The “Kids” Are Not Kids Anymore

It’s October 2, 2012. Today, Islanders fans were expecting to treat themselves to their first trip to the Barclays Center. The Islanders would face-off against the Devils for the first hockey game in Brooklyn for some pre-season action. I was looking forward to that, but what are you going to do when your favorite league decides to go on strike.

Yes, all hockey fans are suffering right now. The Islanders should be starting the 2012-13 Season in less than two weeks, but it seems as if the fans are not in the hockey gods plans right now. The fall is going to be very quiet, with a tiny bit of hope that the NHL Lockout will end by Thanksgiving. Come on, NHL. Get it together.

As an Islanders fan, I was particularly intrigued by this upcoming season. The Islanders were coming off their best season in the John Tavares era (even if it may not have felt like it at times), and I have to say, I had my expectations going forward. I also understand that many others have little-to-no expectations.

There’s frustration from the fan-base that the Islanders, a team that has not made the playoffs since the 2006-07 season, has not done much to improve this team. There’s the notion that Charles Wang is running this team to the ground, and that the Islanders are getting by without surrounding their “kids” with a veteran presence. What I want to say is that the New York Islanders, and us, the fans, have to move away from the notion that the guys on this team aren’t good enough anymore. We have to move away from the notion that Charles Wang and Garth Snow aren’t giving their players a chance to succeed anymore, and that they are not doing enough to help our young players out.

Here’s the thing: it’s not 2007 anymore. The Islanders have been rebuilding, whether fans want to believe it or not. The Islanders are also in the next phase of the rebuild, whether fans want to believe it or not, so the notion that the Islanders need more of a veteran presence to win? Sorry. Remember those kids? They’re not kids anymore. They are NHL veterans, and it’s time that we all start acknowledging it.

It’s one thing to tell me that the guys on this team are no good. Look, the Islanders haven’t performed, plain and simple. We’ve been on the basement for several years now, and it is frustrating. Again, though. We have been rebuilding.

If you’re going to tell me it’s because they haven’t had their fair share of veterans, though, thats just plain ignorant. Let’s start during the 2007-08 season. That team was loaded with veterans. Miroslav Satan, Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedotenko…the list goes on. The only kids we really had on that team were Blake Comeau, and a 23-year old Frans Nielsen. This team of veterans put together a 79-point season, which was good for 79 points, our current total.

You could say that was the point where the Islanders began “rebuilding,” but even then, the Islanders team was predominantly veterans. Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey played their first full seasons, and Andrew MacDonald saw 2 games of NHL action. To all the detractors, the Islanders also went out to sign some veteran-help, as they brought in Doug Weight, who had 38 points in 53 games, and Mark Streit, who led this team in points. The Islanders still came in last place, as they suffered from injuries and a goalie-go-round.

Nonetheless, year two of the rebuild featured the newly-drafted John Tavares. Still raw, Tavares proved to have potential, as he potted 24 goals and 30 assists in his first pro-season. As a matter of fact, he led the team in points. Kyle Okposo finished the year with 52 points, while youngsters Frans, Bails, and Comeau scored at least 30 points each. Matt Moulson also surprised Islanders fans, as he tallied 30 goals. Doug Weight was hurt all season, Jon Sim scored 13 goals in his first, and Sean Bergenheim did not live up to the promise he showed during the prior season. The Islanders, a raw team with veteran help, struggled, and received the 5th-overall pick, yet an improvement over the previous year.

On to year three, the Islanders were now looking at KO, FN and JB’s third season, Tavares’ 2nd-season, and the arrival of Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin, and waiver-claim Michael Grabner. Heck, the Islanders even made a trade to better the defense, bringing in James Wisniewski to the blue-line. Unfortunately, Mark Streit was lost for the year, Kyle Okposo was lost for half the year, and the Islanders saw six goalies in net. Granted, no one was complaining when the Islanders surged the second-half of the year. Islanders fans looked forward to the next season, probably more so in the last 5 years, in spite of the fact that there was very little veteran presence. No one was complainong about Grabner, who scored 34 goals, or Moulson who reached 30 for the second-year in a row. Tavares had a 13-point improvement. Sure, people were complaining about PAP despite his 53-point season, but whatever, he’s gone now. The kids were exciting, and that’s my point.

