Islanders GM Garth Snow is going to enter the draft floor tonight with a lot of questions to answer about his team. It's a position he's familiar with. He's made bold moves at the last few drafts and come out as a winner in more than one write-up.
But this year is a little different. The stakes are higher than they've ever been. And the questions can't necessarily be answered by calling the name of another highly-rated prospect.
By now, we all know the list by heart: Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin are unrestricted free agents that are all ingrained in the locker room after years of service to the franchise. There are a bunch of restricted free agents to sign, too. There are three goalies that all need to get playing time. Star center John Tavares is nearing the end of his team-friendly contract. There isn't a ton of cap room to work with. The prospect pool is good, but very top-heavy. New owners taking over on July 1. The team made the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 23 years and a backslide isn't an option. Opponents aren't going to sit around and wait for the Islanders to make moves. And, as of now, Snow only has five draft picks - and none in rounds two or or three - to get things done.
Other than that, everything looks great.
That's hyperbole, but it comes with the weather. This is the time of year when fantasy trade proposals that make no sense for either side suddenly seem both reasonable and replete. The fanbase's thirst for big moves grows until only a trade for an All Star or two or a major spending spree will suffice. Give me Taylor Hall or give me death.
I have no idea what specific moves Snow can make to get his team across the bridge from "pretty good" to "legit Cup contender." He has to find a way to improve a roster that's steadily gotten better over the years but is desperately in need of a significant power-up.
Losing Okposo won't help. He's a good player who's been along for this entire ride and he'll leave a hole that will not only need to be filled but exceeded. Plus, not signing him because he'll want too much money for too many years just weeks after paying too much to Casey Cizikas for too long is a bad look, even if the two moves aren't directly related. Martin has his fans, and they'll miss him, too. Bringing Nielsen back, which at this point is still at the hopeful stage, will only soften the blows so much unless Snow can install that extra gear.
The coaching staff isn't changing, which for some is enough to write off any possible additions right off the bat. It's possible that one of those highly-touted rookies becomes an immediate contributor next season, but that's never a good bet. And there is more than one veteran on the team that needs a bounce back performance.
The good news for Snow is that the offseason doesn't end today and that team-building is a fluid exercise that never really ends (ask Stan Bowman). We've seen Snow ninja the league before and come out of nowhere to make a big acquisition when it's least expected.
The bad news is that if Snow doesn't make a big or even medium-sized splash this weekend, the pressure will only grow and opportunities that were once in front of him might disappear later.
We - management, coaches, players, fans, media - have all waited so long for the Islanders to be in a position where they can become one of the NHL's best. A mistake made either through action or inaction would undo a lot of the real strides the franchise has made. And we won't know they were mistakes until months or maybe years have passed.
No pressure, Garth.