The New York Islanders entered this season with high expectations in New York sports betting, higher than they had in some time.
That was reflected in NHL betting markets as the Islanders averaged around +2000 to win the Stanley Cup after after losing to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round of the playoffs, one step short of the Cup final, in both of the two previous seasons.
PRESEASON ODDS FOR ISLANDERS
DraftKings Sportsbook New York was bullish on the Islanders, with preseason odds of +1500, sixth best in the league.
FanDuel Sportsbook New York was less sure and listed the Islanders in the middle of the pack at +2800.
The Islanders also had the positive energy of the opening of UBS Arena, ending years of turbulence when it came to their arena situation. That saga included a couple of years moving back and forth between different venues as they waited for the new building to be ready.
After being longshots yet still making it to the last four teams in the playoffs in two consecutive years, the oddsmakers began to take notice.
Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov gave New York one of the best goaltending tandems in the league, and what the team lacked in high-end scoring talent they made up for with depth, running three quality scoring lines.
EARLY SEASON OBSTACLES
No amount of depth, however, could have prepared them for what they had to deal with early in the season.
The one downside of the arena situation was a long, 13-game road trip to start the season before the new building would be fully ready. The Islanders started the trip fine, going 5-2-2, but fatigue and COVID-19 finally caught up to New York.
The Islanders lost the final four games of the trip, sputtering into their home opener on Nov. 20. By this point, the Islanders had begun playing games shorthanded, losing key contributors to COVID protocol but not enough to justify the league postponing games. The postponements became common in the NHL as the season went on but not in the beginning.
The Islanders and the San Jose Sharks were two teams hurt by this, as they played games down several skaters. Later in the season, teams in this same situation simply had the games postponed.
Calgary beat New York, 5-2, in the first game in UBS Arena and the Islanders went on to lose every game in their opening, five-game homestand.
After 17 games, the Islanders were 5-10-2, dead last in the Metropolitan Division. In the Eastern Conference, the eight playoff teams had begun to separate themselves early and falling behind was a tough blow for the Isles.
Another bout with COVID hit the team, causing postponements and more games with depleted rosters. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, the Islanders’ chances to make the playoffs were looking bleak.
DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP
The team was seen as a likely seller, but general manager Lou Lamoriello instead signed a couple of his pending unrestricted free agents and potential trade chips to extensions, sending the message that he had no intentions of this being a rebuild for the Islanders.
The team responded nicely, as Brock Nelson had a career year offensively with 30+ goals and young defenseman Noah Dobson solidified himself as a cornerstone of this team going forward.
Goaltending will remain a strength going forward as Russian starter Sorokin is one of the NHL’s top goalies.
The team's late push wasn’t enough as the early season hole they put themselves in was too big.
With all of the playoff spots in the East now spoken for, the Islanders officially find themselves on the outside looking in, but they can’t help but wonder what would have been had they not suffered through such a bad stretch early in the season.
PointsBet Sportsbook New York has division leaders Carolina (+1100), the New York Rangers (+1600) and Pittsburgh (+2400) are all shorter than 25-1 to win the Stanley Cup at the moment and the Islanders have to feel that they would be right there with them if they had been able to remain healthy all season.
Expectations will be lower going into next season, which should be a more comfortable situation for the Islanders, who clearly struggled under the weight of preseason expectations.
The bulk of the roster that made deep playoffs run two seasons in a row remains intact. So a bounce-back season should be in the cards for the New York Islanders, with Sorokin as the backbone and Dobson, Nelson, captain Anders Lee and offensive dynamo Matthew Barzal all playing key roles.