With nine games left before the trading deadline and yet another dispiriting home loss by the Islanders, the clock is officially ticking. In this blog about 6-7 weeks ago after the miserable goal drought, I wrote that the Islanders needed to scrap their current plan and build with youth for the long term. Since that time, the Isles made a bit of a spirited run, but have now fallen back to earth.
With tonight's Anaheim loss, the Isles have fallen to 13th in the East and 25th in the NHL. Tomorrow, GM Garth Snow should be on the phone with various contenders and looking to trade certain expiring Islander contracts for whatever prospects are available. The rebuilding process of the team needs to begin now, with a 3-5 year time horizon in mind.
What that means is that the Isles shouldn't worry about 2008-09 and look toward 2009-10 to make an impact. Do not overpay for Marian Hossa or someone similar in the offseason. Instead, stockpile draft picks and build from within. If the Isles ever plan on attracting marquee free agents without having a new facility in place, they need to become a consistent winner. Patchwork teams will not get the job done now or in the future.
This is not to say that the Isles should dump all of their veterans. I would keep guys like Bill Guerin, Mike Sillinger and Brendan Witt as they still are solid talents that can also be valuable mentors to the Isles' youth. But next year should be used as a year-long run to see which new Islanders will be the future of the franchise and which will not. And if the Isles happen to get the #1 pick and grab John Tavares in 2009, all the better.
I believe Islander fans will stand behind the team in the long run if there is a coherent strategy in place - lord knows they had every reason in the late 1990s to give up on the franchise. The onus is on top management to articulate a real plan.
In the meantime Garth, if Ottawa is on line 1 and Minnesota is on line 2, please take the calls.