Wyshynski: Why the Islanders will win the Stanley Cup - ESPN

Wyshynski: Why the Islanders will win the Stanley Cup - ESPN
"Please God, no," wrote reader "Hockey Island," whose Twitter profile includes an image of the team s previous four championship banners from the 1980s.

People like Mr. Island understand that my predicting the Stanley Cup winner is usually the kiss of death to their championship aspirations. I declared the Toronto Maple Leafs would win the Cup last season, and that toxic smooch resulted in their captain, John Tavares , being against the Montreal Canadiens , the Leafs blowing (another) 3-1 lead and getting eliminated in the first round for the fifth straight season.

"Don t do it Greg. Please."

I m sorry. The bell that has been rung cannot be unrung. I believe the Islanders are going to win the Stanley Cup, and all that it entails.

"Do I agree with you that they re going to win the Cup? I m not so sure," said Ken Daneyko, a defenseman who played 20 years in the NHL. "But you re not the only one. And why not? Maybe they take the next step."

I called Daneyko to bounce a theory off him. The more I looked at the 2021-22 New York Islanders, the more I thought about another team that general manager Lou Lamoriello constructed: the 1995 New Jersey Devils , a team on which Daneyko played.

Scourge of offensive hockey. Meticulously cobbled from homegrown talents and acquired veterans in the image of its GM. Above all else, a Stanley Cup champion.

Like the Devils before 1995, the Islanders have been on the cusp of greatness, losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in consecutive conference finals. Last season, the margin between an appearance in the Cup Final and elimination was a Yanni Gourde shorthanded goal in Game 7, which is a "Paul Sorvino slicing garlic in prison during Goodfellas thin" margin.

"They haven t quite had enough offensive talent to get them over the top. But he believes that you stick to the philosophy," Daneyko said. "Look, this team lost 1-0 in Tampa Bay in Game 7 of their series. They got outplayed in the series, but they almost damn well won."

Like most Lamoriello teams, it starts with defense, and in 1995 and in 2021 that started with the coach. Barry Trotz doesn t have the same vendetta against offensive exhilaration that Jacques Lemaire had, but his system can be just as stifling: The Islanders are the best defensive team in the NHL (2.46 goals per game) during the coach s tenure with the team.

Neither Semyon Varlamov nor Ilya Sorokin are Martin Brodeur , but together they re . The forward position is a potpourri of playmakers asked to make plays ( Mathew Barzal , Kyle Palmieri , Anders Lee , Josh Bailey , Anthony Beauvillier ), others asked to role play ( Jean-Gabriel Pageau , Zach Parise ) and a thumping fourth line that can also contribute offensively now and again. ( Casey Cizikas , like Bobby Holik in 1995, is sandwiched between two sides of beef.)

"If you look at their roster, there s some similarities to be sure," Daneyko said. "Look, obviously times change. And you have people today who say you can t build teams like you did 25 years ago. But as we see come playoff time, the more things change, the more they stay the same, am I right? Structure, discipline, goaltending. It s hard to play against. Blocking that extra shot. Playing the man. That s what he s built there, and it s similar to what we had. It s a good analogy. Relatively good comparison."

But not a perfect one.

"If I m being brutally honest: They re good, but they don t have the horses we had on the back end," he said.

This is true. No offense intended to Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock , but they are not Scott Niedermayer nor Scott Stevens .

But that s OK! Lamoriello teams are not about the parts, but about the sum of them.

"They get more out of less than any team in the league. That s not to knock them. That s the same thing people said about us in 1995. The reason Lou gets that is the player buy-in. It s easier said than done. It s the hardest thing in the world," Daneyko said.

I m buying in, too. Sure, they re too old in some spots and not good enough in others. Even though their floor is higher than some teams ceilings, I ve seen some predictions that have the Islanders missing the playoffs entirely. But this team has been close. Really close. I ve seen Lamoriello simmer and spice the gravy until it s ready to serve before, and I m getting the same aroma this season.

And it would be a heck of a way to christen their new arena.

A Stanley Cup parade around the track at Belmont. Yay ... or neigh?

Here are the rest of my standings predictions that were submitted before opening night, with some airtight, logical justifications. Playoff teams are bolded. Please enjoy the prognostications, which naturally will become immaterial the moment Jack Eichel lands on a contender.
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