The Islanders went 35-37-10 for 80 points and a seventh-place finish last season in the Metropolitan Division. They allowed the NHL's most goals per game and were 31st in attendance. Less than three months after their final game, they lost superstar John Tavares in free agency.
This season, Vegas gave New York an over/under projected point total of 82.5. USA TODAY Sports had it at 32 wins and 77 points.
Instead, the Islanders finished 48-27-7 for 103 points and are playing in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
How in the world did New York pull that off the very next season?
You can bet such a turnaround was on the mind of Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher when he was in the process of hiring Alain Vigneault as head coach. Entering the offseason, it very well could be a blueprint rolled up in Fletcher's back pocket as the Flyers gear up for an important 2019-20 season.
The Flyers have visions of jumping right back into contention, which the Islanders impressively accomplished when the circumstances appeared bleak.
Lou Lamoriello was named president of hockey operations last May. He brought on Barry Trotz as head coach a month after his hire. Trotz was fresh off a Stanley Cup championship with the Capitals — an accomplished bench boss that could shift philosophy, nail home fundamentals and get the best out of his players.
And it worked beautifully.
"Look at the job Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz have done," Fletcher said April 18. "They've gone from a team that looked far away and lost a key piece this summer, and they're in the second round right now.
"We've talked about the playoffs, there have been some teams that I think a lot of people are surprised have been knocked out already, some other teams you're surprised to see winning series or have won series. We're all close. Confidence and momentum early in a season can really lend itself to great things. That's why the most important time of the year will be our training camp and we'll be ready to go."
Lamoriello made underrated signings by adding Robin Lehner, Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov. Lehner is a Vezina Trophy finalist after putting up a 2.13 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, while Filppula scored 17 goals in 72 games and Komarov played all 82 and was a plus-18.
These weren't earth-shattering moves, though.
The Islanders are a different team in massive part because of Trotz and his systematic magic. After surrendering a league-worst 3.57 goals per game in 2017-18, the Islanders permitted an NHL-low 2.33 per game this season. They scored 2.72 goals per game this year compared to 3.18 last season, but an increased emphasis on details, commitment, smarts and puck management transformed New York.
Fletcher harped on all of those characteristics 12 days ago when the Flyers introduced Vigneault, who has a history of success in Year 1 on the job and molding postseason clubs.
"I think that's a hallmark of top coaches," Fletcher said. "Nine consecutive years of making the playoffs, that's where you want to be. I'm a big believer in trying to be competitive every year. Maybe not every year you're perfectly positioned to contend for a Cup, but if you get in year after year after year, you're going to give yourself some shots."
In 2019-20, Vigneault will get his first shot at cleaning up the inconsistent Flyers.
Oftentimes, teams aren't as lost as they look. Trotz and the Islanders are case in point.
"People talk about playing good defense and that's the forecheck or the D-zone coverage," Vigneault said. "Yeah, it is, it's because you don't have the puck, but you've got to know what to do with the puck, and when you do know what to do with the puck, then a lot of times you're not defending as much.
"The job that Barry did in Long Island is an incredible job. An experienced coach that went in there with a definite mindset on what he felt needed to be done. Got to give him full credit and full marks for what he did. I believe that I know what it takes for a team to have success on a consistent basis and that's what I intend to do here with the Flyers."
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