New York Islanders Stun Fans at 2008 NHL Draft

Ken RosenblattSenior Analyst IJune 21, 2008

The Islanders had an opportunity to give their fans a reason to be proud and excited tonight. Instead, they traded it away.

You try to put your faith in the idea that the hockey people know what they're doing. But no one attending the draft party at the Coliseum would have done what the Isles did this evening.

Let's get this out of the way: We don't know what will happen on Saturday. We don't know what will happen July 1, 2, 8, or 12. We don't know what will happen three years from now when Josh Bailey, Nikita Filatov, and several dozens of other supremely talented hockey players are in their 20s.

Maybe some of those second and third round picks will grow into quality NHLers. Maybe Bailey will be Brent Sutter and Filatov will be Oleg Kvasha.

Tonight, the Islanders first-round strategy looks like a failure on two fronts.

First, there is the talent evaluation aspect of the strategy. Garth Snow said he would take the best player available at No. 5. Instead, he traded the pick to put himself in position to draft a player at No. 9 who clearly was not regarded as being better than the fifth-through-eighth selections.

Snow defended the strategy by saying that the team had targeted Bailey as its top priority. You have to ask, why?

If the Islanders had been slated to draft ninth or 10th from the beginning, it would be easy to agree with him. But a team that is starving for goal scorers and had a potential star goal-scorer ready to be reeled in threw him back.

Yes, you can argue that Snow is sticking to his other plan of building with youth by stockpiling draft picks. How many picks is enough? The Islanders already had a high first, two seconds, and two thirds, not mention one in the fourth, two in the fifth, and two in the sixth.

Was adding a few more worth passing up on Filatov? And Colin Wilson, Mikkel Boedker, Luke Schenn, and Cody Hodgson, if they wanted him? There's no prize for having the most draft picks. And there's only so much room in the organization.

The thing is, players who can do what Filatov projects to do are hard to find. You can get a shutdown defenseman. You can get a Brendan Witt or Andy Sutton.

The Islanders do need a talented, playmaking centerman who can play both ends of the ice. Bailey does fit that bill.

The Islander brass decided that Filatov wouldn't live up to being the No. 5 pick. So they traded down and made an attempt to maximize the value of the pick.

But who is it that's going to put the puck in the net? The team has promising young forward Kyle Okposo to help in that department, but goal scorers are hard to come by, especially for this franchise. Will they find one so talented in the second round? The third? Perhaps the next edition of the Top-10 Draft Steals will have a new addition?

The other immediate failure of this draft strategy was one of public relations. The Islanders draft record is so spotty that it's remarkable they passed on a sure thing. Not that Filatov as a player is a sure thing, but selecting him was. Can you remember a time when fan consensus was so strong for a possible draftee? Sure, the selection could have evolved into a disappointment a few years down the road. But it would have been recalled as the right thing to do at the time.

Now, the fan base feels that it has been tricked again. Just another name to add to the "Yeah, we let that guy get away, too" list. In a decade and a half of angry fans, rarely have they been quite this angry. And bewildered. Some wondered what other organization would have done this.

After the announcement of the trade with Nashville, fans poured down the aisles and out the exits. A second exodus commenced when the Islanders announced their pick. The atmosphere, which was truly festive and enthusiastic at the beginning of the draft party, soured quickly and severely. Most parties don't take that kind of turn unless the cops show up.

As for Josh Bailey, don't fear for him. Expectations for him may be inflated by the way the draft unfolded, but Islanders fans are capable of absolving him of responsibility for what transpired. As the center-ice scoreboard showed Bailey pulling on his Islanders sweater, a smattering of applause grew into a genuine show of support.

Fans would do well to embrace Bailey for who he is rather than to look at him for who he is not. The self-described playmaker's numbers do jump out at you. And you have to give him credit for being aware that the Islanders already have someone wearing No. 89.

When Bailey's interview with draft party host John Buccigross concluded, the remaining fans staged a third departure en masse.

Perhaps Saturday will bring more answers and soothed souls.

Hope summers eternal.


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