No one thought the Islanders were going to tank as hard as they did last season. Marty Reasoner was brought in, and everyone saw him as an improvement over Konopka, even though we may have loved Zeke. None of us thought he would be awful like he was. Mark Streit was coming back, which was a huge plus. The Islanders had Al Montoya, yet he showed why he’s a back-up goalie at best, rather than the steal we thought him to be. Islanders fans were excited for Brian Rolston, yet he showed up out of shape. Everyone loved Cappy for his laid-back style, yet he’s the worst thing about this team. Blake Comeau was expected to be a 20-goal scorer and we WAIVED HIM!

And in spite of all of this, the Islanders still had their best season since the 2007-08 Season. They did it without the “veterans,” too, or did they? Matt Moulson scored 30 goals for the third year in a row. He’s also 28 with 275 games under his belt. I wouldn’t call him a kid. Frans Nielsen is 28 with 319 career games, and coming off a career-best 47-point season. I’d say he’s a veteran. Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey are going into their 5th seasons, and John Tavares, who was top-10 in NHL scoring, is going into his 4th season. And we’re still going to call these guys kids?! I mean, the Islanders also added Lubomir Visnovsky, Matt Carkner, and Brad Boyes, but we’re still going to refer to this team as a team full of youngsters?

These guys are NHL veterans. Here’s the trick, now. It’s about developing Ryan Strome, Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson, Casey Cizikas, David Ullstrom, and the others. It’s not about leaving the responsibility on these younger kids, and throwing them out there without veteran help. The guys we have now ARE the veteran help, and the “kids” are the guys in our system right now.

You are not going to sell me on the “fact” that Snow and Wang are not doing anything to bring in veteran help. You’re not going to sell me on the fact that the Islanders would be better off with a few older guys that “can play,” just like the 2005-06 Penguins did when they brought in Palffy, Recchi, and LeClair, only to have a 58-point season! The Islanders HAD guys that “could play,” like Doug Weight and Bill Guerin, yet the Islanders had their worst season in years!

The players we have now are the players Snow and Wang have to figure out because these are not youngsters anymore. They should be able to take leadership of this team, and compete with opposing teams, while making the “kids” around them better hockey players. If Josh Bailey, for example, cannot do that, than it is HE who is expendable, and not the likes of Brock Nelson or Kirill Kabanov, who are waiting in the wings.

I understand the frustration, but you cannot blame Snow and Wang for their refusal to add new veteran faces. The guys they drafted to initiate the rebuild are now the veterans the Islanders have. No more Steve Staios’ or Brian Rolstons. No more older guys on the last days of their careers. The Islanders have their veterans, so stop worrying about that. They already locked up several of their guys for the long-term. Now, it’s about keeping the good guys (John Tavares, Matt Martin, Frans Nielsen), weeding out the bad guys, and implementing the new guys.

It took six years for the Kings to rebuild and make it to the playoffs, and it took them nine years to win the Stanley Cup. Going into year five of the rebuild, the standings show that the Islanders are on the upswing. The team has its best mix of veterans and kids in years going into a season where we actually improved in many areas, including power play, penalty-kill, and our overall-points. It’s up to the players on the ice now, and not the guys in the press box anymore. Hopefully, the NHL can get going, so the Islanders can show us that they mean it this year.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment!

