It was an incredible season for the New York Islanders in one of the more unique seasons ever. After the Islanders started the season as one of the NHL hottest teams, they nearly missed the playoffs after a rough stretch before the NHL shut down for four and a half months.
Related: Alexei Yashin Trade Revisited
The Islanders eventually advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time in 27 seasons. They had tremendous contributions from their coaching staff as well as their players. Let’s take a look at some individuals who shined with eight team awards.
MVP: Brock Nelson
A couple of players have shined all season, but Brock Nelson was the most important player. After re-signing with the Islanders in the offseason, he tied a career-high with 26 goals and was well on his way to reaching the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career before the season was shut down. Nelson also scored five game-winning goals, including three of them in overtime.
In the postseason, he continued to be a consistent goal scorer. Nelson registered nine goals and nine assists in 22 playoff games. The only series where he did not score multiple goals came in the first round against the Washington Capitals in their 4-1 series victory.
Best Defender: Adam Pelech
Both Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock had tremendous seasons developing into the number one pair, but Pelech stood out all season. He has become one of the best shutdown defenders in the league. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury, and the Islanders struggled defensively without him.
However, after the extended break before the playoffs, Pelech was back and better than ever, shutting down Aleksander Barkov, Alex Ovechkin, and Claude Giroux. The young defender also generated some offense as the season went on and set up a beautiful goal to Anders Lee against the Capitals and scored his first career playoff goal in Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Best Rookie: Noah Dobson
Despite having a young core of players, the Islanders only had a couple of rookies play in 2019-20. However, Noah Dobson was impressive as the seventh defender on the team. Drafted in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft, he was too young to play in the American Hockey League (AHL). The Islanders placed him on the roster and gradually started to give him more ice time as the season went on after Pelech’s injury. Dobson did not get a shot in the postseason, but still managed to score his first NHL goal against the Detroit Red Wings and likely will see an increased role next season.
Most Surprising: Semyon Varlamov
The Islanders could not reach a contract agreement with their unrestricted free agent Robin Lehner at the end of the 2018-19 season. The Vezina finalist signed with the Chicago Blackhawks and then helped the Vegas Golden Knights advance to the Western Conference Final after being traded. Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello then signed veteran Semyon Varlamov to a four-year contract to split time with Thomas Greiss. While the two goaltenders rotated starts the first half of the season, Varlamov took over the starting role toward the end of the season and into the playoffs.
Varlamov won 19 games in the regular season and posted a 2.40 goals against average and .916 save percentage. He also added two shutouts and then took his game to the next level in the postseason. He started in 19 of the 21 games and saw his goals against average go down and save percentage go up. The Islanders will have three more seasons of Varlamov as he is likely to back-up top prospect Ilya Sorokin when he comes to the NHL next season.
Most Disappointing: Power Play
In a season where the Islanders made the Eastern Conference Final after nearly missing the playoffs before the NHL regular season’s shutdown, it is tough to pick a disappointing player. However, the power play continues to hold this team back as they were not right in the playoffs. In the regular season, the Islanders ranked 24th in the league at 17.3 percent. New York drew only 168 penalties, which was 14 less than any team in the NHL.
In the postseason, it did not get much better, despite having the most opportunities by the time they were eliminated. The Islanders started the qualifying round well with the man advantage but ended up at 15.8 percent. The power play also cost them Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final as they were unable to score on a five minute major and a lengthy 5-on-3. They also had opportunities late in games in the second round versus the Philadelphia Flyers and were unable to score, forcing the series to go seven games.
The Best Salary Cap Value Award: Mathew Barzal
Until Mathew Barzal gets paid big on his next contract, the Islanders will benefit from the production that he brings to the team every season. Making only $832,500 once again this season, the former All-Star put together another terrific season. If not for the shortened season, he would have easily reached 20 goals and still managed 62 points.
Barzal was hot and cold during the playoffs. He had two games where he scored goals in back-to-back games in the postseason, but went scoreless in his last seven games. However, Barzal had one of the team’s two overtime goals in the playoffs as he beat Braden Holtby after a spectacular move in the first round against the Capitals.
Playoff MVP: Matt Martin
Many players stepped up both offensively and defensively for the Islanders, but Matt Martin was on another level during the playoffs. The veteran winger only scored five goals in the regular season but matched that mark in 22 playoffs games. He also added an assist to help boost his value as Martin is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Martin also played a pivotal role on the best fourth line in hockey. He routinely saw action against the opponents’ top line as well as occasional time on the penalty kill. Martin also played extremely physical and dropped the gloves after coming to the bubble right after his daughter’s birth.
Best Acquisition: Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Lamoriello had a terrific season and was rewarded with the General Manager of the Year Award. He only made two trades, but they were both beneficial. A week after acquiring Andy Greene, Lamoriello solidified the third-line center position with Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Islanders gave up a first and second-round pick, but signed him to a long-term contract before his first game.
In his inaugural game with the Islanders, he scored a goal against the New York Rangers and then again in his next contest against the St. Louis Blues. Despite his terrific play, the Islanders lost their first seven games with him in the lineup. However, he stepped up in the playoffs with eight goals and three assists. Pageau was a major part of the penalty kill as well as the power play. Like Martin, he was extremely physical despite his size and gave the Islanders one of the league’s top third-line centers.
Related: Islanders’ Greatest of All-Time
Ultimately, the Islanders fell short in six games in the Eastern Conference Final. However, the future is extremely bright as the days have shifted from hoping to win the draft lottery each season to now trying to win a fifth Stanley Cup.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.