This past Friday at the New York Islanders’ morning skate in Columbus, an interesting thought came to me watching the Islanders prepare for that night’s game. The game would feature a big mismatch in overall experience.
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After the skate ended, it was time to dig into this. Considering the Blue Jackets’ injury situation coupled with the fact that the Islanders had zero players on injured reserve, the Islanders would have an experience advantage in just about every position on the ice.
Digging into the numbers, there is no question the Islanders held the experience advantage. What was shocking was how big the advantage was. Let’s set the scene for you.
Excluding the goaltenders, we looked at the number of games played for just the Blue Jackets and Islanders for those on the active roster as of Friday’s game. We also did not include anyone on injured reserve. We set the number at 367 regular season games.
The Blue Jackets had just one player reach that threshold. That’s captain Boone Jenner. Conversely, the Islanders had 11 players reach that threshold including six who have played 600 games or more with them.
The bottom line here? There is no substitute for experience. Many of the Islanders have been together for a long time. Then when young players joined in, they learned from their established core how to handle their business. It’s no wonder they were in the Eastern Conference Finals two seasons ago. A weird season affected by Covid and a long season-opening road trip derailed them last season.
But quietly in 2022-23, the Islanders are in second place in the Metropolitan Division. As hot of a start as the New Jersey Devils have been on, the Islanders’ 30 points (15-8-0) sees them just six points out of first place. We shouldn’t be surprised at this given how they’ve built up to this point.
The Blue Jackets would be wise to look at what the Islanders have done.
Insight From Adam Pelech
Things haven’t always been rosy for the Islanders. While there has been some success along the way, they have consistently fallen short of their goal. Then they had to deal with John Tavares choosing to join another team.
Now add that to several players dealing with inexperience and finding their way in the NHL. Defenseman Adam Pelech was in the thick of that situation.
When Pelech first started getting NHL playing time, it wasn’t consistent. He was just like many young players finding out just how big of a jump this was. He struggled. He was scratched a lot in his first two years with the Islanders. He learned first hand the work that was ahead.
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Look at Pelech now. He just played his 400th game with the Islanders. The pair of Pelech and Ryan Pulock are generally regarded as one of the most consistent defensive pairs in the NHL. They didn’t get to this point overnight. They endured the growing pains of the NHL and now have the experience to handle different situations.
In today’s NHL, having a steady and dependable defense is more important than ever. The good teams in playoff position have this. Everyone else is catching up.
Pelech was kind enough to spend a few minutes postgame Friday night to talk about their season and the importance of experience in today’s game. He says he’s very lucky he’s had the chance to grow and develop with Pulock.
“We’ve been teammates ever since we started pro hockey together, about 7-8 years now, and d-partners for probably 3-4 of those years,” Pelech said of playing with Pulock. “I feel really lucky to be able to build chemistry and have a steady d-partner.”
For them, the key to their success comes down to one thing. It’s something many Blue Jackets’ fans don’t want to hear because it involves patience.
“Just games. Playing together. Just games and really getting that experience,” Pelech said. “It’s something that usually takes time to develop.”
Continuity & Key Moves
Pelech agreed that building continuity over time is a key to building long-term success in the NHL. But then he added something that cannot be overlooked when it comes to building a winning team.
“(Continuity), it’s huge,” Pelech said. “I feel like ever since I came to this team seven years ago, it almost feels like the same team. We’ve made additions along the way and they fit in seamlessly. But the core has always remained and I think that’s very important.”
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The Islanders made some key moves within all of this to set them up to where they’re at today. GM Lou Lamoriello was brought on. Barry Trotz was hired after Tavares left for the Maple Leafs. They each brought the team to a new level. Even when they decided to move on from Trotz and hire Lane Lambert, it was a seamless transition. Why? Because Lambert already had the respect in the room being there for years as an assistant coach.
“He already had (respect),” Pelech said of Lambert. “He was with us as associate coach for a few years running the penalty kill. He was a huge part of the team back then. He had the respect right from the beginning.”
Blue Jackets Can’t Rush This
When Johnny Gaudreau signed with the Blue Jackets this past summer, expectations changed. Some thought the playoffs could be in play this season. However this season has shown so far that the Blue Jackets still have a long way to go.
It’s easy to think that the Blue Jackets can make quick fixes to their issues. However that is simply not the case. A trade will cost them valuable assets. There are a lot of holes to fill. This is why the Islanders’ story is something they should learn from.
The Islanders were once inexperienced too. Some of the players enjoying success now had struggles when they started out. But they kept with it in those struggles, gained valuable experience and developed chemistry. The result is a team who has been together for a long time and it shows in everything they do.
The Blue Jackets entered Friday’s game with every player under 223 games with them with the exception of Jenner not including injured reserve. They haven’t played together very long. Gaudreau is still learning his new team.
The only way to address this is to keep building and playing games together. The Blue Jackets have started the process but its completion won’t be seen for many years yet. There is no shortcut to playing games. They must establish who their core is, make the right moves to add to that core and then continue to build.
The drafts have been better of late. There is reason to be excited. But to realize the true potential of that excitement will take time.
One look at each of the Friday morning skates spoke volumes. One team had the look of being together for a long time. The other team had the look of still learning the ropes of the NHL. One team looks like a playoff team. The other team still has a lot to learn in order to get out from the bottom of the standings.
Blue Jackets’ success will ultimately come from how they handle decisions the next few seasons. Do not rush this. Build the right way, get experience and develop chemistry. The Islanders today are an example of what hard work and staying on the path can do.
The Blue Jackets would be wise to do the same even if fans don’t want to wait.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.