Clean out day came too early for the New York Islanders this season.
Despite a six-game winning streak to end the year, the Islanders missed the playoffs by one point. While the second-half surge that saw the Islanders rally from last in the Eastern Conference to briefly hold a playoff spot in late March, disappointment was the word of the day.
"Overall as a team it's disappointing not making playoffs," John Tavares said. "It's a great group in there. They fought right until the end and gave everything they've got to win the last six to give ourselves the best chance possible. Everyone always believed and had the commitment in that locker room. It's just disappointing with the start we had."
The Islanders started the season 6-10-4, but a group of five games stood out as the difference this season, games where the Islanders were tied or had a late lead, but wound up losing.
"We weren't losing games 5-2, we were winning games until 30 seconds left and then losing points what seemed like every night for a stretch there," Cal Clutterbuck said. "The margin for error is pretty small, a point out today is a tough one, you could look back to any one of those games in October."
Video: Isles Clean Out Day: Josh Bailey
"Obviously our start seemed to hurt us this year," said Josh Bailey, who had a career-high 56 points (13G, 43A) this season. "It's tough to battle back from being in that type of a deficit early. Certainly that's going to be a focus going into next year."
The Islanders went 35-19-8 in their final 62 games and 24-12-4 in the final 40 games under Doug Weight. They earned 52 points in the second half, the second-most points of any team in the NHL, which fuels the belief that there's a successful, playoff-caliber team in the room.
"Certainly not making the playoffs is a step back and we wanted to keep moving forward. I still think we have the team in place to do it," Bailey said. "Obviously we want to do everything we can to get back there next year."
The Islanders said the path forward was taking the empty feeling and turning it into motivation for next season. They'll take a break to get healthy, but after that, it's back to work with sights set on September's training camp.
"That's got to be very motivating," Tavares said. "Especially for a lot of us who have played in the playoffs. Knowing what that atmosphere is like and how special playoff hockey is. There's really nothing like it and not to have it this year, it really sucks."
"Hopefully we can reflect this offseason and get prepared and be as hungry as ever to get to where we want to be."