After the Islanders’ 3-1 win in Ottawa – easily their best 60-minute effort of the season – it is more apparent than ever that the younger the team gets, the better off it will be in the long run.
With tonight’s very impressive showing, the team is 5-9-2. Last season, Boston and Ottawa took the last two playoff berths in the Eastern Conference. Both the Bruins and Senators finished the season 12 games over NHL .500.
Let’s assume it will take the same 12 games over .500 to earn a playoff spot this season in the East. This would mean for the Islanders to make the playoffs next spring, they would have to play the final 66 games of this regular season at 16 games over .500. Can the Islanders go 37-21-8 the rest of the way? Even with some key injuries, that’s not impossible. But squeaking into the eighth seed is not on the top ten list of what his franchise needs. What this rebuilding team needs is to act like one and take the next step in its development.
This is not to advocate a complete shutdown of the season effective immediately. But the Islanders should take these next 20 games between Saturday and Dec. 27 and continue to provide opportunities for their young players.
The time is right. Mike Sillinger needs at least a few more weeks to properly rehab from microfracture hip surgery. There’s some buzz that Mike Comrie is more week-to-week than day-to-day with his ailing hip.
You can call up Blake Comeau, the 22-year old that Scott Gordon and Garth Snow liked enough to be on the opening weekend roster. You can play at least two kids on three of the forward lines.
And don’t stop there. Pull no punches. If someone else doesn’t produce after a fair enough look, give a chance to Jeremy Colliton, a late cut in camp. If it’s decided Josh Bailey should go back to juniors – far from a lock anymore – replace him with a young player. Maybe Trevor Smith can get it done. (Yes, I know there is a 23-man roster and something called waivers. Management can deal with it).
Next week the Islanders have three straight days of practices from Tuesday to Thursday. Use this time and the first week of December for bonus sessions of Camp (Go-Go) Gordon. If a kid like Comeau is still regarded by management as a legitimate prospect, doesn’t he deserve more one-on-one time with the Islanders head coach?
None of this in any way should be perceived as disrespectful to veterans Doug Weight and Bill Guerin, who combined for a big even-strength goal tonight to make it 3-1 and send the message this third period would be different. They have done everything the franchise has asked and they have been ideal leaders and role models. Disrespectful is the notion the two veterans have to play on the same line or power play unit to be effective and important. All we’re looking for is to bridge the gap between the icetime of Weight (a forward-high 18:19 tonight) and Guerin with Bailey and Kyle Okposo (11:26).
As for the defense, it will get better with the return of Radek Martinek. Jack Hillen could use more AHL development and there aren’t any top prospects on the blueline like Bailey and Okposo, so there’s no need for radical change. (If Gordon would move Chris Campoli to the first-unit power play and unlock Weight’s grip on the point, we wouldn’t complain).
The fans would likely get behind an increased emphasis on youth. The Islanders, 3-3-1 on the road but 2-6-1 at the Coliseum, would be a fun watch as the pressure is lessened on the team and responsibility is increased to Bailey and Okposo, Bergenheim and Nielsen. Shoot, he team might – heaven forbid – even go on a roll.
Gordon is a fine coach. As tonight proved, his style works and can be exhilarating for his players to execute and his team’s fans to witness. Even if the Islanders do not win another game this season, Gordon is going to be the coach next season. Unless he completely loses his mind and trades Okposo and next year’s first rounder for Curtis Leschyshyn, Garth Snow is going to be the general manager next season and for years to come.
With that security, along with the trust of owner Charles Wang, Snow and Gordon have an opportunity that is rare in this game – of planning ahead while still competing in the present. They should take advantage of it.
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