Friday, June 26, 2009

Start selling those Tavares sweaters... now!

John Tavares is an Islander. Let the merchandising begin.

And, yeah, some goals would be nice. And some wins. And another Stanley Cup at some point wouldn't be too much to ask.

Islanders GM Garth Snow kept 'em guessing until the very end, but let's face it -- this was a no-brainer.

Snow got tricky last year, trading down twice and acquiring a quality player in Josh Bailey while stockpiling picks.

This time around, he had the No. 1 pick in a draft with two -- and many argued, three -- players who could legitimately be taken first overall. But Snow played it cool and wouldn't tip his hand, and that was the smartest move someone at the helm of a struggling franchise could make.

Why not keep it a secret? It created drama. It built up interest. Lo and behold, the Isles had 10,000 fans at the Nassau Coliseum, ready to either celebrate like crazy or tear the place apart if Victor Hedman or Matt Duchene was announced, which would have been nuts since both are outstanding players.

So the fans who wanted Tavares went wild, and the fans who feared Snow would screw up are maybe giving him some props tonight. The Tavares pick also sets into motion the marketing machine that will sell tickets, jerseys, T-shirts and luxury boxes.

Fans, however, only care about the on-ice benefit, and Tavares brings plenty to the table. Four years as the top player in junior hockey yielded scoring records and a world junior championships. In a tournament with the best players in the world, he was the MVP, the best of the best, and he helped his team win it all.

Most importantly, he has a nose for the net that his new club sorely lacks. So now, assuming Rick DiPietro is healthy and comes back with something to prove, and if the defense can be shored up a bit via free agency, and maybe a veteran winger can be brought in -- suddenly this Islanders team is interesting.

Tavares, Bailey, Okposo, Comeau, Nielsen, Bergenheim -- you've got some nice young players in that group. Throw in vets like Streit, Witt, Sutton, Park, Hunter and Weight, and maybe they've got something going, not just for the future, but now.

Last season, with a backup and minor leaguer tending goal instead of DiPietro, the Islanders went 11-26 in one-goal games, with 9 losses in OT or shootouts (31 points). By contrast, the Rangers, with Henrik Lundqvist in the net, went 24-19 in one-goal games, also with 9 OT/SO losses, for 57 points.

How many points would a healthy DiPietro have been worth? Then again, if he's healthy, the Isles probably don't get Tavares.

Everything happens for a reason.

Maybe someday Snow will get his due, but he's still relatively new at this GM business, and we all know you can't truly judge a draft until a few seasons have passed, but the guy should start getting some credit.

Nice work, Garth. Even if it was a no-brainer.

UPDATE: Snow traded up twice to get the 12th overall pick and selected Calvin de Haan, a puck-moving defenseman from the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.

A curious move in that Snow first traded up to the 16th pick and de Haan, based on his rating, probably could have lasted to that point. But you target players you like, and Snow obviously liked de Haan and felt he needed to move up to ensure he'd get his man.

Unlike Tavares, de Haan is 3-4 years away, and he could stand to gain another 30 pounds or so on his wiry frame. But he's a well-regarded and intelligent player, so file him away for a couple of seasons.

Isles have the 31st overall pick, first in the second round, and still have No. 56 and No. 91 (the final pick of the third round).


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