Published on March 19th, 2014 | by Pete Truszkowski43
Is Isles Whole Rebuild A Lie?
Here we are, set to enter off-season number 7 of Garth Snow’s rebuild and the burning question on my mind is: Is this whole Islanders rebuild thing just one big lie?
At this point, it’s apparent to me that might just be the cold hard truth.
Garth Snow took over the team in July of 2006. The Islanders made the playoffs in 2006-07, with a team built mainly by Neil Smith and Mike Milbury. The Isles had a 5 game appearance in the playoffs, lost key members to their team that summer and that is how the rebuild started. In 2014, that same rebuild is still in progress. Other than a playoff appearance as an 8 seed last year in a shortened season, there has been minimal progress in terms of on-ice results for the Islanders these past 7 years.
Let’s recap: In 2008, the Islanders finished 26th. In 2009, the Isles finished in last place in the whole NHL. In 2010, the Isles finished 26th again. in 2011 and 2012, they finished in 27th place. In 2013, the outlier, the Isles finished 16th. This year, the Isles currently find themselves in 27th place, just two points ahead of 29th with 12 games to go.
The truth hurts; the New York Islanders are not playing better than they were when this rebuild commenced in 2008. 7 seasons later, that’s just unfathomable and quite honestly, unexplainable for a team that is actually fully committed to rebuilding a hockey organization the right way.
Unfortunately for us, it appears the Islanders are not fully committed to icing a winner and therefore this rebuild has stalled and shows no real immediate promise.
Why do you say this? How could this be true? All I’ve been hearing from the management and media and fans is “rebuild.” It has to be true, right?
According to Capgeek.com, the Islanders are 29th in the 30 team NHL in terms of payroll. They spend less than a million more than 30th place Florida does, however, Florida recently underwent a change in ownership so expect things to change there. Since 2008, the New York Islanders are the only team to be in the bottom 5 of spending every year. The New York Islanders do not spend money, it’s simple. They are a cap floor operation.
It is ridiculously hard for any team in professional sports to win without spending money. Look at the last few cup winning teams; Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh. What do all of these teams have in common? They spend money and are committed to icing a high salaried, highly competitive roster every season. Unfortunately we cannot say the same thing about our Islanders.
All hope is not lost though! The Colorado Avalanche, yes, the Colorado Avalanche that are 4th in the Western Conference right now are right ahead of the Islanders in terms of spending. They spend barely a million more than our Isles! Unfortunately, the Avalanche do a couple of things much differently and better than the Islanders.
Colorado has been able to draft much better than the Islanders, nabbing names like Duchene, Landeskog, O’Reilly and MacKinnon, all 4 of which have turned into high impact NHL players already. Outside of Okposo, who wasn’t drafted by Snow, the only drafted forward by the Isles currently making an impact in the NHL is Tavares. Strome, Nelson and Lee may have potential but they are not close to the level of a Landeskog or MacKinnon yet.
The Islanders only have 9 full-time scouts. Most other NHL teams have in the high teens. For a team that is supposed to be built through the draft, cutting costs at the scouting level is just beyond comprehension. If the rebuild was that serious, wouldn’t Wang and the Isles spend more money on scouts ensuring more eyes get on these players which will result in a more informed opinion? Maybe that’s why teams like Colorado are where they are, and we are where we are.
Colorado also shows a desire to bring in outside talent to help supplement their youngsters, whether it be via trade (Varlamov, Tanguay, Erik Johnson, Talbot) or free agency (Parenteau, Hejda). The Islanders only really have Lubomir Visnovsky, Cal Clutterbuck and a decomposing Evgeni Nabokov of this variety on their roster.
Colorado also has a legitimate NHL coach in Patrick Roy. The Islanders have Jack Capuano. Enough said. If you’re not going to spend a lot of money, you have to get the most out of your guys. The Avs get that, the Isles don’t. Jack Capuano is the lowest paid coach in the NHL right now. It’s no surprise that players like Grabner, Bailey, Hamonic, Cizikas, and Martin have stalled in their development. A real NHL coach puts these guys in a position to succeed and teaches them on and off the ice what it takes to be successful at this level. Instead, the Isles have the lowest paid coach in the league. You get what you pay for.
The latest lockout actually helped the Isles out big time, unless you are Charles Wang, that is. Up until that point, all bonuses counted against the salary cap. Therefore, those unreachable rookie bonuses would help you rise above the cap floor. That’s why you saw the likes of Steve Staios and Jay Pandolfo signed to those bonus-laden contracts. It gave them high cap hits, but a much lower number in terms of salary they’d actually see. This is also why Nino Niederreiter spent the whole 2011-12 season with the team, despite recording only 1 point. He carried a cap-hit near 3 million, meanwhile his actually salary was a little over $900,000. Under the new CBA, bonuses don’t help you reach the floor, which thankfully for us ensures more real money is spent on this team. Any little bit helps.
