Despite missing the playoffs for a fifth straight year, Islanders general manager Garth Snow does not anticipate any sort of major overhaul during the offseason.
"We'll go into the draft and free agency with the same mind-set we've had: We'll try to improve the team any way we can, but within the framework of our game plan," Snow said Sunday. "I don't envision any big changes. We have one of the top prospect pools in the league and our core is a good, young group. It's about taking the next step with that core we have."
The Islanders will meet officially for the last time Monday morning, taking their exit physicals and sitting down with Snow and coach Jack Capuano for final conversations before departing for the offseason. Snow, who will return for a seventh season as GM, already has half of his regulars under contract for next season, including six of the top seven point-scoring forwards and the three top defensemen in terms of playing time from this season.
Without much of a free-agent crop to choose from, Snow could deal one or two of those prospects for an established, cost-effective player or hope some of the young players who got looks with the Islanders this season grow into more established roles by the end of next training camp. He's clearly hoping for more of the latter than giving up on any of the better prospects just yet.
"Jack said it during this year's training camp: Competition from younger players pushing veterans for spots only improves the entire team," Snow said. "We had that with David Ullstrom earlier in the year, and that allowed us to let [Blake] Comeau go."
Snow still has faith in Capuano, whom the GM picked to replace Scott Gordon in November 2010. Capuano's record as Islanders coach is 60-66-21 through 147 games.
"I think about some of the games we played against the elite teams in the league, like Detroit [a 5-1 win Jan. 10] or the two wins we had in Philly, and I think this team can compete with anyone," Snow said. "Obviously, consistency was our biggest issue. But it's a matter of maturity with the young group at the core of the team.
"We're all disappointed with the way this season went. Whether you're a fan, a player or a member of the organization, we all want to make the playoffs and show the fans and ourselves what we can do. I still take a lot of positives from this year, and we can build off them and learn from the things we didn't do as well and be better next season."