Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jonathan Willis posted an article on Monday comparing the current Edmonton Oilers rebuild with the Mike Milbury-led Islanders of the mid 90's and mid 2000s. Since I'm endlessly fascinated by the depths to which Milbury sunk the Islanders, I found the article very intriguing and I think others will, too.
Willis is very respectful of the Islanders, and the article isn't yet another delivery system for easy Yashin or DiPietro gags. In a shocking turn of events, he writes as if Milbury was an actual NHL general manager, and not a demon sent from Hades to pulverize a once-proud franchise into a fine gray powder. I don't know if I'd agree that trading a 22-year-old Calder Trophy-winning offensive defenseman for the withered husk of a sub-mediocre goalie when you already have a mediocre goalie on the roster constitutes what Willis calls "shoring up their goaltending," but the viewpoint is refreshing.
He's also the first writer I think I've ever read to acknowledge that the Yashin for Chara/Spezza trade was a necessity that did result in a short term gain for the Islanders (a.k.a. a long-awaited appearance in the playoffs). Yashin's dreadful contract and decline, and Chara's rise into a force of Voltron-like proportions, eventually made a deal a disaster.
He compares the Islanders and Oilers records and draft positions over an eerily similar period of time. Basically, each team had a few terrible seasons, a couple of competent seasons, and then a couple more terrible seasons. High draft picks were "earned" and used on young talent. Of course, one big difference is that the Oilers have thus far chosen to hold on to those players (including Gagne, Eberle and the Hall/Nugent-Hopkins combo) to see if they develop into what the team expected. As opposed to the Milburian philosophy of trading everybody all the time out of a possible pathological need to swap one player for another regardless of who or what those players were.
The other big difference, and my main criticism of the piece, is that not enough is made of the 2000 draft in which the Islanders not only traded Roberto Luongo, but drafted Rick DiPietro first overall. This one move may have set the Islanders back the furthest of anything Milbury did during his reign of terror. With the exception of two seasons of Chris Osgood, the Islanders have had exactly zero stability in net in the dozen years since that draft due to DiPietro's epic injury history. Not a good way to build a franchise. Willis also doesn't mention that J.P. Dumont and Mike Rupp, both Milbury first round draft picks, never played a game for the Islanders.
It's an interesting article as Dom and a few others have also pointed out the similarities between these two old rivals. So if you meet an Oilers fan, tell them to hang in there. Because if these parallels continue, they'll be watching Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' Columbus Blue Jackets versus Taylor Hall's Florida Panthers in the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals.
(I've only recently discovered Willis' writing via Puck Daddy's Tuesday chats and he's definitely worth following on Twitter. His concentration is on the Oilers, but he covers the entire NHL with excellent insight. His Twitter handle is @jonathanwillis)