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9:20 am: On one hand, it’s peculiar that Garth Snow insincerely blustered at the season finale about how missing the playoffs was “unacceptable” when he fielded one of the smallest, softest, least experienced, unskilled and shallow rosters in recent NHL history. There’s a reason many picked the Islanders for 28th-30th, and why Scott Gordon received more applause than criticism for keeping the team competitive in March.
And that’s with Matt Moulson – signed to a two-way contract for “depth,” admitted the honest Gordon – scoring more than twice as many goals as Snow could have ever projected. With Dwayne Roloson at age 40 stealing more points than anyone could have expected. With Andy Sutton staying healthy and playing the best hockey of his career. With Rob Schremp falling into their laps on the waiver wire, the benefit of being the league’s worst team in 2008-09.
Of course, Snow cannot publicly reveal that he game-planned before the season and at the trade deadline to only win a top-two selection in the 2010 draft. But to reach into the GM’s media playbook and pretend that his team’s failure to make the playoffs was “unacceptable” was disingenuous, and pretty hilarious.
But on the other hand…
John Tavares hit his marks – scoring 24 goals and 54 points, creating buzz, selling tickets and inspiring hope.
Top-six forward prospect Kirill Petrov needs development time, but he should be added to the roster in the next couple of months.
Moulson made the pro scouts look brilliant and a name for himself (eventually, even in Vancouver) by scoring 30 goals.
Travis Hamonic had a monster year and developed into a second D pair NHL prospect.
With his own staff for the first time in his two-year Islanders career, Scott Gordon coached and coached well. No matter how many loser points and Nielsen-Schremp-Moulson brewed shootout victories, finishing three games under NHL .500 surpassed the very modest expectations.
Mikko Koskinen had hip surgery, but is finishing the season strong in the ECHLand should get at least 40 games next season in Bridgeport.
Kevin Poulin has been so off-the-charts splendid in the Quebec League, Patrick Roy called him the best goalie in Canadian junior hockey.
Matt Martin was downright entertaining.
Kyle Okposo‘s final stats may be a bit underwhelming for such a strong player, but few in the game see him as anything but beast.
Jack Hillen became an NHL defenseman.
Andrew MacDonald certainly looks like he can be one.
Blake Comeau didn’t give any reasons to be written off as marginal, and there’s nothing wrong if his ceiling is as a very good third-line player.
If this is a down year for Mark Streit, take it.
Roloson gave the Islanders legitimate No. 1 goaltending.
The lesson came late, but the importance of toughness appeared to dawn on management in the final weeks.
In a league in which offense is at a premium, Schremp proved to be a worthwhile waiver pickup.
Calvin de Haan had his season ended early by a serious shoulder injury, but he legitimized his selection in the first round.
More prospects made progress than hit a wall.
Jack Capuano, Pat Bingham and Matt Bertani continue to make a lot out of not much in Bridgeport.
Sutton gave the Islanders a reminder of what they need more of going-forward. If that big defenseman happens to be closer to 30 than 35, and more mobile, even better.
Josh Bailey got stronger and played better, especially at wing.
Frans Nielsen took another step towards becoming the best home-grown two-way center to come out of the organization since there were only 21 teams in the league.
And when it was all over, the Islanders ended up with the fifth overall pick in the draft. With the selection, they will add an integral piece to the slow and steady rebuild.
No, not everything went smoothly this season. A 26th-place finish should never be cause for celebration. The Islanders boasted about strong play down the stretch after injuries and the dumping of Sutton, but after the Olympic break they were just 9-8-3. In the second half, they were 18-19-4.
The failures were discussed ad infinitum over the last three months and no doubt will down the road. The Islanders have plenty of improvements to make. Leaving your team with Yann Danis and Joey MacDonald in goal for a season and then feeling pride over a standings points improvement could be a dangerous act of self-delusion.
Want a reality check? The Islanders had 20 wins in regulation with Danis and MacDonald in 2008-09. They had – you guessed it – 20 regulation wins in 2009-10 with Roloson, Biron and Rick DiPietro. And Tavares, Moulson, Schremp, Hillen, MacDonald…
This discussion is not about the Islanders off the ice, where they continue to chase their tail on countless issues – beginning with two vital ones, the Lighthouse Project and ticket sales.
But if you said all of the positive developments above would happen on the ice over the last six months – and consider how the stage is set for the Islanders get it right over the next four months - there really isn’t much argument.
For year 2 of the Islanders’ rebuild, even the toughest grader would have to give Garth Snow, Ryan Jankowski, Scott Gordon and the rest of the hockey operations crew a B+. Best of all, we shouldn’t have to talk much longer about rebuilding, about draft parties in April, about being under-manned in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. If the Islanders are not talking playoffs at this time next year, it will be a big step back after this year’s forward progress.
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