Follow @ChrisTriants

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About the Author: Writes at Islanders Op-Timism. Islanders Season Ticket Holder who tends to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hofstra Graduate currently working at Portnoy, Messinger, Pearl & Associates. I definitely want to end up working within the world of hockey. Blog: E-Mail: Twitter: @ChrisTriants

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  1. Brooklyn Paul says:

    Great article. Excellent points all around

  2. KO21 says:

    I have some issues with your piece here. The Isles have to prove themselves before we acknowledge them as “coming around”. Isles fans aren’t convinced because they haven’t done anything to convince us yet. You’re asking Isles fans to go by faith alone and to just give the guys the benefit of the doubt. Do realize who your audience is? The fact of the matter is most teams aren’t rebuilt with 99.9% draftees. You need a mix of both. Its like the blind leading the blind, otherwise. You need guys that know what its like to play in the playoffs. You need guys that are battle tested and who have been through the ups and downs and not just the downs. When a team faces adversity you need go to guys that know how to deal with it.

    I’m also finding it pretty ridiculous that some Isles fans are acting as if Lubomir Visnovsky, Matt Carkner, and Brad Boyes, are the 2nd comings of Potvin, Gillies, and Trottier…These guys are not that good. They are not game changers. Lubo is past his prime and he doesn’t even want to be here. Don’t tell me different. I’m not an ostrich, I’m an Isles fan, and my head is not in the sand. Carkner is a big stay at home defenseman. All teams have a couple of them, big deal. Boyes is coming off his worst season ever and the one before that sucked as well. You know what the most significant move the magnificent duo of WangSnow made this off season?? I will tell you. Allowing Paps to get away for FREE was the most significant move they made. Great move!!! lol! Just as you mentioned you wont be sold that the Isles arent bringing in veteran help. You’re not gonna sell me that they are bringing in veteran help either. So far all they’ve done is slap lipstick on a pig, IMHO…I am at the “show me stage”. I am done with getting my hopes up based on NOTHING.

    Now can you tell me what type of veterans the Kings signed and compare them to who the Isles signed? I’m curious because I really don’t think these guys that the Isles signed are the key pieces that will get them over the hump as you are suggesting. I do think it all comes down to the young guys tho. They need to come together in a way that most rebuilt teams don’t. Based almost wholly on draftees and prospects from within. If it works then I will be sold. Not until then.

    • KO21 says:

      I will take one thing back. The fact that Garth signed Carkner is a big deal even though it shouldn’t be. Like I said before. Most teams have a couple Carkners on the back end am I right?

    • ChrisTriants says:

