Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Perception Is Reality

The New York Islanders are having a fairly good summer, though you wouldn't know it if you talked to many of their fans this offseason. Garth Snow set out to improve his team's spotty defense; he added free agents Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina to help. It is also expected that at least one of team's highly touted defensive prospects will see time in Uniondale during the upcoming season. Garth addressed team toughness a bit by adding "Big Z" to the mix. (At least they'll have someone watching the prized forwards' backs this season, if nothing else). The team also retained 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson's services without having to endure a messy arbitration hearing. The affable winger received a one year deal worth $2.45 million. Sounds good, right?

But to hear many Islanders fans speak, the offseason has been one of loss and management buffoonery. Exiled from the club over the last three months have been former great Bryan Trottier, assistant general manager Ryan Jankowski, and broadcaster (and all around good guy) Billy Jaffe. Whether these forced departures were executed based on merit, economics, or who-know-what else, the timing of each was like a monthly slap in the face to the team's loyal fans.

As if that wasn't bad enough, there was the entire Ilya Kovalchuk sideshow that the Islanders somehow drew themselves into. Rumors circulated that the Isles were a bidder for his services, then had made an offer, then had done nothing at all. Fans, desperate for a magic bullet, lapped up these stories each day. It all amounted to nothing. The Islanders would have been better served to have never made a peep about Kovalchuk.

To top it all off, a further indignation was suffered today when Alexander Frolov signed with the New York Rangers. Your opinion may differ, but we think the winger would have been the perfect addition to the young Isles squad. We love good players coming off of a down year, and Frolov fit a need for the Isles. He would have beefed up the scoring from the left side, and he would have come fairly cheaply (he signed for 1 year/$3 million). But now he's with the Islanders' archrival.

The truth of the matter is that Garth Snow has been patient and mostly done what he has promised. But this upcoming season is the one where it is all supposed to come together. Scott Gordon will enter the third and final season of his coaching contract, and the fans are expecting a playoff birth. The promise of 'potential' can only take you so far before people expect results. And we are fast approaching that time.

Say what you will about how fickle and pessimistic the fans can be, but the harsh reality is that it has been almost 20 years since they have had something go berserk (in a good way) over. As one fan told us, the team has essentially become the "Los Angeles Clippers of the NHL." Ouch.

Maybe Garth Snow needs to snap us all back to reality and tell us to stop living in the past, much the way Nick Saban did with Alabama's college football program. But he can have the same effect without saying anything at all. He needs to again deliver a transformative transaction. Have a moment that will not only change the roster of the team, but the culture around it. We understand he doesn't want to lose his way with the rebuild. But he also noted that he would make intelligent signings (which he has) and trades to augment the process. On the last point, he has come up a bit short.

Perhaps it's too late for it to happen this offseason, but we're a long way from the start of 2010-2011 playoff hockey. Until the Islanders secure their spot, the negative perceptions, whether fair or not, will continue to be the reality on Long Island.

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