potvin, Billy Smith, Butch Goring, Clark Gilles, John Tonelli, Bob Bourne, Bobby Nystrom – there were so many great players, and they all fit seamlessly with one another. 

They won four Stanley Cups in a row, and nearly won five straight, were it not for another one of the greatest teams put together, the Edmonton Oilers. The Isles defined excellence for a longer stretch than almost any in NHL history. Not only did they dominate for four straight seasons, but they also lost only three games combined in the Cup finals in that span. To call their performance remarkable is to undersell it. No franchise has won more than two Cups in a row since then.

And, unfortunately to Isles fans – especially the ones who remember those glory days – it doesn’t look like the Cup will return to Long Island anytime soon. 

Other than the moribund Vancouver Canucks and wobbly Minnesota Wild, has there been a bigger disappointment than the Isles so far this season? 

After losing to Florida (for the second time this season) on Sunday, the Islanders have sunk to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division with a 2-4-0 record. They’re on a three-game losing skid, and they’re heading into a murderer’s row portion of the schedule.

Isles GM Lou Lamoriello doubled down on this current roster after a health-challenged season knocked them out of the playoff picture completely, and the team has not rewarded him for that vote of confidence. Their two wins have come against teams (Anaheim and San Jose) they should’ve beaten. But in all of the other four games, the Islanders fell to the Panthers twice, and the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning. If you’re going to contend for a playoff spot in the Metro, you need to win at least two of those games. No Metro team is going to coast into the post-season and turn it on all of a sudden once they get there.

Most Islanders players are locked under contract through this year and next season – and you know a team’s in trouble when you start to look at next season for them – and the question for Lamoriello is, if this team maintains this current level of play, which teams will be lining up to take them off his hands? 

Lamoriello has been good at holding onto his draft picks – he has all of them through the next three drafts – but will he be forced to peel off a few of them to try and land players who can make an impact right away? And how long is he going to wait before the crater is too large for the Isles to crawl out of? The Canucks proved last year that, no matter how strongly you finish the season, it doesn’t matter if you gnarled up the beginning of it.

We’re not at that point yet for the Islanders, but we’re not that far away from it, either. The NHL’s loser point has snuffed out many of the hopes of a team that tried to rebound from early failure, and the Isles don’t have the kind of roster that can flip a switch and start winning a lot of games. The runway ramp is shortening by the day, and they’re not inspiring confidence they’re going to stick the landing.

For more than a half-decade nearly a half-century ago, Islanders fans were treated to host the best team on the planet. But those same fans know that when you ask the question, “how close is this current Isles team to winning a Cup?”, the answer is distressing. 

The clock is ticking on them very early this season, and there are no easy answers – other than the answer that the continuation of the status quo shouldn’t be an option. 

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