With two weeks left in the regular season, there is a lot on the line for the New York Islanders. The way this season ends for the Islanders will have a major impact on how they move forward regarding their coach, general manager and roster. At bare minimum, the Isles need to win a playoff series (which has not happened since 1993) and in the second round must push a top Eastern Conference team to the brink, while playing at a high level. If the Islanders do not at least reach this bar then major changes will be forthcoming for the organization.
First things first, and that is the Isles have to secure a playoff spot. They currently stand at 89 points and still hope to finish in the top three of the Metropolitan Division. That will not be easy as they trail the Penguins by three points (and have a game in hand) and the Rangers by six points (and have two games in hand). The Islanders still play Pittsburgh and the Blue Shirts one more time this season. At the same time, New York has to make sure that Boston, Detroit and Philadelphia don’t all pass them. If that happens the Isles will miss the playoffs and that would be a major disaster.
Jack Capuano recently reached a milestone by getting his 200th career win as an NHL coach. Capuano took over to lead the Islanders behind the bench in November, 2010. New York was in the middle of their rebuild and Capuano help guide the young team. In all likelihood, Capuano will steer the team to a third trip to the playoffs in the last four years.
The accomplishments Capuano has reached aside, if the Islanders fail to make any playoff noise and win a series, a key question must be asked. Is Jack Capuano the right coach to take this young, talented group from a playoff team to an Eastern Conference contender? If New York fails in the playoffs once again, the question has been answered and the Islanders will be in the market for a new coach. The Islanders’ regular season of inconsistency and failure to play 60 minutes on most nights will not help Capuano’s cause either.
Garth Snow has made a lot of strong moves for the franchise since becoming GM in 2006. Snow has drafted well, has been excellent in terms of salary cap management, and has also locked up key players to smart long-term deals, such as John Tavares and Travis Hamonic. In addition, Snow has used his salary cap flexibility as an asset which helped him land Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk right before the beginning of last season. I cannot leave out that over the last number of years the Islanders have had one of the best prospect pools in the sport. New York continues to draft well even though they have been a playoff team the last few years. Finally, Snow has done a really good job in finding players such as Matt Moulson (was 30 goal scorer for the Isles three straight years) amongst others.
Having said that, if the Islanders fail to take the next step this season a key question must also be asked regarding Snow. Is Garth Snow the right GM to help guide this young, talented organization to becoming a Stanley Cup contender? If one has to hesitate in answering that question the Islanders front office could have a very different look next year.
Is Garth Snow, who stood pat last summer and at the deadline, still the shrewdest GM ever if the Isles miss the playoffs?
— Peter Botte (@PeterBotte) March 22, 2016
If the Islanders make changes behind the bench as well as the front office, you can take it to the bank there will be significant roster moves. Outside of Tavares, Boychuk and Leddy everyone is available in the right deal. I would include Hamonic on that untouchable list except for the fact that he requested a trade to a Western Canadian team due to personal reasons before the beginning of this season.
Besides, if new leadership comes aboard, roster changes would be coming because the current Islanders group would not have shown they can take the next step in terms of being an Eastern Conference force. Coming up short again in the first round of the playoffs, even if they play well against a strong opponent will not be good enough.
Also keep in mind that with top forward prospects Matthew Barzal and Michael Dal Colle being close to NHL-ready that makes talented youngsters Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Anders Lee available in the right trade. If the players on the roster want to keep this group together they need to follow the words of the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, “Just win, Baby.”
After this season ends, the Islanders’ new ownership tandem of Scott Malkin and Jonathan Ledecky officially become the majority owners. Like all new owners, I expect Malkin and Ledecky to be aggressive right away in getting this franchise to the next level as a true contender.