March 5th 2014, a fairly insignificant date in the calendar but one which seemingly represented rock bottom in the Islander’s season. Thomas Vanek had just been traded for what seemed like a pitifully low return, the team was nowhere near the play offs and captain John Tavares was out injured for the rest of the season. Unsurprisingly confidence in GM Garth Snow was at an all time low with many calling for him to be fired with even national media criticising him for yet another lost season.
But yet, just 7 months later, the Islanders are primed to make a considerable leap in the standings and possibly threaten Pittsburgh for the division title and end the long wait to win a play off series. From being vilified, Garth is suddenly being praised by fans and pundits alike as it seems the much publicised rebuild could finally be coming to fruition at long last, so what happened to drastically change opinion?
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The simple view is that Nabokov, Martinek, Nilsson while adding Halak, Johnson, Grabovski, Kulemin, Conacher, Leddy and Boychuk. If you said to any Islander fan that the summers transactions would be that and they would have laughed and told you to lay off the alcohol. It’s possible that Garth Snow has had one of the best off seasons of any NHL GM in living memory, to potentially fix all of the Islanders problems going into the summer (Secondary scoring, goaltending and defending) is a phenomenal achievement, especially when you consider the calibre of the players he brought in.
Goaltending was the biggest reason why the Islanders sank last season so Garth acquired Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson to form what seems like the best goaltending tandem the Islanders have had in decades, even if they provide just NHL average goaltending that represents a considerable upgrade on the pitiful display we were shown last season. I’ve already written about the goaltending but what seemed like the biggest additions to the team back in July would turn out to be just the beginning for Garth Snow.
Free agency brought reinforcements, after a fairly quiet July 1st which only saw Cory Conacher and TJ Brennan (later traded to Chicago in the Leddy deal) added of note, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin were signed to ignite a faltering secondary scoring group and to help take the strain off John Tavares. While there is no doubt that Snow overpaid for the services of both, this was a necessary move and acquring the B level NHL players is something fans have been screaming for for several years now and this will help the likes of Ryan Strome improve their game playing alongside established players.
Excitement on Long Island was sky high following free agency and confidence was high that the team had the capabilities to return to the post season in a full 82 game season. Despite this there were a lot of questions over a beleaguered D corps that was very young and very inexperienced, so Snow made the best moves of the summer to acquire Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy in separate trades only a few days ago. Not only was he able to trade for these two players but he also managed to give up very little with two second round picks and good prospect Ville Pokka being lost of significant note.
These trades allow the Islanders to be more patient with prospects like Anders Lee and Ryan Pulock so they can develop in Bridgeport without having to rush them into the lineup which is something we haven’t been able to do for a very long time. This summer seems to have reinvigorated the Islanders and there is a buzz going into the last ever season at the Coliseum so with expectations raised it seems like the franchise finally has the ability to meet them and we can send the old barn out in style.