While they continue to double down on role players for their NHL roster, the addition of AHL scoring machine Chris Bourque is the latest sign that the New York Islanders are ramping up investment in their primary minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
The announcement of Bourque’s addition Tuesday was paired with the signing of AHL veteran goalie Jeremy Smith as well as three returnees (captain Ben Holmstrom, Bourque’s brother, Ryan Bourque, and Connor Jones) and follows last week’s signings of major AHL scorers Matt Lorito and Mike Sislo. (Not coming back: Connor’s twin brother, Kellen, who Elite Prospects has headed to Sweden’s Västerviks)
The Connecticut Post has a profile after Bourque’s signing, with reactions and thoughts from him and returning players that underline an apparent continued faith in head coach Brent Thompson and his staff, survivors after the firings of Doug Weight and Greg Cronin at the NHL level.
In that story, Bourque talks of hearing how things are run and also witnessing the squad’s work ethic from the view of the opposite bench. Holmstrom, the returning captain, talks about how these signings shows a commitment in the team, and the importance of having high-quality AHL vets.
So the self-imposed expectations will be high, starting with the captain and an assortment of new likely leading scorers
Bourque is known for what is now 692 points in the AHL, but at age 32 he also has 51 games of NHL experience with Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston. And he was on last winter’s U.S. men’s hockey Olympic team. Expect him to bring scoring, and insight for the kids.
A New Era for Bridgeport
We discussed this with the previous signings, but Monday’s news only reinforces it: This is a major shift in how the Islanders approach their AHL affiliate. In the budget years of Charles Wang’s ownership, bargain shopping was the name of the game. Even after the purse strings loosened a little bit — in recent years they finally paid serious salaries to a few veterans to go with the dozens making the typical AHL minimum — there was a persistent austere approach.
Bring the prospects in, add the PTOs, and trust in Thompson to work them hard.
Now we see one of the more noticeable shifts under Lou Lamoriello, who joined the Islanders this summer but whose son Chris was already general manager of the Sound Tigers.
Where does this shift come from?
From Lou’s determination to “change the culture,” no doubt. Surround the prospects — right now, it’s mostly young blueliners in Bridgeport — with established vets who can produce and win in this league.
That’s an approach that’s been underway for a while with the Maple Leafs, Lamoriello’s previous stop, where money was no object and they could spend their surplus revenues wherever they liked after reaching the easily afforded NHL salary cap. Now Lamoriello has a mandate from management to spend whatever’s needed to make the Islanders among the best organizations.
But a major AHL commitment, or at least success, is not exactly a Lamoriello trademark. The Devils’ AHL affiliates during Lamoriello’s final decade routinely missed the playoffs, though there was some affiliate swapping going on at the time, between Lowell and Albany, the Devils and the Hurricanes.
The Sound Tigers, in contrast, are wholly owned by the Islanders, with a commitment to staying in Bridgeport, too. At long last, after 17 seasons and only eight playoff appearances, their on-ice product is finally being treated that way.