The warm weather days have gotten off to a promising start in New York Islander country. With the announcement of plans for a new arena, the re-signing of key players Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo to affordable long-term contracts, and the number five overall in this year’s draft, the summer of 2011 has the potential to be the most significant in many, many years. Why? Because it appears the Islanders may finally be turning that corner fans have been clamoring for.
The glimmers of hope formulating over the past few years with a commitment to drafting and developing a promising core of youth may finally be culminating into a far more illuminating beacon of hope. And of course, there’s that whole arena thing.
Fans are feeling positive and talking playoffs, and it may finally be for real.
The talent is there and more importantly, it’s committed. The above-mentioned long-term contracts are a sign that it’s not just the fans that are beginning to believe, but it’s also the players that feel part of something special. The Islanders haven’t been this deep in young talent since, well, everybody knows when. Names like Tavares, Okposo, Moulson, Grabner, Neilsen, Comeau, MacDonald, Hamonic and Streit have all proven themselves as worthy contributors to a rising cause. Though Josh Bailey has yet to find his way as a 2nd line center, perhaps 2011-2012 will be the year he finally figures it out. Even still, there is a great foundation in place with promising young players like Nino Neiderreiter coming through the pipeline in the very near future (read: next season).
While the puzzle is not yet complete, that’s what brings us to the significance of this coming summer. Everyone is talking about the next step, so it’s time for the Islanders to add an important veteran player or two that can propel the team to that next level. I’m not talking about a post-prime Bill Guerin or Doug Weight, but some bona fide star power in the prime of their careers. Ideally they would be a top flight winger to ride shotgun with Tavares, and a reliable number two defenseman to compliment Streit on the top pairing.
If Isles GM Garth Snow is able to charm some free agents this time around players such as Jussi Jokinen, Brooks Laich, Joni Pitkanen, Kevin Bieksa, and Christian Ehrhoff would be worth courting. Fans have hopefully curbed their enthusiasm by now (well played, eh?), so expectations should be low regarding players that get to choose their employers. But as they say, “money talks,” and that’s fair enough. I say money needs to scream in the case of the Islanders, just ask Dan Hamhuis and Paul Martin.
If top free agents continue to avoid the Islanders like the plague, Garth has to get on the horn with some of his GM counterparts. The Isles have finally stocked the cupboard enough to where they have no choice but to deal some of their accumulated assets to make room for others, and that may as well be for some well-established names. Who they might be are for Snow and Co. to determine, but it’s time for him conjure up some of that Ryan-Smyth-deal magic he teased fans with back in 2007.
Look, I’m not implying the acquisition of any short-term rentals–who refuse to stay–but rather Snow making a savvy deal or two that not only compliments the core of the team, but becomes a part of it. Packaging a significant roster player (perhaps a Comeau, a Bailey, or an insert name here) along with a mix of picks and prospects, could land the Isles the missing pieces they need.
Draft Weekend is fast approaching, and my guess is, at least one of these needs will be addressed in Minnesota. Maybe they won’t deal the #5 overall, but I have a feeling Snow will be up to his Draft Day wheeling & dealing ways, but it will be more than just shuffling picks. If the Isles stay at 5, they will be taking home another high end prospect that our own draft guru Tony Stabile believes will be in the form of a Gabriel Landeskog (a bit hopeful in my opinion) or Sean Couturier. If not, Ryan Strome or Mika Zibanejad could be had a few spots down. All are names that would look quite nice on any prospect list.
Moving right along, we have a landmark date in Islander history on the horizon, and that date is August 1st, 2011 – The big vote. Should it come to pass, this date will ultimately decide whether or not the Islanders remain in Nassau County, and perhaps even New York. It will be Long Island’s very own Judgment Day. Any of us paying attention know at this point that a ‘yes’ vote will mean the Isles stick around until at least 2045, a brand-spanking-new arena to serve as a nice home for the team and the fans, and a nice draw for the ever elusive Unrestricted Free Agents.
In other words, it will bring positives all around as far as the team and the fans are concerned. There may be some residents and financial watchdogs who beg to differ, but I’ll leave the politics of the discussion for somebody else. (Nick Giglia over at http://lettherebelighthouse.com does a great job following the arena drama, so definitely check out his work to stay up to speed.)
The bottom line is: Islander Country needs the vote to pass and a shovel put in the ground.
Granted, there are still a lot of ‘ifs’ involved before anyone considers this summer a success but either way it’s an exciting time to be a fan. The Islanders, Nassau County legislature, and even the fans themselves can all have a part in making this a summer to remember for the right reasons for a change.
Maybe it’s the sun and blue skies but personally, I’m feeling rather positive that Garth Snow will improve the team on the ice and continue his trend of shrewd moves, Nassau County will find a way to get shovels in the ground, and “Green Lantern” will not be granted a sequel.
Should the Isles be successful in these ventures, the good times will continue to roll and only get better. If not, well, I’ll have a New Castle.