Has It Been Snowing On The Island For Too Long?
The 2013-2014 New York Islanders season was filled with hope and promise long before it even began, thanks to a spirited playoff run last year against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Optimism filled the island with high expectations and preparation for a year that would see the Isles return to playoff glory and an even better position in the standings (Photo credit: Official New York Islanders/Flickr).
Sadly, things are looking quite the opposite with each game that passes.
The defense has been worse than fragile; the offense is simply not there from many players that need to contribute in order for this team to win; goaltending has become a vicious Ferris wheel of rotating two young net-minders and knowing that either one will be unreliable in the crease; a coach is at a loss for finding ways to motivate and get the best out of his players.
The list seems to go on and on.
It all started, much like the heightened optimism, before the season began.
Nino Niederreiter was sent packing for a player that has only provided body checks. Although the organization knew what they were getting in Cal Clutterbuck, some extra offensive production was surely expected over his dismal five points in 24 games played, especially since the Isles already had Matt Martin, who has been the league-leader in hits every year.
Niederreiter currently has 15 points in 31 games, for those keeping track.
With that being said, no one was added for offensive support. Yet Josh Bailey was signed to a five-year extension despite never turning the corner in his development. He is one of the players that is bleeding the offense dry with only 10 points in 29 games played (which is sadly good enough to be fifth best on the team).
Then this season, when things were only going 'okay' by Garth Snow's standards, he traded Matt Moulson, a key member of the team's top line and close friend of John Tavares for Thomas Vanek.
Vanek currently has nine points in his 14 games played as an Islanders forward, where Moulson has 11 points in 17 games played.
The top line of Vanek-Tavares-Okposo has continued to produce results, so that trade can't exactly be considered the catalyst for disaster. However, Vanek is likely going to desert a sinking ship once his contract expires this year whereas Mouslon would have likely stayed if offered the contract he deserves.
It's still possible that the Isles can sign Moulson, but it's hard to tell if Snow would go that route after giving up a first and second round pick in the deal as well. My guess is that all of his efforts will go into signing Vanek to an extension in order to assure himself, ownership and the fans that the Vanek trade was not a bust.
The argument that has been made by so many is that those picks, or that trade, should have been used to improve the defense and goaltending. Since that deal, Snow has been reportedly working the phones to find a suitable trade partner to address his needs on the blue line but has not found the right deal.
Perhaps he's being extra cautious to not give away too much since he already has and looking more and more like it will haunt him with a vengeance.
But aside from the "now" portion of this problem, it was concluded by every hockey pundit, fan and expert before the season started that this team would need to improve their blue line and crease if they were going to contend for a playoff spot once again.
Snow did not do any of the above. Injuries took place and suddenly this sturdy lighthouse appeared to be nothing more than a crumbling sand castle.
Many are asking if this means the Isles have to rebuild all over again. From my point of view, I don't think they do. This team is still only a few changes away from righting the wrongs of this season. But it might not happen as soon as many people would like.
The question that might be going through team owner Charles Wang's mind is if Garth Snow is the right man for the job going forward. There is no doubt that he has made some great choices for this team during the course of the rebuild: he picked up some gems off the waiver wire and drafted top end talent that would stock pile his farm system with youth that should yield results for years to come.
But when it came time to take this team to the next level, Snow faltered. In retrospect, Niederreiter could have been used in a trade that would have improved the team's blue line or goaltending. The same can be said for the Moulson deal. And then one can argue if Moulson is the player that should have even been traded considering that Michael Grabner and Bailey, who are both still young, have been ghosts for this team since that trade was made.
These moves, or lack thereof, have been questionable at best.
All of these problems have made it very easy to clamor for Jack Capuano's job to be taken away from him; and it might be. Sources have stated that Peter Laviolette is at the top of the Isles' list if they were to make a coaching change. But is it just Capuano that should be held responsible for not putting a winning hockey team on the ice?
The next few months could be very telling for this hockey club's dynamic, starting all the way at the top office and down to the goal line.