Reality Sets In for the Islanders

After making an improbable playoff appearance last season, the NY Islanders fell back to earth and rejoined their place among the NHL’s worst teams. This marks the 10th time in the last 15 years the Isles will have a top 10 pick in the draft.

They were not a very talented team last season when they barely qualified on the final day of the regular season. They were even worse this year after losing 7 regulars from their lineup including the likes of Alexei Yashin, Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth and Tom Poti.
With all those high draft picks its almost stunning to see how thin and how depleted this organization is. Thanks to mismanagement, the team has frittered away good young players before they had a chance to develop and/or have moved the high picks outright for veteran talent. Players like Zdeno Chara, Eric Brewer, Roberto Luongo, Jason Spezza, Wade Redden, and others all shared a sip of coffee on Long Island only to enjoy fairly lengthy and successful careers elsewhere.
Even current GM Garth Snow has contributed to this mess trading 3 young assets in the Ryan Smyth deal only to see Smyth leave the Isles for Colorado leaving the Islanders with a whole lot of nothing from that trade.
Will the team finally start a new trend and start developing within? This year would be a good year to start. The Isles will have 6 picks in the top 100. With the 5th overall pick they should get a much needed top prospect as the ranks are really thin at all positions. While trading the pick is always an option in NY, they shouldnt this time around unless its to accumulate even more draft picks.
Depth is the team’s biggest issue. They dont have it at any position. This draft should help in that regard. At the same time, they could land a stud either up front or on defence with the 5th pick. Up front, players like Kyle Beach, Nikita Filatov or Cody Hodgson could be available while on defence, its possible one of Drew Doherty, Zach Bogosian or Alex Pietrangelo could be available at 5. Its more likely Luke Schenn or Tyler Myers will be the ones available at the time of selection. Adding a front line prospect will do wonders for a team who needs one in a big way.
But front line players in general are what the team needs altogether except in goal. Rick Dipietro is the one reason the Isles can be tough to beat. That and the coaching of Ted Nolan. Hopefully those two do not let their mid season spat get in the way of this team. Nolan has been able to get the most out of this rag tag lineup. He is one of the few coaches who could manage this. Players love him and thats why he is able to maximize the most out of the least. But the one star he has he ended up feuding with and a carryover would be destructive. This will be an important thing to note in the summer and training camp will give a better idea if player and coach have buried the hatchet. The team’s success depends on it.
Here is how the team stands heading into the summer:

2008-09 CAP HIT – $31.5 million for 14 players.

The Isles will not be a team that will have cap issues. They are usually well under the cap. Their only problem is that they seem to like giving out very long term deals such as the big 15 year deal to Dipietro. Even that re-signing of forward Trent Hunter for 5 years seems like a bit much for a role player. Nevertheless, the team will always have cap room. Good thing too because they will be hit for 7 more years from the Yashin buyout at over $2 million per.

UFA – Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Bryan Berard, Josef Vasicek, Rob Davison, Kip Brennan, Wade Dubielewicz

RFA – Jeremy Colliton, Jeff Tambellini, Frans Nielsen, Ben Walter, Sean Bergenheim, Tim Jackman, Drew Fata, Steve Regier, Bruno Gervais, Aaron Johnson

The team should have little trouble re-signing their RFAs who have very limited options open to them. Several of them could be regulars next season. The team might bring back Fedotenko but its unlikely anyone else will return. The Isles will need a backup goalie and a more reliable one at that. But there are several holes to fill, especially on offence, and the team just might dip into the free agent market and try to lure a couple of veterans to help with scoring.

Under Contract:

Goal – Rick Dipietro

This is the only position without severe issues other than the overall lack of depth. Dipietro will be around for more than a decade and is the backbone of the team. He has not been able to play consistently enough to vault himself to among the top goalies of the league but he has the talent and attitude to get there. Injuries are a concern which is why the team needs some depth here. Yes Dipietro will be around for a long time but that doesn’t mean the team needs not to draft and develop a goalie or two starting right now.

Defence – Andy Sutton, Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, Chris Campoli, Freddy Meyer

Point production is a major problem for the Isles defence. Campoli, Gervais and Martinek can move the puck, but there just isnt a dominant offensive presence back there, especially to run the PP. With the second worst PP in the league, that certainly did not help their weak offensive numbers to begin with. It was quite a surprise to see the team trade Marc Andre Bergeron and his 9 goals away since the rest of the D managed just 16 goals. Defensively they have steady veterans like Sutton, Witt and Martinek who can do a good job shutting down opponents. This summer might be a good time for the Isles to start thinking new contract for Witt who has been a rock on D and a big part of the team’s identity. He could be fodder at the next trade deadline if a new deal cannot be reached.

Forward – Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie, Mike Sillinger, Trent Hunter, Shawn Bates, Jon Sim, Andy Hilbert, Richard Park
The Isles have no problem meeting a quota of quality 3rd/4th line checkers. There is just a complete lack of overall skill up front. The Isles finished with no one with over 50 points. Comrie led the team with a paltry 49 points. While 9 forwards finished with 10 or more goals, Guerin led the attack with just 23. A couple of players who can score are a necessity. They’ll probably integrate some of their young hopefuls like Okposo and/or Comeau into top line roles to see what they can do, but some proven talent will not hurt the cause. Those acquisitions can only help their dreadful PP. It was a bit of a surprise to see the team with just the 19th best PK unit considering the numerous checkers they have.

Top Prospects

Goal: Jase Weslosky
There is not a bonifide NHL goalie outside of Dipietro in the entire organization. Weslosky is a longshot at best. Perhaps with the extra picks the team has, this could be an area the team addresses.

