As this final pre-season game comes to a conclusion tonight in Bridgeport, the New York Islanders will be making tough player decisions that will undoubtedly make a few fans scratch their heads and probably lash out in utter frustration. Anything short of not trading Josh Bailey for a any kind of defenceman will be unacceptable. Well, you’re gonna burn me at the stake for this article. What did I learn from this pre-season? I learned that the Islanders farm team, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers have a few more players that, for the moment, look to be ready sooner rather than later. With the arrival of Ryan Strome and Anders Lee last year came with an unexpected emergence of young defenseman like Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield at camp this year. All four have looked well enough in the fans eyes that they should at least get a chance to show their skills and develop in the NHL. So what should Islanders general manager Garth Snow do? Simple. Send them all down.
As many of you should know by now, I’m a fan of building a team through the draft and developing them at the teams pace, eventually come up and succeed when called upon. That’s how Stanley Cups are won. Where I understand the idea of developing a player for the sake of NHL experience, I do not believe that any one should be a starter on the New York Islanders roster unless there is an injury. Now for some who may argue that a few of these players have nothing left to prove in the AHL, I disagree. Have these kids made it to an AHL Calder Cup Final? No, they haven’t even sniffed a playoff series save for Aaron Ness and Kevin Poulin. Their individual skills may have nothing left to prove, but if they want to truly get to the NHL, they need to show management how to win as a team and that means taking this Sound Tigers club and go into a deep playoff run this year.
What’s the importance of an AHL playoff experience? I looked at the previous farm teams playoff seasons in the AHL (2010-11 thru 2012-13) and then I looked at their parent club results of making the playoffs the year after. To put it simply, if the teams that made the AHL playoffs in one year, the NHL affiliate had a 66% chance of making the playoffs the following year, 71% after 2 years.
I went another step forward and calculated the division winners from the same time period and discovered that of the teams that won the division in a particular year, the NHL affiliate had a 63% chance of making the playoffs the following year, 75% after 2. The Islanders were one of those teams back in 2011-12 when Bridgeport won their division and the Islanders went to the playoffs in 2013.
I also looked into teams that had won the Calder Cup (AHL’s version to Stanley) and found that 50% of AHL teams over the last 10 years had their NHL affiliate make the playoffs the next year and 90% after two.
In my opinion, this is why there was such a move to sign players like Skille, Brennan, Conacher, Kulemin, and Grabovski because the talent level in Bridgeport this year is worthy of a deep playoff run and Calder Cup discussion. The veterans on this current Islanders team should be good enough to get themselves into a playoff position. They should not need the youth unless injuries occur. It also helps to have the depth in the organization when top teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers don’t have any and they’ll regret not having them because they say getting to the Cup is like a marathon, so you may as well have enough players to get you there. Let the kids come up when the Islanders need them to, not when fans want them. I’m also reminded of 2002 when a young Trent Hunter came up from Bridgeport and shined during the playoffs and made the Islanders the very next year. That 2001-02 Bridgeport team made it all the to the Calder Finals and the Isles were in the playoffs for the next 3 out of 4 years concluding in 2007. Had it not been for the lockout in 2004-05, many have argued the Isles would have gone 4 out of 5.
What about the long term effects of winning the Calder? The Nashville Predators, who’s Milwaukee Admirals won it 10 years ago, have made the playoffs 6 out of the last 9 years (04-05 was a lockout); the 04-05 Flyers organization have been in the playoffs 7 out 9 years. The Washington Capitals, who’s Hershey Bears won 3 Calder Cups in recent times, have made the playoffs 6 out of the last 8. The Ottawa Senators have made the playoffs 2 out of the last 3 years thanks to Binghamton. The Tampa Bay Lightning are now a Stanley Cup Contender thanks in part to Norfolk winning in 2011-12. After losing +400 man games to injuries, would Detroit have made the playoffs last year if their 2012-13 Calder Cup Champs Grand Rapids hadn’t stepped up? I think not.
I’m not saying that Strome and company are not ready. What I’m saying is that the young players have a chance to prove to themselves and to the organization that they can accomplish something that has not been done since 2002 with Bridgeport, the Turner Cup Champs Utah Grizzlies in 95 & 96 of the IHL to go along with the 1982 and 1983 Adam’s Cup Champions Indianapolis Checkers, the Islanders CHL and minor league team. The deeper they go this year, the quicker the Islanders become a NHL powerhouse for the next 7-10 years. How many Cups do Islanders fans want? Let the young ones go after the Calder first.
The Islanders certainly have tough choices to make, will it be the right ones?