Where Have The Isles Gone?

Before I begin to talk about the current state of the New York Islanders, I have to ask where this team that is portrayed in this YouTube clip (courtesy of user bufmemaud) has gone?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1E5f7dVNMnY&feature=related

"We saw it last year, I saw it. I saw the energy and the desperation in our game last year. The second half, we had the best record in the National Hockey League after the All-Star break. We were physical. We were tough to play against."

-Islanders head coach Jack Capuano after the New York Islanders 6-0 loss Saturday night to the Boston Bruins.

Ask the Boston Bruins and Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins how tough the Isles have been to play against this season.

The Islanders have now lost 10 of their last 12 and are sitting at the very bottom of the standings for the fourth year in a row; for the fourth year of the slow...very slow, and steady rebuild. 

Isles GM Garth Snow (Official New York Islanders/Flickr)For a team that has been reconstructing itself since GM Garth Snow took over four years ago, the Islanders have not collectively made a great amount of progress. Each year featured the Islanders in the top 5 position at the NHL Entry Draft. Although there were significant steps taken by players such as John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Frans Nielsen and others, the team never managed to get themselves into the spot where they were fighting for at least the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. 

Granted, a rebuilding franchise doesn't look for the playoffs for the first few years, but many felt, (all the way from the last fan to the man at the top of the organization) that this would be the year where the Islanders would take a major leap forward and be in the hunt until the very end. As it stands now, the Islanders are 5-10-3 and are last in the Conference, the second worst team in the NHL. They also have the lowest scoring offense with only 35 goals scored through 18 games. 

The Islanders lacked a true leader last year and were forced to subject young, inexperienced rookies into roles that they weren't ready for; the shocking part is that most of them handled the responsibility like veterans. Travis Hamonic stepped in on defense in the absence of Mark Streit, Mark Eaton (who has now been currently placed on the IR with a left knee MCL sprain) and Mike Mottau. Andrew MacDonald began to develop some offense from the blue line and someone named Michael Grabner began to light up the score sheet every night. This was all done without a captain as Doug Weight practically spent the entire year injured.

So this year Streit would be healthy, Brian Rolston would be added to the mix, two fourth line veteran role players in Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandolfo would be dressed and Steve Staios would add some extra grit and experience on the back-end; things would be different. 

Wrong. The Islanders have taken a great step back and have now scored zero goals in their last two games while giving up 11 against. 

The offense, which was the last facet of this team's game that was expected to be a problem, has been abysmal. Blake Comeau hasn't recorded a point on the year in 15 games played; Josh Bailey has only one goal and two assists on the season (Sidney Crosby came in and scored four points in his first game back from a concussion), Okposo has been a no-show with only three assists on the year as well.

On defense, the Islanders haven't added much offensively as well. Streit is the only defenseman with the team's lone even strength goal on the year from that position while Hamonic appears to have hit a sophomore slump. Despite his offensive woes, Hamonic has still been pretty reliable defensively and has been physical every single game. But his partner MacDonald has looked lost at times and does not appear to be the same player that he was last season either. But, to defend the defenders, if the offense isn't putting in any rebounds that come from the point or connecting on one-timers on the power play, it is hard for the defenseman to earn their points as well. 

In a nutshell, things have gotten bad on the Island. When three forwards who basically make up the second half of your top-six unit are not producing, you are bound to lose hockey games. 

So what does this team do? 

Kyle Okposo (Bleedin' Teal in AZ/Flickr)Firing Garth Snow or Jack Capuano does not solve anything. Snow has drafted very well and has stuck to his plan of keeping the prospects that will right the ship. Granted, nothing may be going right as of the moment, but trading away players like Okposo, Grabner, Hamonic or anyone else that is under the age of 23 and isn't playing up to par would be a mistake. If you disagree with me, take a look at what Mike Milbury did to this team when he didn't show patience. 

I don't care who was behind the bench this season. If you had Scotty Bowman or Joe Schmoe, this team would still be struggling because the veterans that fit the system are still missing. Capuano has shuffled the lines, he's pulled goalies with four minutes left, he's looked for heros from all 12 forwards, he's called up kids from Bridgeport (most recently fan-favorite Micheal Haley, who will add toughness but isn't the answer on his own...not by a longshot), but still nothing is working. Unfortunately, there's not much else for this guy to do. 

What this team really lacks is a veteran presence that can lead these kids into a winning environment. Rolston is way passed his prime and is not the player he was when he was with Minnesota or Boston. Reasoner has shown a very weak arsenal when it comes to offense and has been questionable defensively as well. Although I never wanted to see the guy leave, I did feel that Konopka's position could have been filled by someone with a little bit more offense. Reasoner lacked the punch but his track record showed that he could have the hands. Right now, letting Konopka go not only took a big character player out of that locker room, but his replacement has ultimately been a downgrade. 

Garth Snow has tried to add valuable UFA's to this team every summer. He traded a fourth round pick to the Vancouver Canucks for the negotating rights to Christian Ehrhoff. He's been reported to have offered more money to players, including Paul Martin of the Penguins, who chose to sign with Cup contenders at a lower price instead. Who knows what other types of contracts were thrown out there every summer that haven't reached our Twitter feeds and BlackBerry's. 

But this team needs a change now more than ever. Snow has the tools to upgrade this team and at this stage, minus a handful of players on the current roster like Tavares, Niederreiter, Okposo (yes, despite the slump, he still can be a 50-60 point guy and is only 23 years old), Hamonic, MacDonald, Grabner, Streit, Martin, Nielsen and Moulson, anyone should be considered as potential trade bait. 

Ryan Smyth (coventryblaze68/Flickr)Remember, Snow is still the same GM who got Ryan Smyth out of Edmonton for Robert Nilsson and Ryan O'Marra. Many Isles fans have forgotten who those guys were because they haven't amounted to anything at the NHL level. It's time for Snow to look into his farm system and current roster and see who he is willing to part ways with. 

The Islanders prospect ranks are stacked with talent, but let's face it, they aren't all going to make the team one day. The General Manager has to use some of these assets to help this team now instead of waiting longer than everyone anticipated.

The fanbase is growing restless. The owner, who has struggled to get this team a new arena and hasn't found any help from any of the politicians on the Island, has to be growing tiresome as he continues to lose more and more money on a team that hasn't turned the corner. The lease will be up in three years and there is still a great level of uncertainty on the future of Islanders hockey in Nassau County.

Winning changes everything. This team needs to start now.

-Rob McGowan

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