There are a few reasons this incarnation of the Islanders for the 2007-2008 season failed. It has little to do with buying out Yashin and not going over-the-top to retain Blake. Though, if the Isles had just gone up one more year, he might have been retained. The thought that Blake is over-the-hill and ineffectual now in Toronto is just premature. When TO swept in, evidently negotiating against nobody but commonsense with that contract and years, it made him unpalatable and bad business to an entire league. Which is why the RE-visionaries seem to be outraged by the unsubstantiated reports that Snow refused a trade with TO for Blake for a mere 6th rounder.
Thank god commonsense prevailed, if true. Not matter how some fans might miss the man, his contract is simply horrific. Taking on TO's problems, as I said when the original rumors for McCabe and Blake first hit the web, was just not going to happen. TO will face a summer of hard realities and decisions. And if both are bought out, then you might see them back in the blue and orange. But only then. And let me tell you, the chances of this are pretty slim.
No, the decisions to move on last summer were not the problem. The problems were in those replacements and the creation of a new team culture.
When Neil Smith came on board for those 45 days taster of being Isles GM, he came along with a program that he and Dr. Frank Gardner, their sports psychologist, built back for the Rangers. It was a program that takes to account certain personalities and that it become as important as the stats. Perhaps that became more important than the stats as despite Smith being shown the door, Dr. Frank was retained as team psychologist. Perhaps that system played a role in why the team took a major run at retaining Smyth, trying to add Chris Drury, inquiring about Paul Kariya, and others, while also having Guerin, Zubrus and Comrie in their sites. They had a trade for Ed Jovanovski with the Coyotes which fell apart when he refused to waive his NTC.
The vision was big. The desire to win huge. But with lofty dreams and plans also comes disappointment. It didn't quite pan out the way they had hoped. Smyth went to get a Colorado high. Drury to his boyhood heroes. Only Guerin and Comrie ended up on the team, two smaller pieces to a big vision and high hopes. Had that plan come to fruition, yes it would be a different result likely this season. But so goes lofty plans. You have to be prepared for things to not happen.
I am not sure if they got away from that program when trying to regroup and re-aim for certain players. Or somehow in the lower tier players, the program failed them. From the Isles themselves, they touted that both Snow and Nolan were working together to bring in the right guys. Be patient. All will be ok. Well, then we know where to cast part of the blame. Because that new culture in the end failed. So you can blame the both of them there.
It certainly started strong. We all saw the good play at Moncton and the pre-season. They leaped out the starting gate and right onto the ice at the start of the season. But the flaws beneath showed their face under a guise of a bad schedule. Perhaps their first bad loss in Toronto in October really showing the cracks in the thin veneer of confidence. Last night, the final pieces broke off and left a shattered team on the ice. No more illusion or delusions on who they could be. We now know who they are. Less than last season, no matter the good reasons for the changes. They stepped backwards and the results speak for themselves. The installment of the new breed failed to achieve what they wanted. Some fans even decided to forget the frustrations of the old breed and start pining for those days. Hopefully good sense will seep into that delusion
There is blame to go around. Rick DiPietro emerged as an all-star for half a season, and regressed thereafter. He needs to learn to share the position and mature as an adult. No ironman runs. No eggshell ego at stake. There was glimmers of greatness, but they need to be more frequent and maintained. Last night, we all watched him do his worst as he overplayed the puck, came out of the net, and just was a mess.
The defense, with so many castoff players failed miserably in the end. Witt, Campoli, Martinek and finally, Meyer ended up standing tall when healthy. But none are top tier dmen. And very often that defense was stretched to far and shown to be paper thin.
The offense never had the goals for, and they team paid dearly. The philosophy of them just competing and effort by Ted Nolan failed. When believers, yes they could do it. But it was too much to ask for in the long haul and confidences broke, effort and the mental game got as choppy as the Coliseum ice. And coaching failed to resurrect them long enough to make something of it. Now Nolan sit in year 2 of a 3 year deal with a team that stepped backwards rather than forwards. Year 3 will be make or break for him.
The addition of Gary Gallant with his run powerplay succeeded when the team believed in itself early on. But disappointed ever after. He failed to find he right schemes to equalize that myriad of issues. A mediocre team needed a better system. Gallant seemed unable to find the right recipe or schemes. His failure resulted in a powerplay that was no longer believed in by the players and has lead to the most shorthanded goals against in the league.
The biggest mistake might have been hubris. That point of pride in not rebuilding and trying to make the playoffs at all cost. This we can cast upon the brass, including Charles Wang who had the audacity, or perhaps the silliest delusion still enmeshed when he told Mike and the Mad Dog that he felt this team could compete for a cup. What cup? A Big Gulp? Meanwhile, during that interview, we were stuck listening to two hockey cretins who Wang and his Hockey for Dummies are Einstein to their Dumb and Dumber. Wang at least wants success. You have to give him at least that.
Perhaps that desire for the playoffs so strong, they could not recognize what they really had. And at the trade deadline, due to this chimera, they failed to act. By not dealing those impending UFAs for draftpicks or prospects, the cost is that mediocrity remains. Not many logical-minded people thought, at the trade deadline, that this team was built to compete for a spot as other teams also vying for that perch made even more sweeping moves. Yet, they stood pat, adding only Davison and two draft picks. A 3rd and 6th. And they removed Simon and MAB. Not enough. And whatever they did have close with another team fell apart. My take is that it was with Calgary, and when they failed to secure a longer term deal with that player, it fell apart.
Yes, there are good things to take away from this season too. But that is for another day. Last night, the Isles hit rock bottom. Playoff notions are irrevocably broken, left upon that Tampa ice. Maybe they needed to see themselves, as we've seen them. Maybe they needed this hard hammer of reality to show everyone, from player to GM to coach, of who exactly they are. Only then can they pick up the pieces. We just watched them slide across the ice.