Snow, Isles have something to cheer about
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
Garth Snow rarely gives off an energetic vibe, preferring to play it cool most times. The Islanders general manager sounded positively giddy Wednesday, though, at the prospect of his team getting a new arena.
"This brings a stability to our franchise," Snow said. "It's something that our fans and our team has wanted for a long time. It has to be exciting for everyone. I'm excited."
Five years is an eternity in the life cycle of a hockey team, the time it can take a last-place team to rise to become a Stanley Cup champion, as the Blackhawks and Penguins did.
In the last five years -- Snow's first five years as GM -- the Islanders have not had that progression. They have one playoff win and four straight bottom-five season finishes. Attendance figures dropped to their lowest point since the lockout this past, injury-plagued season.
But the slow change that Snow has effected on the roster now has the possibility of a new arena to show it off when, ideally, the young talent will be at its most mature.
Among the Islanders players who were on hand yesterday for the big news conference/pep rally in support of Ed Mangano's and Charles Wang's bond referendum were Andrew MacDonald and Michael Grabner, two of Snow's young finds who are among the core returning players for next season.
When the 2015-16 season and, presumably, the new Islanders arena opens, MacDonald will be 29, Grabner will be 28. Kyle Okposo (27), Josh Bailey (26), John Tavares (24), Travis Hamonic (25) and Kevin Poulin (25) will all also be in the primes of their careers. Not to mention Calvin de Haan (24), Aaron Ness (25), Matt Donovan (25), Nino Niederreiter (23) and whomever the Isles select with the fifth pick in next month's draft.
Keeping them together is a task that Snow will have to work hard to accomplish. But, for those Islanders fans already under siege from Wang's ticket sales department to commit to the still-undecided future, there is the knowledge that the team on the ice will look something like what it does now.
That is something not many teams in the league can say. The Penguins and Hawks came out of the lockout with young, hungry and unsuccessful teams; their owners preached patience. The ones in Pittsburgh preached patience with two of the best players in the world; they also had a new arena in the hopper, which opened to sold-out crowds this season, adding to the rejuvenated hockey world in that city.
The Islanders could have such a team if their new arena comes to fruition. There are plenty of complications in the way -- the injury bug that wiped out much of this season is just one example; the decade left on Rick DiPietro's contract could be another, though he was out at the Coliseum Wednesday sounding as positive as anyone about the future of the franchise.
Snow is pretty certain to be around in 2015 as well. His track record isn't so great in his first five seasons, but given the uncertainty surrounding the franchise the last few years, he has attracted and unearthed a decent amount of talent, if not a decent amount of wins.
One thing Snow has done is improve the future of the Islanders. They are as well-stocked with good, young players as any team in the league. The goal now, with the new arena looming, is to convince some other key cogs to join up and make this a team for the present as well as the future.
If Wednesday's announced plans fall into place, the Islanders will have a brand new arena to show off what Snow's assembled five years from now.