The New York Islanders have largely been an absolute torture to follow for a majority of the last twenty-five years. 1993, 2002, and 2013 being the exceptions. Since July 2006, Garth Snow, the retiring backup goalie, who swooped in on Neil Smith and plucked his GM job from him, after just over a one month tenure, has been engaged in a team rebuild through the draft. Because the Islanders have had less than stellar records, this usually results in pretty high selections in the NHL Draft. Charles Wang has also cash strapped Snow by requiring him to stay around the “SALARY FLOOR”.
Among the more creative ways of accomplishing this, by having long retired player Alexei Yashin’s and recently acquired non-playing goalie Tim Thomas’ contracts counting towards the floor without either of these gentlemen playing for the team. I guess some would refer to that as ”creative accounting”. Others may refer to that as circumventing the salary floor. We could get into the laundry list of issues with the New York Islanders such as the Rick Dipietro selection and fifteen year contract. Countless bad draft picks. Seemingly never ending incompetence and negligence in an effort to maintain bargain basement policies.
I don’t have a problem with building through the draft. A championship team is properly built that way. But once a team’s cupboard is as overflowing with young talent through a seven year effort (yes I said seven years), there has to come a time when a team needs to add those last few pieces to the championship puzzle. When a team such as the Islanders have as many prospects as they do, they can afford to give a few of those up and draft picks for established players. All of these great prospects will not be able to play for the team. There is a roster limit.
Let’s take a look at the moves the Islanders have made. Plus some moves they maybe should have made but didn’t. First on that list is trading away Mark Streit to Philadelphia for the since released Shane Harper(not shedding a tear about that one) and a 2014 4th round draft pick. I’m actually okay with this deal. Streit was going to become an unrestricted free agent. He got a four year $21 million contract from the Flyers. He has been a good player for this team and wore the “C” with pride and class. But he was 35 years old and seemed to be losing a step. I wouldn’t have been upset to see him here for a couple more years but four more seems to be a little too long. Plus for that much money, where he is at this stage in his career, I don’t think so. There are plenty of guys that will be up in that time period to play defense for this team. We got a 4th round pick for somebody we were going to lose anyway. I’ll take it.
Now let’s address the “Nino Situation”. This is a little more in depth a predicament than simply trading your 2010 fifth overall pick for gritty forward Cal Clutterbuck. The fact Garth drafted him where he did has always been a problem for me. Where he was ranked and if you look back on that draft some of the other guys Garth didn’t choose, to select Nino Niederreiter, will always have me shaking my head. Shall I list some of these names? Jeff Skinner, Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brett Connolly, Brendan Gallagher, and Alexander Burmistrov. That’s right now. Give it a few more years and we’ll take a look back again. Ugh. A word used after many an Islander draft.
I don’t have a problem with Cal Clutterbuck as a player. He’s a hard checking, aggresive, high energy guy the Islanders need. He was also John Tavares’ teammate in juniors. He’s only 25, so age isn’t an issue. He can also get you some points. He has some skill. So you may ask what’s the problem? The problem is that the team could have gotten Clutterbuck in another deal, that didn’t involve Nino Niederreiter. Nino and our first round pick is what LA King GM Dean Lombardi wanted for future NHL elite goaltender, Jonathan Bernier. Are you kidding me?! You don’t give up a guy you want to trade and your 1st round pick for a guy that would fit right into exactly what you are doing in this rebuild, for the next decade? Snow may be king of the dumpster divers, but his other GM functions have been sketchy at best. If you regularly read my blog I was ready to trade Nino, a defensive prospect, and their choice of Poulin, Nilsson, or Koskinen. Maybe even throw in the pick if they had to, but getting a 2nd rounder in return. Nino and the 15th overall pick could have brought in Bernier and you don’t pull the trigger on that? Then you trade that same guy for Cal Clutterbuck?! Sickening.
I wanted to re-sign Evgeni Nabokov to a two year contract as a super backup for Jonathan Bernier. That ship has sailed with Bernier in Toronto. I am not comfortable with Kevin Poulin as the backup. There is a reason they gave him a two way contract that allows the team to move him up and down with Bridgeport. I’d prefer a tandem with Nabokov and maybe looking into a trade for Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis. Try a 45-37 split with Halak and Nabokov. Garth should be inquiring on his availability and the price for his services.
The Travis Hamonic, 7-year, $27 million deal, is a wise investment and locks in a big part of this defense for a long time. It’s time to bring back restricted free agents Josh Bailey, Thomas Hickey, the recently traded for Cal Clutterbuck, and the recently KHL bound David Ullstrom. Obviously not to the size of the Hamonic deal, but all fair in years and compensation to each of their unique and valauable talents.
This leaves us with the 2013 NHL Draft. I’ll admit when they first made the pick of Ryan Pulock I was upset they did not select Nikita Zadorov. I have learned more about Pulock, and his 100mph slap shot, and I felt much better about him coming to the team. The rest of the draft like for so many other teams, lots of question marks. A couple of goalies, an undersized offensive superstar, and the rest. We’ll see what happens.
Here we are post draft and free agent signing day and the Islanders are better in some ways, but may have not addressed enough needs to compete in the new NHL. Remember, realignment has the Islanders in a new eight team division with the Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Capitals, Penguins, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets. A very much improved Blue Jackets team. You also include Detroit in the Eastern Conference, the new playoff format, and a full 82 game season, I’m not sure if the Islanders make it back to back playoff appearances. The simple truth is this team will continue their frugal salary floor ways until they move to Brooklyn. Hopefully with an arena change there will be an ownership change in the form of Mikhail Prokhorov. Then maybe, just maybe, these next twenty-five years will not be an era of torture but one of redemption.