(Wrote this up for LHH, but then decided to switch it over here as everyone at LHH had a “get out the anger on Snow” day)
With the Islanders on nearly the same points pace as last year, just without the one win November, fans are left trying to figure out what has gone wrong. A promising end to last season had some of us hoping for more, at the very least the team being within striking distance of a playoff appearance. Instead the Islanders are closer to the first overall pick. While that isn’t particularly bad for the future, that three years into John Tavares’ already phenomenal career the team is back where it started is worrying.
It’s currently not out of the realm of possibility that the Islanders will have less then 25 wins this season. If they do it will be the first time since the 00-01 team finished with just 21 wins. Disregarding the lockout shortened 95 season, the Islanders have finished below 25 wins a total of 6 times, with 4 of those seasons being in the early half of the Milbury regime. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that this Islanders team shares a similar problem of those teams.
Parade Of The Retreads
With the infusion of Charles Wang’s cash, Milbury was quick to predict the 00-01 team would make the playoffs or it would be his head. Bringing in a well past his prime John Vanbreisbrouck who had struggled with a good Flyers team in front of him along with former Bruin Garry Galley did little to cover the multitude of problems with the team. Garry Galley was just one of several former Bruins Milbury had coached and brought in well past their prime for one last try at re-capturing the magic of his cup run.
While we all applaud Snow for his willingness to rebuild the team and actually see the rebuild through, the reliance on older players who can no longer get it done until the absolute last moment is worrying. Two seasons ago it was giving Brendan Witt half a season before finally packing it in. This year it’s the play of Mike Mottau, Mark Eaton, Marty Reasoner and Brian Rolston.
While the Islanders might not have a choice due to the salary floor when it comes to Rolston, and Eaton can be a passable 6/7 defenseman, Mottau and Reasoner are sticking out like sore thumbs. What’s even worse about the decision making when involved when it comes to Eaton, Mottau and Reasoner is that all 3 were given two year contracts. So despite their struggles, they were kept around while better alternatives were let go.
Right now I don’t think anyone in the NHL would take Eaton or Mottau over Jack Hillen. Despite his common position as conductor of the scrapewagon, I’m sure most Islander fans would even prefer Bruno Gervais back over Mottau or Eaton. Obviously there are a limited amount of contracts that you can have, and the Islanders had to clear space for the incoming young dmen in BP.
Which also comes to Reasoner. No, I’m not about to argue that the Islanders should have kept Zenon Konpoka over Reasoner. But that the team seemed to be unaware of how close David Ullstrom was to being an NHL player is worrying. Much like the situation with Gervais and Hillen, the team decided to go with what should have been known quantities and the safe route in Eaton and Mottau. Reasoner was the safe route going into the season, but now that he’s being outplayed by Ullstrom, the Islanders are stuck with a 2 year deal on another older player.
One of the problems the organization has had for as long as I’ve been a fan is deciding when a player is ready for the big show. During the Milbury regime the problem was that guys were thrown into the fire far too quickly, and then blamed when they struggled. Now Snow seems to be taking it to the other extreme. Instead of replacing older guys who are struggling to keep up with the game, they are given every chance to keep their job. Meanwhile this seems to be at the expense of the youth, who are only given a chance as a last resort.
Two years ago Andrew MacDonald played great in a 2 game stint as an emergency callup for Brendan Witt who was hurt. Eventually MacDonald got the callup long term to replace the struggling Witt. But had Witt not been hurt, you have to wonder if MacDonald would still be an Islander today. He was in his final season of his ELC, and might have easily been ignored by the team.
This year you have to wonder what it would take for Ty Wishart to get a look before he becomes a free agent at the end of the year. Or what more the team might expect out of Dylan Reese as a callup? He did everything that could be expected out of him and was a breath of fresh air compared to Eaton and Mottau. Even if Wishart is struggling in the AHL, the Islanders have already have experience with a player who was struggling in the AHL but turned it around in the NHL (Montoya).
Right now the team is already one of the worst in the league. It’s almost not possible for them to become any worse then they currently are. It shouldn’t be surprising that last year the team turned the corner when James Wisniewski, Eaton, Mottau and Jon Sim were all dumped in favor of youth. There is no reason then that this team should be doing worse then last year with the additions of Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov along with the return of Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo. Since we aren’t going to blame Cappy yet, the buck has to stop at Snow.
It’s a tough position Snow came into as GM of the team, and if you don’t believe that Wang has opened the purse strings, then it’s even tougher. It’s not his fault free agents don’t want to come to the team. Who knows what might have been if Christian Erhroff had decided to sign here. But at the same time the moves he’s made this off-season have the team somehow standing still.
As this season floats closer to being lost, there is no danger in giving some of the kids a try in the NHL. No matter how much time any of them spend in the AHL, they are going to make mistakes at the NHL level. You might as well have them up here making mistakes now, then when it really matters.