Summer Snow Days: “The Plan” coming to fruition?

Islanders GM Garth Snow and Islanders center John Tavares

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:

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* 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).

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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.

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Feel free to comment, criticize, agree, or disagree. Thanks for reading.

Follow Adam on Twitter: @AMalmut

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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

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  1. Al Cimaglia says:

    …But it was all for one cup, and one chance at glory. It may be worth it, depending upon who you talk to….

    It was worth it…There really isn’t any other way to look at.

    But if the Hawks failed last year… Pretty much all the same players would be gone today. That would have really hurt.

    As far as salary cap problems go…

    If you get lucky and land a couple of low round draft picks…Plus other draft choices who all get really good at the same time…Cap trouble will likely follow.

    • HyeDray says:

      There is a certain truth to the cap becoming an issue. 5 years from now KO, grabs and Tavares could all be in the 7-8 mil range, along with Hamonic, Neilson and De Haan all in the 4-5 range, and Poulin, if he pans out….he could be in the 4-5 range as well…That is $37 mil on 7 players and the rest of the roster still needs to be considered….

      It will be interesting to see where it all goes, but Snow is building something here and I think he is doing a nice job overall. The pieces are coming together nicely.

      • Adam Malmut says:

        Nielsen is a hard worker and skilled player, but no way do I see him ever reaching the productivity to garner a $5 million salary.

        Look at it this way, if all of the players you’ve mentioned play themselves into deserving those salaries – that’s a good problem to have!

        • HyeDray says:

          It depends with Neilsen. The reason I am projecting that he “MIGHT” be in that range is if the chemistry with Okposo and Grabner continues, the man could end up with 12-15 goals — which is not that big of a deal but he could also add 50 assists. A second line center at 65 points today is likely a $3.5 mil player — but look forward to 5 years — it could be up to $4-5 mil…

          The thing that I always wonder — how many players look around after they win (like with the Hawks) and say, I just won the cup, and if I stay here, it is my best chance to win again…can we do something with my salary where we all get what we want? I know we all want to be paid for our work as much as we can get, but I would take a little less to stay where I just won for a chance to win again!

    • Adam Malmut says:

      A championship is worth alot of other “headaches”, Al, no doubt. But teams have to be able to sustain themselves for the long haul. That was really my point. I wasn’t trying to minimize the value of winning a Stanley Cup to any franchise, let alone an original six team.

      I’d hold onto an Islanders Stanley Cup victory my entire life, trust me. But sustainability is very important for a team to continue to be competitive and generate consistent cash flow. The Devils and Red Wings seem to have figured it out.

      • Al Cimaglia says:

        I agree Adam…Believe me there was some overspending here and there were reasons for it.

        The reality is when you have two low draft picks and they turn into 6 million players within a few year and a couple of big UFA signings plus another young group which has to all get paid within the course of a few years…Cap space in going to be an issue.

        Sometimes a team can sequence contracts and sometimes the time frame from non playoffs to Cup contender, in this case Cup Champion is very quick.