Defence: Dustin Kohn, Andrew MacDonald

Its painful to see the number of former Islander blueliners skating for other teams around the league. Its quite astonishing to see the team have no depth at this position. Kohn might make the team b
ut he has no offensive game which the team needs. Outside of him, there is little else coming through the pipeline.

Forward: Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Robin Figren, Rhett Rakhshani, Ben Walter, Jeremy Colliton, Jesse Joensuu, Trevor Smith

The Isles actually do have some decent young talent up front. Okposo got a bit of a taste this year and looked just fine. He might be their best forward next season offensively. Comeau, Walter, Tambellini, Bergenheim, Colliton and Nielsen all have something to prove. All need to show they can play and contribute at the NHL level. Tambellini for instance was one of the leading scorers on the farm but cant seem to find the net at the NHL level. Is he yet another prospect who maxes out at the AHL level? This is the year he needs to prove this theory wrong. Their most intriguing prospect is Figren who was one of the heart and soul players for Sweden at the World Jrs.
Oh what could have been for the Isles. Luongo could have been their number 1 goalie and thus instead of drafting Rick Dipietro number 1 they could have had Dany Heatley or Marian Gaborik as the offensive stud they need up front. They could have been joined by Olli Jokinen who went in the Luongo trade and by Jason Spezza who was the pick traded in the Yashin deal. Speaking of Yashin, some fellow named Chara could have anchored their defence with the likes of Brewer, Redden or McCabe. Sure the cap and free agency could have prevented the team from keeping everyone, but this team could have enjoyed an embarassment of riches at any position.
But there is nothing the Isles can do not except move forward. They can get to that point again where they accumulate an excessive amount of young talent. It will just take time and a willingness by Snow to veer off the current course and chart a new direction for the team. Afterall, the team hasnt won a playoff series in 15 years doing it the way they do things now. So what do they have to lose?

13 Responses to Reality Sets In for the Islanders

  1. leafy says:

    Milbury has thrown that franchise back 15 years with his long list of bad trades.  He makes John Ferguson Jr look like Sam Pollock.

    Maybe they can bring Bossy, Trottier and Potvin out of retirement until they get more draft picks.

  2. RIP_Dimebag says:

    The biggest problem is the owner, Charles Wang is too much of a "hands on" owner, that is never a good thing, you have to let the GM do his job and not interfere, give him about 3-5 years, and if he hasn't improved your team, you replace him, but Wang is way too involved with every aspect of the team, and they will suck for as long as he is the owner.

  3. BruMagnus says:

    I gotta say good job writing posts about non-playoff teams of late. Three such articles have been submitted, all very well written. It's too bad few people have interest in such articles. I guess once the playoffs are over they might have some interest, or maybe not. No one seems to care about such teams.

    I'm still waiting for my Dallas Stars article to get published.

  4. nordiques100 says:

    its quite possible the 30th and last one might be your pens 🙂

  5. Rico420 says:

    As you know Nords I'm actually quite a fan of the Isles – and trust me a lot of nights have been spent lying awake thinking about what might have been – imagine a team with Chara/Brewer/Redden on the Blueline feeding passes to Jokinen/Spezza/Heatley and Luongo making big saves – man they would easily be the best team in the Eastern conference and probably have won a cup by now.

    And there's also that frustration of had this team been just a little bit worse in the past few years they could have had an Alex O – Sid the Kid combination.

    Oh my.

  6. paulieplatypus says:

    Develope and play the young players instead of always trading them and draft picks away.  Bite the bullet and rebuild already… With the new balanced schedual you wont play/lose to the Rangers as much, so rebuilding should not be as painfull as in the past.  Let the Smith deal be a reminder of what not to do.  How ironic was it that in the 2007 draft, Colton Gillies was drafted by the Wild at #16 with the pick right after the one the Isles traded away for Smith at #15.  Or they could have drafted the best offensive forward in the draft Alexei Cherepanov who the Rangers drafted at #17 and not bought out Yashin.  Anyway, maybe if the Isles can forget about all their past blunders (way too many to list) and change thair organizational philosophy from short term to long term???  In two or three years you might actually have a good young team that could compete for many continuous years to come?  It's never to late for Wang to stop being a sucker.   

  7. wheresthesoda says:

    You have to question Bill Guerin's reason to sign in the Island, aging veteran that doesn't have many years left, should have gone to a contender.

  8. BruMagnus says:

    Let's not jinx them!  😉

  9. papichulo71 says:

    I think it was because it was $9M/2yr with the Isles vs. $2.2/1yr with a contender.

  10. oilcountry88 says:

    does anyone no whatever happened to eric daze? He would be a good fit in NY.

  11. OldNord says:

    Dazé's back can't handle a pre-season schedule so surely not a 82 games season.

  12. HABSSTAR says:

    Are the Isles still drawing in only about 10000 fans a game still?  I know that was a problem for a while.  I hope it isn't anymore.

  13. JerryL17 says:

    I think the Isles are still going to be waiting for young talent to blossom.  They have a good coach and a new stadium complex coming. It would be interesting if they can manufacture some deals that get them more than one pick in the first round of the 2008 draft.  I see them getting younger and perhaps even gambling on more draft picks.  It seems, at this time, they will have to grow a team from seeds to be good again.  Stock piling now should allow time for player development, perhaps blooming right at the time of the arrival of their new pond.  They have no where to go but up now.  I hope the politicians of the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County buy into the Lighthouse project.  If not, they will be watching the Islanders go elsewhere. 

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