By B.D. Gallof
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The Islanders have had a plan. It was birthed in 2008 and had some adjustments to the process, but this was finally the year where fans began to see some return in their patience. Sadly, it was not enough at this juncture to unseat the top dog in the East in the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now the Isles will assess and look to see what they can improve on this summer. However, the shopping list that has excited fans on Twitter, message boards and in regular conversation is simply unrealistic.
There will be no trades for Roberto Luongo. Don’t expect Ryan Miller, either. Nor will there be a sudden shopping cart running down the aisles of the free-agency period.
Before most fans fall back on the usual kneejerk reaction of Charles Wang not willing to spend or that Garth Snow is not going fast enough, let us go over a few items.
For one thing, the coming UFA period has a limited list of clear upgrades. This is not considered a quality crop.
As for trades, while the Islanders want a competitive team for next season that is better than this past season, they will not overpay to do so. They have never dealt a rebuilding chip, and some fans might groan and feel that now is the time to do so. But they will then turn to the development and play of Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo to prove their patient course to impatient fans. I mean, lets be honest: How many of you cried for one or both of them to be dealt this or last season. Yet, both were instrumental to the playoff attainment.
Another pointed item to those who cry out for quick moves is the natural next step of rebuilding, where kids will be in fierce competition with vets under contract. That will be something to watch this coming September. By that very nature and plan, a higher level will be created. Vets must produce to remain playing. Otherwise, they will be unseated by hungry player with talent and attributes that are coveted in the long term.
The Islanders’ plan is not to just create a Cup contending team for a season, but to create a system for the team to win and compete for the long haul. This is why they have stuck to their pieces and have let things come together when deals or free agents are out of their price range.
Now this does not mean that Snow is not looking to improve. Far from it. Snow has been looking for certain pieces for a while, however he has been unable to ply them from teams. But with a venue and future now certain — and a message made to the NHL that the Islanders are on their way up — perhaps he can grab that piece that eluded him.
The real game-changer and radical move lies outside Snow, really. It depends on market and the cap ceiling that is dropping.
Many teams will be in cap trouble and will need to move contacts to be able to get under the cap. Snow and the Islanders are in wait-and-see mode to see if they can acquire a key piece or upgrade in any way possible. So those who keep crying out that the owner is unwilling to spend are wrong. They are willing to spend IF they get what they are looking for. This is the crux that this summer really pivots upon.
All in all, it is far more likely that they operate like they did last summer — make some depth moves and look for development to carry them forth. If they look to move past Evgeni Nabokov, they will secure a veteran goaltender but will also look to get Kevin Poulin a least 20 starts next season.
Fans really seem to be pushing for a top goalie. That is simply not going to happen.
What the Islanders won’t do this summer is trade viable assets for a goalie. There is not one out there worth the Isles’ assets. Miller regressed, Luongo is like a bad prom date that Vancouver can’t get rid of and Jonathan Bernier is completely unproven. We can go on.
Garth will not deal assets for unproven commodities. Period.
It is far more likely that Nabokov returns and plays a bit less. Those who point to his bad playoffs must also look to the fact that he was tops in in the NHL in minutes and games played. He played a LOT for a 37-year-old goalie in what was a very compacted schedule that affects the goalie most of all.
If Poulin is to get more play, it might mean a more rested Nabokov next season, or whoever is the vet presence in goal next season.
Now, I prefer a goaltender who can steal a game or play at an elite level, as does everybody else. So if Snow and the scouting staff feel that a key veteran is in the UFA pool, and he gives the team more of a chance to win, well that would be great.
Speaking of which, amnesty or not for Rick DiPietro, it is very doubtful that he sees the NHL ice on Long Island –or Brooklyn — for that matter.