Backchecking: Longing for the Island — Islanders Fill Holes, Remain Poor Destination for Free Agents

Only those playing on Long Island seem to know its secrets.

Only those playing on Long Island seem to know its secrets.

As I watched the #isles twitter-sphere go nuts yesterday, my own frustration grew.  I can completely understand the anxiety of Islander fans and can even comprehend the amount of “hate” Islander fans hurl on there own team. Often times I find that “hate” misguided, while at other times it’s hard to celebrate my team out of the sheer boneheaded decisions they tend to make. But yesterday should have been a day of some tempered hope and too many fans seemed on the verge of leaping off Robert Moses obelisk!!

Perhaps I am somewhat alone in my assessment of the Islanders offseason to date. We all know the Vanek deal — while exciting on the surface, became a disappointment. The injuries piled up on the blueline and between the pipes. The assumptions that there was “enough” in net and on the blueline proved to be narrow. The season featured another November swoon. However the bright side of seeing the emergence of some players — like Calvin de Haan, and the development of Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Anders Lee provided some hope. However, between the end of the season, the draft and free agency, Garth Snow addressed some serious holes for the Islanders. Some will mend quickly, other gaps remain. But it is July 2, not October 2, and there is still plenty of time for the team to close the gaps.

Humor me and lets play out a small scenario…

Lets assume for a moment that Garth Snow did not trade for the rights to Jaroslav Halak. Let’s assume Halak went to July 1 free agency. Where would he have fallen in the scope of free agents yesterday? Would he still be “available” or would someone have snapped him up? Im guessing he would have been signed — and as it proves out, he may have signed yesterday with the Islanders even if they hadn’t traded for him. A top level, in his prime Unrestricted Free Agent chose to sign with the Islanders. The fact that it happened in May should not be looked upon as the failure of the GM to address a serious need, and bring in a top player to fill that need.

Keep in mind — Halak could have said “no thanks” and gone on to free agency. But he didn’t. He signed in fairly short order. Dan Boyle was a similar gamble, and he did say “no.”

Chad Johnson said yes early yesterday and should not be underestimated as a SOLID addition to the Islanders. I believe this is a far better tandem with Johnson then it would have been with Nabokov — who is a terrific player, but time has caught up with him as have injuries, and the Islanders needed a younger, healthier duo, and they have it. Halak could get hurt and having a capable backup is key to success over the course of a season. This could be one of the better tandems in net next season and beyond.

The depth signings are what they are.

T.J. Brennan has some upside as does Cory Conacher. Jack Skille has some NHL experience. These players will create compelling competition at training camp. Young players like Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome — all of whom seem to be “locks” for the upcoming season will have to be on there game in camp or risk being out worked and demoted back to Bridgeport. Should injuries arise (as they did last year) there is now far greater and more skilled depth (as there was in 2013 when the Isles made the playoffs).

I believe Snow will look for possible trades going forward throughout the coming weeks of summer, with perhaps the odd signing of a vet that may have slipped through. More than likely the trade will not involve dealing from panic and making wild “milbury-like” trades of top players or prospect for a 38 year old has-been. (Snow does not have the track record of being that stupid).

On who will or wont sign on Long Island…

Yes, a lot of players stay away. The bad reputation Charles Wang has earned, and the PISS POOR public relations work of the franchise on a broad level has succeeded. It will take — at a minimum — winning a playoff round to give outside the Islanders players the ability to start to see the franchise as a viable place to compete and win. This core group has yet to prove they can achieve that goal.

The arena will no longer be an issue after the move to Brooklyn. Barclays is beautiful (even if flawed in the obvious way). The Islanders are going to have work as hard as the Boro of Brooklyn has in recent years and the work the community in Brooklyn has done should be the basis for the Islanders public relations out-reach. Brooklyn went from “Crooklyn” to a hip and happening metro in its own right in a short time.

