With the New York Islanders season coming to a merciful conclusion over the course of the next 22 games, it will be the 10 days after the re-opening of the NHL’s trade window on February 24 that will ultimately tell the story of general manager Garth Snow‘s tenure as the rebuild marches on.
There has to be a point where this team truly turns the corner and becomes a perennial playoff contender and the man at the top of the hockey operations food chain has come under fire lately for not accomplishing that task.
Snow has done a good job re-stocking the Islanders farm system with outstanding young talent like Ryan Strome, Anders Lee, Ryan Pulock, Griffin Reinhart, Scott Mayfield, Matt Donovan and Calvin deHaan (both on the big club) just to name a few. There is little doubt that Bridgeport is one of the top feeder clubs in the entire league.
But those prospects have to work out at the National Hockey League level and that is where it has become dicey for Snow over the past couple of seasons. Josh Bailey, unquestionably talented, just cannot seem to get over the hump. Michael Grabner, arguably the fastest skater in the league, cannot get over his breakaway yips and become consistent. Kevin Poulin, in his first extended look this season has not commanded confidence he can take over the reigns for Evgeni Nabokov.
On the flip side of that coin, Brock Nelson has developed wonderfully and Donovan and deHaan have been the Islanders best defensive pair since the former was recalled on January 2. Strome showed glimpses of what he could offer but was under-utilized in his first run with the senior squad.
Of course, Snow took a gamble that fans have clamored for (trade for Thomas Vanek), spoke out when fans were screaming for him to do so (whether right or wrong on the topic of Tavares’ Olympics injury) and gets vilified either way. Today, the mainstream media around the league continued to pile on with column after column on Snow’s outburst from yesterday morning.
The fans have every right to be disappointed with the way the season has turned out for the Islanders and Snow’s perceived lack of attention to what was truly needed in the summer of 2013 (namely a replacement for departed Mark Streit and goaltending). The only counter-argument that could be given is that the talent level on both of those levels was suspect at best and Snow counted on players that were expected to step up actually doing so and performing at NHL levels.
Whether you believe in him or not, this is a very crucial summer coming up for an organization still looking to regain its identity and forge upwards in the league instead of just spinning its wheels season after season.
Snow wisely built a little known (at the time) hedge into the trade that sent Matt Moulson plus 1st and 2nd round picks to the Buffalo Sabres for Thomas Vanek. The 1st round choice can be deferred from 2014 to 2015 if it falls within the top 10 selections. And all indications are it will most certainly meet that criteria this season, even more so with the injury to Tavares putting him on the shelf until September.
The big question is, what does Snow choose to do? Some think the Islanders could finish as low as 29th in the 30 team league after the season standings are locked after the 82nd game for each club. Currently, they sit only 5 points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers for that distinction. It is almost a certainty that Buffalo will finish dead last and choose first in the 2014 entry draft.
Most pundits and ‘experts’ believe the 2015 draft class is the deepest in a decade, with talent that could define and change a franchise for years to come. This summer’s class looks to be about 4 deep with that élite of a distinction. Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Michael Dal Colle might fit.
Let’s say for argument’s sake the Islanders pick this season at 2 or 3, does he keep it and select Reinhart or Bennett to complement an offense still needing consistent secondary scoring? Or does he let Buffalo perhaps select two back to back franchise players and set his sights on that extraordinary 2015 class?
The answer is not certain to be an easy one, but could lie in what Snow obtains for Vanek prior to or at the March 5 deadline this year. If he can recoup a mid-level or shall I say top 10 selection in the 1st round for 2014, the decision to allow Buffalo to have the pick could be made.
Of course, the flip side of the coin suggests a prediction for the Islanders 2014-15 season as well. If they finally take that next step, which fans have waited seemingly forever for, the pick could be 15 or worse, as it was last year. That could make passing up on Reinhart for instance, very costly in the end game.
Does anyone want to tell me how easy it is to be a general manager of an NHL club again?