      Thanks for reading.
      I guess let me start with the veterans ordeal. A lot of the guys on this Islanders team are NHL veterans, whether people would like to admit it or not. There are no rookies on this team, and with the exception of Cizikas and possibly Nino and Ullstrom, the Islanders players all have at least two seasons of experience.
      Boyes, Visnovsky, and Carkner were all brought in this off-season, though. Visnovsky played on a terrible team, and would have still been our second-most productive defenseman last season. Whether he wants to be here or not, let him play, and do not count him out. He’s one season removed from a 67 point year. Boyes obviously had an off year, but he had 54 points the previous season, and there’s no reason to believe he cannot match that, especially if he plays next to Tavares. Carkner, as you said, is a big deal, but not because he’s a game-changer. We needed that kind of toughness, especially on the defensive side of the puck. The Islanders had literally zero toughness last season outside of Martin, which was terrible. I don’t think any of these moves leave the Islanders in a worse situation than they were in last year. I would never expect them to be the second-coming of anybody, nor do I expect a Cup, but I do expect them to bring some improvement to this team.
      Now to get into the tougher stuff. Yes, we all are in the “show me” stage, especially after a lot of us had high expectations last year. And that’s the thing. It is now show me time. And that’s the underlying message of this article. If Bailey does not “show me” after this year, he’s out. If KO does not “show me” by the end of the year, then he is trade-bait. Same goes for Grabner, who like KO, was signed to a very affordable contract, especially if he played up to his 34 goal year. They are ALL expendable, because rebuild is older..
      And that’s just it. The 2010-11 season ended on a positive note, and the Islanders locked up the guys who made it such. The forwards looked set, and no one would have argued that. They struggled last year, and our offense was our biggest problem. So, here we are now, waiting for these guys to show they can replicate what they showed. The talent is there, and very few argue that, but it’s the consistency and effort that lacks. The Islanders have their veterans in JT, KO, MM, Grabs, and if they cannot perform? They are gone for other veterans, while that mix of the kids in Bridgeport continue to get their shot, like Brock Nelson, or Ryan Strome out of juniors
      The Islanders ARE counting on these guys to come together. They aren’t signing a superstar, because they believe they have theirs in John Tavares. They believe they have their scorers in KO and Grabs. They are building around them. I’m not asking Isles fans to go by faith alone, I’m telling you it’s the only thing you’re getting until either a)they start coming together, or b) these guys find a new home or are sold.
      See, the problem is, as you said, coming together in a way that most rebuilt teams don’t. For a while, i.e. in LA, it did not seem like it was working, and quite frankly it might not have been. The Kings made it as a 6th seed, then a 7th, and then won as the 8th seed as they got hot at the right time. At the time of their 6th seed, they had their core guys, Kopitar, Doughty, Quick and Dustin Brown. The Kings made it to the playoffs with their homegrown guys like Jack Johnson and Alexander Frolov and Wayne Simmonds. The thing is, the Kings weren’t signing guys, they were just trading away their established home-grown players for established guys elsewhere. AFTER the Kings faltered twice, AND they had an established strength (defense) and an established weakness (they scored fewer goals than we did) they made changes. The Kings were able to afford trading Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter because they had a stud in net, followed by an awesome defense without him. They could trade Wayne Simmonds and company for Mike Richards.
      The thing is, the Islanders are not there yet. They are not at the point where they can pick and choose the guys who stay and the guys who go. Plans changed when Grabner didn’t score 30 goals again, and when scoring was not happening when this team was on the ice. The Islanders could now not afford to trade a top offensive prospect for the defensive players we cried for throughout the season. The Isles biggest strength was arguably their defense, which was not a very impressive group this year. Suddenly, their prospects, who we HAVE to wait on, aren’t expendable. So, now it’s out with the old, and in with the new. If Okposo doesn’t perform this season, you better believe he’s replaced by a kid and traded away. If that’s the case, his value probably isn’t high enough for him to bring a return that we all want. The Islanders are stuck, and it’s up to the “kids” to figure it out. Veteran help is here, but it has to come from within. Everything else is about surrounding these guys to make them better, but not to add the biggest piece to the puzzle. If the guys that we have now don’t pan out, then the rebuild failed. Veteran help is here. It’s just a matter of weeding out the ones that are replaceable and swapping them out with other pieces that fit us, and quite frankly, we have none of those.

      • RobJ74 says:

        I just dont agree with veteran help is here. WHERE? Lubo already showed his character which is part of why you need vets is for the character they bring. So far Lubo has shown he has low character. Most winning teams have 2 top line centers as well. JT is one but we need another. I also think that KO is who he is. He’s a 2nd line winger and I am not putting this all on him and Bailey. I think its all on SnoWang at this point to make this team get over the hump. You keep suggesting they added vet talent and Im saying they did not add much. I also think its on SnoWang to get a real NHL coach. You want the most out of Grabner and KO? Well I think Scott Gordon was so much better at using KO. I also think last year they used Grabs a heck of allot more on the PK and on offensive situations…It just seemed like last year Cappy used him in ways that made me scratch my head.

        Every time I think about the coaching and the entire situation I get heated. But that’s the Wangs World way. Hire yes men. Garth is a yes man and so is Cappy. Lets be honest. Not many self respecting professional GM’s and coaches would put up with being used as a puppet. Look what happened with Neil Smith. Smith wanted to operate as he was hired to do as the GM of the Isles. But Wanger had other ideas being the brilliant hockey mind he is. He wanted to put his nose where it shouldn’t. He wanted to sign DP to a ridiculous contract that will only hinder the team and what happened? Smith being a dummy didnt want any part of this insanity so he blew this taco stand and Wanger hired the next qualified guy he could find. Someone who would be happy just be happy to get the job even tho he wouldn’t be able to act as a true and honest GM. He is a YES man.

