Looking Ahead to 2013-14: Playoffs are Now the Expectation

Kevin Schultz, Islanders Point Blank:

After the red light went off on Saturday night, eliminating the Islanders and sending the Penguins to the second round, it marked the end of the Islanders magical run to the playoffs. After a 17-game run in late-March and April followed by two wins and two overtimes against the Penguins, the Islanders garnered praise both locally and nationally from fans and media. They stepped out of the darkness and into the limelight of media attention. Everyone, it seemed, took notice. The Islanders were the team everyone wanted to see win. At long last, the rebuild had accomplished its first goal of making the playoffs.

Now there’s no turning back.

There are a lot of positive vibes in the fanbase and in the organization for the first time in at least a decade. Players not named Tavares who the team invested contract years and money in – Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey to be specific – finally proved the worth of those contracts. In an amazing turn of fate, Lubomir Visnovsky will be one of the best defenders on the team for two more years. There’s a crop of young players ready to step up and play, both on the bottom-six of the lineup and waiting in Bridgeport.

Now it’s time to make adjustments and reload, not backtrack.

The same coach, GM and players will be back next year. Those players have seen the effort level that it takes to get the job done. Now, they have to go and do that over an 82-game season, arguably a much tougher venture.

The GM has to figure out how to upgrade the defense and solve his goaltender situation. Whether those solutions come from inside or out is up to him. The coach, who looked unable to motivate his way out of a paper bag much of the season, was certainly part of the turnaround as well although I would stop well short of the words ‘Jack Adams’.

In 2003, after a rebirth and first-round playoff loss, the team never achieved more than it did that season in subsequent years. That team was built mainly on veterans and by GM who was, and still is, a loose cannon. This team has been built slowly and steadily and is led almost exclusively by youth. There’s a stark difference and one that implies that the Islanders should be back and, hopefully, better next year.

Will Charles Wang open his wallet for free agents? Are those free agents anymore convinced that they should be a part of this organization after the last few weeks?

Those are two important questions that could be answered this summer. After all, don’t forget that this team still has Tim Thomas on its roster for cap-floor purposes, after all. There are still monetary issues at play under the surface. There are also some free agents who helped the team and whose future is uncertain, starting first and foremost with the goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and team captain Mark Streit.

John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and the rest of the core of players will be back next year. The expectation will be that they make the playoffs again, keeping up the efforts and wins they earned in the shortened season’s final month plus. Doing that over the long haul will be different than anything they experienced in this shortened season.

The biggest question is; what sort of help will they have and where will it come from?

There’s no turning back now that this team has turned the corner. In 2013-14, it’s going to be playoffs or bust. Anything less will be a step in the wrong direction, back into the darkness.