New York Islanders: Changes Are Coming

B.D. GallofCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2009

New York Islanders GM Garth Snow's decision late last season to rebuild right before the trade deadline was when this internal discussion got really hot. A new framework was installed on reality versus expectations in Islanders Country.

The Islanders administration got on-board, including owner Charles Wang.

Wang had built a relationship of trust with his new GM. As the season wore on, the pair got closer and could usually be seen walking around together at functions. Eventually, he got on-board with Snow's vision as well.

As we know, coach Ted Nolan was not as supportive. In fact, he began to disassociate himself to that year's free agents and the previous summer process between him and Snow.

Between the two, there is still a bone of contention where Nolan says he was out of the loop for the summer's free agent reshuffle of Josef Vasicek, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Mike Comrie. The Isles argue that Nolan was an integral part of planning and free agency in the offseason.

My belief is also the latter. 

It was only Nolan pushing hard that seemed to get center Alexei Yashin and his contract out of town. The convincing mantra that might have swayed Snow and Wang could have been the assurance that without Yashin, they would be a more aggressive and competitive team.

For a while, they did. When the wheels fell off, they found that facade shattered and what was left was a battle between the coach, a goalie, and some players.

Since then, undercurrents of bad vibes remain from the now former coach. Nolan, who abhorred center Mike Comrie, was outraged when he remained on the team last year at the trade deadline, and was signed for the next season.

He felt right wing Bill Guerin was a "washed up bum," and still feels goalie Rick DiPietro was the pivot that jettisoned him.

Despite all the talk about injuries, which are true, we fast forward to this year's mess of a season.

I can say plainly that after making this commitment to rebuild, the Islanders' front office was not expecting a playoff run—or even anything remotely close. Dead last? OK, I think they did not quite expect that either.

But most felt, even if everyone was healthy, they would be 10th or below.

I mean, why else choose a coach who plays a developmental system unless you are more interested in player development?

A coach who has some veterans stubbornly wanting him to change his methods. And the youth need to commit to that system, which has been the case at Bridgeport of the AHL, where the results have been evident.

Those results will assure that this coming trade deadline sees the type of changes that move those unwilling or struggling veterans and return draft picks or prospects that can work in that template.

It means players like defenseman Brendan Witt are really assured to be gone, and maybe Comrie as well.

Chris Campoli, who has struggled, might possibly be available. He certainly would bring back more value than a struggling Gervais, who seems to "get it" and then "not get it" so often. It's as if his hockey-playing brain is an Etch-a-Sketch.

With word of Guerin and center Doug Weight being available, despite their success in that system (especially Weight's), the Isles must concentrate on the long haul and start to acquire draft picks.

Sure, Boston is a possibility for Guerin, but don't look past either the Flyers or perhaps the Devils. There is very little chance that the Isles will trade with the Rangers.

Someone who will not be dealt is center Mike Sillinger, who will have to have surgery on his hip, forcing him to miss the rest of the season. 

Since he is at the end of his contract with the Isles, it is not guaranteed that he will try to make a return next season at the age of 38.

Coach Scott Gordon seemed to depend on Sillinger's faceoff prowess very quickly. If Weight and Guerin are dealt, there might be an opportunity for Silly to return because they will still need some sort of veteran presence.

Meanwhile, the Isles sit with a host of first-round picks regardless of who wins the Tavares/Hedman sweepstakes. And they already have three second-round picks.

Despite a replenished farm system, they would certainly like some blue-chip pieces that maximize a brighter future.

All the talk about the Lighthouse Project and the rumors of KC has conveniently made the awful losing season and pressure on the Isles dissipate quickly.

I alluded yesterday to the idea that this was more talk and an attempt to leverage a slow process they want kicked into gear. It has given them some breathing room to not have every whine or struggle splashed on a back page.

Instead, the heat is on Kate Murray, the Town of Hempstead head, who might be trying to wait till November's County Executive election when she can move on, which would allow her to dodge political onus for the project.

Yes, the local politicians on Long Island seem to be a bunch of backpedaling cowards. This comes as no surprise.

But, in the meantime, as the Isles careen through the end of January as badly as they swept their own feet out from underneath them in December, the March 4 NHL trade deadline is not that far away.

February is the month when final decisions will be made and the proof that the only eyes that matter for the Isles are aimed solely on the future.

Expect significant change soon.