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Act Now: Islanders shouldn’t wait until the deadline to make changes

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No more slicing garlic with a razor blade.

NHL: New York Islanders at Philadelphia Flyers
Just, uh, have a seat, dude.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Now that you’ve read the headline, feel free to file the rest of this into the “No Shit, Sherlock” folder and forget about it. You won’t read anything groundbreaking in here.

The last person who’s going to read it or care is Garth Snow, who has run the Islanders his way, for better or worse, since 2007. For the last couple of seasons, Snow has stayed mostly quiet at the trade deadline, acquiring single depth players and not swinging for the fences when the prices are at their highest. As underwhelming as it is to end the day by adding just a Tyler Kennedy or a Shane Prince, I can understand the logic of keeping your chips for another time and focusing on adding injury insurance.

But this season, Snow does not have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines. He can’t trade a third round pick for an underused RFA that might play a handful of games and call it a day. If his team continues to play the way they have been for the last month, Snow could be looking more like a seller on February 28th than a buyer.

Which is why he needs to be a buyer starting yesterday.

The numbers are gross, per NaturalStatTrick: Over 33 shots allowed per 60 minutes, third worst in the NHL; 157 goals allowed, most in the NHL; Two goalies with below average save percentages, one can’t even crack the bare minimum for an NHL player in 2018. They have an alarming propensity for playing from behind on the scoreboard. At Sportsnet, Dimitri Filipovic writes that “the Islanders season is on life support” unless they can stop the bleeding.

The good news: 143 goals for, top three in the NHL. The Islanders absolutely have an offense worthy of a playoff team. They also play team defense worthy of a musical montage scene in an Air Bud movie. If not for the ongoing tire fire in Edmonton, the amount of goals the Islanders give up and the sheer laugh-out-loud comedy of them would be a bigger story league-wide.

If they miss the playoffs in the last contract years with John Tavares and his fellow All Star Josh Bailey, with electric rookie Mathew Barzal and a re-energized Jordan Eberle and just months after acquiring the rights to build their own arena at Belmont Park that his bosses are going to shell out a billion dollars for, Snow and the Islanders will most definitely be a league-wide story for all the wrong reasons.

And things could get worse in a hurry. Carolina’s win over Washington on Thursday night puts the Islanders two points out of the final wildcard berth in the East. The two play again Friday, before the Islanders return from their bye with a matinee at Madison Square Garden. To get above the playoff line, the Islanders will need to leap over the Hurricanes (possession darlings putting it all together), the Pittsburgh Penguins (defending Stanley Cup champions) and the Philadelphia Flyers (a radioactive cockroach army that never seems to go away). And that’s assuming none of the other teams in the Eastern Conference don’t turn it on and make a run themselves.

As currently constituted, the Islanders will not make that leap. Per Arthur Staple, Doug Weight and the coaching staff plan on making some tweaks in the defensive zone like they did when he replaced Jack Capuano last season. They should absolutely do that. Not making ill-advised pinches or cherry-picking by the blueline should also help, too.

Snow’s players - particularly those in the bottom six - can and should play better, tighter and smarter than they have been. But he’s in a position to buy early and upgrade his roster instead of hoping Player X can turn it on after having “it” turned off for most of the last 43 games.

Alan Quine, Jason Chimera, Prince and Cal Clutterbuck all have 5v5 CF percentages at or below 45%. Casey Cizikas and Brock Nelson are around 46%. Cizikas and Clutterbuck aren’t going anywhere because their expensive contracts that extend until Kingdom Come. Chimera has two goals. Prince and Quine have none. Their defensive counterpart is Dennis Seidenberg, whose relative CF is a team worst -9.55%.

Trading Nelson has been floated as a possibility in Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts, but Staple says it would remove one of the last scoring options from the bottom six. Incredibly, Nelson’s nine goals and 46.0 5v5 CF% are both career norms and represent some of the better numbers of that group of Islanders. But Nelson’s also the only asset among that group that might (and I emphasize might) fetch someone who could help immediately.

The Store is Closed

There was once a time when Snow was one of the waiver wire’s most frequent visitors. During the early days of the Islanders’ rebuild, Snow would take flyers on free agents during the summer, some of whom worked out pretty well. You know the list: Moulson, Parentau, Boyes, Hickey, etc.

Those days ended a while ago, and the expiration dates on Quine, Prince, Chimera and Seidenberg have long since come up. While playing one of those four names would be a problem on it’s own, playing all of them at once or in a rotation has been a severe hindrance.

Snow has a history of zigging when everyone expects him to zag. Trading for a first line forward when he needed a goalie and signing depth defensemen to half-decade contracts are two examples to come to mind.

But the changes that need to be made boil down to a very simple concept that a former goalie should understand: stop giving up so many goals.

Okay, smartass. Who?

I don’t know. I’m trying very hard to not say, “uh, anybody” and even harder to not say Frans Nielsen, the two-way center Snow let walk away to Detroit two seasons ago who would be the perfect solution to many of the team’s depth issues.

With about $3.5 million in open cap space, Snow doesn’t have a ton of wiggle room. He does have two first and two second round drafts to offer, courtesy of the Travis Hamonic trade.

Snow smartly held onto Barzal when teams were asking for him, particularly Colorado in exchange for Matt Duchene. Here, Snow can and should get creative with what he gives up, even if what he needs is relatively straightforward.

Snow doesn’t need to find a superstar. He has two lines that can carry a team. What he needs are responsible bottom of the line-up players that can stay on the ice and not get scored on or continually get cycled in their own zone. The best defense you can play is having the puck, and I’m pretty sure Doug Weight knows this. When the Islanders were winning earlier in the season (despite still giving up more goals than they should have), that’s what they did.

As for the goalies, there’s little available and little Snow can do. But facing 35-plus shots a night isn’t ideal for everyone. Cut that down and maybe Halak can be the starter (once again) going forward.

Recalling Anthony Beauvillier after a confidence-goosing few games in Bridgeport is a start. Giving Michael Dal Colle his first shot at the NHL probably isn’t a bad idea. Not recalling Josh Ho-Sang is potentially a mistake, but one that can be corrected at any time. Now would be that time.

The closer his rivals get to the trade deadline, the less options Snow will have for upgrades. Days that goes by that Jim Rutherford or Jeff Gorton don’t make moves to bolster their teams are a gift. The evaluation period has to have ended on the players who are clearly hampering Snow’s team.

I wrote after last season that the self-inflicted problems that cost the Islanders in the standings should have cost Snow his job. I still believe that, but have no belief that he’ll actually be fired, even if the team misses the playoffs again this season.

Staple has compared Snow to Big Paulie from Goodfellas, Paul Sorvino’s mob boss that “doesn’t have to move fast for anyone” and who uses a razor blade to slice garlic cloves so it melts into the rest of his tomato sauce.

This is not the time for Snow to be that slow. It’s time to pick up some tasty store-bought sauce in order to keep his entire dinner party from going up in flames.