A year ago, Garth Snow used the one chip he had - the dismissal of too-longtime head coach Jack Capuano - to save his own job, and buy at least another season for himself under the Islanders' new ownership. Today the question is, what will Snow do to save his team's season?
Because this is a season worth saving. Because this is a team with a richly-talented core that deserves to be put in the best position to grab a playoff spot.
John Tavares, possibly in his final months as an Islander, has entered the prime of his career playing the best hockey of his life.
Josh Bailey, the other All Star and potential unrestricted free agent, has had his breakout season on the wing of Tavares and the prayers of the faithful.
And the biggest surprise of all is that rookie Mathew Barzal, whom everyone in the Country knew would eventually be a good NHL player, is approaching greatness…already.
As a result of the above, along with Snow's smart trade for Jordan Eberle and the continued development of Anders Lee as a net-front goal scorer, the Islanders - winners of just 24 of 48 games heading into tonight's matchup against the woeful Coyotes - have a pair of lines at the top of the forward rotation that most teams would die for.
Is Snow about to waste all this? Even if he is confident Tavares is coming back, is Snow going to blow another year of the superstar's career?
The general manager could not possibly do that.
Before we continue, let's stop with the whining about the injuries. My respect for Doug Weight, and my hopes for him as a coach and leader of the franchise, have been made clear in this space. But there are moments when I wonder if Weight has been kidnapped, and replaced by a lookalike.
It was painful to read his quotes last week, when Weight did the inauthentic dance between moaning about missing players from his lineup while asserting that he doesn't want to make excuses. Then why bring it up, Coach?
Here is the quote from Weight after the loss to the Devils last Wednesday night, courtesy of the Twitter of NHL.com's Brian Compton: "You can say makeshift. You can say whatever you want. The fact is, we have seven, now eight guys out. Listen, no one has a violin here. I'm not looking for it. But it's tough."
A few thoughts here:
- The Islanders started losing plenty before these guys got hurt, with the exception of Calvin de Haan, whose loss has been so debilitating that never mind the Norris - he should be up for the Hart Trophy next season.
- On almost any given day, even when they are relatively healthy, the Islanders do not dress the best lineup of players they possibly could.
- Do we really need to go through the injury lists of half the teams in the league to make a formal plea for the woe-is-us to cease from the Islanders?
- Doug Weight the player might have cringed over these comments by a coach.
- Did Snow write this script for him?
The biggest problem with Weight's comments - reminiscent of Bill Stewart's legendary "Have you looked at our lineup"? from 1999 - is that it's insulting to the players wearing your crest, giving their best.
And then how do you explain the win Saturday night in Chicago, besides the Blackhawks not being good anymore, and apparently eating and drinking their way through their five-day break? If the lineup is as thin on skill and desire as Weight implies, are we left to assume they won because the coaching was brilliant?
This is a playoff-caliber team. The Islanders' top two lines are top-five in the entire league. They have a No. 1 defenseman in Nick Leddy. The goaltending has yet to be straightened out, but Jaroslav Halak is starting to be a big factor in wins. He's the guy they'll ride.
Even if you don't believe in Halak, faith in earning a playoff spot is justifiable because the Eastern Conference is awful. Buffalo, Ottawa, and Detroit are out of the playoff hunt and looking to sell. Montreal and Florida may be capable of teasing runs, but they are long shots.
At this moment, it looks like the two playoff berths will come from five teams: the Islanders, Rangers, Flyers, Penguins, and Hurricanes.
Even when they're down a few players, and despite the edge in goal for their crosstown rival, the Islanders are better than the Rangers (short a few key players of their own). Of the group of five, only the Penguins have the talent and track record to be considered a favorite. Most unbiased observers would put the Islanders right behind Pittsburgh.
Surely, Snow knows this. He has plenty of chips to make trades for upgrades on the blueline, and third and fourth lines. As the All-Star break arrives this week, trade talk will intensify.
With so much on the line, it's time for Snow to stand up and save his team's season.