I am of the belief that the Islander family will continue to live largely in the general Long Island area. For those that don’t know, Long Island should be an optimal destination for players and families however the Islanders and the Long Island community have done a terrible job promoting the area. Other municipalities seem to strive to bring in jobs and sell the schools to try to bring people in to invest, live and work. The opposite reigns on Long Island. Beginning with the local senior citizens who are just shy of waving “Stay Away” signs. Local politicians in there ever polarizing and narrow fiefdoms to make every effort to keep their communities stuck in the 1960′s and 1970′s while other groups try to drag everyone into the 21st century. It is a constant battle.

There are different pockets on Long Island as there are in other places. Perhaps it is just where I am located, but this is a great place to live, work and raise a family. We have some of the best public schools in the nation. In almost any direction, one can find some of the best beaches in the summer. A short trip to the east end finds a cherished Hamptons resort — a mix of wealth, shopping, beaches, and farms. All this before mentioning New York City and its host of world class museums, theatre, art — a cultural capital of the world — a brief ride away.

Sadly, players and families along with there agents come and see a DUMP of a building in the middle of 70 acres of pavement and a hotel and think, “how barren, boring and desolate! Why would anyone want to live here — plus the team sucks.”

Charles Wang has been a problem in many ways for the Islanders, but where Wang can’t be faulted is his attempt to create a vibrant, energetic new development.  While this would have helped the franchise financially, the added benefit would have been the unspoken word. “This place is lively, young, bright and filled with possibility.” A far cry from the words spoken today. This has as much to do with why a free agent won’t sign with the Islanders as anything else.

Which means winning is the only thing that can make that perception irrelevant. We know now that it is not money being offered to free agents. No need to cling to that goat.

The summer is young. Time is plenty, and the Islanders can still make changes to bring in the help they need. Even with promising stud Griffin Reinhart  looking like he could fill a huge void on the blueline, putting that kind of pressure on a rookie is not the best option, and I believe the Islanders are aware of this and will yet try to get some help on the blueline.

Lets give it some time before condemning them to another bottom 5 finish.

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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: andre@filamentdesigns.net Twitter: http://twitter.com/FilamentDesigns

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  1. Vlad says:

    I don’t believe in top graded Free Agents who is looking only for a payoff and contenders. Only middle graded FAs are going to play their hearts out since they have something to prove. Most of the today’s stars are home grown. Isles kids are alright and they will be even better and stronger this season. In my own opinion, the biggest team’s problem is the Coach. Cappy is a great guy, but his coaching and decisions just not NHL caliber level. He has been with the team for long-enough period for the whole league to recognize it. After seeing Sutter (LA Kings) in-game adjustments, the consistency of hard work from 100% players for entire games, it made me realize that even with today’s Isles line up with a BETTER coach they would do much much better. I understand, Sutters do not grow on trees, but there are plenty other options/choices available on the market. This area needs to be addressed first of all others. Unless Snow and Wang still live in denial telling themselves that Cappy is the best coach for the team.

  2. Chris Martin says:

    Vlad…You are right; Cappy is a rank amateur who couldn’t lead a pack of hungry wolves to a pile of raw meat.

    Hyedray- You are absolutely wrong….Snow does have a track record of being not only stupid, but in a colossal manner.
    Since June of 2013, Snow has made 5 trades. Streit. Nino. Moulson. Vanek. Mcdonald. and he was taken to the woodshed EVERY TIME!!!! He is worse than you can imagine, and every day proves he is an incompetent boob. Other GMs must laugh when snow calls. Even when he addresses the media or is interviewed, if you listen long enough, you will recognize the contradictions and outright lies. The only attribute he has is that of a class A propagandist. For his next job, he should work for the White House.

  3. Chris Martin says:

    Incidentally, I just listened to Darth Snow on WFAN…..Im amazed how a guy that is so bad at his job, and is so wrong most of the time, can be so condescending and arrogant.
    If you wonder why we have a lottery pick every year, look no further than Capuano and this fool.