Islanders This Week | By Tony Stabile | Islanders Ticket Deals
I have been following the New York Islanders since just after my 7th birthday, and in those 31 years I have experienced many highs and lows. This season has been among the toughest. Though well documented; the string of losses leading into the Olympic break, Thomas Vanek rejecting the Islanders long-term contract extension, John Tavares’ injury, and now the trade of Vanek on Deadline Day has been a complete and utter PR disaster which has pushed a now impatient fan base almost over the edge.
In the 12 months following the Islanders first playoff appearance in six years, General Manager Garth Snow has gone from being a total genius to completely incompetent in the eyes of the fans. The organization was lambasted by TSN “Insider Panel” as being a “Tire Fire,” and Twitter lit up like Las Vegas once news broke that the return Vanek had been dealt to the Montreal Canadians for was a Conditional 2nd Round pick and prospect Sebastian Collberg.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a host of mistakes that the Islanders have made during these last 12 months, but acquiring Thomas Vanek wasn’t among them. During his time as Islanders General Manager, (albeit a time when there were many questions about the Islanders future on Long Island), Snow has had a hard time getting unrestricted free agents to willingly come to Long Island. The Islanders had Vanek on their wish list for some time even discussing a trade with Buffalo at the trade deadline last season. He has had much better results acquiring players via waivers or trade and convincing players to stay after spending time with the organization.
Evgeni Nabokov and Lubomir Visnovsky are two players who Snow acquired that originally didn’t want to come to the team, and then enjoyed it so much re-signed with the club (in Nabokov’s case twice). So the idea of getting Vanek and allowing him and his family to spend the season on Long Island would be a good idea. The other part of it was to let Vanek spend the season playing with John Tavares and see how good the two could be together. After the initial adjustment period, the line of Tavares, Vanek and Okposo was the most productive line in the NHL. The next part of Snow’s plan was to offer Vanek a long-term and large financial commitment. The rumored offer of seven years and somewhere north of $50 million was a sign of how much they wanted to keep Thomas Vanek. Vanek would be the Islanders highest paid player and the term of his contract would take him into age 37. The problems started when Vanek rejected the offer.
There was very little negotiating between the two sides. Vanek, to his credit, handled the questions about his impending free agency very openly. He stated that he wanted to come in, adjust, and see where the season would go. But all along he stated that he and his family were very much looking forward to seeing what free agency would bring. The rumor circulating was that Vanek, who attended the University of Minnesota and met his wife there, was planning on signing with the Minnesota Wild on July 1st. His best friend on the Sabers, Jason Pominville, was traded to the Wild at last year’s deadline and it was a foregone conclusion that Vanek was to follow him once he reached free agency.
The problem is, that rumor was not started by Vanek or the Wild. You see, right after Vanek was acquired by the Islanders, I had the opportunity to speak to someone in the Wild front office. I was told (along with another Isles reporter) that the Wild was not sold on Vanek due to his reputation to “float” through stretches of the season and “he wants a lot of money for someone who seems not to care all the time.” Even though Dany Heatley’s contract comes off the books at the end of the season, the Wild will need to address their goaltending situation considering that Niklas Backstrom has aged suddenly and Josh Harding has health issues to contend with. If Vanek is to sign with the Wild, it would seem that he will not receive the type of offer that he received from the Islanders.
Regardless, the original trade sent Moulson, a 1st round pick (which Snow very smartly protected against the total disaster that this season has evolved into), and a 2nd round pick in 2015. With the idea that Moulson wasn’t going to sign and the potential negative impact it would have on the locker room (since there was tension between Moulson and the team after the Islanders balked at his contract demands), sending him in the trade was a no brainer. The picks in the team’s mind were expendable since the Islanders had done such a good job drafting and acquiring additional picks over the past few seasons. With many other top prospects along in the system, the Islanders could afford to take a chance on a difference maker like Vanek.
Once it was apparent that Vanek was hell bent on getting to July 1st, Snow had to put Vanek on the market. The problem was that Vanek has now assured everyone that he will go to free agency no matter what; teams viewed him as a pure rental. On top of that, Vanek had a terrible Olympics and was on record that he and some of his teammates were out late drinking the night before their final loss of the tournament. As the Captain of the team, that without a doubt raised questions with NHL GM’s.
Garth Snow was on record stating that the Islanders did not receive an offer for Vanek until after 12:00pm on Wednesday. With most GM’s knowing that Snow is a very patient customer, it says to me that teams weren’t all that interested in Vanek. Look at a team like Los Angeles who acquired Marian Gaborik. Gaborik, whose medical report must be the size of a phone book, went to the Kings for a similar return as Vanek. Snow was able to get Sebastian Collberg (Montreal’s 3rd ranked prospect), along with a 2nd rounder whereas Columbus was only able to acquire picks, but for LA not to take that additional step to acquire a proven scorer like Vanek should be very telling about how thin the market was for him.
