Being an Islanders fan this season can be described in one word: apathy. Any hockey fan with common sense knows that for the past twenty seasons, this franchise had made mediocrity and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory a habit.
Between Mike Milbury and his successor Garth Snow, Islanders fans have been forced to witness their General Managers reward players with contracts they don’t deserve while watching quality players leave for literally nothing. Now they are stuck at a crossroads that could set them back even further.
Captain John Tavares, their franchise player, is currently an Unrestricted Free Agent waiting to be signed by any team. He has carried the Islanders on his back since being drafted by them first overall in the 2009 NHL Draft. All he has to show for it is one playoff series win against the Florida Panthers who got screwed over by bad calls from the referees in game 5 that allowed Tavares to score the series winning goal in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Before that, he had only seen two first round exits at the hands of the Capitals and the Penguins. He has had little to no support in terms of talent around him, yet has persevered and brought players the likes of Matt Moulson and Josh Bailey to relevance. He’s 27 years old in the prime of his career, but looked as spent and checked out as possible this season. He deserves better, and if he signed for another team this summer instead of the Islanders, I honestly wouldn’t blame him.
I’ve been to three Islanders games the past two seasons, and they lost all three to the following teams at home: The Edmonton Oilers (4-3 in a shootout), Carolina Hurricanes (8-4), and the Boston Bruins (5-2). They’ve looked worse each game that I’ve attended, and the reasons for their mediocrity are as clear as can be to the naked eye, so let’s start at the top and work our way down to the players on the ice at Barclays Center (which was not built for hockey and feels like more of an Off-Broadway theater rather than a hockey rink).
Current General Manager Garth Snow has signed the following players to long-term extensions:
- Cal Clutterbuck ($3.5 Million/year, 4 years remaining on contract)
- Josh Bailey (Signed $5 Million/year extension for the next six years)
- Casey Cizikas ($3.35 Million/year for the next three years)
- Johnny Boychuck ($6 Million/year for the next four years)
- Thomas Greiss ($3.3 Million/year for the next two years)
With the exception of Josh Bailey, who had a career year this season, these players are all replaceable, aging, and are coming off of injury-prone, disappointing campaigns in 2017-2018.
They’re pretty much untradeable (Boychuck has a no movement clause on his contract) and they’re taking up valuable cap space that could have been used to pitch Tavares a deal he couldn’t refuse, and more importantly, be spent on quality players that are actually worth these contracts.
Although Snow deserves credit for fleecing the Edmonton Oilers for Jordan Eberle and a draft pick that they turned into Calder Trophy elect Mathew Barzal, everything else he has done as General Manager was adverse to the franchise’s recovery from their malaise in the 2000’s. Any GM was going to take Tavares first overall in 2009, so that was an acorn that fell into the lap of a blind squirrel. Now that acorn may walk away for nothing, leaving the Islanders in a worse state than they were before his arrival.
They don’t have a legitimate starting goaltender, defensive depth (or quality for that matter), and only two lines worth of NHL quality forwards. This is an AHL team masquerading in the NHL, and they don’t even have prospects in the pipeline. The one that they did, Josh Ho-Sang, was ostracized in the media for his lack of defense and accountability, and banished to the AHL for the majority of this season.
In true Islanders fashion, their defense turned into the worst in the NHL once he was sent down, and Ho-Sang took notice of his harsher treatment at the end of the year, since it was hypocritical of him to take all the blame while Brock Nelson and Jason Chimera were literally ghosts all season, and the like of Tanner Fritz and Michael Dal Colle were called up instead of him during the year.
Now let’s look at the man behind the bench “coaching” this pond hockey excuse of a team: Doug Weight. Weight was given the reigns full -time this past season as Head Coach after filling in when the Islanders fired Jack Capuano in the middle of the 2016-2017 season. Weight was the Power-Play coach at the time, which was one is still one of the Islanders biggest weaknesses along with their penalty kill. Weight also salvaged that season, barely missing out on the playoffs by 2 points to the Maple Leafs, and the organization felt that he could continue that momentum into the next season.
It seemed to be going to plan when December rolled around and they were in the playoff mix among a sea of contenders in the Metropolitan Division, then the wheels fell off. Completely. Even with injuries to Johnny Boychuck and Calvin De Haan on Defense, the team began to let opponents own them in the defensive zone and score for fun. They lost to the Sabres, Coyotes and Senators while teams around them kept their pulse barely alive to no avail.
Their top two lines went cold at the same time with no scoring depth to ease the burden. Instead of locking games down in the 3rd period, they blew them in dramatic fashion, turning W’s into L’s. Even their wins weren’t Sure, they beat the Rangers all season, but the Rangers publicly admitted to rebuilding and starting fresh. The Islanders didn’t, and only barely finished ahead of them in last place at the end of the season.
This toxic mess has now reached the notoriety of hashtags and billboards with the same refrain: Snow Must Go. If only it was this easy, but this organization also put themselves in a dilemma of having to leave their long-time home of Nassau Coliseum with out a proper replacement venue.
Barclays Center is designed for basketball, not hockey. They had a chance to be part of a plan to have it designed for hockey before it was built, but nah, they didn’t think they’d be in this situation, even though the Coli was as old as a museum.
Now they’re stuck splitting home games until their new arena in Belmont is completed because no one wants to pay for terrible sight lines, an SUV in the corner of the rink where seats should be, and cold temperatures in the stands in order to keep the rink from melting because the arena doesn’t have a proper system installed.
The atmosphere is akin to a morgue, you can’t even get hyped when they score, and spoiled teens are vaping in the upper deck while they tell you shut the fuck for being vocal about the team being mediocre.
So, where will John Tavares be when July 1st comes around? Will he be locked down on this sinking ship of a franchise for the rest of his career, or will he venture of to the greener pastures of St. Louis, San Jose, New Jersey (kill me, right?!), or Montreal?
Either way, Islanders owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin need to actually be proactive now instead of talking a big game to fans about the future, because the future is currently on life support.
Belmont will be empty if the product on the ice is mediocre, even if it’s a brand spanking new arena with all the bells and whistles on the Island. Convince Tavares you’ll actually get it right this time, give him the deal and the support he deserves, and get a GM and head coach that aren’t in over their heads and actually take the risks necessary to build a Stanley Cup Contender. If they don’t, it’ll be game over…#SnowMustGo
Two Buttons Deep is a news & entertainment website based in upstate New York.
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