According to the calculations here at Lighthouse, the Islanders can only afford 8 more losses the rest of the year to make the playoffs. I think we can all agree that is unlikely to happen so it is time to start looking ahead, and I'm not talking about next year. Someone made a point in an earlier thread how Garth has been very succesful at Plan A of the rebuild, stocking young talent, but has failed at Plan B, translating that into success at the NHL level. I think Garth has been too shortsighted when assembling the NHL roster and he needs to start looking to the years the team will really contend.
That means making roster decisions that will determine the makeup of the 13-14 roster. Looking at the roster and assuming another slow free agent offseason, the Islanders are unlikely to contend for a conference title next year. And if the team can not compete on that level, it is not prudent to make decisions that do not get them to that level. The goal is to win the cup, not compete for a 6-8 seed every year. Saying that, I do not believe next season has to be a total loss. The goal should be to make the playoffs, which could be realistic.
The team is bound to be better next year. The roster composition can not get much worse with the Islanders currently fielding 10 players at replacement level or worse according Hockey Prospectus's GVT and a putrid shooting percentage that should rebound even slightly. Add to that an improved defense through promotions and the team should be better constructed next year. Still, it will not be good enough to contend for a cup, which has to be the goal and driver of all roster decisions.
Operating under that premise, there's a few moves Garth must make this year to make the team better in the 13-14 season. A few are no-brainers, like getting rid of Pandolfo, Reasoner, Eaton, Mattau and Staois. They all provide little to no value now and most certainly will not be contributing or even on the roster in two years. All of their ice time should be given to players who need the experience to grow to be contributors in 13-14.
There are three players who I believe Garth must make a decision on by February.
Mark Streit-He will be 35 at the start of the 13-14 season and currently not playing at the elite level he established pre-injury. There is very little chance he will be worth his salary, and the responsibility that comes along with the salary at 35. It's also reasonable to assume he will continue to regress and no longer be a top flight defense next season. That is why Garth needs to trade him this year. When it's time to contend for a cup, a team can not be relying on a 35 year old Mark Streit. Also, he is the Isles best asset in terms of building a team for the future.
Evgeni Nabokov-He has been playing well and is not part of the team's long term plan. Whatever Garth can get in return, he should. Garth has had success receiving a compensatory draft pick based on playoff success, and he would be wise to do so again.
Milan Juricina-While asked to do too much thanks to our inept defense, he provides good size, and will only be 30 come the 13-14 season. Garth should lock him up for two years and hope he anchors a solid 5/6 defense pairing when the team is playing at an elite level.
Making these tough decisions, like to trade Streit, are the type that separate the great GM's from the mediocre. It's time for Garth to make the case for whether he wants to win, or merely wants to do enough to keep his job. For the sake of us all, I hope he chooses the former.