By Jeff Capellini
It’s getting more and more difficult to convince anyone that perception of the Islanders is any different than their true reality.
Ask any fan for one word to describe this franchise’s front office and odds are you will get some version of “clueless.” Ask them to then elaborate and you can bet everything you have in your pockets that there will be vehement, profanity-laced calls for general manager Garth Snow’s firing and for owner Charles Wang to sell the team.
The only problem with that logic, however sound you think it may be, is neither scenario is going to play out any time soon.
These two men are attached at the hip and will continue to try to build this team into a winner in an unorthodox manner. There’s nothing anyone can do about it short of shutting up and maintaining whatever faith they have left or exercising their rights as consumers and staying as far away from Nassau Coliseum as humanly possible.
You want to send a message? How about packing the arena the next time the Islanders are home, March 14 against San Jose, and then rising as one following the opening puck drop and walking out. Of course that’s not realistic, but it will take that kind of collective gesture to get Wang and Snow to begin to understand that an open-ended rebuild and good intentions are nowhere near enough to please a fan base that has had little to nothing to cheer about since 1993, the last time the Islanders actually won a playoff series.
Now, in the spirit of fairness and despite the utter lambasting of Snow by TSN’s analysts, what happened on Wednesday with Thomas Vanek was not necessarily negligence if taken as an isolated incident. Some may believe the October trade that brought him to Long Island was destined to set up what transpired leading up to the trade deadline. I’ve always maintained it was a necessary risk considering the Isles’ issues attracting talent.
Regardless of where you stand, Snow had a job to do Wednesday and when taxed with getting something to offset the debatable trade, he did what he could. And I know this because not one team that acquired what can be considered a “rental” player got a first-round pick in any draft. And if you try to say you know with certainty what Snow was offered for Vanek leading up to the deadline, you’re full of it. The Islanders protect their secrets like someone is actually out to steal them.
But that’s where my fairness ends, because though I don’t fault Snow for not doing better than a conditional second-rounder and a prospect for Vanek, the entire episode was just the latest chapter in a graphic novel that seemingly has no end.
The bottom line is no one wants to hear excuses anymore about anything having to do with this team. Even if all the logic in the world suggests in certain situations Snow’s hands are tied, nobody cares.
People don’t want to hear how great a prospect Sebastian Collberg is and how he has top six forward potential when he was possibly acquired straight up for one of the elite snipers in the sport. On one hand you expect Snow to put a positive spin on every move he makes. On the other, many Islanders fans were born at night, but not last night.
Collectively, Snow has nowhere near enough on his resumé covering his seven-plus years as general manager to buy him any forgiveness when things don’t work out.
It may not be fair, but the people pay the bills, and the people couldn’t care less about his circumstances.
Now, if it seems like I’m focusing solely on Snow and giving Wang a pass, either because I’m resigned to the fact that he’ll never sell or because I just think he’s a sweet old man who once saved this franchise from moving, it only seems that way. I’m furious with Wang, mostly because he’s owner in name only. Under his direction, Snow has been put under an enormous amount of pressure by fans to fix something that has been damaged by years of neglect from the highest seat in the hierarchy. As a result, there’s a stigma that follows the Islanders around — one of frugality and no accountability.
Sure, the Isles have thrown out huge contract offers to unrestricted free agents over the last few years, but none have accepted. Why? Because the Islanders are perceived as not caring about winning? Not necessarily. Because playing alongside John Tavares is not this great experience everyone seems to think it is? Not necessarily. Because Brooklyn, while a nice concept, is not this utopia Wang wants everyone to believe it is? Again, not necessarily.
But if you add up all the things that could lead to reasonable doubt you get reasonable doubt.
Even former club “owner” John Spano, of all people, someone who I normally wouldn’t waste two seconds on, makes some sense when he speaks of the current state of the Islanders.
Check out what he tweeted on Wednesday as the Vanek situation played out:
Is he wrong? As distasteful as Spano’s history is, there are many out there who think he’s as right as rain.
Again, I try to formulate my opinions based on reality. And since I’m fairly convinced Wang will look to benefit from Barclays Center and maintain ownership for at least long enough to recoup some of the reported hundreds of millions he’s lost, constant screaming for him to sell is just futile and nothing more than justifiable angst run amok.
Let it go, folks.
As bad and embarrassing as it is to be an Islanders fan right now, the product on the ice is not in need of a massive overhaul. The Isles are two-three solid moves and possibly a coaching change away from actually being better than the team that made the playoffs last season.
I do not in any way think Snow is incompetent. I’m sure he knows the types of moves of which I speak — like doing whatever is necessary to get a top-flight goalie in a free agent market that should favor the buyer. The question is, will the stigma that follows the Islanders around continue to hurt them in free agency? I think the time has come to not quibble over the details. If Snow likes a goalie he needs to over-spend if it means landing what is vitally important to the next five years of the franchise.
It’s not like the Islanders won’t have the salary cap space and the initiative.
But even if he doesn’t run into roadblocks in free agency, Snow must carry on his newfound belief in trading young assets for established players. And, yes, he’s actually open to doing that because that’s how he got Vanek in the first place. The next time it would probably serve him better to trade for someone under contract. But I digress.
I know I can sit here and type away things that sound logical, but that doesn’t mean they will happen. And that sits at the crux of the Islanders’ poor relationship with their fans. The needs are obvious, but the faith in the front office to acquire the necessary pieces is slipping away by the day. I’ve been with this team for 35 years, meaning I was front and center for the Spano-Mike Milbury years, and I’ve never seen this fan base as angry as it is at this moment.
While you never want to throw absolutes out there, I kind of view this summer as a point of no return. Sure, the Islanders will continue on regardless if they botch free agency, but for the first time maybe ever I get the feeling that if this franchise isn’t careful it will be carrying even less of a posse to Brooklyn after next season than it first thought.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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