TSN's Darren Dreger planted himself firmly in front of the Islanders' table in Ottawa all night Friday, clearly aware of the team's draft history. It seems every time the Islanders have a top five pick, there is going to be a deal made. Yesterday we found out that this will continue even if Mike Milbury isn't GM. After the Islanders traded down in the draft for the second time last night, many of their fans that had packed into the Nassau Coliseum to watch the draft quickly headed for the doors. For the fans, Milbury might as well have been in charge. Chants of "same old Islanders" rung throughout the slowly emptying arena as the team had passed on Nikita Filatov in the five spot -- the fan's choice -- and then another selection in the seven spot. It was clear this team had a plan. It's clear they ignored their fans' wishes. The question is essentially, was it crazy or genius?Like many of the Islanders' questionable moves in recent years (hiring the backup goalie as GM, giving Rick DiPietro a 15-year deal) we're going to have to wait and see. While these other two moves were much more questionable, they are easier to judge than a draft day deal. Despite sending the fans home angry, we'll have to wait 5-10 years before we really know how this draft class panned out.
What is clear though, is that the Islanders did two things. One, they chose quantity over quality. They passed on the #5 overall pick and traded down to the #9 slot. In the process, they picked up three extra draft picks: a second rounder this year and conditional second and third round picks. That gave them five picks in the second and third rounds. The Islanders are stock piling second tier picks in the hopes of finding a whole bunch of second tier players, with maybe someone turning into a stud.
The second thing the team did is that they showed they had a plan and were sticking to it. They wanted a certain guy -- Josh Bailey -- and they got him. He's a two-way center that the team (I assume) hopes to stick alongside stud winger Kyle Okposo. A smart move? Probably. One thing they may regret though is passing on a stud Russian winger such as Filatov. They chose the right fit over sheer talent. They chose team chemistry over goal scoring, the latter being something the team desperately needs.
Potentially their biggest error in judgement was ignoring one thing -- the fans. For a recently rejuvenated fan base that hasn't seen the team win a playoff series in 15 years, this was another in a long line of slaps in the face. Despite not moving up in the lottery, holding the fifth pick, the team seemingly found some luck last night. Stamkos, naturally, went first. Three defenders then fell off the board. The fans almost gave the St. Louis contingent a standing ovation when they passed on Filatov in the fourth spot. Finally, a little luck fell the Islanders' way and the fans thought they would get what they came to see. Filatov. Only the Islanders could screw it up.
And only the Islanders did. We may look back and say the stockpiling of picks was genius. A long way down the road we may look back at a stellar career for Bailey, but when it comes to an organization still trying to estrange itself from a decade of public relations disasters (where do I start?), the Islanders didn't do themselves any favors. They could have gone the conventional route and sent everyone home happy, maybe making selling tickets a little easier in the fall. Instead, stubbornly, they did it their own way. Whether it pans out or not isn't something we can determine anytime soon. But to the fans at the Coliseum last night, it was clear that the damage had already been done.