        • RobJ74 says:

          I meant to say that Cappy used Grabs almost solely in defensive situations. He has proven himself as a capable scorer. WTF is Cappy thinking? Friggen pea brain

        • ChrisTriants says:

          Thanks for reading, and to both of you, thanks for consistently commenting.

          I’m not saying they added great veteran talent. I am saying the guys that were once “kids” are now the veterans that we have to turn to. New “kids” will be coming in, but until these guys start winning, these guys are the veterans. The Tavares’, Grabners, Okposos..those are the veterans. As a matter of fact, this team is 95% veterans. They just aren’t playing like the veteran “Parises” that we would like to have. They haven’t shown that their hype was ever warranted.

          You are right that the Islanders NEED a #2 centre. It’s probably their biggest hole. Nielsen is the ideal 3rd-line centre, but being thrust into 2nd-line positions, although he can be productive, is not what is best for the team. Strome and Nelson are on their way, but again, that’s what we have.

          Grabner’s 34-goal season was spent mostly on PK and 5-on-5. His chances did not diminish this year, he just didn’t convert, and I’m not talking about breakaways. He missed A LOT of good chances, but as I’ve said in the past, that’s why he can be a 40-goal scorer anny given season. His chances are always there. He just didn’t score on them last year.

          Cappy is ridiculous.

          And I think Snow has done the job that he can do. I don’t think he’s a terrible GM, and although he may be a YES man, what GM isn’t? If you’re not, you’re fired, and that’s in most places. Ultimately, spending comes out of the owners pockets. No GM in the NHL just makes moves without, at the very least, running in past the owner. Snow is an employee, just like the other 29 GMs in the league.

          The thing with the Isles is that it is just not practical to trade Strome and other guys for a Kovalchuk-type player. If the Islanders were in the playoffs last year with what they had, and maybe even the year before, I would say yes. The Islanders cannot afford to “trade-away” guys for “veterans, especially when they already have veterans on their team (and I’m talking about the JTs and KOs) Unfortunately, because they haven’t won, and they haven’t playedu p to standards (minus JT) they will only get similar value back. The veteran help most Isles fans want come in the form of UFA, (Isles signed 3), but you cannot force someone to choose the Island.

          I understand the frustration. It sucks that we have a team that is UNDERPERFORMING, but to say that the guys we ghave aren’t NHL veterans, well, it’s time to let go of the kiddy leash, because they aren’t rookies anymore. Nor are they sophomores. They just haven’t been winners, and the Islanders will not receive ANY help from the outside until the guys we have now either win, or at least show they can be dealt for fair value, and not just a “Blake Comeau return.”

          • KO21 says:

            I can appreciate everything you said here. Its time for these “KIDS” is grow up and be the men Garth envisioned them to grow into. It is tough to teach these guys to play like veterans if they haven’t been mentored by many quality veterans. I mean we have few VETS but not the ones that are in their prime. We need vets that back up their talk with their play.

          • ChrisTriants says:

            That is a fair statement. I think the Islanders are attempting to bring in the likes of Lubo to add that veteran presence, but the Islanders are truly leaning on two things:
            1) That the veterans they acquired play like they did two years ago, and not last season
            2) The “kids” play up to their potential because it is now a year they can finally be “replaced.” Some of these guys can be swapped regardless, whether it is Grabs or KO or Bailey, but to get the best value, they need them to play well.

            Until their “core” shows something, the Islanders will be stuck between rebuild and the next step. If these guys show they can play, and show they can make it to the postseason, they will add pieces. If they don’t even show a little something, the rebuild is a fail, and it might blow up in their face.

          • ChrisTriants says:

            The most important of those two things, by the way, is the fact that their homegrown guys play to their potential. If they do that, you already have your STRONG veteran presence, and then it’s about filling in the holes, sorting your strengths and weaknesses, and weeding out the players that don’t fit, or that fall in the surplus of one of your strengths.