Gallof: The Bad, The Ugly And What To Expect From Islanders Next Season

Glaring Mistakes Were Made And The Offseason Course May Look Familiar

By B.D. Gallof,

NEW YORK (WFAN) —  OK, we’ve put this off long enough. It’s time to talk about what the Islanders did on the ice this season. Its time to face facts, look beyond the stats, and make some calls on what we will see this summer and next season.

With just three games to go, the Islanders are 33-35-11, which on the surface is an improvement over last season. However, this team could have been better. Maybe not a playoff team like so many had hoped and expected, but better nonetheless.

The following explains why, with an eye on the offseason and what this team could look like to begin 2012-13:

Jack Capuano to remain head coach

Hey, I didn’t say I agree with it. I wouldn’t have made him coach in the first place. Don’t get me started on the coach’s gaffes this season. You are preaching to the choir. However, owner Charles Wang confirmed on Sunday during the pre-game broadcast that both Capuano and General Manager Garth Snow will be back next season, something I first reported on March 20 via Twitter. As far as the Islanders go, this is business as usual.

As far as Capuano goes, this is a coach who said recently, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that this team wouldn’t be able to score goals?”

Ahem. Raises hand. When the dopey columnist knows more than the coach, well, that IS a problem. Sorry.

Goals beyond the top line were a glaring neon warning sign and any coach and hockey operation worth their salt would have seen this clearly. It was the biggest issue beyond the lackluster defense. However, to those who seem to push the notion that Doug Weight, who has not even AHL coaching under his belt, could somehow replace Capuano as a fact or even a rumor seemed illogical, premature, and, well, silly.

Whether Weight does down the line, having traded in one newbie for another and expecting a different result is an odd notion indeed. As for those waiting for some old, gnarled currently without a job veteran coach to return to the NHL and to lead this band of young misfits to the promised land, well, that is just straight out fantasy as well. It’s not happening, at least for another year.

I personally hold a belief that GM Snow might be a bit gun shy on a veteran coach after the Ted Nolan fracas. Secondly, Snow enjoy let’s say an “ample,” albeit shared, control of the team in a partnership with the coach. Some veteran coaches would not be as amenable to working with Snow and his rebuild plan as younger coaches are, or have little choice but to be. However, this is not to say it is a young vs. old scenario. But I do think that Snow’s style identifies with a coach his age or younger. It seems that development of not only the team, but also the coach remains a work in progress. Expect that work in progress to continue going forward.

Snow and his internal development staff has made mistakes

It’s time to lob a few grenades at “Mr. Rebuild” himself, who by mid-November was seriously disappointed with the riffraff of free agents that he had picked up, not to mention the trade for Brian Rolston in late July that seemed unnecessary, even to get to the salary cap floor.

Snow’s biggest mishandling seemed to be that of Nino Niederreiter. Internally, the Islanders felt that since he had dominated the WHL, he could be penciled in to the NHL. Snow went as far as to give him his word that he’d remain on the big club all season. However, being a man of your word and of honor is not just about intent to a player as it is to his and the team’s long-term development. In other words, Snow, thanks to his promises, pinned himself into a corner and has hampered development in both respects.

Snow should have been willing to change his stance. Above all, maybe he shouldn’t be making promises in the first place. According to sources close to the situation, the judgment on Niederreiter and his rookie season will really depend on how he comes out of the gate next season. However, what went on in 2011-12 is bit of a black mark on the Islanders’ internal development staff. These people looked a bit too much at the Boston Bruins’ development of Tyler Seguin. This is a group that also badly mishandled Josh Bailey’s development.

Above all, it ultimately falls on the GM to make the final decision. Add in the addition of Marty Reasoner, who, according to a source last summer, was supposed to be “adding a skill set to the fourth line.” That source was alluding to the fact that despite the fact that Zenon Konopka was a fan favorite, the team’s internal think tank was not as enamored with his play. Since Konopka’s offensive skills and skating have been issues this season up in Ottawa and will likely lead to him not returning to the Senators, one can see the validity of the argument. The results that come with a player like this, however, are something else entirely. The Islanders appeared to have something with Konopka, despite all of his faults.

On an unrelated but somewhat similar note, as far as player development issues go, the failure to trade Blake Comeau was a mistake. The Islanders always knew Comeau was not a part of the prototypical template of their established system. His value was never higher after last season, and when he finally crashed and burned this season and was thrown on the waiver wire, his value was never lower. For a team that said publicly last summer it wanted to get a second or third defenseman, the failure to make an early move with Comeau blew up in its face. Comeau was a mishandled chip that should have been sold because the Islanders always knew he wanted to be a top 6 player, but they penciled him as a bottom 2. The failure to deal Comeau and later keep someone who lacked the hockey vision and innate hockey senses that the Islanders’ system hinges upon was a direct contradiction that blew up in the franchise’s face.

