As we sit here at the dawn of summer, coming off a briefly extended but overall positive season, many writers, bloggers, and pundits have started to offer their ideas of what we will see next. We’re no exception to that rule. There is a great chance that the forwards and defensemen currently on this team are coming back for another shot at the postseason. We applaud the alleged attempts by Garth Snow to resign Travis Hamonic to a long term deal. We question the same logic for Josh Bailey and his usual last 25 games of the season production, especially after his compelling goalless playoff series playing first line minutes and first line wing. Who doesn’t score goals playing next to John Tavares? We also agree with the idea that Mark Streit wants too much money for a bottom pairing power play specialist/ defensive liability, and hope that Garth Snow has the decency to ask Streit where he wants to go so Snow can works out a trade of his negotiating rights.
We also wonder what Egveny Nabokov has left in his tank, and if Kevin Poulin’s postseason performance under such pressure on that kind of stage was a fluke or the real thing. We’re hoping for the latter, but expecting the former. What we do know is that, despite many options, Snow is not going to make a trade for a goalie. And we find it quite amusing that Snow is allegedly looking to “make it worth their while” for a team willing to take the DiPietro contract on their books. Guess we shouldn’t be expecting a buyout, nor can “the Rick” expect checks for $1.5 million until 2029.
More importantly, unless Snow goes waiver wire ballistic again like last season, there’s a good chance that we will finally see some of the picks from the 2010-2012 drafts coming into fruition. With names from the big club like Mark Streit, Keith Aucoin, Brad Boyes, Marty Reasoner, Radek Martinek, David Ullstrom and Jesse Joensuu likely taking a walk, opportunities to see what Garth Snow’s vaunted pile of lottery picks and first rounders can do should be explored. After all, as many have pointed out, there are 5 first round draft picks – 3 of the lottery variety- in the system who should absolutely be contributors. This team definitely needs to make a personnel move (actually at least 4 moves) to take their next step. But one has to wonder, is it logical to place so many rookies on a team coming off of a playoff berth?
Well, we do know that when it comes to acquiring a player, Garth Snow really isn’t much of a player. Lubomir Visnovsky’s NTC debacle is a great example of a Garth Snow style trade- give me an old man with an expiring contract that is a salary dump from a team looking to make cap space, just so long as his salary is below his cap hit, and expect nothing from our roster in return. Snow’s major moves do not involve imports or exports of the “core,” whatever that means to a barely playoff team, so don’t expect a trade for Vinny Lecalvlier, a Jarome Iginla signing, or even offering an entire draft worth of picks to trade up to draft Seth Jones. Now, would those players be welcome additions? Surely. But the focus of this off-season piece has to do with the roster, and the eventuality of a youth movement in a rebuild.
Waiting in the wings to contribute and replace current under-performing and sub-talented players are Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Matt Donovan and Griffin Reinhart. Any roster spots that need filling- these guys should be getting first crack. Unlike an Anders Lee, there is no need for all of them to play at Bridgeport next season, and at least three of them should be on the Islanders next year. Anyone watching the Bridgeport scrimmage last season could have made a strong case that Donovan should have been with this team last season over the likes of Joe Finley, Thomas Hickey, and Radek Martinek this past season alone.
In fact, the better question to explore is why is there suddenly a glut of prospects showing up on the front door? Why were these guys not weaned in at the proper times? Why was Nino in the AHL last season playing top line minutes when he could have done the same next to John Tavares? Was a year of Brad Boyes that amazing? And if so, then why is Snow not resigning Brad Boyes? The 2007 draft produced a boatload of nothing for the Islanders. 2008 was Snow’s windfall draft, if by windfall you mean 4th liners, depth players, and second pairing defenders. What else can you call a draft including players like Justin DiBenedetto, Kirill Petrov, Jyri Niemi, David Toews, and Corey Trivino? The 2009 draft was 4 years ago, and gave us our savior, and a 4th line center. Maybe Anders Lee does something, maybe one of the goalies taken that year do something, but so far, nada. The 2010 draft so far is a bust. Again, 2 maybe’s, a lot of no, and Cody Rosen. Poor Cody Rosen. We’ve already declared 25% of the 2011 draft as waste by letting Brenden Kitchon and Mitchell Theoret go. And here’s a little trivia- 73% of players drafted between 2011-2012 play defense. There aren’t many teams in hockey that haven’t promoted a player taken in the draft since 2010, and there are NO teams that haven’t given playing time to lottery picks from 2011…except the Islanders.
