SANTA CRUZ, March 7, 2014 — This past Wednesday saw the the NHL’s annual trade deadline come and go, accompanied by the expected flurry of speculation and subsequent deals. As usual, many of the league’s biggest names, Roberto Luongo, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik, Thomas Vanek, as well as a smattering of lesser known, minor leaguers changed teams. This yearly ritual benefits both NHL buyers as well as sellers, as playoff-bound clubs look for top end skill and veteran grit as they gear up for the postseason, while teams finishing out of the playoff mix collect prospects and draft picks, looking to the future.
Another constant of recent trade deadlines has been the New York Islanders doing absolutely nothing at all. Early in the season, the Islanders acquired skilled forward Thomas Vanek from Buffalo, and there was talk around the league that the Islanders were going to try to sign him long term. Vanek had, for him, a subpar 47 games on the island, collecting the quietest 44 points in the league, and Isles GM Garth Snow was never able to sell him on the good life in Nassau County.
By the Olympic break, the honeymoon was clearly over and, as March began, Snow was fielding calls from more than a few teams interested in acquiring the talented winger.
While most general managers would agree it is preferable to be preparing for the playoffs, finishing out of the running does have its advantages, provided you are in possession of a coveted player or two. Without a deal in place, Vanek, who will be a free agent in July, would be in the wind this summer with the Isles getting nothing in return. With playoff teams blowing up Snow’s phone, one would think he would have been able to squeeze some top prospects and/or high draft picks in return. Unfortunately, Islanders fans will have to settle for a conditional second round pick and some guy named Sebastian Collberg.
The Islanders appear to be fully committed to being the NHL’s version baseball’s Kansas City Royals. Any good players who they happen to acquire are quickly gone, and the return is never satisfactory. You have to feel for fans on the island. Not only do they play in the oldest, most run down joke of an arena, their team is being guided by a man who thought signing brittle goaltender Rick DiPietro to a bazillion year contract was a savvy move.
Maybe owner Charles Wang should just find a guy off the street, who happened to have recently stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, and bring him on as GM. It would be a tall order to screw things up worse than the current GM.
Starting next season, the Islanders will play their games at the new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. It is the final insult to long suffering Islanders fans who have continued to fork over their hard earned cash to watch John Tavares, Michael Grabner, and whoever else was not able to get out of town quickly enough. They have shown up faithfully, unsure which is more miserable, the crumbling arena or the pathetic product on the ice.
Many have heard old timers tell glorious stories of a bygone era, when their beloved Isles were hoisting four consecutive Stanley Cups and routinely sending players to the hall of fame. These current fans long for a return to greatness, but as they gaze up at the championship banners hanging from the coliseum rafters, they are unable to reconcile them with the tragedy unfolding nightly inside the rink.
Garth Snow was a capable backup goalie during his playing career, but he has shown himself to be out over his skies as a general manager. If ownership is serious about building a contender, a fresh start at the top of hockey operations may be necessary. The Islanders have John Tavares, one of the NHL’s most talented players. With the right people calling the personnel shots, they can surround him with the complimentary players necessary to turn the team around. Unfortunately, it will be too late for Long Island’s hockey fans, unless they are willing to make the trek to Brooklyn.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.