Well yesterday was quite the emotional roller coaster for many Islanders fans as they said goodbye to home-grown players Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin and Frans Nielsen while welcoming veterans Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera to New York. Now many people have been analyzing if the Islanders have gotten equal value back by saying, for example, the Islanders made lateral moves, meaning the goals lost by the previous three may be closely made up by the newest two members. To further that point, many believe the Islanders neither improved and maybe even fell back as an organization. Most fans were wondering why couldn’t Islanders general manager Garth Snow resign some treasured players like Martin and Nielsen and sign someone like Ladd. My response to these questions is simply this: You’re analyzing the wrong players.
I’ve written about this before but feel I must drive this point again: After Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang were drafted by the Islanders back in 2014, the Islanders rebuild was finished. A rebuilds completion does not require winning the Stanley Cup but drafting necessary assets to achieve the ultimate goal, which is exactly what the Islanders have done since many fans now want to trade some of those assets for immediate help now. The fact the Garth Snow has picked up players like Mathew Barzal last year, someone very close to being NHL ready and Kieffer Bellows this past draft to add to this pool of prospects is nothing short of miraculous. The Islanders have recorded two 100 point seasons in a row, finally made it past the first round of the playoffs this previous season and now have enough depth to fill all three leagues (NHL,AHL,ECHL) with enough drafted prospects and develop them accordingly. If you’re still thinking the Islanders are in a rebuild then please, go root for Matt Martin and the Maple Leafs because that’s a rebuild.
Why am I bringing up a rebuild? Because with the completion of the rebuild, the Islanders are in a transition period and not in a crossroad. Losing three players who helped get the Islanders beyond the first round only once in the last 4 years should’ve been a sign that change was needed in the first place. It’s not up to only Ladd or Chimera to get the Islanders back into the playoffs and go further than last year to make up for losing three home-grown players, that responsibility now falls on the next group of home-grown players: Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Ryan Strome and maybe Mathew Barzal. You need these next wave of home-grown players to see if their games have another level, and leaders like Ladd and Chimera (who are great dressing room guys), can help these home-grown Islanders reach a potential that many fans are waiting for that maybe Okposo, Nielsen or Martin couldn’t do. Yes, Andrew Ladd will be a nice piece for John Tavares on his line, but when you add another Stanley Cup winning voice in the locker room, you’re also picking up another captain who doesn’t need to wear the “C” and still be able to take control of the locker room if he needs to. In Chimera, you get another player who will be another positive voice in the locker room and has seen his share of playoff wins and defeats.
But let’s also look at what Ladd and Chimera can bring on the ice. Ladd will probably be on John Tavares’ line and I don’t think the Islanders have had a better wingman for Tavares since Thomas Vanek in 2014. Vanek was on pace for 30 goals had he played the whole season with Tavares. Is 30 out of the question for Ladd? No it’s not. He’s been able to average around 24 goals a year playing with Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little in Winnipeg, so playing with Tavares should see his numbers go up, but 25-30 goals should be expected. As for Chimera, I think anything over 10 goals or 20 points will be a positive and if he’s put on the Cizikas line, how many more goals could we see from all three players? Very intrigued to see how that plays out.
So should the Islanders just call it a done summer? Are they ready to compete for another 100 point season and beyond? Should the fans just have faith in the next wave to produce? I didn’t think so. Then there was this tweet from Art Staple of Newsday:
Snow also said he could see #Isles adding another forward before the season, either in FA or trade. Tavares/Nelson/Strome/Cizikas set at C.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) July 1, 2016
So no, the Islanders are not done with offseason moves and that’s a good thing because as of now this is what the Islanders forward lines may look like based on the experience:
I don’t even have to see your faces, but the thought of Josh Bailey as your number one right-winger with Ladd and Tavares may have ruined all that food you’re about to eat this fourth of July weekend. Also I did not put Mikhail Grabovski on this list as I have been told by a few people who are around the Islanders more than I am (I live in PA, so there’s that disadvantage) that he is improving, but by no means does anybody know if he’s really ready to come back or if he’s going to be playing at all. So the Islanders will still be making at least one or two moves before the season begins. But did you notice where Snow put Ryan Strome? Third line center. That means both he and Brock Nelson are going to need to produce enough to make up for most of the points lost by Nielson. With a full season from Shane Prince to help either Nelson or Strome, the leadership and locker room presence from Ladd and Chimera, to go along with the other Islanders voices already there, and whatever trades or signings that may come towards the beginning of the season, the next wave of home-grown players may finally find their own niche and success on the team.
Islanders fans are not used to having a transitional year. A transitional year used to mean which owner was coming in this time and which players fans saw leave because of money issues or they were traded away because they rushed and weren’t ready to begin with. Indeed, that does hold true this year as fans said goodbye (and maybe even a thank you) to former majority owner, Charles Wang and they embrace new majority owners John Ledecky and Scott Malkin. However, this is not a typical Islanders transition from years ago. Money is not an issue, neither is the arena(seating excluded), nor a strangle-hold lease to suffocate any owner. Now because of a finished rebuild, fans can say goodbye to a few beloved players and can embrace the next wave of home-grown ones. The hope is that the fans witness the younger players develop into the stars they were drafted to be in their own roles this season and if the Islanders move on past the second round at some point, just like the haunting of 1993 were put in the rear-view mirror last year, the emotional scars of players leaving won’t hurt as much as it does now.