It’s a rough time to be a New York sports fan.
Only the New York Rangers won a playoff series in 2013. The New York Mets and Knicks are teetering on irrelevance. Both NFL teams are going to miss the playoffs — the one year New York/New Jersey gets the Super Bowl. Across the bridge, the Brooklyn Nets are underwhelming, and across the river the New Jersey Devils are a roller coaster.
Yet no team has been more of a disappointment around the Big Apple than the New York Islanders. New York has the Metropolitan Division’s worst record, and if not for the Buffalo Sabres, their 9-19-6 record would rank dead last in the National Hockey League.
John Tavares was a Hart Trophy nominee a year ago, leading the Islanders to their first playoff berth in five seasons. Few who followed their series with the Pittsburgh Penguins foresaw what would happen. Sure, the Pens won the series in six games, but the Islanders exposed Marc-Andre Fleury and pushed back against the dominant Pens, dropping two of the four games in overtime. The Penguins advanced, but many felt New York was on the rise.
Preseason, there were Stanley Cup whispers, yet those dreams have crashed to Earth. The Islanders better resemble the club that finished last in the Atlantic Division five consecutive years than the unit that scared the bejesus out of Pittsburgh last May.
Many point to Garth Snow’s curious trade on Oct. 27 — the one that sent Tavares’ buddy, Matt Moulson, to the Buffalo Sabres for Thomas Vanek — as a microcosm of Islanders incompetence. While Vanek may be serving as the scapegoat for a lost season, such logic is misguided. Vanek has 13 points in 18 games, and when Vanek’s been healthy, the line of Vanek, Tavares and Kyle Okposo has been the Islanders’ best.
Face it, New York was a shoddy defensive team in 2013 — their 139 goals allowed were the most of any playoff team and just 19th best in the league. Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald may have played Sidney Crosby and James Neal tough in the playoffs, but Pittsburgh still scored 25 goals in that six-game series.
The Islanders did nothing this offseason to address their inability to defend except trade Mark Streit — their former captain who played more than 23 minutes per night a year ago. Once New York lost Lubomir Visnovsky to a concussion, that unit became even thinner. New York has allowed 118 goals, second most in the league (Edmonton has surrendered 120).
Both goalie Evgeni Nabokov and backup Kevin Poulin have been under siege. Nabokov, 38, struggled against the Pens a year ago and, again, the club did nothing to upgrade at that spot. The Isles have not won in regulation since Nabokov went down mid-game with a lower-body injury against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 16.
Still, playing in Nabokov’s spot, Poulin has performed admirably. He stood on his head, stopping 46 shots — and three more in the shootout — in a skills-competition win in San Jose Tuesday. But his numbers really aren’t good: 4-12-0, a 3.25 goals-against average and .892 save percentage. The win/loss numbers are as scary as Islanders have won one game in regulation since Nov. 2.
On the list of most popular New York teams, the Islanders rank somewhere near the bottom. The Nassau Coliseum is a pit in the middle of nowhere — 28 miles from Times Square that might as well be light years culturally and mass-transit wise from New York City’s most notable location. When the Islanders are bad, they are downright irrelevant to the locals. Look at their attendance numbers.
Still, the Isles are moving to Brooklyn — into the shiny Barclays Center — in 2015-16, and many thought a winning team with fun players would move into the boroughs, as well. Instead, head coach Jack Capuano may not even see the end of this season.
While his solid coaching job in 2013 may earn him this full season, a source within the Islanders organization told me Saturday that he “may” survive this season.
Still, reports earlier in the week maintain that general manager Garth Snow has confidence in Capuano, whom he believes has gotten a bad rap.
“I have no intention to replace our coach,” Snow told Newsday on Nov. 22.
Capuano can only deal with what he’s been given. But with big expectations, floundering results and names like Peter Laviolette — who guided the team to the postseason in both seasons he coached on Long Island — waiting in the wings, he may fall on the sword for the organization’s inability to build a winner.
Just one more tough result to swallow for another local fan base.