Forget Tavares – it's a great time to be a New York Islanders fan

New York fans may still be stinging from the loss of their former captain, but the Islanders are doing so many things well right now that they might be better to focus on the positives
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Are people interested in John Tavares’ return game against the New York Islanders? They are? Ah yes, it has been noted once or twice on social media this week. Jokes aside, the former captain’s return to New York has brought up a lot of emotions with Islanders fans, some of whom are still incredibly anguished by the elite center’s decampment via free agency for Toronto.

At the time, the Tavares exit felt like the latest in a string of neck-punches that the Islanders fan base has been subjected to since…well, the David Volek goal? It’s been a trying time to be an Isles fan for about the past three decades or so.

But now? There’s a lot to be proud of if you cheer for the franchise. So instead of wallowing in jilted lover status, why not count down all the positives that have occurred since this time last season.

1. Barry Trotz The man behind the bench for Washington’s Stanley Cup championship is now steering the boat in New York has completely transformed the way the Islanders have played. He has to be a front-runner for the Jack Adams Award right now. What had been the worst defensive team in the NHL is now the best defensive team and Trotz’s structure has been a big reason why. But it’s not the only reason…

2. Robin Lehner Having made a courageous statement about his struggles with bipolar disorder and suicidal thoughts, Lehner should already be considered a winner this season. But his play in the crease has been incredible, too. The big Swede has some of the best stats in the NHL with a .930 save percentage and four shutouts in 35 games played. Not to be forgotten, battery mate Thomas Greiss is right behind Lehner with a .928 save percentage and four shutouts of his own in 31 games. Give credit to both netminders and to new goalie coach Mitch Korn, the longtime confidante of Trotz.

3. No Garth Snow The man who brought in Trotz and Korn and Lehner was of course new GM Lou Lamoriello, who instantly brought credibility to a position that had lacked competency since Don Maloney in the early 1990s. While some of Lamoriello’s early player moves seemed sketchy (Matt Martin, Leo Komarov), it’s hard to argue with the results, because…

4 .First Place! Yes, the Islanders are first place in the wacky Metropolitan Division and they’re still playing good hockey. It’s not a mirage. Even better for Isles fans? The arch-rival Rangers and Devils are definitely going to miss the post-season, as both franchises are in various stages of rebuilding. So the only playoff hockey in the area will be played at…

5. The Return of Nassau Coliseum It’s an old barn, but the Islanders have received permission to host first-round playoff games there instead of at the basketball-centric Barclays Center in Brooklyn. If the Isles make it past the first round, they’ll go back to Barclays – but I’m sure fans won’t mind, given the circumstances. Eventually, these inconveniences won’t matter, because the Belmont Park project is a go.

6. The Future is Bright Not only is the present going well, but New York has been putting together a very nice pipeline of late, headlined by this past summer’s draft. Twin first-rounders Oliver Wahlstrom and Noah Dobson bring skill on the wing and defense, respectively, while Bode Wilde, Ruslan Iskhakov and Jakub Skarek were also savvy pick-ups. In the AHL, Bridgeport is one of the top teams in the league this year. Add in other recent draft picks such as Kieffer Bellows, Otto Koivula and Ben Mirageas and things are looking pretty good. The draft is also where New York got…

7. Matt Barzal The team’s leading scorer has been the de facto offensive replacement for Tavares, with Anders Lee taking on the captain’s ‘C.’ Barzal was a great pick back in 2015 and has blossomed into one of the NHL’s most talented youngsters. He still has a bunch of prime years ahead of him and with New York keeping veterans such as Jordan Eberle and Josh Bailey around, Barzal doesn’t have to do everything himself. Yes, it's a pretty good time to be an Islanders fan.

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