Charles In charge

As I have said a few times now, Charles Wang has shifted the Islanders’ program. Snow no longer has the open wallet to go after free agents, players that won’t sign here anyway. A budget has been installed and I have seen no indication that Wang will relent, meaning this will continue. What this mandate effectively did last August was kill off the notion that Comeau could be dealt to take on a bigger contract, deep-sixing any potential move to improve the defense.

Wang’s stance even killed aggressive moves, like the one the Isles attempted to sign Christian Ehrhoff. Look, ownership is not going to change. The value of the franchise is too low, and the NHL happens to like Wang so be prepared for the Isles to go fully with kids, look for the gems and hope players as part of their rebuild begin to realize their potential.

As for Wang as he relates to the dreaded arena situation, he will continue to stay silent and stand pat, further proving that it will be all about the deal when it comes the 11th hour. As I’ve said, these are dangerous times. It is not a lost cause, but for now any conversation about Nassau County, Brooklyn, Queens and Suffolk County must also include those suitors from Quebec, whose own venue opening, predicted to be in September of 2015, has jumped onto our timeline. As an Islanders source told me: “this is not a coincidence.”

However, it is important to note that Wang, during Sunday’s pregame interview with Howie Rose on MSG, did seem a little more upbeat about the prospects of Brooklyn, even if he was non-committal to most of Rose’s questions. It’s something to monitor going forward.

Mark Streit: What’s the deal?

Look, the guy was out most of last season and far too much has been made of him “not looking like the same player since his injury,” as many fans have said. I get that take, but think there is much more to it. I’m not going to sit here and agree with the types of statements that have come from the mainstream media, statements like “he’s just finding his stride.” Excuse me while I roll my eyes. However, we can all agree he did not have as good a season defensively as he did two years back. His offensive output, however, was still in excess of 40 points, which knocked on the top 10 among defensemen. However his minus-25 rating is the second worst among defensemen in the entire NHL.

Whose rating was worse? That would be the Islanders’ Milan Jurcina at a dismal minus-32. The question is: how much of this was due to Streit the player and how much was it the team’s defensive schemes and holes? Add in the fact that the Isles struggled to generate scoring and it makes that minus stat inflate to higher proportions. Translation: it may not have been as bad as it appeared.

John Tavares will NOT be named captain

Every time an Isles staff member (with a clue) hears this, they groan. “Why in the world do you hand a 22-year-old player the captaincy at this stage in his development?” was one direct quote I got from an insider last week.

It seems fans, and even many others who are more than just fans, seem to have this strange, illogical notion that a star player and lead scorer should be captain. In my opinion, Tavares’ style, personality and the way he carries himself, despite being a great teammate, are not what you force upon a rebuilding franchise from an all-inclusive leadership standpoint. Let Tavares concentrate on being one of the few working things on offense and stop the madness. Mike Bossy wasn’t captain. Pat LaFontaine wasn’t captain. Ziggy Palffy wasn’t captain. Tavares won’t be captain, but his value and importance to this team is not diminished one iota.

Don’t expect a key defenseman to arrive via free agency or trade

Besides not having the chips to make such a trade, the fact is that players like Calvin de Haan, Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan are poised to come up to the big club. I’d expect two of them to be on the team next season. I believe, like many of you, that the Islanders seriously need to refurbish the blue line. Defense is still the second most glaring issue for this team. However, reality bites, and unless Snow can uncover a gem like he did with Matt Moulson, P.A. Parenteau, Michael Grabner and the signing of Streit, chances are he’ll be looking forward to some kids, and not much else.

Do we rate the rebuild?

The short answer? Not just yet. The fact is you can’t without being able to judge true free agency. Add in a stressful venue issue hanging like a dark cloud over everything, no playoff appearance seemingly every season, and the franchise’s long-term reputation thanks to years of mismanagement and the truth of what should be instead of what is becomes muddled. There are and will be a lot of kids coming up, and the rebuild is ALL about the prospects and their development. It is a process, unfortunately a bit of a long one, but one that has featured some things taking shape.

I’ll have more on that in my next column. For what IS taking shape, though it has come along slowly, is quite tangible.

Read more columns by B.D. Gallof

How would you rate the job Snow has done rebuilding this team? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below. …

  • tom

    its not the building that is keeping free agents away its where they are in the standings. if your a free agent would you want to come to a team that is in the bottom five every year. THis is all on wang he has no clue what he is doing. I am tired of this losing year after year after year. i want a winning team. put a winning team on the ice i will come to the games lose and i wont spend a dime. If you dont care i dont care.