With the Isles spending little to no money on this team, there are plenty of other things to gripe about. For example, a big one is the lack of outside help bought in to help these young kids out. People will say, yeah, the salary should be low because we are going through a rebuild. That’s true to an extent, but leaving your young kids out to dry with a bare-bone operation is setting them up for failure. Like I said, there are few outside acquisitions on this team that the young players have to lean on. Currently, they have Visnovsky and Nabokov, plus non-every day players in Boulton and Carkner. At least last year they had the likes of Boyes, Streit and Reasoner, who, to an extent, knew what it took to have some success in this league. Right now, it’s the blind leading the blind.
Take for example, John Tavares. His wing position has been a revolving door almost his whole time on the Island. He’s played with the likes of Doug Weight, Richard Park, Trent Hunter, Matt Moulson, Blake Comeau, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, P.A. Parenteau, Josh Bailey, Brad Boyes, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Thomas Vanek already. Guess what? There is a gaping hole on his left side going into next year right now. In his early years with the Isles, Tavares mostly had Moulson and Parenteau on his wings. Therefore, instead of helping out the 20 year old Tavares by putting established NHL players that could help him develop better and quicker on his wings, the Islanders dragged him down by forcing him to turn these career minor-leaguers into first line NHL players. Granted, he did a good job of it but he should have never been in that position to begin with.
Don’t even get me started with Josh Bailey, who was rushed because the Islanders decided to go with Mike Comrie as their number one center and not fill their roster with legitimate NHL players. There’s Niederreiter who was here for solely cap reasons, as I said. Currently, Strome is on a line with Colin McDonald and Matt Martin because Snow wants to see Josh Bailey rack up those meaningless late season points, again. Matt Donovan this year, was expected to replace former captain and top 4 defenseman Mark Streit. The list goes on and on of young players who haven’t been given a real chance to succeed with this organization; something that could totally kill a rebuild.
It’s hard to say whether careers and seasons could have turned out differently for the likes of Josh Bailey if he was put on a line with someone like the present day Jaromir Jagr instead of Blake Comeau during his rookie year. Bailey was thrown to the wolves, instead of having someone who could take the pressure off him on his line. The same can be said for Matt Donovan this year. What if he had a solid defensive partner like Ron Hainsey or Hal Gill all year, instead of coming in and out of the line-up and getting a new partner every night. That’s why I find it imperative to sign someone who can play with Strome next year, but hey, history repeats itself. The rebuild and the development of young players is secondary to spending as little as possible.
Those that defend the rebuild, and specifically Garth Snow will point to the fact that he’s found some diamonds in the rough, led by Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau in addition to Grabner, Nabokov, and Hickey. For one, this team would still be in the exact same spot even if he never found those players. They were nice pieces on a team but they were far from the most impactful players on the roster.
A bigger issue has been the Isles lack of ability to retain their unrestricted free agents. Matt Moulson, Mark Streit, P.A. Parenteau, Andrew MacDonald and Thomas Vanek have all opted to test free agency, despite efforts from the Isles to sign them. What’s the point in bragging about finding these guys if they’re just going to walk the first chance they get. In Moulson, Vanek and Parenteau, the Isles lost their first line winger in all 3. In Streit and AMac, the Isles lost top 4 defensemen. These are not easily replaceable, no matter what Snow or Islanders bloggers tell you.
The Islanders replaced Parenteau with Brad Boyes originally, and then Pierre-Marc Bouchard. They downgraded originally, and then downgraded from the downgrade. Pierre-Marc Bouchard was traded for a 4th round draft pick after Kyle Okposo claimed a top line spot, but this now opens a spot on the 2nd line as well. Instead of investing in a sure-fire NHL top 6 player, the Islanders tried low-risk, high-reward signings and got away with it, barely the first time but got burned the second time.
As for Moulson and Vanek, they have yet to be replaced. There is a hope the Islanders bring in a top 6 player from outside the organization this summer, but Isles fans and bloggers have, unfortunately, already sprouted the idea that the red-hot Anders Lee can step in and replace Vanek on the top line next year. Not only is he not proven to be worthy of that role, that’s also immense pressure to put on a former 6th rounder in his first full NHL season. Unfortunately, it seems like something the Islanders would do so I’ve learned to expect the worst.
Mark Streit was replaced by Matt Donovan, who can not crack the top 6 over the likes of Matt Carkner and Kevin Czuczman the last week or so and has been below the likes of Brian Strait on the depth chart all season. Safe to say it has been a colossal failure and the move depleted an already unsteady defensive corps. So to top it all off, the Islanders let Andrew MacDonald walk and are counting on another rookie in Griffin Reinhart to step in and replace him next year. What’s the definition of insanity?
When does this cycle of letting established NHL players walk to be replaced by youngsters end? Tell me why the Islanders can’t have Parenteau AND Moulson AND Okposo AND Lee in their forward group? Because that would entail spending money and showing a commitment to winning? Because Josh Bailey has an insane contract, guaranteeing him an every day roster spot in the top 6? Same thing goes for the defense, why can’t all of STREIT and MacDONALD and REINHART be in the line-up? Because our brilliant GM decided to sign two #6 defensemen in Hickey and Strait to long-term minimum salary contracts? It’s all about the money, it’s not about icing the best possible team. When does it end? Because until this whole recycling players and replacing them with prospects ends, the rebuild will continue.
I know Islanders fans will say that they lock-up the players that they want to keep and point to the Tavares, Okposo, Grabner, Bailey, Clutterbuck, Hamonic and Martin contracts. However, the big difference between those players and the players I mentioned is that all of these players were restricted free agents and had no negotiating rights. They were Isles property, no matter what. So what most of these players did was take longer “bridge” contracts for a bit more money, as this buys UFA years for the Isles before they have to actually play these players market value.
Evgeni Nabokov and Lubomir Visnovsky are exceptions, however these are two players that have families, are at the end of their career, and have nothing else to prove and are probably welcomed by the idea of continuity. The last name is Frans Nielsen, who has only known the Islanders and opted to sign an extension in 2012. However, that is still a low batting average in terms of resigning your players and it continues to show a lack of commitment to building a deep, winning team. It shows a commitment to spending as little money as possible.
The excuses the Islanders use are also beginning to get old. For years, we’ve heard the excuse that nobody wants to play at the Coliseum, and especially not for 41 nights a year. We also heard that not knowing where this team was playing after 2015 was a huge turn off. Now, the Islanders are moving to the state-of-the-art Barclays Center. They know they will be in Brooklyn until 2040; they aren’t going anywhere. So what’s the excuse now? We all know it’s a combination of two things; this team is cheap and it’s viewed as a circus from an outsider’s perspective. However, after last year, the Islanders had a chance to change that and they didn’t.
If the Islanders acted like a professional sports team this past summer, this article would have never been written. Instead, I’d be writing something about how the young players are turning this team into a perennial playoff team. The sad thing is, last year, for the first time, it was a damn near certainty Charles Wang made some money from this team. He received revenue sharing based on the new CBA. The Islanders played 3 playoff home games. They were playing in front of a packed barn the last month of the season. And what’d he do with that money? Pocket it.
There was a real concern after last year that the Isles were a fluke. Let’s be real, they had an awesome 15 game stretch during a half season. That equates to playing well for less than a quarter of a real NHL season. So instead of addressing this concern by shoring up the weaknesses of his team, instead Garth let his captain and top 4 defenseman walk, he let his top line winger walk, and he bought back his aging decaying 38 year old goalie—-on a pay raise. He then signed two projects—they failed. There was no money invested in this team, when there should have been. It was time to take that next step. Instead, we are right back to where we were.
The only ray of hope that a lot of Isles fans have is the impeding move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Was this whole rebuild simply a measure to buy time until Brooklyn, where they will start acting like a professional sports organization? At this point, I’ll take it. However, I won’t get my hopes up. I’ve learned that the hard way with this organization; never get your hopes up. Case in point is last season. A rebuild is a natural progression; from being really bad to get some solid draft picks, to squeezing into a playoff spot thanks to your young players. Once you get to that point, you bring in outside help, and with that combined with the natural progression of your players, you continue to improve. Instead, Garth Snow sat on his hands.
Actually, false, he traded one of his former first round draft picks, top 5, for a 3rd line grinder. What rebuilding team moves their 21 year old power forward after a near 30 goal campaign in the AHL? The Isles do. This one is on Garth completely, but it’s hard to take a rebuild seriously when 5th overall picks are being turned into Cal Clutterbuck; who I love.
Is Brooklyn guaranteed spending? Well, unless the Islanders are a cap ceiling team, it’s almost guaranteed revenue for Charles Wang as he gets money from the cable contract, the deal signed with the Barclays Center, national TV contracts in both the USA and Canada, as well as revenue sharing through the CBA. He is expected to be bringing in anywhere from 50-75 million a year, and that doesn’t include revenues from the team itself. Now, the real question is will Wang pocket that money or will he invest it back into the team? I don’t trust Wang at all, so I’ll believe it when I see it.
However, that ensures next season is all but lost, again. Wouldn’t it be smart to hit the ground running in Brooklyn? Wouldn’t it be smart to leave the Long Islanders on a positive note, ensuring they following you 20 miles west? Next year should be an important year, but it appears to be a throw away year, once again. 8th year of the rebuild, and we’re expecting nothing of significance.
Which begs the question: was this even a conventional rebuild? Or was it buying time until Brooklyn? Or even worse, is this Wang keep expenses as low as possible until he recovers money for a few years in Brooklyn and then sells?
One thing is for sure, right now, this rebuild is a colossal failure. If you can even call it a rebuild.
Until money is invested into this franchise, there is minuscule hope.
We’re still rebuilding. And we have been since 1993.
I’m entering my junior year of college in a few months and the Isles haven’t won a playoff series in my lifetime. Let that sink in.
Some classify this is a rebuild, I classify it as SnoWang’s biggest lie. Can you blame me?