And that leads us to a slightly different question: why are there so few prospects with offensive flair? Strome and Nino are supposed to be elite scorers. Nelson is supposed to be a third liner akin to Jordan Staal, which would be a huge win. Matt Donovan has put up points in his AHL career. After that…the drought. Who else scores? On what level? Snow let Kitchon walk away despite his stellar offensive numbers as a defenseman. Aaron Ness never lived up to his offensive hype- he’s the Islanders version of Thomas Hickey- their AHL stats are nearly identical. 30 year old journey defenseman Jon Landry had scored in every league he played in, except at Bridgeport in the AHL. In the Garth Snow era, Snow has drafted only 2 right wings ever. EVER. One of them is Kirill Petrov, the other Kiril Kabanov. Neither light the lamp in an consistent manner.
Since the Tavares draft, the forwards drafted by the Islanders lack offensive ability on a wide scale. The track record of players not scoring in various leagues around the world include Kiril Kabanov, Jason Clark, John Persson, Mitchell Theoret, and Johan Sundstrom. We find this dearth of scorers especially scary considering the factr that the Islanders have used just 8 of their 21 draft picks on forwards, and one jst reentered the draft. 2/3rds of the picks in the last 3 drafts have gone to the defense. This has three implications. It means that there is no immediate or short range help for John Tavares coming through this system not named Strome or Niederreiter. It also means that the Islanders expect each of Nino, Strome, and Nelson to provide massive doses of offense as core players. Lastly, it means that Snow expects current roster players to take that “next step” that so many players in general are incapable of and already have shown.
To be fair to Snow, he has done a fine job in eyeballing 4th line talent, as Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, Josh Bailey, and Colin McDonald would attest. Compare this influx of rookies to a different rebuild, say, the one in Pittsburgh at similar junctions: at this point in their rebuild Pittsburgh had Malkin, Crosby, Staal, Fleury, Whitney, and Letang to show for 5 years of futility. Howabout Chicago, which drafted Dustin Byfuglien, Corey Crawford, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Troy Brouwer, Bryan Bickell, Cam Barker, Dave Bolland, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane in the same span that Snow has for his rebuild. We have…Josh Bailey, Calvin de Haan, Anders Lee, and Mikko Koskinen to team up with John Tavares. Yeesh. Strangely, we do compare well with the Los Angeles Kings rebuild in that they really only drafted 3 core players in their rebuild- Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick. However, Los Angeles has shown savvy via trade and unrestricted free agent signings, which are two things taboo to Snow.
Regardless of the lackluster overall drafting, the Islanders rookies will be upgrades over what was here. Last season saw a roster patched together with AHL journeymen, NHL retreads, and waiver wire pickups. Anders Lee was more valuable statistically over two games than Marty Reasoner was for two years. In the aforementioned mix of young players are two top 6 forwards, players with much needed size, and defensive help. Yes, adding these players may even put other players out of jobs. After all, the roster is only so big. The casualties may be corsi queen Thomas Hickey, Colorado spurner for an absurd Islander contract Matt Carkner, David “Great Shot Yet No Goals” Ullstrom, or Jesse “I Can Score Anywhere But In The NHL” Joensuu. Ullstrom is a fan favorite, but injuries happen, and his injury filled seasons and restricted free agent (RFA) status should impact his spot going into next year. Hopefully, we can assume Brad Boyes, Keith Aucoin and Marty Reasoner have played their final games in an Islander uniform. Sadly, we would not be surprised if Reasoner found a job coaching in this organization, especially since he should be working for free after his two season drain on the team.
Whether you agree or disagree, the roster options really are under a microscope from here on out. You made the playoffs, so there goes the drafting of elite talent via lottery. Now it’s up to scouting to find players taken mid first round and later that turn out to be gems. It can be done- see Bossy, Mike going at #15. Where are the Islanders picking again for this draft? The reality is that the Islanders have made their picks in the recent past for the foreseeable future. Well guys, that future is here. By 21, Patrick Kane was hoisting a Stanley Cup, a mere two seasons after winning rookie of the year. John Tavares didn’t even win rookie of the year. Tyler Myers? Really? Sheesh.
If this season opens with even more waiver wire avoidance behaviors, we know that Snow – or whatever other mysterious source doing the drafting – is a charlatan. By not promoting his last 5 first round draft picks, Snow has forced his own hand. He’s going to add an influx of rookies to a team that isn’t flying under the radar anymore. Personally, we think this can turn out to be a good thing, but we’re tempering expectations. Snow may be good at underpaying for talent, but unless Strome, Niederreiter and Reinhart become all stars, this team is going to peak like the Washington Capitals, who are wasting away an Alexander Ovechkin. Scratch that comparison, the Capitals aren’t afraid to fire a coach. Take two- lest those kids can flourish from day one, contribute, and become all stars, this is just going to be more of the same.
About the Author: We are two long time hockey fans who certainly have our own opinions and points of view. Feel free to share yours. Follow on twitter @joshbarely