This has been an interesting week on Long Island. There was all sorts of hubbub leading up to the draft that there would be moves a plenty. The tension in the Newark air was palpable. The Rangers and Penguins were nowhere to be seen as they value draft picks like the Flyers value fiscal discretion.
By the way, great atmosphere outside the Rock with a couple of fun places to eat. The area reminds me of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor but smaller. Nice gem in a depressing cesspool. Like Marty Biron’s eyes on the Rangers bench.
As for the actual draft, there were deals to be had downstairs, plenty of vendors hocking hockey merchandise (your erstwhile scribe picked up a Frans Nielsen Rookie Card), but not a lot of dealing to be found on the draft floor. Of course, that all changed when Uncle Lou teabagged Bettman with the Cory Schnieder trade to a thunderous ovation from the Devils faithful. That was all well and good, but that’s our Devs beat, not why you’re here.
The Isles made a splash of their own. GM Garth Snow sent the disgruntled Nino Niederreiter to the Wild for the number 70 pick and Cal Clutterbuck. This move is about a few things.
Firstly, it reminds us that Garth Snow loves middling draft picks. See the Streit move earlier this month for more proof. Garth Snow loves his 2nd-5th rounders, more bullets in the gun or some such cliché goes here.
Secondly, it shows how the Isles view their team. The top 6 provide scoring, the bottom 6 provide sandpaper and secondary scoring with guided missile strikes from Michael Grabner. This tenacity on the bottom lines served All 4 conference finalists. It’s about having more that one line that can grind on the other team and give them pause in the corners. Being a physically taxing team to play against is something the Isles take pride in, and their mix of speed and physicality serve them well.
Lastly: The New York Islanders are a professional hockey team again. They join the other teams in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup Championship. The time of being an afterthought or laughingstock is over. In reflection of that mindset, it’s time to act like a big league team again. That means that with the clear goal of winning, anyone that detracts or distracts from that must go. From the public venting of his agent, to the refusal to attend prospect camp, the writing was on the wall. He needed to go.
The Isles will take a loss in potential for a gain in the present. Clutterbuck gives the Islanders 2 of the top 5 hitmen in the NHL (Matt Martin) and 4 absolute grinders when you add in the tenant of number 91 Colin McDonald and Casey Cizikas. What they lose is a top 5 pick who clearly felt misused. Not to blindly defend the organization, but consider this: If you publicly called out how your boss was using you and then blew off a staff development training where you were requested? I’d get my resume ready too. Nino has some growing up to do. Hopefully it starts in Minnesota.
The Isles capped their hour by adding Ryan Pulock, a large blueliner with a heavy shot with the 15th pick. Shipping off El Nino was merely the first shoe, however. The other dropped last night just after 9PM when the team let it rip through Arthur Staple of Newsday that they were buying out Rick DiPietro and his albatross of a contract. This was the thing a lot of die hards needed to see before they truly thought we were back. And it had to be an Amnesty Buyout, too. None of that cap hit to reach the floor nonsense. And lo, it was. Now, a real player or two, in addition to signing our RFAs, will need to be added to achieve cap compliance.
The move to cut the cord with DiPietro was undoubtedly difficult for Wang, who purportedly considers the brash and polarizing netminder part of his family (full disclosure: 39 was a true gentleman when I met him). The $67.5m pact had to go.
GM Garth Snow did what he could trying to soften the blow for Wang, but understandably couldn’t find a hapless GM to take that on (despite Feaster, Sather and Holmgren all still apparently breathing). So a decision had to be made, the decision of course falling to the head of the house, Charles Wang. And he bid DiPietro adieu, much the way he did Yashin in 2008. Thus endeth the association with a goaltender who once infused great hope and ended as polarizing as any athlete this side of A-Rod.
Allow us to go on a journey of 2 seasons into the past. As camp broke, there we see a team waiting for John Tavares to become dominant. Players like Blake Comeau, Tim Wallace, Milan Jurcina, Steve Staios and Brian Rolston litter the roster. DiPietro is entrenched as default ‘starter’. There is no end to an arena saga that is as sordid as the Coyotes mess anywhere in sight. The prime asset in the system is Nino Niederreiter. The team is putrid and lacks backbone, in every way, an afterthought.
Then step into the light and open your eyes to the present day. The team is ready to move into a new home in Brooklyn with a 25 year dose of stability. They have a Hart trophy finalist, one of the leagues elite, John Tavares. There’s not a plug to be seen (until you look at the 14th forward, Boulton, but I digress) on this roster. Every player serves a purpose, the time for place holders is over. DiPietro and his contract are gone.
The team is playoff caliber and the NHL rewarded their resurgence with an outdoor game. Their coach finished 5th in Jack Adams voting, their GM 6th in executive of the years. Their Franchise Center third in the MVP vote, and their defensive center 12th in Selke voting. That folks, is indicative of respect. They aren’t in the hockey wilderness anymore, viewed as a hapless collection of misfit toys.
They still have far to go, and holes to fill (Chiefly in net and a slot in the top 6). But the past is buried, and the new era of Islander hockey isn’t coming, it’s finally here.