Now that the New York Islanders have been eliminated by the much superior Tampa Bay Lightning, the question is where do they go from here? The answer will be provided by General Manager Garth Snow and upper management.
If anyone doubted the hunger of John Tavares to make a mark in the playoffs, this year’s result should silence the critics. When the Islanders were eliminated, Tavares was among the leaders in points and goals. He desperately wants to lift the Islanders to the level of the Steve Stamkos Lightning, the Sidney Crosby Penguins, and the Jonathan Toews Blackhawks.
And that is the problem. To get to that level, to be a true Stanley Cup contender, the Islanders need to upgrade their talent. Just having Tavares as one star is not enough. The Islanders need several more significant additions before they can reach the level of the Lightning, the team that eliminated them. They took a significant step forward this year by finally winning a playoff round after going eons without winning one. But being able to eliminate the new-kid-on-the-block Florida Panthers is far different from being able to eliminate one of the conference’s leading Stanley Cup contenders, Tampa Bay. The Islanders put up a valiant struggle but do not have the talent to compete.
All the teams that win the Stanley Cup usually have several stars, not one. It is rare that a team with only one top star wins a Stanley Cup. After Wayne Gretzky got traded from Edmonton, he never won another Cup. It is the great team, not the great player who wins an NHL championship. There are no other Islander players joining Tavares on the leader board. He cannot do it all by himself. He needs several other stars to pick up the slack when he has a bad game or when he is checked effectively.
When the Islanders were in their glory years from the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, they were a team full of star players. Five of them, Billy Smith, Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, and Brian Trottier are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame after winning four consecutive Stanley Cups.
The current players on the Islanders cannot do any more than they have done so now it up to the Islander management and ownership to take the next step. They have to draft well and sign key free agents if they are to reach the level of the Lightning. How much is ownership and management prepared to do this?
Clearly a team built around Tavares is heading in the right direction. But he has to have more players of the same caliber as himself for this team to really make a move in the playoffs.
Right now the Islanders can be classed with wheel-spinners Minnesota, Anaheim, and Washington. To advance deep into the playoffs and being able to eliminate really good teams is going to take a momentous step, a significant upgrade. The Islanders seem to have the spirit and the coaching to do it. Now they need the talent and that is up to management.