How The Islanders Won Summer
After a disastrous 2013/14 campaign, the New York Islanders headed in to the summer with some glaring holes in their line up, and an increasing amount of pressure on General Manager Garth Snow.
With the new season just days away, the simple reality of the situation is this – the offseason could not have gone any better for the franchise.
Preparing for their final campaign in the Nassau Coliseum; the Islanders top brass, the fans and essentially the entire hockey world knew there were issues between the pipes, and a lack of proven quality both up front and along the blue line.
The clubs most pressing need was dealt with relatively quickly. Snow acquired the rights to Slovak stopper Jaroslav Halak from Washington for a 4th round pick at this summers draft, and then persuaded him to sign a 4-year deal with the club.
With Halak signed as #1, Chad Johnson was brought in to partner the former Montreal and St Louis netminder; giving the Islanders a confidence in their goaltending not seen since Rick DiPietro’s heyday.
The addition of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin gave the club a much stronger second line and some offensive depth, whilst also allowing Frans Nielsen to move to a more suitable defensive role on the third line.
Then today the club addressed a need to bolster a blue line rich in potential, but lacking experience, as they acquired first Johnny Boychuk from Boston and then Nick Leddy from Chicago.
The most incredible part of the clubs transformation on the ice is that it seems to have cost the team picks (which are expendable given the number of good prospects the organisation already has) and fringe players.
Chicago does get a good youngster in Ville Pokka – but with the Finn projected as a potential top 4 D man, the club has gained a player in Leddy able to fill that role now. Hardly a ‘loss’ in the grand scheme of things.
Netminder Anders Nilsson had his chance last season, and blew it, and is replaced in the depth chart by Kent Simpson, who also heads to Long Island as part of the deal.
The deal may be a little rough on TJ Brennan, who never got to shoot a puck in anger for the Isles, but place in the line up was far from certain – especially with Boychuk acquired from Boston. Ergo, he too was expendable.
In return for the hard hitting Boychuk, the Bruins get a 2015 2nd round pick, a 2016 2nd round pick and a conditional 3rd round pick at next years draft. Again, all expendable assets for an Islanders team on the up.
Gaining two NHL ready defencemen also eases the pressure on the club to put top prospects Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock in to the line up before they are ready.
For many, today’s moves put the Islanders over the top – moving them from also rans, or ‘maybes’, to serious play-off contenders. And in a Metropolitan Division which is wide open, there is nothing to say the Isles can’t make the cut this year.
While some may be frustrated the organisation wasn’t able to grab a top tier winger to play along side John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, this was always something of a pipe dream given the market.
Instead the club has brought in some proven talent to plug some holes in the line up added two more strong prospects in Joshua Ho-Sand and Michael Del Colle.
Less than 6 months from a sense of tremendous disappointment, the club now has a competitive line up on opening night and a burgeoning crop of top prospects in the system. Put simply, the clubs short and long term future looks bright.
The truly scary thing for the rest of the league is that young stars like Reinhart, Ryan Strome and Anders Lee are all close to establishing themselves in the NHL (if Strome hasn’t already), the clubs core is young and in position to make the franchise a competitor for years to come.
One tremendously successful summer may have just opened the Islanders window of opportunity, just a little bit.
But for Islanders fans, already buoyed by a new ownership group coming in and a move to the Barclay Centre, that little bit is enough for them to dare to dream.