Whether fans like it or not, the New York Islanders seem to be embracing the idea of tanking for the 2018-2019 season.
There is no better way to be transparent about your intent to tank than by signing one-year deals with objectively bad players. That is exactly what the New York Islanders have been doing all summer.
The latest addition to the team is Luca Sbisa who signed a one year deal with the Islanders as of Monday afternoon. He will join a group of Valtteri Filppula, Jan Kovar, Brock Nelson, and Tom Kühnhackl- all of the players that have signed one-year deals and will be UFAs next summer. It is naive to think that any of these players will be re-joining the New York Islanders in the 2019-2020 season.
This signing also came on the same day as several new training camp cuts, including Josh Ho-Sang, Noah Dobson and the very impressive Kieffer Bellows. You could easily say that these signings are the reason for these cuts and that weak veterans are blocking our budding stars. How could Lamoriello not see that he’s choosing all the wrong players?
No GM would look at the New York Islanders current roster and honestly say that he has a winning team on his hands, especially not when there are so many talented prospects that clearly deserve a chance in the NHL. The true objective is clear: to tank.
How Are We Tanking?
No NHL team is going to come out and announce that they’re giving up on a season before it has begun. But there’s nothing more transparent than admitting that your rookies are ready for the major leagues and yet, signing multiple players who bring no real value to to team to one year contracts.
Lamoriello himself even said that Bellows and Ho-Sang impressed him but they: “have a lot of guys under contract” so there was no way to fit them into the roster.
Favoring vets and keeping rookies in the minor league serves a dual purpose for the New York Islanders. While prospects like Kieffer Bellows have impressed so far, the reality of the situation is that he has never played a professional game in his career. Spending time in the AHL or even in the WHL like Mathew Barzel could better prepare him for a long stint in the NHL.
More importantly, hoarding young talent and pushing veterans with less value makes the team more likely to lose. And losing is winning this year.
What Do We Gain?
The ultimate goal for tanking would be a better chance at drafting Jack Hughes, a center who is projected to be franchise changing. His performance in national tournaments has been comparable to that of Auston Matthews- except he’s doing it a year younger.
Adding Hughes or any other top-five pick from the 2019 rookie draft class to a New York Islanders group already poised to unleash their talented prospects on the NHL would make for a drastic change in the team’s culture. By this team next year, they will have shed many of their veteran contracts and be running a lineup full of young, soon-to-be stars.
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This concept is currently not out of the question. Just looking at Lamoriello’s history with the Toronto Maple Leafs, it would be entirely unsurprising if he is following the same blueprints for his new team. Looking at where the Leafs are now, it may be smart for fans too to embrace the tank.