To say this is the most important summer of Garth Snow’s young career as an NHL GM would be a gross understatement. In fact, it may be the most important summer this franchise has ever seen
As Snow and coach Scott Gordon prepare for their third year guiding the Good Ship Islander together, the rebuilding program has reached a critical stage. An 18-point improvement in the standings was nice but it still didn’t get the team into the NHL playoffs. Figure it will take at least an additional 12 to 14 points on top of the 79 they grabbed this season to make the postseason a reality in 2011.
In a very balanced Eastern Conference that could be a big mountain to climb for what will still be a very young roster. Can this club take the next step? If they head into the season with essentially the same roster that finished this season, we think not.
On the other hand, while changes need to be made to get this team to the next level, we don’t think they are monumental.
Here’s a brief look at five things we think need to be on Snow’s “To Do” list between now and the time the first leaves hit the ground in early October. In true Letterman-esque style, we’ll start with No. 5 and count down.
5 – Draft Wisely: Snow is in a good position for the June draft; with the fifth pick in a fairly deep pool he should have a crack at either an impact forward or defensemen—one that may be able to step in and contribute right away.
The most recent buzz surrounding the June draft is Prince George right wing Brett Connolly has recovered from a hip injury and is now in the mix as a potential top five pick. While this probably won’t change the fact Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin will go 1-2, it does make the next three picks very interesting as two highly-touted defensemen, Cam Fowler and Erik Gudbranson might go 3-4, leaving Connolly available for Snow. From what we’ve been told Connolly is the power forward NHL GMs dream about selecting.
We’ll breakdown the 2010 draft a little later this Spring, but if Connolly is available Snow should grab him. The team hasn’t had a winger like this since Clark Gillies.
4 – Add some size up front: As hard working a team as they were there were too many nights this past season where the Isles looked overmatched physically. The Rangers completely changed their on-ice identity at the end of the season by adding Jody Shelley and Brandon Prust. While the Rangers might bring Prust back, our guess is Shelley will be available—grab him. And if not Shelley there are quite a few UFAs that fit the bill for some body banging up front like Boston’s Shawn Thornton , the Stars’ Krys Barch and Tampa Bay’s very tough Zenon Konopka.
3 – Goaltender-Go-Round: Dwayne Roloson had a solid season but he turns 41 just as the 2010-2011 season starts. The Isles have to start looking at life without Rick DiPietro long-term, so adding a very capable back-up for Roloson is a huge key this summer. We can’t imagine Martin Biron will come back after what he just went through this year so Snow has to take a look at what is a fairly impressive list of UFAs on the goalie front including Johan Hedberg, Patrick Lalime, Manny Legace, Peter Budaj, Marty Turco, Jose Theodore and Michael Leighton. The organization’s young prospects are not ready yet; grab one of the above.