By Jeff Capellini
The Islanders’ season has gotten to the sad stage, the point where the writing seems not only on the wall, but also on the roof, windows and doors.
Barring the equivalent of a hockey miracle, this team is going nowhere.
Ownership and the front office started abandoning the Isles over the summer, and they’ve since left head coach Jack Capuano and captain John Tavares to pretty much fend for themselves.
Of course, you can argue that the Islanders do have talent, that they should be better than their last-place 15-16-8 record and that Capuano and Tavares deserve a lot of the blame for what has transpired, seemingly a complete regression in the wake of last April’s first playoff series win since 1993.
But the fact remains the Islanders entered the 2016-17 season nothing like the club that finished the 2015-16 season. It has been about as bad a first few months as a team could produce given the promise that seemed to be oozing from every corner of the organization following back-to-back 100-point seasons. Make no mistake, Capuano and his superstar center have been part of the problem, but, as far as I am concerned, their amount of culpability is far less than that of general manager Garth Snow and new co-owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin.
Much has been made of the offseason departures of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen, but Snow had a chance to make up for it. Instead, he basically hogtied himself by handing out contracts to good-but-not-difference-making veterans and to homegrown guys who had shown only flashes of day-to-day staying power. The Isles are now a team that has backed itself into a corner as it stares at the salary cap ceiling and up at everyone else in the Eastern Conference standings.
That said, regardless of the situation, it’s the general manager’s job to fix problems. The NHL, like any other professional sports league, is a bottom-line business. Fans pay big money for tickets and expect at the very least to see a representative product on the ice. The Islanders have not come close to matching the expectations they earned off last season, and, more specifically, off the slow and steady climb they had made since selecting Tavares No. 1 overall in the 2009 draft.
As for Ledecky and Malkin, who the heck knows? They are off doing whatever it is that men who pay half a billion dollars for a team do when said team plays like one of the worst in the league.
Ledecky had plenty of time to pay homage to Jiggs McDonald, whom the Isles honored prior to Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss to Florida, offering a complete statement on the Hall of Fame broadcaster’s brilliance and importance to the franchise. But God forbid Ledecky offer words, scathing or otherwise, on his team, which has been a bottom-feeder since basically the first game of the season.
One can say the new owners are doing their due diligence for only so long. Eventually, this mysterious fact-finding mission looks more like negligence. Their silence has been deafening and ill-advised.
Even if Ledecky and Malkin do eventually hire some kind of executive to oversee the front office, which has been rumored, presumably to make changes and whatnot, it does not excuse punting on a season before it’s halfway over, which some will argue the Isles did as early as the first week of November.
Following the loss to the Panthers on Wednesday, the Islanders’ third straight game scoring a single goal (against teams with a combined 44-63-15 record as of publication of this column), Capuano said what probably should have been said long ago.
Changes are coming. Albeit, not the types of moves fans have been clamoring for, but moves nonetheless.
“We signed some guys for reasons. We want to give those guys an opportunity,” Capuano said, a fairly obvious shot at free agent forward acquisitions Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, who rode the pine for a good part of Wednesday’s loss and have combined for just 13 goals in 39 games.
Capuano didn’t stop there. One has to figure young forward Ryan Strome, who had 50 points as a rookie two seasons ago but has been on the back of a milk carton since, was among the culprits in the coach’s second pointed quote.
“There are some other guys, too — you can say the veteran guys, but there are a few of the young guys — you watch the game tonight, they were nonfactors,” Capuano said. “What you need to do right now, in the time that you’re in this game right now, you have to come to the rink and you have to be a difference-maker. If you don’t have that mindset to be a difference-maker, knowing it’s a crucial time with games in hand, to play like you played tonight, then you’re in the wrong profession as an athlete.”
So what kind of moves should they make? Expect defenseman Adam Pelech, who was brought up to sub for injured veteran Travis Hamonic, to stay around. Also, don’t be surprised if talented-but-inexperienced forward Anthony Beauvillier trades in his suit and tie and view from the press box for meaningful minutes. Perhaps the Isles will also dig deeper into their AHL affiliate’s roster in Bridgeport, though it’s fairly obvious that top prospects Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang, even by their own admission, are not close to being ready.
Aside from those potential moves, Snow really has to figure out a way to, at the very least, begin preparing for next season, assuming he’ll still be the one calling the shots as far as the on-ice product is concerned. Though many fans don’t want Snow making a further mess of this situation, the Islanders do need to do some maneuvering if they plan on attacking the summer with renewed vigor.
The reshaping of the roster needs to begin during what’s left of this season because nearly everyone is signed for next season and I can’t see any way this club comes back as is, even if the powers that be are ridiculously stubborn. I’d expect the Isles to be big-time sellers at the trade deadline. Assuming the season doesn’t turn around in a hurry, they should trade defenseman Dennis Seidenberg (a pending unrestricted free agent who has actually been a bright spot this season), banished goalie Jaroslav Halak, a forward or three, and perhaps others.
In the interim, Snow needs to stop telling everyone that he believes in this roster. No one does. He’s insulting the intelligence of Islanders fans and is being laughed at around the league.
And Capuano must do a heck of a lot more than his usual “same lineup with (Thomas) Greiss in net,” a tweet we all see from reporters on a daily basis. The Islanders are the NHL’s biggest disappointment. It’s pretty much time to see what they have in the farm system.
What a sad commentary that is.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @JCapWFAN