The New York Islanders are headed for an offseason of uncertainty at exactly the wrong time, but can Garth Snow fix it?
It was a mere two years ago when New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow had what came to be known as the “Summer of Garth”: a time when the roster of the franchise received a massive overhaul and uptick in quality.
Halak, Leddy, Grabovski, Boychuk, and Kulemin were among the big names that put pen to paper and inked deals with the Islanders, and the immediate effect was the best season for New York since the dynasty years.
Snow was cited as having made massive improvements over the tenure of his leadership on the island, and some went so far as to rank him as one of the top ten GM’s across the NHL.
But here we are two years later, and Snow is staring into the abyss of the most important offseason of his career in management. The Islanders have made improvements, and are no longer the laughingstock that they once were.
A first round playoff series victory earned the good will of Islanders fans everywhere to the point where the team’s eventual demise to Tampa Bay, while disappointing, didn’t take away from what had been an exciting run.
For all the home cooking that’s going on in Brooklyn, one thing seems abundantly clear: Garth Snow has determined that the team that made it to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs is not a team that can advance past that point.
Granted, two home overtime losses could have radically changed the direction of the series had the results been reverse, but New York was outplayed wholeheartedly by the Lightning, arguably including their sole victory in Game 1.
Snow himself said days ago that the team wishes homegrown Islander Kyle Okposo “nothing but the best” as he embarks on an unrestricted free agency journey.
If Snow, and by extension Capuano, felt that this squad was the roster to take the next step, then we would see these fan favorites make a return to Brooklyn next year. But again, all reports are implying that’s just not going to happen.
Whatever you think of the skills of these men, you cannot underrate what their departure would mean to the emotional makeup of the New York Islanders.
Snow has preached a philosophy of patience and allowing talent to grow naturally. Yes, two years ago there was a legitimate injection of new blood, but it has been clear that the young guns are supposed to be the ones to make the big jump and drive this team closer to bringing a fifth cup to the franchise.
To say the lackluster play of Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, and beyond was disheartening is an understatement. The inconsistency drove both fans and coaches mad. In what were theoretically going to be breakout years for the trio, Nelson and Lee had periods where they impressed yet still did not produce at the level expected of them.
If the veteran leadership for New York departs for greener pastures, who will fill that gap?
Will Ryan Strome rebound from a disappointing sophomore season? Will Anders Lee be able to recover from his leg injury? Can Brock Nelson avoid the huge swings in his play?
And of course there is the humongous, as albino-as-it-gets elephant in the room: how is Garth Snow going to support his superstar center John Tavares?
As much as he would like to, Tavares cannot do everything by himself, and the Pittsburgh Penguins just demonstrated that even having the best player in the game does not guarantee a Cup.
What does? Deep rosters with secondary scoring production that can bail out superstars if they are having a dry spell.
Crosby’s pre-Cup numbers were not staggering by any stretch, and while he did have an excellent Cup Final, it’s not hard to argue that the Penguins’ success came from their role players such as Kessel, Bonino, and Hagelin.
Do the Islanders have those kind of players? If we were to judge the roster based on the playoffs, the answer would be no.
The Lightning shut down Tavares and ultimately claimed the series. No one provided a viable alternative to what the Islander captain brings. And there are not many names out there on the open market that could provide the aforementioned alternative.
Well, almost no one.
There is a name that’s been bandied about in the hallways and corners of Islanders City Hall. It is a name that many fear to speak out loud in case of bad juju coming their way.
What name is it you ask? Why, the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Steven Stamkos!
Sure, Stamkos signing with New York seems to have been created from idle speculation along the lines of, “Well the Islanders have money…and they need scoring…so Stamkos to Brooklyn!!”
I would place the odds of this actually happening at around 5%, but the crux of the argument shines a bright light on why Garth Snow cannnot afford to make any missteps this offseason.
Were the Islanders to take a step back next season and, say, miss the playoffs, it would be a crippling blow to a newly-relocated franchise that is still attempting to carve out an identity in the big city.
Overall, the talk about the team was negative. Who doesn’t remember the goal horn, Sparky, arena, obstructed seats, and security “scandals” from the regular reason? It took a playoff run to point the ship in the right direction, and the team simply cannot afford to hit an iceberg on the way.
This Islanders team has been “rebuilding” ever since Tavares was drafted, and they have managed to move in a positive trending direction. But now there is uncertainty with what this team will look like heading into their second season in Brooklyn.
But here’s the good news for Snow: it doesn’t matter how it looks, or how it’s handled. The bottom line is that results speak for themselves, and Snow has had more good than bad over the last handful of years.
The hope with New York Islanders fans everywhere is that in his most important summer, Snow will be able to answer the bell once more.