It's been a few days now since the season has ended for our beloved franchise, and once again we are sitting on the outskirts of the playoffs looking in, watching other teams compete. All we had was the draft lottery to look forward too, and the hype faded for me almost immediately. Something about seeing Mike Milbury at a panel near the table that would possibly hold the answers to our prayers involving a young prospect just did not settle right for me. But hey, fifth overall still is not a bad pick, especially if you read my blog about all the top talent in this draft pool.
Not being in the playoffs does stink worse than when the pipes in the Islanders locker rooms exploded during one off-season I'm sure the janitors will never forget. We can spend hours sitting here pointing fingers and trying to come up with solutions as to what to do next year. Everyone has their own theory. Some are simple and basic, some are radical, while others are completely out of left-field.
But I can't speak for everyone and won't; I shall only speak for myself. We all have to remind ourselves that Garth Snow is a rookie. He is only in his second year as a General Manager. When we look back at when he started last season, almost all of the players that were brought to wear an Isles jersey were signed due to the very brief Neil Smith era. All of those players, whether fans want to agree or not, were prime reasons why we made the playoffs. Sure, we only finished as an 8th place team and there is no way that I'm saying that is satisfactory, but when compared to this season it looks like a Hollywood success story. Before I continue to sound like I'm blaming Garth Snow, let's look at the years those players had on other teams.
Jason Blake. Snow's hesitance to re-sign him to the contract he wanted, on paper, proves to have been the right move. Same goes for Tom Poti and Viktor Kozlov, although many can argue they did something right this season as the Washington Capitals managed to work their way into home-ice advantage in the playoffs, capturing the same magic down the stretch the Isles had last year, but only better. Arron Asham wasn't much of a loss, although his grit and willingness to drop the gloves has been missed this year. Many said Sim would have made us forget all about Arron Asham, but that will wait to be seen until next year.
Unfortunately, our season may have been much different if Ryan Smyth had stayed. Other players in free agency may have been more willing to put their pens to the paper if someone like Smyth was our captain. But when dreams aren't transformed into reality it can sometimes call for a panic, and that's exactly what the organization did. We all know that NO ONE wanted to come here last summer. It was devastating. But then we had some mild, good news shed on us with the acquistions of Ruslan Fedotenko, Mike Comrie, and Bill Guerin.
Were these the best signings? Of course not. But at that time we would take anything we could get, and that's exactly what Snow did. Is it his fault that other all-stars did not want to come here? No. But he shares that responsibility with Snow and Wang to make this team attractable to others in the future, with the future being this off-season. Snow seems to have recognized that this is only possible from building from within, something many Islander fans have wanted for a long time. Nolan, at times, did not seem as quick to sit the vets and let the kids jump right in, and here is where I'll re-address that Garth Snow is a rookie.
We all know that Ted Nolan coached the Buffalo Sabres in the late 90's. The team was filled with mostly gritty young grinders and only one all-star in Dominek Hasek and he was able to make that perform superbly in the playoffs. The key word in that sentence is 'young.' Since he couldn't find a job in the NHL he went on to coach the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL, leading them to the Memorial Cup in a losing effort to the Quebec Remparts in 2006. Once again he would lead another young team to success. Nolan has been criticized throughout the year for leaning towards playing the veterans more than the youngsters. I've noticed it myself, and it very well could have been because he wasn't used to such a veteran presence in his career. Personally, I think it was the lack of direction set by the team. They were dedicated to immediately build a winner and signed aging veterans two years in a row. The first year they had a decent mix and were able to squeeze into the playoffs. This year they lacked talent and heart in many games and it failed. Nolan tried to work with the best he was given. And because of Nolan, and the strong play of DP when he was healthy, this team was in playoff contention at the all-star break. Unfortunately when DP started to slide, so did the rest of the team.
Therefore I do not fault Nolan, as he knows how to raise the young guys to their expectations and has found success more than once in his career when coaching a young team. The man knows what he's doing. Snow may be eager for a youth movement, but Snow should recognize Nolan's experience in this situation and let him guide the process along side of him.
Therefore I do not fault either Nolan or Snow. They both were unable to get the team they were looking for this off-season and many of us knew what we were getting as we headed into this. Instead of pointing fingers this team needs to set a game plan and stick with it. We went with vets for two years and now Snow wants to try a youth movement. But let's talk about this so-called youth movement, shall we?
Bergenheim is a lock for next year, as is Comeau. Many will debate on Okposo, but since I read an article in Newsday not too long ago saying that Okposo has already been approached to discuss marketing him as an Islander next season, I'd say he's pretty much locked in too. Tambellini? Very, very hard to say. I was one of the Tambellini supporters that wanted him to get more playing time, but when he finally got it he was almost invisible out there. I have a feeling it will be discussed as to where Tamby fits in on this team, if he does at all. Although there was plenty of strong play found in Colliton, Spiller, Regier, and Walter's games, I don't expect to see any of them up with the big club next year.
Then there's the 5th overall pick in this draft. Other than Stamkos, whoever we draft could probably use a little Bridgeport seasoning before they're sent to light up the NHL, especially if it's a defenseman.
So basically we're locked in with Bergenheim, Comeau, and Okposo. Campoli will be back next year as well, with Meyer under contract too. Gervais seems to have a few question marks about him as it still remains to be seen if he can elevate his game. So if you ask me, this isn't much of a youth movement. They're going to incorporate three young guys, one of which who all ready had a full-time role this year, with the young d-men all ready have played plenty.
However that might be enough of a youth movement for me. These young guys need a solid veteran presence to play with them, to show them the ropes and help them adjust as key role players on this team. If one impressive first line forward can come to this team, whether it's a trade or an off-season signing, this team would be much better.
I've always felt the key ingredients to a successful hockey team would follow this equation:
One All-Star Forward + Handful of Youthful Enthusiasm + Veteran Leadership + Strong Goaltending = Competitive/Success.
Will we necessarily be a cup contender? Not right away...but it would be the step in the right direction. Snow and Nolan, although not seeing perfectly eye to eye, seem to be on the same track. Teddy has come out and said that with the kids he hopes for a few vets to be here as well. If Snow agrees 100 % remains to be seen, but I sure hope so. This team seems to be molding a new plan to work with, and if it's all about sticking to a plan, then this is the plan to follow.