  • Isles91

    Wang is one of the worst owners in all of professional sports. It is amazing this franchise still has any fans. End of story.

  • OJ

    Good Article, but I COMPLETELY disagree with the notion of Tavares not being Captain. And saying Bossy, Palffy, LaFontaine weren’t is ridiculous, Because Dennis Potvin WAS. As was / is Crosby & Ovechkin. The kid is a leader, The kid is a Star, The kid is who the Teamates will look to for the next level, and the Kid is the Franchise. Absolutely he should be Captain ! And oh by the way, he talks with Maturity regarding the game past his age.

  • gb

    Snow and Wang have done a terrible job.
    Cappy has been average at best.
    This team has been painful to watch since the mid 90s.

    • Ned Racine

      The Islanders are a joke. Charles Wang has absolutely no business owner an NHL team. He’s a control freak who routinely hires incompetents who he can bully. This is without question the worst franchise in the NHL.

  • ChryWheatGod

    The truth is that they are still missing several parts offensively, defensively, and at goaltender. Unless Baliey, Grabner, Okposo step up big time next year, they will be totally screwed. I didn’t see a team ready for the playoffs, I didn’t see a determined team, I didn’t see a well prepared, well-coached team.

    I’m sure most of us laughed when we saw what Dale Tallon did before the season started acquiring several free-agents. I know I did. At least they’re in the playoffs, maybe they’ll even win a series. You can’t build a team entirely through the system. Now is the time to add to the team through free agency. They have to try to sell the idea to a big name player in coming to this team. If they can get just one, they’ll be better. And then they can shake the toxic stigma the league has branded to the franchise.

    Something big has to happen this team this off-season. Otherwise, I’m not investing anymore time into a team that will be all but sure to leave Long Island.

    They ARE in the 11th hour. Right now.

  • nobigwhup

    Good article as all written by BD are worthy reads. Unfortunatly, the Arena issue hangs over this franchise like a dark cloud of doom. Until resolved, this frachise will remain in an holding pattern.

    Very sad as I feel for players like JT who deserve better.

  • EPM

    Wang and Snow are doing a good job with the hand they’ve been dealt through no fault of their own. They have done a good job in drafting, as evidenced by the recent ranking by The Hockey News with the 8th best farm system. The problem is that the arena issue hangs over their heads which creates a Catch 22. Their young players have developed to the point where they could use the help of some veterans to push the team along, but significant veterans won’t come here with the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the franchise and with the lack of winning. Of course, it’s hard to win withought some sort of solid veteran presence. Hence the Catch 22.

  • Justin S.

    Streit is a pretty good offensive defenseman, but as a defensive defenseman, he may be one of the worst in the league. Yes, the Isles’ lack of scoring definitely inflates his plus/minus rating to a more radically negative number. But it’s really not that far off. He plays a lot of “sword hockey,” he tries swiping at the puck more than stepping up and taking the body. There had been a ton of instances that lead to goals where Streit would backskate below the hash marks before making a move. But by this time, the puck has already been shot and in the back of the net. All he has to do is put the breaks on a little bit, look at the guys chest, not the puck, and just get in his way. Instead, he swipes at the puck. That doesn’t work anymore, not with the amount of puck handling skills that these players in the league have. Most of the top teams in the league, the Rangers, the Flyers, the Penguins, they play more physical, they step up. These teams in the league know that the Isles do not do that, and they’ll just walk right in. I’m saying saying lay the guy out with an open-ice check. Just step up in front of him, and take him off the puck and out of the play. It’s not just Streit, most of our defensemen do this. The only one that comes to mind who plays this type of hockey is Travis Hamonic. I’m just picking on Streit here because he’s supposed to be one of our stars and our Captain. He’s not looking like either.

    • Justin S.

      I’m NOT* saying lay the guy out with an open-ice check ***

  • bob

    will diepietro be back

  • ed

    Not sure how anyone can think Snow has done a good job. What has he done? He fired the scouts that drafted these kids. He has a carousel of coaches that are pathetic. There is no scoring or toughness on this team. Those are the two attributes that put people in the seats. I blame Wang also, but these are two guys linked together. Just Nino,Reasoner,Rolston etc. from this year should be enough to get him fired imo. The past 5 years have been atrocious and it goes right to the GM. Great article B.D.

  • Anthony T.

    I think Snow has done a fine job, I just believe that Wang has not allowed him to do his job properly. We can see the direction he’s trying to go in, and I don’t think these back loaded and incentive laden contracts are his doing. It’d be interesting to see what type of job he could do if Wang didn’t restrict him from doing his job.

    • hjj

      you’re an idiot Anthony.

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