April 11, 2009
Mired in a rebuilding process that wasn't officially admitted to by the front office at first and struggling to secure approvals to rebuild their existing home, the New York Islanders are now a ping-pong ball away from turning around their fortunes in a hurry.
Should NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announce on Tuesday night that the Islanders have won the Draft Lottery, it will be the first in a string of dominos that will fall in favor of the much-mocked team.
Just four years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins were dealing with a poor on-ice product in the wake of the Jaromir Jagr trade as well as the possibility of uprooting their franchise. Enter the 2005 NHL Draft Lottery. When Gary Bettman announced that the Penguins had won the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes, you could hear a shovel hitting the ground at the Pens new arena (along with a serious show of relief by Penguins CEO Ken Sawyer) as well as the cash registers ringing with the sounds of season tickets being purchased until sold out.
John Tavares' presence can do the same thing for the Islanders. Hyped since his early teens, the London Knight product will instill excitement and more importantly, hope, into an Islanders franchise stuck on hard times. Baby steps have been made in the past year to right the ship, but adding an offensive weapon like Tavares will only improve things on the ice.
Just as importantly, off the ice, Tavares can be used as a selling tool for tickets (many, many tickets) and to create buzz around a team that still falls back on its four-Stanley Cup winning teams of the 1980's whenever it needs to sell tickets. It's time for the franchise to create new memories and stop living off of ones almost 30 years ago.
As Chris Botta at Islanders Point Blank points out, the second the Islanders are declared winners of the No. 1 overall pick (they have a 48% chance of winning), they should immediately take a page out of the Tampa Bay Lightning's book with their own "Seen Stamkos?" promotion. Once it's revealed the Islanders have the pick, General Manager Garth Snow should cut out the drama and debate that would come over choosing Tavares or other top prospect, defenseman Victor Hedman, and declare the kid Islander property before Versus stops rolling and has to cut to the next edition of "Turkey Revolution".
Botta also points out two important factors for Garth Snow to show his hand early:
2. The Islanders would be giving themselves an extra 72 days - during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, no less - for the world to know John Tavares will wear an Islanders uniform when the season opens in October.
1. If you're going to ask Tavares to spend at least the next 15 years on your team and in your community, illustrate your commitment on Tuesday. Let him know you didn't even spend a second thinking about anyone else. He deserves that.
Despite what the Toronto media wants to try and make people believe that Tavares would pull an Eric Lindros and reject an offer to pull on an Islanders sweater on June 26 in Montreal, the kid is going to go wherever he falls, no matter how dismal the future might seem.
While Victor Hedman will likely be a fine pro, the allure and star power that Tavares brings as a goal-scoring forward will help sell a franchise better than a solid defenseman. Should Tavares wind up playing his games for at least the next three seasons on Long Island, he will have the weight of the franchise on his shoulder's as its new face.
It's something he's been expected to do since the hype began about his hockey career at a young age.
Note: We'll be live-blogging the NHL Draft Lottery festivities next Tuesday, April 14.