After suspending the league back in late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Hockey League (NHL) is now only a matter of weeks away from making its return back on national television throughout the globe. An Islanders Panthers series will be apart of the summer festivities.
The break came at a timely moment for the New York Islanders, as they were in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and were missing two of their most important players in Adam Pelech and Casey Cizikas. The players are returning back to Long Island, heavily rested and more than ready for a long playoff run, but for the first time in NHL history losing in the “postseason” could result in a franchise-changing moment.
On June 26, the NHL aired the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery, with the winner of the first overall pick setting their sights on potential generational talent Alexis Lafrenière. Teams that were outside the Stanley Cup Qualifying round such as the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings were hoping the eighteen-year-old from Quebec would help quicken their rebuild, but in dramatic fashion the first overall pick was slotted to a “placeholder team,” meaning a team fighting for the Stanley Cup will have a chance to draft Lafrenière.
The teams eligible for the pick will be the eight losing teams from the Stanley Cup Qualifying Rounds, as after the play-in round is over all of the losing teams will be put into a second Draft Lottery with all eight teams receiving a 12.5% chance at the first overall pick. One of the bigger concerns around the league is that a team with a deep roster could win the lottery after potentially losing in the Qualifying Round.
Now it is highly unlikely that a single NHL player would ever consider saying they would want to lose the play-in round for a draft pick rather than chase their lifelong dream of winning the Stanley Cup, but from a fan’s perspective, it wouldn’t be the craziest circumstance and certainly would be a great consolation prize for any team, especially for the New York Islanders.
For Islanders’ fans that were born since the 1990’s, one word has continuously been thrown around in their faces: “Dynasty.” The success the Islanders had in the early 1980’s is still unmatched today in sports history, and everyone has seen the breathtaking clips of The Coliseum in pandemonium watching Mike Bossy score goals, Clark Gillies bash skulls and most importantly, Denis Potvin lift cups. The Islanders currently have a deep team with a lot of talent, and a locker room culture unmatched throughout the league, and potentially adding a player as highly touted and skilled as Lafrenière to this team could be as close as the Islanders could get to reaching their glory days.
The New York Islanders have a tough opponent in the Florida Panthers to take on in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, and it is not the first time these two teams have matched up in the playoffs. Look back to the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs, primarily Game 6 of the first round, when John Tavares sent the Islanders to the second round for the first time since 1993. The Islanders won three games in that series in overtime, and both teams played their hearts out. Since then, both teams have only gotten better, deeper and stronger, so look for the Islanders Panthers series to be one that could go to five games, and all five could be hard-fought.
There will be no rooting for the New York Islanders to lose against the Florida Panthers in the upcoming qualifying series. But no matter the outcome, there is the potential for this to be a historic season for the Islanders.