By B.D. Gallof, WFAN.com
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.
How would you rate the job Snow has done rebuilding this team? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below. …