The Summer of Snow
The summer of Snow is upon us. For better or worse, the fate of the New York Islanders rests in the hands of General Manager Garth Snow over the next three months. His goal is simple even if the process is complicated: put the finishes touches on a “rebuild” started six summers ago and create a sustained contender for the last season at the Nassau Coliseum and the future of Brooklyn. (Photo credit: Official New York Islanders/flickr).
For those optimistic about Charles Wang selling the team (count me among them as well), as each day passes the likelihood of sweeping organizational changes affecting this summer becomes less and less. That’s not to say a new owner won’t bring in his guys immediately, but with the draft less than ten days away and free agency two weeks, Snow will have his fingerprints on the team’s moves this summer, no question. Better to accept it than be stunned by it when it occurs.
We’ve seen some solid moves already: the acquisition and signing of Jaroslav Halak and the trading for Dan Boyle’s rights. While the team may strike out with Boyle and try to flip his rights prior to the draft, all signs points to Snow understanding the urgency of this summer. Whether it’s for self-preservation or otherwise, it doesn’t matter as long as the team is improving. The signing of Halak was a huge step forward so far for this organization.
But Snow can’t stop there. He needs to be aggressive this summer in his pursuit of quality players to compliment the young veterans on this team. It’s imperative the Islanders go into training camp with another top-4 defenseman and a top-6 winger. While younger players such as Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Calvin de Haan all showed promise, expecting them to continue to progress without any setbacks is irrational and can put the team behind the eight-ball early.
The problem that Snow faces, or at least tells you that he faces, is the team’s inability to sign marquee players. True or not, the team cannot use that as an excuse this summer to sit back and sign third and fourth tier free agents. The Islanders have plenty of assets in the organization that can be moved to obtain impact players. No one is suggesting trading three pieces for a 34-year old Joe Thornton. However there is no reason the team shouldn’t focus on a younger player who can help them win now and in the future.
And it starts on draft night. While it makes perfect sense to be conservative, hold onto the fifth pick and select the best available player, this Islander team cannot wait two or three years to reap the benefits of that player. With Brooklyn on the horizon and the area just getting over its case of Ranger-fever, the Islanders need a player who can help them win games now. Names like Evander Kane and Brad Marchand are rumored to be available for the right price and either would be an instant upgrade to the team’s top six forward group. No doubt other forwards will be available, but as of this post, those two appear to be the most available that would make sense for the Islanders to look into acquiring.
Of course old friend Thomas Vanek is available via free agency. Despite the fact that Vanek struggled the last few weeks of the playoffs, someone is sure to throw a mountain of cash at the winger and based on history, it won’t be Snow.
The Islander can’t stop there though. Even if the team were to sign Dan Boyle, the team should look to upgrade its top four defensemen. At this point with Lubomir Visnovsky’s status on uncertain, at best Boyle can be seen as a replacement for Visnovsky…power play specialist with defensive deficiencies. The Islanders’ defense has quantity, but lacks quality in its top-four. Travis Hamonic and de Haan are a nice start, and with top prospect Griffin Reinhart on the cusp, there is some potential. But the team needs more than “hope” and “potential” if it wants to be a sustained contender.
There will also be a few decent options on the blue line via free agency, namely Andrei Markov, Matt Niskanen, and Anton Stralman. But based on recent history, how many fans truly expect Snow to outbid a team and sign one of these top guys?
That brings us to potential trade targets like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Keith Yandle. Both are only 27-years old and are locked up beyond the upcoming season. Hjalmarrson recently signed a new contract with the Blackhawks, but one has to wonder if the team will be forced to move him and other players in order to get cap compliant and save money for future extensions. There are already whispers that the Hawks may look to move Marian Hossa or Johnny Oduya to save some cash. But Snow should see what it would take to pry Hjalmarsson away. He’s the exact type of defenseman the Islanders could use: young, mobile, solid in his own end and championship experience under his belt. Considering the tough spot the Hawks are in financially, the team shouldn’t have to part with any of its top prospects in order to obtain him.
As for Yandle, the Coyotes aren’t nearly in the salary cap trouble the Hawks are. However they could use some more offensive punch up front and the Islanders have some players that may interest them. Could you center a package around either Nelson or Anders Lee to obtain Yandle? Or maybe the fifth pick? There is a lot to like about Nelson’s game, but if things break right for the Islanders, is he a third-line center behind Tavares and Strome in the future? It’s a steep price to pay, but no one said that a top-four defenseman would come cheap. Would Yandle playing alongside the more defensive-minded Reinhart be a long-term solution as team’s future top-pairing and allow the Hamonic-de Haan duo to slide into a second unit role that fits them better? It’s tempting to say the least.
So let’s play things out for a minute: trade the fifth overall pick for Evander Kane and a fourth round pick…trade Anders Lee and two-second round picks for Hjalmarsson…sign Thomas Greiss to backup Halak. The team fills in all of its major holes and is positioned nicely now and in the future. They would still have a strong group of defensive prospects to fill in the back end the next few seasons and have a young forward group led by John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Kane, Strome, and Nelson. Snow could really go for a homerun and look to dump Josh Bailey for another team’s “change of scenery” guy (maybe Sam Gagner in Edmonton or Tyler Myers in Buffalo). The fan base would absolutely be excited and ready to roll with this team. In the Eastern Conference could Halak get hot in April and rely on Tavares and Okposo to do some damage? Why not?
So now the pressure is all on Snow. This may be his last opportunity to save his job and leave a lasting impression on the Islanders. Right now the majority of the fan base looks upon his tenure with anger and frustration (all well-deserved). No more excuses about buildings, lack of money, going with youth, etc. The time to win is now. This fan base deserves it.
UPDATE: Reports coming out now that Boyle will not sign with the Islanders and Snow will look to flip his rights.
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