If the model for rebuilding the Islanders into a true contender at some point this century is the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, we might as well all call it a day.
The Penguins were awful for five consecutive seasons. They blew the good kind of chunks, the kind that get you…
The 5th overall pick in 2002 – Ryan Whitney
The first overall pick in 2003 – Marc-Andre Fleury
The 2nd overall pick in 2004 – Evgeni Malkin
The 2nd overall pick in 2006 – Jordan Staal
And still, beyond all that, it took the planets to be aligned and their number to be called in the weighted but league-wide lottery in 2005 for Sidney Crosby to finally get their new arena deal and become an Eastern powerhouse for the next decade.
If we’re waiting for that kind of tragic magic to happen here or anywhere else anytime soon, we’re kidding ourselves. In addition, let me put this delicately: I don’t think the Islanders have five straight years to be first-overall-pick bad.
So how about a more realistic model, like the Washington Capitals? After the lockout, Caps GM George McPhee stripped the payroll to the salary cap floor. The team and its fans had to suck it up and take the pain. Man, I remember working a game in their still-newish arena and calling out from the press box to a buddy. In a crowd of about 6,000 in that lovely 18,000-seat arena, he could hear me from across the rink. (Yes, I know…)
The Capitals are not there yet, but their revival last year was one of the NHL’s feel-good stories. Of course, the leading player is Alex Ovechkin, their prize for being bad in ’03-04. They took Mike Green 29th overall the same year. Nicklas Backstrom (left) arrived in the draft two years later. Alexander Semin was drafted with one of Washington’s three first round picks in 2002 (at No. 13, between Steve Eminger and Boyd Gordon). Karl Alzner was taken 5th overall in ’07.
Readers over the last few days have called for Garth Snow to acquire more draft choices between now and the trade deadline, but with what he will have to trade, I doubt the GM is going to get a bounty of picks. Snow got more to go from 5 to 7 to 9 in the first round in June than he’s likely going to get for any veterans he may unload in February.
The first major step of the rebuild took place at the ’08 draft. Combine that haul with an impressive 2006 crop and all that’s missing – it’s a big one – is a true Ovechkian stud. Someone like Viktor Hedman. Okay, even if the Islanders are almost 20% of the way to clinching the first or second overall pick in 2009, it’s way too early to go there (or even think about the 2010 draft). Just like it’s pointless to consider the Penguins a legitimate model.
If you want to know how the Islanders can do it in a reasonable amount of time and without all the fairy dust, look to D.C.
That would be Hedman. Comments?