Well how about that. The Colorado Avalanche just dealt Ryan Smyth to the Los Angeles Kings for defensemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing, plus a fifth-round pick. That the Avs have given up on the still-effective Ryan Smyth now, after the club bottomed out this past season, underlines just how lucky the Islanders are that Smyth chased greener, higher altitude pastures in the summer of 2007. The Islanders inadvertently faced reality as a result, and they're better for it now.
I'll admit it: I was one of the ones hoping against hope that Smyth had fallen in love with Long Island, that the guy who wore his heart on his sleeve and his tears close to the mullet would sign up to revive one Orange and Blue ex-dynasty after being dumped over a few hundred grand by the other. I was an accomplice in continuing to slap the credit card down, privately knowing it wouldn't fix things and the interest-heavy bill would come later.
But once Smyth said thanks but no thanks, a light bulb turned on -- no, it was practically an intervention -- for me and apparently (eventually) for GM Garth Snow, too. The Islanders had been just squeaking by for too long. True, Snow replaced that loss with some stop-gap free agent signings for Ted Nolan, but it was clear eigth-seed playoff appearances and first-round exits were just not real progress -- and they certainly weren't doing the job of filling Nassau Coliseum. It felt like the guy in the movie who had been telling one lie after another to cover up previous mistakes: Finally had to own up, 100 percent, to the reality that was being swept under the rug all along.
Now, Charles Wang -- initially with Mike Milbury, and later with Garth Snow -- had reason to avoid an all-out rebuild and try to push the Islanders forward with some short-term, ultimately regrettable moves. The building was one issue, attendance (though intertwined) was another. With a fanbase scarred by the buffoon/fraudulent owners and "fishy" moves of the late '90s, the Islanders new ownership in the new millenium had cause to make a splash to try to win fans back and convince everyone he and the Islanders are legit. (You could say the same thing about Snow "making a splash" for fans and peers with the Smyth deal, in his first year as backup goalie-turned-GM.)
This is why, as wrong as it was at the time (though not nearly as awful as the 10-year deal that followed), part of me understood the Alexei Yashin trade: The Isles couldn't draw marquee names (sound familiar?); that trade was a way of getting around it and producing some good hockey now. I didn't like it, but I understood the motivation behind it, and I did my part to enjoy the (brief) rewards while trying to forget about the bill coming due. It's worth remembering that this and the Michael Peca move produced the Islanders' most exciting season of the decade.
Now years later, "the building" in the form of the Lighthouse Project is at a critical yet positive juncture, and the team has indeed committed to a rebuild, in part thanks to Snow being able to outline a plan for Wang. By and large, more fans than those who showed up earlier in the decade are showing up now -- and with at least some level of buy-in to the rebuild. After Year 1, in addition to the development of Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey (and the revelation of Frans Nielsen), the rebuild has its first prize in John Tavares.
If Smyth signs that deal in 2007, I'm not sure we're here now. We're probably still treading water in the middle of the conference pack, living on the playoff bubble without ever getting over the hump. Maybe we're "lucky" and crash the way Colorado did this year, still picking up a gem like Matt Duchene yet dumping Smyth for some marginal assets. Maybe not.
For me, and for many others, the loss of Smyth made it easier to accept and rally around the reality that starting over, cold turkey, had the better chance of ensuring long-term success. Put it this way: I'm glad I didn't watch Smyth in an Islanders uniform the last two years, using his presence to tell myself the Islanders were something they're not. By the time Smyth's contract expires, the Islanders will be better for it.
What were you thinking when Smyth fled? Are you glad he left, or do you think the Isles could be in a better place now?