New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow went into last offseason like a man possessed. The playoffs weren't even over yet and Snow had already signaled that he was dead serious about turning the Islanders into a contender. First he traded a fourth round pick to Washington for the rights to All-Star goaltender Jaroslav Halak. He quickly followed that up by acquiring the rights to San Jose Sharks offensive rearguard Dan Boyle.
Halak was signed, sealed, and delivered a few weeks after he was traded. Boyle, who was acquired by the Isles while the Rangers were in the middle of a cold-sweat-inducing playoff run, not so much.
Snow had almost a full month to get Boyle to buy in and sign on the dotted line. As the UFA deadline approached it became pretty clear that this wasn't going to work out.
Almost every one of Snow's moves this offseason were universally hailed. The Halak trade, signing best pals/possession stat cult heroes Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin, and of course re-signing Eric Boulton months before he was exposed to the bidding war of unrestricted free agency.
Trading for Boyle also seemed like a good pluck for the former backup goaltender-turned-GM. The Islanders gave up a conditional 5th round pick to get the 37-year-old Boyle. The pick would become a 4th rounder if Boyle signed.
It stayed a 5th rounder.
Even so, it was a low risk move for the Islanders. Boyle would bolster their blueline and add firepower to their power play, both good things. Sure, he was old and he wanted a multi-year deal, but at the time Islander fans were clamoring for backend help and that's exactly what Boyle would provide.
On July 7, Dan Boyle's illustrious Islanders career came to an end. He signed with the hated New York Rangers for two years, costing them $9 million. He wanted to play for the Rangers, and since he was a free agent it was his right to do just that.
It is hard to fault Boyle for spurning the Isles for their hated rival. Boyle's next team would most likely be his last, meaning his last chance to contend for another Stanley Cup, so he signed with last season's Cup finalist from the East. He had just spent the last six seasons playing for San Jose. His perception of the Isles was likely the same as so many others' -- an eternally burning dumpster fire.
Islander fans were used to this feeling. We've seen several players attempt beg, plead, and arbitrate their way off of Long Island. Sometimes they were successful, other times they stayed.
The Nabby Saga
Both Evgeni Nabokov and Lubomir Visnovsky did their best to void moves to the Islanders. Of course their reasons were very different from Boyle's. Nabokov was in Russia and wanted to come back and play for a contender, so he signed with Detroit.
Unfortunately for Nabby, the CBA forced him to pass through waivers before he could join the Wings so the Isles -- who were in need of a goalie to help them finish out another lost season -- gripped him. This didn't sit well with Nabokov but eventually he came to love Long Island and helped the Islanders get into (albeit not stay in) the 2013 playoffs.
The Lubo Dance
Visnovsky's case was similar to Nabokov's, but with a few more twists and turns. He was in Anaheim doing what Lubo does for the Ducks. He came to Anaheim from Edmonton, despite having a no-trade clause. When the Islanders traded for the Slovakian puck mover, Visnovsky's agent, Neil Sheehy, had announced that his client was looking to reverse the trade because he thought his no-trade clause was still kosher. The league ruled in the Islanders' (and Ducks') favor and Visnovsky was now all ours -- or so we thought.
The timing of all this couldn't have been much worse, as the NHL was just about to enter into it's sickest tradition, the Once-Every-Decade Labor Dispute.
When it became clear that the lockout was going to extend well into the fall, players began moving around the globe to find work. Visnovsky returned to his native Slovakia, playing for Bratislava Slovan of the KHL -- his hometown team.
The lockout finally ended and players began making arrangements to come back to North America. One player who didn't do such a thing was Lubomir Visnovsky. Visnovsky refused to report to Long Island for the entire shortened training camp and the first few weeks of the regular season, all the while his agent claiming it had nothing to do with the Islanders.
He did finally come over and Islander fans were quick to forgive a slick defenseman like Lubo for wanting to keep playing for his hometown team. Since then Visnovsky has been great for the Nassaumen. Like Nabokov he grew to love the place he once tried to avoid and even signed an extension -- imagine that!
Fans of other teams may have been harder to win over for guys who tried to do anything they could to not play for them. But Islander fans didn't take it personally.
All's Well that Ends Well
It felt good as a fan to see these guys enjoy the club. Even though the rest of the league didn't realize little things like this -- they were little victories and Islander fans don't take victories of any shape or size for granted.
Tonight we will see Dan Boyle for the second time this season.
He missed the first game between the Isles and Rangers but played in the second. The Islanders won both games. During the waning ticks of the Isles' 3-0 drubbing at M$G, Boyle got into a dust-up with Cal Clutterbuck and was barking at Travis Hamonic on his way out. I can't read lips but I thought what I saw Boyle say was "I totally regret not signing with you guys -- you're a real contender!"
For Isles fans, it felt so good to see Boyle boil over at the end of that game. After all the years of players leaving us or refusing us for greener pastures over the years it felt just to see that unfold as it did.
This will be Boyle's first trip to Nassau Coliseum as a member of the Rangers and the former Islander should expect to hear some booing from the hopefully pro-Islander crowd at Fort Neverlose.
He definitely deserves to hear something from the crowd tonight, but I don't know if booing is the right way to respond to a man who has given us so much, whose decision made so many greater things possible.
Maybe we should chant Thank You Dan! instead.