Now, addressing the rumors that the Islanders received better offers, but would not pay any part of Vanek’s remaining contract, there is no way in hell I believe that for a second. Even before it was addressed by Newsday’s Arthur Staple in a Live Chat on Friday, I knew it was just an attempt by teams who didn’t make any deals to kick someone while they are down. The Islanders have bought out two of the worst contracts in NHL history; there is no way that a few hundred thousand dollars was standing in the way of Snow getting back a better return for Vanek.
Now, here are my feelings about the entire Vanek situation and how it played out:
From the very beginning, I was for the Vanek trade. I felt that fans have been begging Snow and the organization to spend some money and acquire some talent. The Vanek trade was meant to do just that. It was an attempt to make the Islanders top line among the NHL’s best. With top prospects Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock not far away, it’s not a stretch to think the Islanders would be perennial contenders before the midpoint of Vanek’s contract. Now, the argument I hear so often is why he didn’t trade those assets to get a defenseman or a goaltender. I agree that the organization swung and missed big time last summer with Jonathan Bernier, Cory Schnieder, and Ray Emery. The Islanders, after seeing Nabokov in the playoffs, had to know that they needed to bring someone in to at the very least pair with Nabokov if they wanted to return to the playoffs. They didn’t do that, and to put it lightly, it came back to bite them big time. Snow also inquired about Ryan Miller while he was talking about Vanek, but found that Miller had the Islanders on his no-trade list. So there is no question that Snow knew that goaltending was an issue, but he chose to ride it out with Nabokov and see what happened.
I’m not blaming the Islanders issues all on Nabby, because the defense was definitely not deep enough after losing Captain Mark Streit. The biggest mistake the Islanders made this year was sending top prospect Griffin Reinhart to juniors when he absolutely made the team out of camp. Reinhart shouldn’t be looked at as a savior, but having him on the team would have lessened the blow when Visnovsky went down and wouldn’t have pushed Matt Donovan and Matt Carkner into such prominent roles. For the first time, the Islanders patience with a prospect affected their NHL roster.
I can’t blame Snow for being aggressive in acquiring talent (no matter at what position) after putting a scare into the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring. I also can’t blame Snow for the lack of interest in Vanek coming out of the Olympics. As I stated earlier, if teams were willing to take fliers on injury prone players like Marian Gaborik and Ales Hemsky, that should tell you all that you need to know about the market for Thomas Vanek.
This is not to say that I am giving Garth Snow a pass, because I am not. This organization is not at a point where you need to retool or rebuild again. Snow needs to have a very good draft day and an even better July 1st. There is a very good chance the Islanders will have a top 3 pick come this June, and I truly believe that pick needs to be in play. There will be many RFA’s next summer including players like Jake Gardiner, James Reimer, Dmitri Kulikov, Brayden Schenn, Erik Gudbranson, Justin Schultz and Ryan O’Reilly. The Islanders could use that lottery pick to acquire a young player who they could get under contract long term. Snow needs to make moves to strengthen his backline, and without a doubt in net. He will need to trade for someone, as we’ve seen that you can’t wait and hope for UFA’s. Not at this point.
The other thing the Islanders need to do is replace their coach. I like Jack Capuano very much; I think he has done a great job developing a lot of the talent that Snow has drafted over the years. You look at the improvements of Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, Michael Grabner, and Casey Cizikas, and you see why Garth and Co. have had so much faith in Cap. But seeing the implosion of Josh Bailey this year, and the way the team keeps blowing these late leads, I can’t help but wonder if another voice would be beneficial to this group. As much as I love Doug Weight, and I think he will end up being a fantastic coach, I do think this team needs someone from outside the organization to come in. Peter Laviolette is the first name you think of because of his ties to the Islanders and the fact that there has been talk that he and Charles Wang have smoothed things out after his untimely departure at the hands of former GM Mike Milbury. Whoever it is, it needs to happen.
The time is now for the Islanders to silence the critics and get this team back on track.
- Just to get something on record because MSM (Mainstream Media) won’t criticize themselves, the TSN “Experts Panel” of Bruce Arthur and Michael Farber are so far removed from the Islanders they might as well be on Mars. I have been covering the Islanders for the better part of the last 5 seasons and the next time I see Bruce Arthur and Michael Farber in the Islanders locker room will be the first time. Any writer can make any general statements from afar. For example, I could question why the Edmonton Oilers haven’t made the playoffs in the past eight years and have had three of the last four 1st overall selections are in a worst situation than the Islanders, but I don’t remember hearing anything about Edmonton on the TSN broadcast except James Duthie saying that “Edmonton HAS to make the playoffs one of these years…they have too much talent not to.” It doesn’t seem that way to me, seems that the Oilers just can’t get themselves together. But for me to call them a “Tire Fire” would make me ignorant.
- For anyone who didn’t see this….check out this graphic. This is the Edmonton Oil Kings record since Griffin Reinhart joined the team. Yeah, he’s good:
- Have to love his Anders Lee has looked since his recall from Bridgeport.
For Hockey This Week….I’m Tony Stabile
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonystabile