It took until the 75th game to confirm what many fans suspected. Still, following the 4-2 loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Islanders have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. It’s been a season full of sorrow, frustration, anger, growth, and high expectations, but in the end, all that is being felt is a disappointment for what could have been. Ryan Pulock said himself in the post-game press conference that “…We expect a lot more from this group, and it’s frustrating,” and that alone should tell fans that they are equally as upset as we all are watching them fall short of the playoffs.
Even though the Islanders have been eliminated, there are still games left on the schedule and an opportunity to possibly address the internal decisions that need to be made next season. On the defensive side, the Islanders have important decisions to make on who they will be employing next season, as only Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield have contracts past this season. Noah Dobson is an RFA this offseason, and after he is signed, there are two important spots on the left side of the defensive core that need to be addressed. Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene have played the most minutes under Adam Pelech, but with the last seven games, there could be auditions for players like Sebastian Aho and Grant Hutton to take a bigger role. As for the offense, there are tons of questions as to where certain players fit in the lineup, and we may begin to see different combinations of players to see what may stick while incorporating Oliver Wahlstrom (who has been a scratch in recent games) and Kieffer Bellows into the offensive plans more often. In the next few days, one name to be particularly keen on is the 2021 second draft pick Aatu Raty. Raty’s season recently came to a close with Jukurit over in Finland, and it wasn’t known if he would be signing his ELC to finish the season in North America until Raty himself posted onto his Instagram story a picture of him at a New York Mets game. It confirms that he is indeed in New York, and there is potential for him to enter the lineup without harm to the nonexistent playoff push.
Many fans may be curious to see what the young players in Bridgeport might have to offer, specifically defenseman Robin Salo and forward Simon Holmstrom. Still, the Bridgeport Islanders are in the middle of their playoff push, so it may be unlikely to see them called up to the varsity club. It may not be what fans want to hear, but it may be better for their development to stick it out, push for the playoffs, and continue thriving in their current environment.
Outside of potentially using the last seven games to find clarity heading into next season, there is still plenty to cheer for on the current roster. Ilya Sorokin is still pushing to enter the Vezina trophy conversation, an award given to the league’s top goaltender, Brock Nelson is still looking to add to his career year, and Barzal can be an electric factory on any given shift. Just because the last seven games don’t impact the standings, it doesn’t mean that they hold no value. They are still the Islanders that we all love, and there is no doubt that they will take steps to bring the Islanders back into the playoffs next season.