Note: With several off-days before the Islanders resume post-All-Star break play, we're taking stock in where the club is and what needs to be done this month, at the draft, and in free agency. This is part II of a four-part series. Part I, on the trade deadline and which players to move off the current roster, is here.
Can Islanders fans -- and management and veterans -- wait for the team to acquire the kind of skill needed to make Scott Gordon's system work?
With Gordon, it's all about his aggressive forechecking system. Injuries on defense and in goal were a problem from the start of the season, so that complicates the evaluation. But while Witt is the only player to publicly question whether this system can work game in and game out at the NHL level, rest assured he has lots of company in the locker room.
>>Greg Logan, Newsday
Logan, the only beatwriter regularly on the ground, has hinted at this situation most of the season: In the Isles locker room, more than just defenseman Brendan Witt are not sold on Gordon's aggressive system. The question is whether Witt and other internal critics will remain with the team -- and whether their skepticism will alter the perspectives of the youths who remain once they feel their NHL jobs are secure.
The revived Doug Weight, for his part, has expressed support for Gordon's attacking style. But he's also angling to avoid a trade. And the list of former AHL players who endorse Gordon's role in their development is growing.
Overspeed, in a Nutshell
Dubbed this summer as "overspeed" (regrettably or not), Gordon's system is almost "ideal," PlayStation-style hockey. You can keep hitting the "turbo" button. It's hockey in a vacuum: It demands constant skating, very little passive forecheck -- an aggressive style that seeks to hem opponents into defensive zone mistakes before they have a chance to execute their own plan.
But the effort extended implies the necessity of shorter shifts and raises the spectre of more frequent injuries over an 82-game season. It demands a skill level the Islanders just don't have. (Flipside: Any degree of NHL success requires a skill level the Isles don't have.) The irony is that playing a system more appropriate for Detroit-level talent is one of the criticisms GM Garth Snow leaked (after the fact) about Ted Nolan.
The Islanders are at ground zero of a rebuild: So older, tired veterans are naturally reluctant to give up what's left of their NHL-caliber bodies to a system that is both physically demanding and unlikely to squeak them into another playoff run. The ridiculous injury list provides cover for the team's lack of success -- this season.
Will 'Overspeed' Survive Long Enough to get a Proper Airing?
But next season, with another top draft pick in tow, if things start off poorly, then ...? Will the veterans who either remain/re-sign or come in as free agents this summer -- will these players put up with a second year of bottom-of-the-standings rankings for the sake of a System of The Future? In other words, unlike Witt, will they buy into a system that's ideally suited for the roster that remains after they're gone?
The answers depend on 1) who Snow re-signs and adds this summer, 2) how the team starts next season, and 3) what other unforeseen factors (a positive turn to Lighthouse news?) test fans patience. Right now, the Islanders die-hards are a patient yet increasingly restless bunch: There is recognition of the need to rebuild, but there is also a decade's worth of fatigue over short-circuited rebuilds of yesteryear.
Add to that a thread of unrealistic expectations about how quickly a significant rebuild is possible. And despite two brilliant summer 2008 free agent signings, ever-lingering in the background is baggage like the fact an unconventional owner chose his backup goalie to run this ship.
So: Assuming Scott Gordon is never asked to make trap-like adjustments to get by, will Gordon and the rest of the Isles' regime continue to survive the growing pains and unrest that come with a rebuild? Or will "Overspeed" never see the day when the Islanders have the kind of skilled assets to make it work?