After another disappointing season where injuries piled up and playoff dreams were crushed early, there may still be a light at the end of the tunnel for the New York Islanders. Since the end of the regular season, there has been news aplenty on Long Island, and much of it being good news. Here’s the run down of recent developments:
* Announcement of a new arena plan that will include a $400 million home for the New York Islanders, and a minor league baseball park. The Isles asks Nassau County residents to vote YES on August 1, 2011.
* Former Islanders Captain Doug Weight retires, and Isles GM Garth Snow announces Weight will fill two new positions; assistant coach and special assistant to the general manager.
* Islanders re-sign wingers Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner to 5-year contracts.
* Islanders sign prospect Casey Cizikas, a fourth round draft pick in 2009 that has exceeded expectations as captain of Mississauga (OHL).
Islanders fans should expect the good news to continue. Despite the financial hardship of Nassau County, the new arena deal will likely be approved on August 1, especially if voters believe in the promises made by Islanders owner Charles Wang and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano – that in the end, the publicly funded arena won’t cost tax payers a dime. Before the summer is out, the long-term fate of the franchise will become clear.
As far as the on-ice product in concerned, things are getting interesting. The “Interim” title has been removed from Head Coach Jack Capuano’s name tag. John Tavares is developing into a franchise player. Garth Snow has shown commitment to his plan by locking up his young core players; Okposo, Grabner, and Moulson. Former All-Star defenseman, Mark Streit, will be returning to the roster for the 2011-12 season. Winger Blake Comeau has taken the next step in his development, after having his most productive season to date with 24 goals and 46 points in 77 games. Plus, the Isles expect veteran defensemen Mike Mottau, Mark Eaton, and Milan Jurcina to return from their injuries in time for training camp.
But, as with any professional team that finishes 27th overall in a 30-team league, question marks remain:
* Will center Josh Bailey take the next step in his development next season?
* Who will step up and become the next Islanders captain? Will that man be right for the job?
* Will Al Montoya be ready for training camp after tearing his meniscus (left knee) at the 2011 World Championships? Note: It’s been reported surgery was successful.
* Will Rick DiPietro prove that he can consistently stay off injured reserve?
* Will free agents come to Long Island after learning a new arena deal may be in place? Does that really matter?
Even if Garth Snow is unable to answer these questions for certain, one thing is becoming evident - his plan seems to be working. Snow has been building through the draft since taking the general manager’s seat. Most teams don’t have the financial means or desirability (to free agents) to become “top dog”. And many Isles fans have been kicking and screaming that money hasn’t been spent to improve the on-ice product. Maybe it’s because the Islanders’ ownership has been losing millions for over a decade. Or maybe it’s because free agents don’t prefer the Islanders to other, more ‘successful’ franchises. Or maybe it could be that ownership doesn’t want to spend until an arena deal is guaranteed. All of these theories may have merit, but should fans think again?
Have a look at a team like the Chicago Blackhawks – they had to blow up their young core after winning the Stanley Cup because they were in a salary cap nightmare. They had the money to spend on Marian Hossa and other free agents to push them over the top, and it worked. But it was all for one cup, and one chance at glory. It may be worth it, depending upon who you talk to.
The point is this, Garth Snow has shown that he has the capability to effectively manage the salary cap - to his credit. If a young, high draft pick like John Tavares or Kyle Okposo need to be re-signed, the cap space is there to do so. If a player wants to get paid to be on this team long term, they have to prove themselves on the ice before the peanuts are handed out. It seems like the days of handing out 15-year contracts is over. The “DiPietro lesson” seems to have be learned. If the New York Islanders start making the playoffs year after year by filling their team with quality talent through the draft, that top-tier free agent acquisition will eventually come. Are they at this point yet? Absolutely not. But they have certainly put themselves in position to have that chance. If Nassau County residents vote yes on August 1, the chance at having a consistently competitive team becomes greater.
Feel free to comment, criticize, agree, or disagree. Thanks for reading.
Follow Adam on Twitter: @AMalmut
About the Author: Adam is a published journalist and NHL hockey blogger. If you have concerns or questions about any stories, e-mail: AMalmut@Gmail.com Follow me on Twitter: @AMalmut