|Rebuild isn't over, but it's entering the next stage.|
For those who have kept up with Islanders Op-Timism since day one, you know that I've been pretty supportive of the Islanders' rebuild. Even when the Islanders were playing into lottery positions, I maintained that the Islanders should "stay the course." Patience was a requirement of being an Islanders' fan, and better times were undoubtedly ahead....just not yet.
Well, after most of us berated Charles Wang and Garth Snow for their wavier-wire pick-ups and failure to acquire "anybody good," the Islanders had their most exciting season since 2001-02, making the playoffs for the first time in six years.
Isles' fans were the happiest I could remember them. Their team played remarkably well down the stretch, and gave the Pittsburgh Penguins everything they could handle. Change a bounce or two, and the Islanders could have been playing the Bruins in Round Two.
Naturally, the honeymoon ended quickly on Long Island. Fans are back it, criticizing Wang for his failure to spend money, and criticizing Snow for not bringing in more "talent." It's funny because the off-season hasn't officially begun, but that will never quiet down the critics. It's also funny because, quite frankly, there isn't much to spend on this offseason.
Many of you aren't going to want to hear this, but I am going to give it to you straight: in light of the Islanders' first playoff berth in six years, Garth Snow and his Islanders must stay the course. Now is NOT the time to "cash in" on he team's recent success, nor is it time to break-up the rebuild that got us here in the first place.
OK, critics. Vent....Tell me all about how it's ridiculous that the Islanders don't spend, and how they cannot go into next season with the team they have now. Go ahead and remind me that Evgeni Nabokov is not an acceptable goalie heading into next year, and how the Islanders' need a top-two defenseman and a top-line winger right now, otherwise everything they have ever done is a failure. Got it. Now, breathe...
I never said the Islanders shouldn't "upgrade" their team, nor did I ever say I don't think the Islanders will upgrade their team in time for the 2013-14 season. I think the Islanders will find a few pieces that will help connect the dots and fill in the blanks, but I don't necessarily think it has to be a spending spree, as many Islanders' fans desire.
Why "must" the Islanders spend big? It's not working for teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers, among others. The Islanders went into the season hovering around the cap floor, yet they still managed to ice a playoff team. That's because it's not always about the money, but it is always about the talent.
The New York Islanders' core has been locked up on bargain deals. You're not going to tell me that Michael Grabner's 16 goals in 2013 weren't as valuable because he signed a contract that pays him an AAV of $3M, are you? You cannot convince me that, because Kyle Okposo brings a cap hit of $2.8M, he isn't more valuable than Scottie Upshall, who will be getting paid an average of $3.5M through 2014-15. And what's wrong with spending $550K per season on Andrew MacDonald, while a defenseman, such as Jason Garrison is making $5.5M every year until 2019? Paycheck does not always equal talent.
But again, I'm not saying that the Islanders don't need a top-line winger to play with John Tavares, or a top-pairing defenseman to shore up the Islanders' blue-line. What I am trying to say is that the growth of the Islanders still, like the entire rebuild has, requires patience.
Believe it or not, the rebuild is still in progress. How could it not be? The Islanders haven't seen any of their top prospects in a permanent role in the NHL. Ryan Strome is expected to be in the NHL. The Islanders also may have to make room for the likes of Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Matt Donovan, and possibly Calvin de Haan. Andrey Pedan, Scott Mayfield, and several other prospects are also expected to play larger roles in Bridgeport, meaning that they are getting close to the big club too.
I'm not suggesting that every single one of these prospects will see time in an Islanders' uniform, but I am suggesting that they will not be moved if not for the right fit, nor will players be added if said players will interfere with the prospects' roles in the near future. No, I'm not expecting the Islanders to go into next season with a team full of rookies. Two or three rookies, at most, will make this Islanders' team out of training camp, meaning there will be more space for an added veteran presence, just not one for millions and millions over years and years. Not with the talent that is on its way, and not with the need to sign said talent to extensions down the line.
Remember that, at this point in time, the Islanders are basically a team full of veterans, and those veterans made huge strides in 2013. It was their best season in over a decade, and it was the first time the rebuild has generated any real excitement in the standings. The rebuild is not over, though. An 8th-place finish only indicates that there is much left to be done. Stay with the course and trudge on with the rebuild. The Islanders will be contenders for years to come, but not at the expense of a "quick fix." The Islanders are going to be built for the long-haul.
I'm Chris Triants, and this is my blog.
Let's go Islanders!