Two respected hockey journalists have let loose salvos in the general direction of the Isles Architect of the Incompetence, Charles Wang. A myriad of Isles fans have seen fit to debase these individuals and call for their heads, because “Wang saved the Islanders”. These people, to put it bluntly, are shortsighted.
Pierre LeBrun’s point was that the Isles rebuild should, SHOULD be ready to bear fruit, but they can’t speed the process along as no veteran with options will enter zany Wang’s world of fun.
Larry Brooks was even more damning. His contention was simple: The New York Islanders don’t matter any more.
Both men are right, but Brooks list of offenses was wrong.
He lamented the stalled development of Okposo and Grabner, both with long-term extensions in pocket. He erroneously included Frans Nielsen in this group as well. Firstly, very little about Frans Nielsen’s game has regressed. He is legitimately one of the best 2 way players in the NHL. The one area of actual regression for the freshly re-signed centerman is face-offs, which has become a team-wide problem. This is odd, considering that face-off assassin Doug Weight is on the coaching staff. Frans’ assist total is slightly down, but his goalscoring is slighty up, and he will in all likelyhood finish within a point or 2 of his career high. And now, he will be a Islander for the majority of his career at a very reasonable price.
Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner, two whipping boys for the fanbase at the moment, have not had the seasons we’d like. Grabner still has an outside shot at 20 goals in a season where he’s been CONSIDERABLY slowed by a groin injury, which has effected his greatest asset, his speed, tremendously. Okposo can match or surpass his career high of 19 goals with a strong finish. The problem for these two players has been and will continue to be consistency. Why? Like with Nielsen’s face-off struggles, these two are getting no quality coaching. We’ll get to that in a minute.
One noticeable brightside this season has been the production of the Islanders top line, which has accounted for roughly 60% of the teams offense. Tavares and his merry wingmen are among the most feared trios in the NHL. Moulson is the net mouth finisher, evolving into a well rounded hockey player who knows his defensive responsibilities. P.A. Parenteau, a supposed AHL Depth signing, has become a feared play-maker. His vision is tremendous. His bergenhiem-like penchant for ill-timed offensive zone penalties is infuriating, but lets be real, Sean Bergenhiem never had the goods to score 70 points. This chemistry is why Parenteau must be re-signed, cost be damned. We’ll get to why later.
Nonetheless, the emergence of these linemates notwithstanding, none of this is possible without John Tavares. He is taking a run at a PPG season and a top 5 finish in the scoring race. He is the straw that stirs the drink and the face of the franchise. I was at the Coliseum the night we drafted him and the underlying tension that was there waiting for us to screw that pick up… yeah. Thank Dog we nailed that layup.
The three other positive developments that have happened in spite of the instructional vacuum that is our coaching staff are the return of NHL caliber goaltending to Long Island (Nabokov has been inspirational), the emergence of a legitimate number 1 defense pairing in MacDonald and Hamonic (Who is somehow a +9 on one of the worst teams ever), and the recent development of the Seeker as he’s called, Casey Cizikas, David Ullstrom, and their new-found running buddy, Josh Bailey. The later being perhaps the most important development, because it may have saved Josh Bailey. Thank Dog.
Josh was getting written off as Le Bust. But since the switch to wing, he’s found his game. He’s showeing he can be a 20 goal Winger in this league, which frankly, is a damn welcome sight.
Unfortunately, that’s about where the positives end. You can toss passable grades to Pandolfo and Staois who are both clearly on borrowed time and have done a wonderful job of giving literally everything they have to the team, but neither should be back next year.
Nearly every other player on the team has been a disappointment. Jurcina is an NHL worst -31. Streit’s decision making has been abysmal. Mottau and Rolston going to Boston for a bag of week old dog crap was an outstanding trade because Rolston in particular HAD QUIT on this team.
Reese has been above average but injured often. Eaton has been about passable.
Now that the great Josh Bailey conundrum has possibly been solved, what to do with Nino Niederreiter? He has to be a top line player in the AHL next year. You put him with Kabanov, and let them do some damage. It’s pretty simple. You don’t double down on this mistake by keeping him up here.
Let’s get into the hows and whys these mistakes keep happening:
Charles Wang meddles in hockey operations without knowing a damn thing about hockey.
He’s replaced an actual NHL scouting contingent with a unit half their size (Most teams employ 16-20 scouts, we have 8) and a Center Ice account. That’s a joke. The reason it’s a joke, is because some of the most important stuff you can watch at a game occurs behind a play. Who is busting it back into the zone? Who is cherry picking rather than hustling? Who is demanding an explanation from a referee? Who is engaged on the bench advising teammates and who is sulking? This is why scouts exist. To target, more than just from boxscores and highlights, the players you want in your organization.
Among Charles’ most egregious flaws is his unwillingness to spend money on this team, which has been near the bottom of league payroll 4 years running. If not for the league mandated salary floor (hold on) we’d have a payroll half anyone else. This creates an unwinnable scenario. A largely inexperienced GM (with NO PRO SCOUTS!) must seek out financially cheap players to come in on incentive based contracts and attempt to give this very promising young core any sort of support and leadership.
Fans are quick to point out Parenteau, Moulson and Streit as key WINS for Garth Snow. Here’s reality: All 3 were discount rack buys. Who was the last free agent in demand the Isles “won”? Miroslav Satan? They are not equipped to win a bidding war because the owner is unwilling to spend money. As such, the burden falls completely on Snow, to assess a players worth and his cap hit, to plug into this roster.
Compare that with the 40 day tenure of Neil Smith. Look at the names he managed to bring in. He WON bidding on players the caliber of Comrie and Poti, which say what you will, is something we haven’t done in almost half a decade. Now compare that to 4 years of Garth Snow retreads.
The important number for Snow isn’t point potential, but cap-hit. if the player is on an ELC (which inflates a young player’s cap hit through largely difficult to maintain bonuses, see Nino) great. Likewise, if the player is over 35 and available for one of those lovely “35 and older” incentive based deals where he’ll never hit the triggers and thus have a cap hit in some cases 5 times the actual payout (See Doug Weight’s last contract)? Great. Snow has done his masters bidding.
We iced a payroll last night of 22 million dollars against a team at the cap ceiling. We were further below the floor of 48 million (26 million away!) than our actual on ice salary. That’s no way to run a professional team. To put this another way, the Rangers AHL farm team, the Connecticut Whale (formerly the Hartford Wolfpack) has had an on ice payroll of 19 million dollars some nights this year. A paltry 3 million dollar disparity between an NHL club and an AHL clubs on ice salaries. Inconceivable.
These 2 things, the unbridled arrogance to interfere in hockey operations and frugality, are the basis of all of Wang’s crimes.
They show up in all facets of the organization, from charging the press for water to charging our honored alumni for parking.Or the audacity to suggest rule changes or question the place of fighting, or suggest a committee which you will sit on to discuss roster acquisitions when you are a hockey neophyte.
Arrogance and Frugality.
That’s why the Isles go off the beaten path in FA signings or in drafting. Who needs scouts? Who needs players in their prime who actually get a payout of salary equal to their caphit? Not Charles Wang’s New York Islanders, that’s for certain.