By Jeff Capellini
Hey, the truth hurts sometimes.
Not long after Tampa Bay rolled to an easy win over the Islanders at Barclays Center on Monday night, one of the Lightning’s best players took a shot at the home side.
Following his team’s 4-0 victory, a final score that easily could have been a lot worse had it not been for some excellent goaltending by the Isles’ Jaroslav Halak during the first two periods, winger Nikita Kucherov told the Tampa Bay Times that which many players around the league are probably thinking.
“I wish we could play them more,” Kucherov said.
I don’t blame Kucherov one bit. The Islanders are a disaster right now. They are 5-8-3 and sit six points out of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. This off back-to-back 100-point seasons, including a breakthrough last spring when they won a postseason series for the first time since 1993.
Nothing has gone right since. In addition to their brutal record and overall lack of offense, the Isles completed their season series against the Lightning, the team that eliminated them in the second round of last season’s playoffs, 0-3 and were outscored 14-2.
The Isles were mostly non-competitive and unwatchable in all three games. In fact, they’ve mostly been incredibly hard to watch all season, regardless of the opponent. They’ve barely gotten by weaker clubs and have been outclassed by likely playoff teams.
A big part of the team’s current problems was its offseason approach. The Isles watched as two of their top three scorers left via free agency and they did not adequately replace either. General manager Garth Snow did sign veteran forward Andrew Ladd, but he alone is nowhere near enough to make up for the absences of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen, who jetted to Buffalo and Detroit, respectively.
Then there was the nonsensical decision to release PA Parenteau, arguably the second-best forward signing Snow made this summer, before the regular season even started. The guy is playing wonderful hockey right now for the Devils.
The Isles’ other summer signing, Jason Chimera, is a workhorse, a grinder, and a real professional, but he’s not an offensive catalyst.
Let’s face it, the Islanders needed to add to Okposo and Nielsen to take the next step, not sit idly by thinking happy thoughts while two of the franchise’s more productive players over the last decade took their talents elsewhere. Granted, Nielsen reportedly turned down more money from the Isles to join the Red Wings, but the mystery as to why Okposo wasn’t even courted for a return will remain one of the great unsolved — or at least publicly hidden — cases in Islanders history.
Ladd, who has averaged around 25 goals per season during his career, was overpaid to the tune of $38.5 million over seven years, and is performing as if he’s feeling the pressure of living up to that monster contract. The 30-year-old winger, who was penciled in on the top line next to superstar center John Tavares during the preseason, has two goals and an assist in the Isles’ first 16 games. Needless to say, he is no longer on the top line.
In recent years, the Islanders have hitched their wagons to young forwards Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Ryan Strome, among others. However, so far this season only Nelson has stepped up. He has 11 points, one behind team leader Tavares. Lee and Strome have combined for seven points, including just three goals. And the latter two were basically no-shows all last season when they were healthy or not in head coach Jack Capuano’s dog house.
That lack of offense has been glaring team-wide. The Isles have scored 13 goals in their last seven games, so it should come as no surprise that they have just one win in that span (1-3-3).
Something has to change. As I wrote not too long ago, the Islanders need to shake things up. It’s hard to look at this team as currently constituted and see a potential reversal of fortune. The Isles simply don’t score with anywhere near the requisite consistency needed to be considered among the elite in the conference, a lofty position many figured they’d be competing for in 2016-17 following the success of the last two seasons.
It’s time for new co-owner Jon Ledecky to put his mouth where his money is. He either needs to come forth and issue some kind of world-changing missive that scares the hell out of everyone, most specifically Snow, the architect of this mess, or he needs to clean house.
Snow, Capuano, Sparky the Dragon, whoever.
With each passing day the number of untouchable players on this roster dwindles and with that comes less and less assets to move in trades for immediate help. The list used to include Tavares and a few others. Now it just seems like it’s Tavares, who let’s not forget has a decision to make this summer, the last offseason he will have before the final year of his contract. The Isles, naturally, expect to re-sign him and he has said he wants to remain an Islander for life. But how can he look at this kind of mismanagement and be encouraged that the future will be any better?
Only Ledecky knows the answer. I mean, barring a miracle turnaround, of course, with the same cast of characters.
This man promised a “world class” organization. He did his rounds of interviews after assuming control of the team, along with partner Scott Malkin, from former owner Charles Wang over the summer. Ledecky spoke of how the Islanders needed to become a destination franchise, one that would take advantage of all the New York market has to offer. Well, Barclays Center remains a thorn in the franchise’s side for reasons that have been well-documented. Assuming the Isles don’t get a new place to play their home games — knowing how things are done in New York it’s probably not going to happen any time soon, if ever — Ledecky needs to make due with what he has and that requires he put his imprint on this team.
I don’t want to know about the lines for concessions in the arena, nor do I care about the new practice facility. The idea of a daycare center for the players’ children is fantastic, but is small potatoes in the larger picture.
Fix the on-ice product. Period. It’s all the paying public really cares about.
Someone has to try to make the Islanders great again. I’m not seeing it from the current hierarchy. The idea that a team can rely on mostly young players is folly. It’s not 1975 anymore. A proactive front office tends to be a successful front office. Snow used to be that kind of executive, when he overcame the financial restraints put in place by Wang to somehow find hidden gems, players that proved to be low-risk, high-reward. And the Isles quietly moved their way up the league’s ladder, with the GM often lauded for making something out of nothing.
Those days are over. The idea now has to be about becoming elite. If not, the Islanders are just wasting their fans’ time, money and already limited patience.
Mr. Ledecky, the league is laughing at your team. What are you prepared to do about it?
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet