By Jeff Capellini, WFAN/CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — Panic. Fear. Hysteria.
All would be appropriate words to describe a good percentage of the Islanders’ fan base now that we are a week into free agency and just a fourth-line center and some of their prospects have been signed.
All I can say is, relax people.
What did you think was going to happen? Sure, you might have had a wish list, but that’s why they call it a wish list. Wishes are rarely granted. And wishes coming to fruition are even more difficult to realize on Long Island when it comes to getting big-name players to relocate there.
But that doesn’t mean the Islanders won’t be significantly upgraded between now and training camp. It doesn’t mean the team as currently constituted won’t be better on paper come the regular season opener. It just means you have to once again travel down the long road toward Patienceville.
I know. I know. I know. Don’t roll your eyes.
You don’t have to remind me about the emotional toll waiting and hoping takes on a fan. I know it far too well. But what’s the alternative?
From where I’m typing it appears the Islanders were initially aggressive trying to court specific free agents, but when the market decided to get ridiculous and GMs started throwing absurd contracts around to players that are for the most part not worthy of that kind of lofty respect there was a ripple affect.
In other words, front offices across the NHL panicked and started unloadng perceived Monopoly money over extended years with little regard for the fact that there could be — wait for it — labor trouble following the 2011-12 season.
The Islanders, or more specifically, GM Garth Snow, saw through that madness. While it’s true the Isles are willing to spend more money than they are accustomed to make themselves better or, perhaps more importantly, more attractive come the Aug. 1 arena referendum vote, they are under no circumstances simply going to spend for the sake of spending.
See, the Islanders have specific needs. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not a roster full of holes. It’s one that has stuck to the rebuilding blueprint. Come hell or high water, this franchise is going to be what you currently see, albeit, hopefully, with a few tweaks here and there. The Isles will be all about John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic, plus about a dozen others, for the next half decade or more. To think otherwise is shortsighted.
Snow has been on the horn trying to find a top 4 defenseman. I believe he will get one, but fans have to realize just because players are relocating to everywhere but Long Island doesn’t mean a deal won’t get done. It also doesn’t mean Long Island is an undesirable place. The Islanders just have a lot of moving parts right now off the ice, pieces that are slowly coming into place. If players choose elsewhere, so be it. But I have to figure any free agent worth anything will look at the Islanders and see what the diehards see. All it will take is a player or two with an adventurous spirit. That, and a new arena, of course.
I’ll admit I was intrigued with the idea of Christian Ehrhoff, but he made it clear after the Isles traded for his negotiating rights that he wanted a long-term deal. I’ve never heard Ehrhoff or anyone close to him say Long Island is this vast no-man’s land. As evidenced by the contract he signed with Buffalo, a place many would agree is about as vanilla as they come away from the arena, he was more interested in stability than cash. I mean $40 million sounds like an awful lot of money, but over 10 years? That yearly average is doable for basically any team.
Snow was correct to walk away from that long a contract demand, again, assuming Ehrhoff honestly had no qualms with Long Island or the Islanders. He’s a fine player, no question, but I think the contract he signed is absurd for the Sabres and the NHL because he’s not in any way, shape or form elite. Considering the lessons learned from giving players like Rick DiPietro and Alexei Yashin decades-(or more)-long contracts, Snow was smart to say if I’m going to even contemplate this the player better be something special.
Ehrhoff, while solid, is not deserving of a Marian Hossa- or Mike Richards-length contract. Not many are. In fact, some will say neither Hossa nor Richards were worthy when they went down decade road. Did you see Ehrhoff’s playoff numbers? He was a minus-13 for a team that got to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Elite? Worthy of a 10-year deal?
So the Isles’ quest to find that reliable defenseman at a decent price and length continues. It’s frustrating for sure, but not the end of the world by any means.
Snow flew under the radar last weekend by signing journeyman center Marty Reasoner to a two-year deal. While his statistics suggest he’s basically a 15-goal, 30-point guy annually, he’s precisely what the Isles need to shore up their depth. While Reasoner may not be Zenon Konopka with his fists or scowl, he’s a complete character player, someone who does a bit of everything better than average. Simply put, Reasoner makes the Islanders better, even if he’s just a third- or fourth-liner. If you get a chance, read around and see what other players and executives say about this guy.
You should, too.
Look, if Snow has done anything during his tenure as Isles GM, he’s made the right move more often than not. And sometimes that has meant and still means not making a move at all. But when he has he’s robbed other organizations blind or found diamond rings hidden in a landfill. Look at Grabner and Matt Moulson. Look at Al Montoya. Look at P.A. Parenteau. These are all players that were thrown on the scrap heap, released, traded, banished or forgotten.
Until Snow came calling.
All those four have done since joining the Islanders is make them better and make themselves into legitimate players other teams have no choice but to pay attention to.
I think Snow will do it again. Unfortunately, I cannot give you names because nine times out of 10 the media is wrong. And we’re especially wrong when we try to complete Garth’s sentences. He’s quickly proving to be a master at pulling off the low-risk, high-reward maneuver. It just seems like the press never sees it coming. It’s part of Snow’s charm as an executive.
And when you start to doubt him he does something with present day and the future in mind. And there’s rarely deviation from the strategy.
The Islanders are all about blueprints and all about building blocks. With all due respect to Bill Torrey, Snow is now the architect. He’s got a vision and that vision will not be altered by fans’ expectations or negative media reports using such words as “snubbed” or “inactivity.” He just stays the course. In the past he didn’t have a choice in the matter. Now, he does. Now, he has more resources. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to forget who he is or how he’s gone from getting no respect to being praised for his methods and, more importantly, the results that have come from those methods. I mean, seriously, how foolish do people still using childish back-up goalie jokes look now?
Simply put, Snow’s body of work demands you give him time to see this thing through, be it the complete rebuilding process or free agency during any offseason. He’s earned that type of collateral.
Yes, the Islanders have been really quiet over the last week. But that has to mean Snow’s up to something.
You’d be nuts to think otherwise. There’s always a plan in motion.
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