In July 2009, Garth Snow signed unrestricted free agent Martin Biron to a one-year contract. While Biron was not elite, he was a solid, veteran, goaltender in his prime years. The prior season, he was the Flyers' starting goaltender, posting a decent .915 save percentage and led the Flyers tot he playoffs. However, a variety of circumstances converged to make the match happen and Garth signed him.
To Islander fans at the time, the fact that Biron agreed to come here was not considered remarkable (most of the attention at the time focused on what this meant regarding Rick DiPietro’s health). Garth Snow found decent success signing quality UFAs earlier that offseason (Dwayne Roloson) and offseasons prior (Mark Streit and Doug Weight in 2008, Bill Guerin and Mike Comrie in 2007).
Nearly five years later, however, the notion of signing quality UFAs has become nothing more than an annual, improbable hope crushed each July amid talk of "seller’s market" and "thin talent pool" masking the reality that players just don’t want to come here. Sometimes, this reality was made all too clear by UFAs who explicitly rejected us (Christian Ehrhoff) or UFAs who reportedly turned down our offers with more favorable terms than their ultimate destinations (Paul Martin, Dan Hamuis).
Ironically, two of Snow’s acquisitions that ultimately learned to enjoy Long Island (Viz and Nabby) were particularly noisy about not coming here and were ultimately victims of Snow’s use of what I would call the Sergeant Brody method: take them by force and then sell them on the inner beauty of our faith once they get here. However, since the Biron signing, no quality NHLer with options has agreed to come here.
This is not to say none of the Isles signings haven’t been solid – some of them have. But they have been limited to players coming off injury or poor seasons looking for a second chance (Brad Boyes, Pierre Marc Bouchard), career AHLers (PAP, Moulson, CMac) or grinders (Matt Carkner, Marty Reasoner). While we all have hope that the pending move to Brooklyn, the feel good stories of Nabby and Viz, and JT being awesome would be enough to lure players here, this has not yet happened.
To be sure, Long Island isn’t the only destination not favored by players with options. But even sad sack franchises can point to some solid acquisitions of such players. Florida acquired Brian Campbell (acquired via trade, but Campbell had to waive his NTC) and UFA Thomas Kopecky. Calgary signed Jiri Hudler and Dennis Wideman. Atlanta(!)/Winnipeg signed Blake Wheeler, Chris Mason and Olli Jokinen. Columbus signed James Wizniewski, Jeff Carter (acquired via trade but waived his NTC), Marian Gaborik (waived his NTC).
This is not a knock on Garth. On the contrary, I’m just pointing out that Garth has had no access to a whole category of higher caliber NHLers (quality players with options) and that this handicap is largely beyond the team’s control. But this probably explains the Vanek trade. Coming to realize that the only way to acquire players is via the Sergeant Brody method, he pulled the trigger hoping he would come around and agree to sign long term.
This also probably explains why he didn’t trade for Ryan Miller: Ryan has an NTC and likely wouldn’t waive it to come here (as reported by incarcerated bob at the time). So while I’m not saying that the Isles won’t manage to sign Vanek, or Moulson, or a decent goaltender or defenseman as a UFA this coming offseason, if they do, it will be a dramatic break to a long running streaks.
And all streaks get broken at some point. Right? Right??