NY Islanders Rise From The Ashes

NY Islanders Rise From The Ashes

“I think it’s time to retire. I am starting to burn out,” I said to my friend, Eric McErlain. Eric is one of the original first hockey bloggers in the industry who started over with the Washington Capitals.

This was back in 2011.

You see… I never took my own or his advice. I felt there was more to say and do on the NY Islanders. That the story wasn’t done. So I wasn’t done.

My mistake was that this internal discord within stretched far too long. Much like fans felt Garth Snow’s GM tenure went far too long.

It was time to leave it to others. Whether they understood the delicate complexities or not. If they had the sources or not.

Instead, I plugged on. But as I did, I started to clock out. I became more and more reliant to who I spoke to in the industry and the team than ever. I, in fact, began to resent the entire process.

I had indeed burnt out.

It didn’t happen overnight. It seeped in, as other items like day job and family sapped my diminishing free time. I was short, curt, sporadic, and… well, not as good as I could have been in my blogging twilight.

As I have seen, and then experienced, new media writers are fallible. Some are homers for the team or rail against it when things not going well. Or, go through the motions feeling no passion anymore. I certainly missed the warning signs as the team was about to do an about-face.

Majority owner, Scott Malkin, broke the “patience is key” approach to get hockey knowledge and trust right at the top in one fell swoop. It took the existing Isles brain trust by surprise last summer.

Malkin had wanted to add hockey acumen to assure they were on the right path. His office had quietly asked other organizations on their take on the current GM, the year before. Outside of a few, it was positive. Snow had respect in the field.

But that was before last season. When it all went to hell.

A ground zero of season failure and John Tavares free agency would be the fulcrum of judgment. All the eggs were in the John Tavares basket. Malkin had to finally get that acumen in the organization at any and all cost. Too much was on the line. Too much was already too late.

The ‘Snow Must Go’ sign definitely caught attention.

Season tickets selling faltering sealed the deal.

“Money talks” is an adage for a good reason. Malkin needed someone at the top who had hockey knowledge and acumen. To steer the ship off the rocks. When tickets selling went south, Malkin changed course.

Malkin got involved earlier that season, as well.

Garth Snow had wanted to deal with John Tavares at the trade deadline. Despite Tavares public words, NO commitment was given to the club. As a former player, Snow knew that was trouble. The organization could not afford to go empty-handed if he walked.

Malkin refused this request.

Ok, yes it was a mistake on Malkin’s part. But it was also the writing on the wall for Snow even back before the end of the season. Malkin would not commit to Snow’s take.

This should have been a shrill alarm for Snow and Doug Weight. Both of whom sat in tone-deaf disconnect at the end of the year press conference looking like they rolled in straight from a Dave & Busters.

When Lou Lamoriello came aboard, he went further than many expected in only a week or two. He immediately saw the need to overturn the existing regime and echo chamber.

He also had one more reason. Clear a path for the organizations biggest need: coaching.

Many in the industry knew that Barry Trotz and the GM of the Washington Capitals, Brian MacLellan, were not seeing eye to eye. By clearing everyone off the Isles deck, Lou gave Barry no reasons to look elsewhere. It was strategic and allowed an established coaching personnel and system to come.

Was Lou up to date and operating with best new practices? I’m not sure we have a definitive answer on that quite yet. But at this point, it doesn’t matter. Two very vital items came into play that dictated this season thus far….

1. The NY Islander players were not so much the reason for previous failures. Instead, those failures were on coaching and organizational missteps.

2. Barry Trotz and staff were exactly what these underrated NY Islanders players needed.

NY Islanders have been playing a tight defensive strategy that has paid dividends. This system pivots on reducing the opposing team’s High Danger chances. Then they need to take advantage of their own High Danger chances on the other side of the ice.

It is a simple formula. Then need to limit opposing teams chances, while creating their own. If you look at their wins and losses, this becomes very clear. If they have more high danger chances than the opposition, they tend to win. Simple and effective.

Meanwhile, the goalies are also responding and GETTING BETTER throughout the season.

Coaching, system, players buying in, all tell the tale on the Isles this season. All items missing from one year before. Plus one other thing: entrenched talent within the team on-ice and in-system. For that, we can thank the previous administration, even if they were there far too long. We reap their benefits.

Yes, the old guard didn’t know how to step forward or how to address the needs to get to the next level. It was that simple. Garth Snow relied on what worked when they were threadbare. He worked with owner limitation when Charles Wang was in charge

BUT… credit needs to go where it is due… The talent and prospects are shining with the new coaching and system. It belies the more obvious thing in hindsight.

The NY Islanders drafted well, had talent, but was unable to get past a particular point. In fact, they were still paddling.

Garth Snow’s most significant flaw as GM was the failure to allow proper coaching and system to take shape. It was necessary for well over four years. Newbies didn’t fit the bill.

Therein lies his failure.

Garth Snow fell into a critical business pitfall. You always need to bring in people who are better than you.

Management seemed to have a fear of bringing in better hockey organization knowledge and new voices.

In business, and including hockey, you do not have all the answers. 

You need to bring in those who provide more than you do. To fill those gaps. 

He was unwilling to test existing notions with established and sound voices in the room. No organization, hockey or business will thrive to grow to the next level that way. It undermines the effort. It undermined his GM tenure, in the end.

He and owners catered to keeping certain hockey players happy and onboard… bending over backward in some player orientated culture. So much so, that became their entire focus. Thereby they stunted growth. Even worse, they lost the bigger picture.

It is likely that VERY thing that Lou saw immediately in the first few weeks causing him to pull the plug. He knew the organization could never be about one player.

The organization entrenched itself in wrong notions and priorities.
In the end, it was the right move for the right reasons. By doing this, Lou also cleared a path to an immediate solution.

Barry.

The man who coached. Not the player that scored.

Yes, the NY Islanders still need that goal scorer. They miss an elite dynamo that made them dangerous. Their “Goals For” are behind other playoff competitors. We might pay for that down the line. But we now see the rest of the talent flourishing.

In fact, there are two unlikely heroes.
Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck

Both players lead the team in creating high danger scoring chances on offense. They also lead to reducing opposing teams opportunities to do the same when they are on the ice.

Their play this season has made Snow’s long term contracts seem far smarter in hindsight (we can probably also add in Scott Mayfield).

Meanwhile goalie play have helped the Isles leapfrog in the standings.
Both, Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, have high danger save percentages well over 80% in 5 vs. 5 play. Their play along with their fellow Isles muffles opposing offenses.

When it comes to the playoffs, it will be interesting to see if these items remain as stellar. But who cares? This season has blown the roof off of expectations.

What is clear is that the Islanders are finally in steady hands. It’s been a long time coming. What a perfect time to step away from regular hockey blogging. Time for new people to shine and enjoy the game. Ok, maybe a blog once in a blue moon….

…maybe.

Let’s go, Isles.

About B.D. Gallof

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