Islanders, Maple Leafs on same path, different worlds

"We play a similar style to the way Ron Wilson wants to play. He said he wants a 'dog-on-the-bone' mentality. The terminology is different, but that's the same mindset we ask of our players. Kyle played for a whole year with that style."

>>Scott Gordon, discussing Kyle Okposo at the Worlds

If the "terminology" is different, it may be that with this Islanders roster, Gordon has to to resort to a "please, throw us a bone" mentality. {hey, rimshot}

No seriously, it's no surprise that Gordon and Wilson share similar styles -- that was likely a big reason that Gordon got the assistant's gig for Team USA. But I for one will have fun watching the Islanders and Maple Leafs develop in the coming years, comparing and contrasting how these aggressive styles are employed -- and which ones evolve out of necessity or under popular pressure -- by two teams that essentially started over this past season.

In one sense, the Leafs are miles ahead of the Islanders in their rebuild: Revenue-wise, we're talking about the alpha and the omega of NHL franchises. The Leafs can (theoretically) attract major free agents, they can afford them, they can afford to bury bad contracts in the minors to get under the cap, and they can even pick off undrafted college free agents to accelerate their depth replenishment. The Islanders could maybe re-sign Andy Hilbert.

Oh, and the Leafs finished 20 points ahead of the Islanders in the standings, despite carrying the worst save percentage in the league (.885, compared to the Islanders' .900, which was 24th). Part of me believes, like a true homer, that these two teams would have been closer had the roster-thin Islanders not been hammered by injuries to every single regular, but I digress.

The Islanders, on the other hand, can only attract hidden-gem Streit-like free agents who have something to prove and then get the proof named after them (and how often do those come around?), can't afford to throw any more good money after bad, and are committed to a slow, patient build with youth and little free agent dabbling, anyway. Oh, and their building is ancient, putting their future home up in the air.

One advantage the Islanders might have is that they hit "restart" a little bit earlier and a little bit firmer, but if that's true it's only because their depth was that scarce. Now they have the strong 2008 draft haul under their belts, plus another good draft due next month, highlighted by the big man at #1, who should instantly be better than any asset the Leafs have, barring a Sedin coup.

Both the Isles and Leafs need significant goalie upgrades this summer (another free agent area where the Leafs have a better shot). Both have some moderate prospects who they would like to be the real deal, but they just don't know -- and only time and painful patience will tell.

But what really makes me look forward to watching these teams rebuild in parallel? Both teams have the aforementioned agressive coaches who have the full support of cock-sure GMs. Brian Burke believes in what he's doing and won't be bailing on Ron Wilson when things look bleak. Similarly Garth Snow, albeit it in a totally publicity-averse style, believes in what he's doing and won't be bailing on Scott Gordon, even if the Isles finish in prime lottery land next season.

That patience and firm belief in the plan is -- outside of a competent plan itself -- the most important ingredient to a healthy rebuild. As mentioned, the Leafs have the spending flexibility and market allure to accelerate things, and I'm sure they ultimately will do that when they get closer. But Burke is also patient and committed to doing it "the right way" relative to his resources.

Wilson and Gordon will no doubt take many more lumps, particularly if they're not handed quality goaltenders. It will be fun to watch how they handle it, while their GMs steadily build more infrastructure behind them.

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