Every Isles fan and hockey fan by now has to have come to a complete understanding in regards to this dismal year for the blue and orange. This season was designed to ignite a maturation process for all the young, inexperienced players; to learn from mistakes, to understand the game, yada yada yada. But in a youth movement, there are supposed to be signs of progress. Each year should be a little better than the last; a sign that the movement is heading in the right direction of becoming a playoff contender, and I don't know if I see that happening.
Scott Gordon has announced to the media and his players that the remaining half of the season will provide the younger players an opportunity to step up and take hold of the roster spots that are laid out before them. In my opinion, I think it will be a long 40 games. Players such as Comeau and Okposo went on a recent point scoring stretch which has died down slightly over the past few games. But can anyone on this team expect otherwise? Players such as Bergenheim, Gervais, and Tambellini are having a hard time finding a niche on this roster. They may play every game and get decent minutes, but they have yet to take the next step.
I am not criticizing these players or suggesting that they can't hack it at the NHL level. This season hasn't been a total waste or lost cause. On several occasions these players have dished out flashy moves or scored important goals...a comfort level seems to be increasing for them, but it's not complete.
So what's missing?
That one player that this team can revolve around. Doug Weight and Bill Guerin are excellent leaders on and off the ice, but they don't provide that scoring punch this team needs. Technically no one does, and although Gordon is expecting the younger guys to elevate their playing level, I don't expect Okposo, Comeau, or Bailey to suddenly go on a scoring tear. Many will say that Tavares may be that player if he's drafted by the Isles. First overall is looking more and more like a guarantee. The Isles are very capable of shocking us and trading down that pick or selecting someone else that they had wanted along...I sure as hell hope neither of these scenarios take place, but what I am saying is that fans should not get their hopes up that Tavares is definitely joining us next year. Keep in mind that the Blackhawks got Patrick Kane because of the draft lottery. They went from 5th to 1st. Anything can happen.
Even if the Isles draft Tavares, his development can take some time. He's not going to be Sidney Crosby and light up the NHL in his first year. He may do very well and put up more points than any of the other recently drafted players that we have, but there really is no telling. Take a look at Stamkos for instance. All things take time.
So then what do the Isles do?
The next logical option would be to make one or two big free-agent signings...but put yourself in a UFA's shoes. You are ready to cash in big, preferably with a winning team. The Isles have money to spend, but would you want to sign with a team that may be moving in the next three years? Wang says that he has no intent of moving this team, but it's impossible for anyone to ignore the scary possibility that surrounds the Islanders future. It seems that it is almost inevitable for Wang to keep this team if the Lighthouse Project doesn't pass. There are lot of question marks floating around Islander Limbo, and that may be enough to scare away any potential stars from signing with the Isles, which brings me to my point.
This terrible season may repeat next year. The Isles may not have a choice but to re-sign Doug Weight and Bill Guerin this off-season. That's not a bad thing, but it's not an improvement. Unless the young guys can really start scoring goals next year, we're going to be in for the same exact season, and that may to be much to ask of fans that are waiting and hoping for their team to be successful while they are still on Long Island. I'm not saying the Isles have to make the playoffs next year, but avoiding seven-game losing streaks would be nice, or to actually win a handful of games in a row as opposed to two or three would be a start. Maybe see a player score a hat trick? I can't remember the last time I saw one.
Garth Snow and Charles Wang have a lot of work to do with this organization and this roster if they intend to continue on to that path of rebuilding. If they repeat this season next year, that's not a rebuild. In fact, it will look like the current situation the Isles are in now with the Lighthouse Project.
Hoping for something big and exciting but getting stuck with an old, lackluster void on Long Island.