The New York Islanders disappointing and underachieving 2017-18 season draws to a close on Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings, mercifully ending a campaign that once saw them in the thick of the playoff hunt just two months ago.
Even though they aren’t playing hockey into the thick of spring, the Islanders are facing an enormously important three-to-four months that will dictate the direction of the franchise for the foreseeable future.
It all begins with re-signing the face of their franchise to ensure the team could actually be a contender by the time it moves into its new home in Elmont in three years.
Re-sign John Tavares
You could sense the apprehension inside the Barclay’s Center during the Islanders final home game of the season against the Rangers as fans chanted John Tavares’ name. This is the greatest talent the team has had in more than 20 years and he alone has carried a mediocre franchise now for almost a decade.
He already ranks within the franchise’s top-10 in goals, assists, points, game-winning goals, power-play goals, hat tricks, and he’s just 27 years old. And this is a franchise that boasts some of the greatest to ever play the game like Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Clark Gillies.
The one thing Tavares hasn’t done is win, making the postseason just three times in his career. The promise of that – even if the Islanders offer him a max deal – could be enough to lure him away from New York. The Islanders need to do everything possible this offseason to show that they are committed to winning with him as the centerpiece.
Fire Garth Snow
The uncertainty surrounding Tavares could have been avoided had general manager Garth Snow showed an inkling of competence at his position. At the league’s trade deadline in early February, the Islanders were just two points out of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot despite possessing the league’s worst defense.
Instead of being aggressive on the market and trying to find a legitimate answer to bolster the blue line, Snow didn’t do anything to shake up the team. His tactics were a clear message that he nor management was committed to winning, leading to the swoon that doomed the Islanders’ season.
It’s nothing new for Snow, who has regularly remained dormant during the trade deadline and has done little to build a serious contender. It’s time for him to go and get a new culture in the front office.
Fire Doug Weight
Good coaching finds a way to get the most out of a team even if management doesn’t do a thing to better the roster.
The Islanders spent the better part of the first five months of the season in the postseason race until their freefall to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. While plenty of blame is reserved for Snow, a lot needs to go to Weight, who couldn’t figure out a way to stop a miserable slide in which the Islanders lost 16 of 19 games from Feb. 19 to Mar. 31.
Weight was stubborn in his tactics, continuing to play a style of hockey that built an attack from New York’s own zone. It’s a dangerous style to play, especially if you don’t have the right amount of skill in your defense and back checkers as it yields a high amount of turnovers, which was another main reason as to why the Islanders gave up so many goals this year.
The downturn in play and pressure of a losing streak looked too much for Weight, who was clearly frustrated by his team’s deficiencies. This kind of team needs an established coach who knows how to win hockey games by making the correct adjustments.
Weight is not that.
Trade for a top-pairing defenseman
Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk simply are not capable of being a team’s best defensemen. Leddy had the worst season of his career despite racking up 10 goals and 32 assists. His minus-42 rating was the worst in the NHL this season.
Yet he was forced to lead an inept defense that had its fair share of injuries, including the loss of Calvin de Haan for the season. Though de Haan wouldn’t have fixed a defense that allowed a staggering 293 goals with one game left to play.
That’s the most goals allowed by a team in a single season since the 2008-09 season when the Toronto Maple Leafs also allowed 293 goals. Should the Islanders surrender at least a goal to the Red Wings on Saturday night, it will be the most goals allowed by a team since the Philadelphia Flyers in 2006-07, who gave up 303 tallies.
New York needs a legitimate No. 1 defenseman who can come in and immediately shave off a considerable amount of goals next year. That means pursuing every possible option including Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes.
One defenseman isn’t going to fix the blue line and the Islanders do have some younger options that could be ready to make the jump to the NHL next year in the likes of Devon Toews and Mitchell Vande Sompel. But the Islanders need to commit to a future where they’re not relying on Thomas Hickey, Adam Pelech or Scott Mayfield to carry the defense.
That means using at least one of their lottery picks (they have two this offseason) during the 2018 draft to pick up an elite-level defensive prospect that will add to the team’s pool of promising youngsters.
While Rasmus Dahlin will be long gone as he is likely the No. 1 pick of the draft, the Islanders should have their pick of either Noah Dobson, Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard or Bode Wilde.