The heavily-anticipated trade deadline is less than two-full months away, and it seems as if the Isles veterans can sense that their terms with the Islanders may be coming to a close. We all know that this year is the start of a long growing process for the younger players that are supposed to be the future of the franchise. The veterans that were brought over the last two years were assigned with the objective to guide this young team; to serve as mentors. With the season halfway completed, it may be time for some of these veterans to move on.
This team is not ready to compete without players like Doug Weight or Bill Guerin. They are still greatly needed. Without Weight's 32 points or Guerin's 30, this team would have been drooling over Tavares as a sure thing rather than a possibility about 20 games ago. Mike Comrie has overcome a hip injury that complicated his play and is finally contributing to the production of Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau, two fan favorites that have been racking up points consistently over the past 10 games.
With the Isles almost guaranteed a top-five pick in this draft, (currently the leading candidate for Tavares) a sense of urgency has spread across most Isles fans with the hopes of trading away players such as Guerin, Weight, and Comrie in order to gain maybe another 1st round pick or even 2nd and 3rd round picks.
In a recent article in Newsday, Gordon explained that his over-speed system will thrive with the commitment of his younger players. Their ability to step up over the next 40 games and take over the roles of players such as Weight, Guerin, and Comrie will determine how successful the first year of the youth movement has been. Back at the beginning of the season, Weight and Guerin seemed to have a full understanding of this situation. Both stated that they were excited to play another year of hockey and that they believed they could contribute consistently, but they also told the younger players to take their jobs. They understood their role. They were here to lead, develop, and allow the youth movement to overtake the roster. But that was 40 games ago...the reality is now and this seems to have players such as Weight, Witt, and so on in a bit of a nervous scenario.
Witt has gone on to question Gordon's methods...explaining that his system hurts the defense causing several turn-overs and an inability to get back in time to prevent odd-man rushes. Since then the defense has improved their play, but Witt doesn't seem to be the same player. He doesn't make many mistakes or play poorly, but he isn't as noticeable. He doesn't throw the hits or jabs that he used to. This could be a sign of a player that is frustrated with losing. He left Washington once they went into a rebuilding phase to sign with the Isles and Ted Nolan, a team expected to win. Things have changed and Witt may not be interested in playing a system that wasn't made for him to have his spot eventually taken by a younger, faster defenseman.
Doug Weight, one of the players that insisted on his job being taken by a younger forward, wants to remain an Islander and as the team's top line center. When he was asked by Greg Logan of Newsday about returning next year in a smaller role, he responded that "[he] wouldn't feel good about it," and that "[he] didn't sign for one year for a five-month role." As much as I respect Doug Weight and admire his ability to prove to himself and the rest of the league that he is still a first-line center after a horrible 2007-08 year, it is a tad bit funny how the "take my job" motto has been forgotten. Weight is rumored to have attracted a lot of interest around the league. This 2-4 week injury will certainly hurt his trade value, but he still may be able to attract another first round pick from a young team like Chicago or Columbus that is pushing for a playoff berth.
The same can be said for Bill Guerin, but he has a no-trade clause and would have to be willing to waive it. I'm sure he would as it is rare to see a player insist on staying where he isn't wanted. Guerin has stated that he plans on playing next year and would want to remain with the Isles like his buddy Weight. Most fans would welcome back the duo with open arms. Although they aren't the superstars this team needs, they have done a great job with the likes of Bailey, Nielsen, Bergenheim, etc.
Mike Comrie has been up and down the roster sheet throughout the season. He's gone from the second line, to the fourth line, to now our most effective line between Okposo and Comeau. This recent upsurge in production may garnish him a contract extension...or it may get him a one-way ticket to a playoff team that is impressed with his services.
I don't want this team to trade away every valuable veteran...but these four players would most likely bring the most return which should be draft picks, prospects, and rising young skaters.
These next two months will be very interesting, and these players' futures will be determined by the ability, or inability, of the youth movement's core to elevate their games to the next level.