It’s been said that when you want to improve your organization, you build through the draft. When you want to improve from last season, you turn to Free Agency. Last year the Islanders ended up having to use three goalies because of injuries or just mediocre play. The Islanders were out of the hunt by Christmas because of the injuries to Evgeny Nabokov, Lubomir Visnovsky, Brian Strait, some shoddy offense and the mediocre goaltending. Too much faith was put into the younger players to produce and it backfired. As of today, Garth Snow has addressed those problems.
Last year the goalie tandem was either Nabokov, Kevin Poulin/Anders Nilsson. That didn’t work out as those three combined to post the worst save percentage in the League. That, in my opinion was the most glaring need for the Islanders. I wrote that Kevin Poulin was ready for the load and role as backup and I was wrong. Did the injuries to the defense help his cause? No, but he only stole one game last year and that was against San Jose. So what did the Islanders do? They drafted two goalies, one of whom could be here next year, they traded for and signed the best goalie in this years upcoming free agency and pending unrestricted free agent Jaroslav Halak and yesterday signed proven backup Chad Johnson. To keep up with the depth, they qualified Kevin Poulin’s rights. You can’t improve this area anymore than what the Islanders did.
Now not only did the Isles lose Visnovsky & Strait and for some time Travis Hamonic to injuries, they traded away Assistant Captain Andrew MacDonald. The bottom line to this is that the Islanders lacked the necessary depth. Yes they did call up Aaron Ness, Calvin de Haan and Matt Donovan was moved up and down in the system, but in the end, only Calvin de Haan turned into a mainstay on the Isles. You’re just not going to win without depth. So yesterday Islanders General Manager Garth Snow brought in some depth like he did for the shortened season of 2013. I’ve seen TJ Brennan a few times in the minors and I have to say he could replace MacDonald’s 24 points last season. Not bad for a $600,000.00 contract. To me, this has all the makings of Matt Moulson’s first contract: give me a shot to prove what I can do and I won’t disappoint. The Islanders also added LW Corey Conacher, who like Brennan just may need a place to play and prove what he can do. The idea of putting a speedy sniper like him and Strome on a line is very intriguing.
As for Bridgeport, with players like Kael Mouillierat, David Leggio, Jack Skille and Harry Zolniercyk signing two-way contracts and with the young defense behind them with Poulin in net full time, the playoffs should be at least their goal for next season. No excuses for them what so ever. I’ll do an article on them later.
I know fans wanted the home run signing, but it just didn’t happen. Many are asking why? What is it about the Islanders that make free agents shun away? My answer: Don’t waste your time with the why’s or what if’s. These players were given more money and term by Snow and they turned it down. Period. Move on. Maybe their whole perception of this organization is wrong. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen Nelson, Lee, Strome often in Bridgeport and now add De Haan on the Island that I have more faith in them to improve on last year’s trial run that signing a whole roster like Florida and Buffalo did just doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s because we all saw Kyle Okposo turn into the forward we all hoped he’d be last year that I have a little more faith in Josh Bailey this year. Maybe it’s because teams that are now a year older, see what the Isles have been doing and need to pay a king’s ransom to try and keep pace with a soon to be ready team chomping at a playoff berth. Maybe it’s because other fans from other teams are starting to see what I see that even they are giving respect & appreciation for what’s about to come.
Do I think the Isles are done making moves? No. Do they still need to improve? Yes. But, I do think the Islanders improved their team from last year. That is the goal of Free Agency and those first steps were taken yesterday. The next step for the Isles will be for the players to grow as a team from within, to rebound after a dreadful season. To come together and play on a mission. To show others that they should’ve signed here and not somewhere else, to show the rest of the League for one final season at the loudest old barn in the NHL that the Islanders are relevant once more. It’s the players who need to make the biggest statement. Will they do it? I still have faith.