This is not at all meant to be a “state of the Islanders” address or any in depth analysis of the team. Frankly, with it being the summer, I have been away from the stats and my brain is not quite in hockey mode. Thus, this is going to be a general opinion piece with the thoughts and observations strictly my own and, of course, up for debate. In fact, I’m sure others can flesh out what I say here in a lot more detail with dates, stats and other information that I know I am going to miss.
Recently, at a Ducks game a week ago to be exact, I had a conversation with Gary about the Islanders, and he made a couple of comments that touched on some thoughts and notions that I had kicking around in my mind for quite some time. In fact, the book I reviewed earlier and the author’s interview with Greg Prato, also inspired the subject to start churning in my mind back when I read the book. Moreover, I asked Greg a direct question about the topic because it struck me so profoundly.
Basically, the part of the discussion Gary and I had was in regard to how Garth Snow is doing as the General Manager of the New York Islanders, and how he often does not get enough credit from both Islander fans and the hockey community in general. When I read Greg Prato’s about the New York Islanders from 1972 to 1984, he made a number of observations about the way Bill Torrey built those great teams from the ground up and really stayed the course with a lot of draft picks. In the beginning, the teams were not the best that took the ice, but year after year, additions were made and improvements were seen. Of course, we all know what happened from 1980 to 1983 …
Am I comparing Garth Snow to Bill Torrey? I don’t know if that would exactly be fair, but what Gary and I discussed was the similarities between the methods of building their respective teams. Without a doubt, the jury is far from coming back on today’s Islanders for sure, yet one cannot deny, especially after the current season, that Garth Snow has the team on the right track.I will not even try to say that this “rebuild” process we, as Islander fans, have had to endure, has been easy. There have been many instances over the last several years in which our frustration levels and our spirits have been challenged quite a bit. Where this team was going, what was going to happen to it, and would they even ever make the playoffs again, were just a few of the many questions that were often being discussed in Islander Country. The whole arena situation and the pending move to Brooklyn, and so many other distractions surrounding the team only made it a more difficult road for us to travel.
However, piece by piece and move by move, Mr. Snow has put together a solid core group of players who have begun to mature and form into a nucleus of what may very well become a cup contending team. Plucking guys like Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner, and making trades for Lubomir Visnovsky, are only small examples of the “little things” Snow has managed to do as time has passed. Having high draft position has also helped as well, but selecting the right guys and choosing who fits into the mold or not is not an easy process, and surely one us fans “think” we know better than management at times. Patience is a virtue we, as fans, don’t always possess in vast quantities, yet Snow has shown quite a bit with this team as we have gone along, and much of that has paid off or is beginning to show fruit (can we say, Josh Bailey?)
Have there been mistakes? There will always be mistakes. I will freely admit that losing PA Parenteau is still a move that pains me to this day. Nevertheless, certainly those who can remember could probably point out mistakes Bill Torrey made along the way as well. The reality is, there are going to be a few eggs broken on the way to making a really good omelet …..
Just when we seemed to be facing our darkest moments and practically everyone was up in arms about the Islanders around the time of late February, suddenly, the light switch flipped on, and the team turned things around. It was something that many of us believed could happen, but I still think back to March and the amazing run the boys made and I feel the same sense of excitement and wonder. All of a sudden, we were seeing real progress, and all of the patience Garth Snow had shown began to make sense to most of us. In just a few weeks or a month, a team that seemed like it would be in a fight for the first round draft pick was in a battle for a playoff position, and then gave the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins the fight of their lives in the first round of the playoffs.
How much of Snow’s actions have been dictated by constraints set by ownership? We don’t know nor will we probably ever know, and, to me, that is not important in comparison to the “big picture”. Yet, somehow, keeping this team’s salary just around the cap floor, we have this great core group of players who have been signed to long term deals. Piece by piece, from JT to Moulson to Okposo to Nielsen to Martin, to Hamonic and Bailey, the team has come together and will be together for the next few years. That, of course, doesn’t include all of the other “gems” that have been added as well, like Colin McDonald or Thomas Hickey and Brian Strait.
Somehow, though, there is this feeling or attitude among Islander Country that we need the “big signing” or the “blockbuster” trade to put the team up to the level to reach the “promise land”. Fans think of Butch Goring, for example, and are still waiting for Snow to make a similar move. Well, folks, that move by Bill Torrey happened in 1980 after the Islanders had tasted quite a bit of playoff success and had had to learn some valuable lessons that only come from losing. There could very well be a move like that in the future for this current team, but I personally do not feel it’s the “right time” for that. I think we have many of the character and leadership players already present, and they just need more experience and more hockey lessons to fully allow them to become the important “veterans” in the lineup..
As for trading for Cal Clutterbuck, that may not quite be along the same lines as a Butch Goring, but Clutterbuck may be a much more important addition than some fans quite realize. I have caught a lot of Wild games over the years, and I will say flat out that I am a Clutterbuck fan, and I am going to love hearing the boards rattle when both him and Matt Martin are out there on the ice. Sometimes, you have to give up something to get something, and though I feel Nino Niederreiter will be a good hockey player in the NHL some day, the “immediate” was what Cal Clutterbuck will address. Again, another example, to me, of the brilliance of Garth Snow at work.
I realize that some fans may not agree with me at all, and I know that the proof will have to come in the pudding over the next few seasons. This upcoming season will say a lot about the progress of the New York Islanders, but the season after that will only say more. The fact of the matter is in considering what Garth Snow has done and what he has had to work with, there are going to be great things ahead for Islander Country. We may question things and feel our moments of doubt, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the dynasty teams of the early 80′s. I simply feel that we are just fine with Mr. Snow as our General Manager, and I am looking forward to this season with a great deal of expectation and enthusiasm.
You can follow me on Twitter, @hockeyblindside