It’s been an up and down season for the New York Islanders to say the least. Let’s recap what’s happened in the past 10 months for this team, who could at sometimes resemble a hard-working NHL team, capable of making the playoffs, and at other times look like the Mighty Ducks (pre-Emilio Estevez, of course).
Trading deadline, March 2007
This move was semi-surprising for me. Everyone knew Snow was looking for some firepower, but a move that really was the headline around the NHL for the next few days was a shock. Some say that Snow gave up too much for Smyth (especially since he left after the season), but Ted Nolan didn’t like Robert Nilsson, saying while he was very skilled, he lacked “an essential ingredient”. Ryan O’Marra has yet to make an impact, so I can’t really kill Snow on this move, plus he did get us Islanders fans extremely excited after that trade. If you spoke to any Islander fan in the days after that trade, you would have heard one of 2 things:
1. Holy crap Ryan Smyth!!
2. We’re gonna win the Cup!
Okay, so maybe that was a little wishful thinking, but my point is we were pretty damn excited. Anyway, onto the playoffs:
First off, let me just say that Ryan Smyth’s quote is in direct reference to Alexei Yashin. When the supposed “captain” of your team is diminished to nothing more than a power play specialist, you know your team is in trouble. As for the playoff series itself, the Sabres were really a better team, and Rick DiPietro was just coming back from a concussion. Plus the fact that everyone essentially picked them to finish lower than the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, making the playoffs was a victory in itself. Onto the off-season:
The Islanders announce that they will buy out the remainder of Captain Alexei Yashin’s contract, for a reported $17 million.
This was definitely the smartest thing the Islanders have ever done, although that’s not saying much. That day may have been the most exciting day of the off-season for Islander fans, since it fueled speculation that now that Yashin was gone, Ryan Smyth would return to Long Island, and lead us to a Stanley Cup!(again,wishful thinking). But then, on July 1, or the day I like to call The Exodus:
In a mass exodus from Long Island, the New York Islanders lost Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti, and Richard Zednik all to free agency.
This was a great start to the off-season. Nothing says players want to be on your team like losing your three of your top goal scorers and top ice time defenseman. Honestly, who would want to play on Long Island? A team with overpriced, whiny veterans who only play when they feel like it (Miro Satan), a guy who wants goes on a killing spree every few months (Chris Simon), and to top it all off, playing in one of the worst facilities in the league, with fans who only show up when they feel like it. Sounds attractive, doesn’t it? I mean imagine what it was like for most Islanders fans when everyone left. Fans are freaking out. Management is trying to appease fans by telling them to be patient. Bringing in team legend Mike Bossy to tell everyone to have faith. Signing Jonathan Sim and having management convince us he’s “a Ted Nolan kid of guy". Fans continuing to freak out. Rangers signing every free agent available. Fans are on the ledge. You get the picture. Then, somehow, Garth Snow found some players who were desperate enough to come to Long Island.
I actually argued against this sort of thing right after The Exodus, which you can find here. It seems to me that the Islanders continue to be in this trend of finding these answers for a year or two, then they leave, and they’ll be right back where they started. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Get draft picks, develop prospects, and build a good team that can compete for years. I know this may be tough since Owner Charles Wang is losing money every season, but this is the only way. Consider this: Since 1996, when Mike Milbury took over the GM position, the Islanders have traded away 5 future all stars, a Vezina trophy finalist, a guy who posted 90 and 87 point seasons consecutively at the age of 22, and 2 guys who are now captains for their respective teams. What did they get in return from those trades? Basically one All-star, who now isn’t even in the NHL and cost the Islanders $17 million. Yeah, you know who I’m referring to, I won’t even mention his name again. If the Islanders had hung onto those guys and been patient, they would be looking at a team right now of Jason Spezza, Roberto Luongo, Zdeno Chara, Olli Jokinen, Todd Bertuzzi, Raffi Torres, and Sidney Crosby. (Kidding about that last one.) This should be proof enough of what the Islanders should do. You have Kyle Okposo and Rick DiPietro, why not continue to hold onto draft picks, and build a team around these guys? They should be the foundation for the team for years to come. If the Islanders dip into the free agent market, they have to get young players with upside, not guys on the downside of their career.