There is a lot of news for Islander fans this May. Just like the good old days. The difference this time is off the ice rather then the on-ice dominance the Islanders were all about in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The news now is not bad, though, we are not reading about a return to the finals for our boys — but that day may yet come. Perhaps most don’t believe that. But there is something happening in these last months that has me — optimistic. And while that could change quickly — it is still a good feeling. Dare I say it, some commitment seems to be in the air on Long Island.
The Islanders recently announced that Michael Grabner has been resigned to a cap friendly $15 million deal for 5 seasons. He is joined by his second half linemate Kyle Okposo — also signed to a cap friendly deal which is a bit less in dollars, but for 5 seasons. Two players who have clearly become part of the franchise core are locked up.
If that was not enough, there is a great deal of positive energy surrounding the plan to build a new arena. In a previous post, I was prepared to hold my nose and vote for the passage of the bond act — and I still plan to do so. There are details that need some attention to be sure, but it could be a lot worse for the Islander faithful. We could be packing our bags and heading to Winnepeg.
Garth Snow and Charles Wang — the later of whom I have been pretty tough on — have come through in a big way these past months. They have sent some strong messages to the fans, the players, and the hockey world, that they are committed to Long Island, and to building a winner. If the decision by the GM in 2008 to build through the draft, just like his 1972 predecessor had done, was not a clue, the commitment to retain 2 up and coming stars, and now the decision to focus on just an arena by the owner is clearly a sign that the Islanders are making the play to be here for the long run.
It has long been assessed that Charles Wang had little to no interest in building just an arena for his hockey club. The economic viability was not going to be enough to foster a profit for the team, and he was tired of losing millions. Like him or not, losing millions of dollars even if you have millions, is no picnic. For the owner to essentially “OK” the concept to build the arena as a stand-along entity and worry about the development of the remain acreage is a sign of maturity and better understanding — something that had eluded Mr. Wang in the past. By making the development first about the Islanders, and retaining the reason for the development in the first place shows a new approach — and it take the Islanders out of the political fray. The Pols can haggle over the land deal on the side to see who can bilk the most from the tax payers later. At least the team and its fiscal benefits to the community will be retained with a new building. Let me clear — the surround community NEEDS the Islanders just as much as the Islanders need a new home.
In addition, it seems the owner sees the error of his ways last season. Mr. Wang became all to aware that his team was not ready to command top ticket dollars. And with that the cost of the concessions, and to watch the team lose — fans were staying home. During the season, they made some seats available at great prices, the team started winning, and fans returned. It appears with this years ticket plans, Charles Wang is poised to fill the building on a more consistent basis, helping the on-ice product, as well as the bottom line. While it may not be enough to offset the loses, the additional ‘green’ will ease some of the pain this season.
While the owner seems to have come to his senses, the GM did not waste much time this year. Garth Snow decisively dealt away players who were not going to be part of the teams future, continuing to add picks and prospects. Dwayne Roloson — a true professional who enjoyed a great run — had to be traded. At 41 years old, he is hardly the Islander’s goalie of the future. Snow was able to retain good value for Rollie, and Ty Wishart could crack the Isles line up as a much needed big body on the blue line next season. As the season slipped away, Snow turned James Wisniewski into a 2nd round pick from the Habs, along with a 5th round pick in 2012.
But it was not all about trading away talent. The season was also an evaluation of players who should find a home on Ling Island. P.A. Parenteau and Milan Jurcina were extended for one more year as their play was clearly showing they belonged. And without too long to wait, the Islander GM locked up consistent producer Matt Moulson for the next 3 seasons.
Those of us sticking through this entire history can recall a time when players completing their ELC’s were traded away because the owner was not going to pay their salaries. Fast forward to the present and the last few months is a display of commitment for the Islanders organization. There is still some work to do, as Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey need to be addressed, but the message has been heard loud and clear. 15 years ago, Okposo, Moulson, Grabner and others would have been traded at the deadline. I mention this because all to often we hear fans complain that the Islanders trade away talent rather then pay for it and retain it. The Islanders are clearly preparing to take the next step as a franchise, and the core youth are beginning to make this team their own.
How does this new commitment effect the draft and free agency rapidly approach?
The Islanders are likely going to add a top tier talent to their very talented prospect pool in June. And on July 1, the Islanders will surely have some targets to sign. But with the arena still in question, along with the on ice product, I have doubts the Islanders will land the most prized targets of free agency.
I have doubts as to who the Islanders should pursue no matter how many players may be willing to sign on Long Island even if the arena deal were set in stone! The franchise is in a very unique place. The deep and talented prospect pool and a young core are showing real promise. 10 years ago, the franchise was in a very similar spot — except the names on the roster back then were different. Guys like Luongo, Jokenin, Connolly, Chara to name a few – and the chance to add to them with guys like Spezza and Gaborik or Heatley. That team seemed on the verge of taking that “next step” too. But those young players were cast off for more “proven” talent. The result was a mediocre mess. So before everyone cries about the free agent we did not get, or the trade that Snow did not make – think back to that time and of what could have been…
The Commitment to the rebuild is at stake here, and so far Garth Snow has held true to his plan. Perhaps I am alone, but I hope he is very careful about who he plans to add via free agency, and who he may consider trading. Naming names — I would say that trading a player like Josh Bailey is premature. Dealing Calvin De Haan or Travis Hamonic or Frans Neilsen is probably not a good idea. I would add Blake Comeau, the Kirill’s, and El Nino to that list among others. Teams that have had success for the long term have done it by retaining most of their core draftees. Perhaps we can target a top 4 defenseman by releasing Bruno Gervais, not resigning Martinek, and trading or waiving Mike Mottau and/or Mark Eaton — but I don’t want to see the ice time of young players like Hamonic suffer. He is not going to learn or get better from the bench, and he clearly shows he belongs in the NHL now. There is still the possibility that Ty Wishart and Calvin De Haan make a play for a roster spot, and while Wishart makes sense, De Haan likely needs a season in Bridgeport before coming to Uniondale. A solid veteran presense to ease the pressure on Streit and provide valuable lessons to a young core is paramount.
Overall, the franchise is in a far different place then it was just 3 seasons ago. The rebuild has been painful at times, and we all knew it would be. The team still missed the playoffs by a healthy margin this season, yet somehow, it seems poised to take a step forward next year. Of course, health will be a big part of the ability for the team to compete and make a run at a playoff berth. Time will tell. But for the first time in a number of years — I am looking forward to September and October.
About the Author: A graphic designer who loves the game....and knows that age has slowed him down — but the passion is there. Islanders fan since the 70s, Dad, Husband and Coach of the Flying Tiger's Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: http://twitter.com/FilamentDesigns