Watch a New York Islanders game.
Listen for the clichés.
You will hear variations of "the Islanders are a hard-working, young team that is experiencing growing pains" type statements.
And while the NHL's 14th youngest franchise (as of Opening Night) is a hard-working team that experiences growing pains on a nightly basis, what is not heard about the 18-36-7 Islanders is Spanish poet and philosopher George Santayana's famous "Those who cannot remember past are doomed to repeat it" truism.
In the 1970s, Al Arbour and Bill Torrey used the draft to form the nucleus of the team that won the Stanley Cup four consecutive years. In the third millennium, the only major professional sports franchise on Long Island is being rebuilt through the draft.
If the Santayana theorem holds, the Islanders and their fan base may be condemned to a future of remarkable success.
"You had two guys in Al Arbour and Bill Torrey that really wanted to win. They had a lot of great drafting success early, when they drafted people like Billy Harris, Denis Potvin; Clark Gillies and Bryan Trottier in the same year . They went out and got John Tonelli out of the World Hockey Association and they did a lot of smart things and were becoming a real good team," recalled Neil Smith, who was a scout when the Islanders won the four Cups between 1980 and 1983.
"Teams like the Rangers, who had been doing things on the moment and not on a long-term plan like the Islanders had, weren't as good at that moment. The Islanders were coming together at the same time. I think Bill and Al recognized they had a great opportunity to win during that time, the late 70s and early 80s. Their mandate was to win a championship."
And while a quarter century has passed since the rise of the Islanders dynasty until today, the necessity to have young players remains. In the new NHL salary-cap world, it behooves an organization to have a stable of homegrown players. Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago and Pittsburgh are poised to be competitive for years due to those organizations' wealth of affordable talent for the foreseeable future.
Smith championed that viewpoint during his term as Islanders' GM in June and July of 2006, trading four mid-to-late round picks for eight selections in that year's draft.
"When I was with the Islanders that one summer, I just believed in accumulating as many young assets as we could. That's why we had so many draft picks because I traded around to get that many. I believe in the philosophy of getting as many young players as possible so you have more chances to develop; the more players you have, the more chances you have to develop NHL players," Smith said. "That's a philosophy I've had for a long time: The more spaghetti you throw at the wall, the more strands will stick.
"I think the key when you're not a big revenue team – and the Islanders are not a large revenue team – you have to draft really well and develop your players and have as many young, good players as you can. The more good, young players you can have, the lower your payroll because young players don't get paid as much as the older players.
"So drafting and procuring young players is the most important part of today's NHL because that gives you long-term building blocks and also the ability to stay within the cap more easily," Smith explained. "It's even more important for teams that are smaller revenue markets that can't go out and buy free agents, although the Islanders have – with Bill Guerin, Doug Weight and [Mark] Streit – certainly spent money on those guys. They're making an attempt to find young players and develop them."
"We're extremely happy with the deal. It obviously gives us another first-round draft pick. It's a big draft for us as an organization," Islanders' GM Garth Snow said. "It's supposed to be a strong draft. We're confident that we'll be able to get a good hockey player with that first-round draft pick."
The Islanders now have two first-round picks, five picks in the first two rounds and 10 picks overall in the 2009 draft.
"I know last year's draft, we ended up getting numerous picks. We traded from five to seven and seven to nine and still were able to draft our targeted player [Josh Bailey]," Snow said.
"It was a situation where we got to add to our prospect pool and going into this year's draft, we have two first-round draft picks and three second-round draft picks along with the rest of our picks. We're going to build this organization the right way: Through the draft.
"Especially for the situation we're in, where we are in the salary-cap world, our focus is on drafting [and] our homegrown players, and developing our homegrown players," Snow said. "It's a situation that we're looking to build a consistent contender to compete for the Stanley Cup on a year-to-year basis. The best way to do that is to develop your own hockey players. We're in a situation where we had a great draft in 2008 and looking for another good draft in 2009."
While being able to add another pick the Comrie trade, the Islanders were also able to clear $5.266 million off the payroll. According to NHLSCAP.com, the Islanders only have $30.185 million worth of contracts on the books for next season. With the cap set at $56.5 million for the 2009-10 season and a good crop of unrestricted free agents (Maxim Afinogenov, Craig Anderson, Francois Beauchemin, Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Cammalleri, Erik Cole, Marian Gaborik, Martin Havlat, Mike Komisarek and the Sedin twins, among others), the possibility arises that Islanders could be major players come July 1.
"I can't comment on players with other organizations. There are strict rules on policing that. I won't get into talking about players from other organizations," Snow said. "The situation we're in cap wise this year, really has no bearing on the salary cap for next year. It's a situation for me where I'm going to make the decision based on the best interest for this organization in the long haul."
It is wholly appropriate to let Arbour have the final words on the state of the organization with which he is most closely identified. Four Cups, 1500 games behind the bench, 740 wins and permanent residence in the Hall of Fame will guarantee that.
"The only way to get better is to pay the price," Arbour said. "Hopefully, the Islanders can be a playoff contender shortly."