CLS on the draft: Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey on the New York Islanders

(During the trade deadline, CLS managed to wrangle/hypnotize/sweet talk/blackmail at least one team blogger from every NHL team [except, oddly, Edmonton] to tell us what they would do if they were their team’s GM. It was one of the best features in this blog’s brief history.

Still, there were some lessons learned. For instance: it’s not a good idea to jam 6-7 posts from 30+ contributors into one 24 hour period. So, this time around, we decided to get started early.

What better way to kick off our draft coverage than to start with the owners of the No. 1 pick, the New York Islanders? To get an expert and fan’s perspective on the Islanders, we enlisted Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey. Lighthouse Hockey is the Islanders representative at Sports Blog Nation. Our guess is that Dominik’s blog will keep getting bigger as the Isles get better [and, for the record, we believe the Islanders have reason for hope for the first time in a very long time]. Make sure you check out Dominik’s blog after you read this piece.)

1. We might as well get the most obvious question out of the way first: if you were Garth Snow, would you draft Tavares or Hedman (or even someone else)? Why? Is it an easy choice or would you lose sleep and hair making the decision?

DOMINIK: If I were Garth Snow — and my therapist keeps telling me I’m not — I would alternately pinch myself for the great choice I have, yet also lie awake at night, crying at the ramifications of my decision 5-10 years down the line.

People (both pro-Tavares and pro-Hedman) keep telling me it’s a “no-brainer” for their candidate. Well, it’s not. It’s only an easy decision in that, logically, you can’t go wrong: Both Tavares and Hedman are great, and the Islanders need both offense and defense. I’m of the whole “build around a franchise D” school, but I’m also of the belief you want to be certain the guy you’re building around is actually a franchise D and not Chris Phillips.

The Isles have a still-improving, near-Norris caliber Mark Streit signed for four more years, who can carry things while Hedman develops. But flip that around, and the Isles have Streit already, so give him an actual frontline stud like Tavares to feed the puck to from the blueline, and we’ve got two key elements.

The agony of this decision is in the unknown: When you go for the highly rated sniper, you could end up with Mike Bossy or you could get Perry Turnbull. When you go for the much-hyped blueline stud, you could end up with Chris Pronger (who, mind you, took a while to become “Chris Pronger, stud bastard”) or you could end up with Ed Jovanovski. Nice players, all of them, but one is quiiite a bit nicer than the other.

If both players are of roughly equal value, franchise-wise, I say go with who provides you both immediate and long-term gain. That’s …

… John Tavares. This franchise can get a lot of near-term mileage out of having him scoring goals next year, selling tickets, building excitement. By the time his first deal is expiring, the Lighthouse Project will be on the way and he’ll have fallen in love with Long Island. With excitement and fear of him being shut down by Hedman in a future East Conference final, I choose Tavares.

2. Going forward with Tavares/Hedman, what steps would you take next? Would you try to bring in a high profile free agent (by dangling the carrot of playing on an up-and-coming team) or hope to have a top-end draft pick next year, too?

[Or do you think they can make a surprise jump next year?]

DOMINIK: People don’t realize that without the Isles’ biblical plague of injuries, they would have been a 20-25 ranked team this past season, putting them in line for another decent pick, but not a superstar. They were lucky to both win the lottery prize AND have theoretical cover for the awful season. I don’t know if they’ll be so “lucky” next year, but they have to stay the course (“thousand points of light …”).

No top-tier free agent is going to sign here until the arena/location situation is settled, and the Isles have no business taking a shortcut on the rebuild now. For Scott Gordon’s sake and the fans’ sake, they absolutely need to improve next season. BUT: They have to do it from within, continuing to develop their kids. If, er … when, they fall short and land out of the playoffs, I won’t be crying.

They’re accumulating a decent haul of prospects now. My biggest priority is locating a goaltender for next year and one for the future. Even if Rick DiPietro comes back healthy, they have to plan around the certainty that his body isn’t making it from now to age 40 without further time on the shelf.

3. Looking back on the Islanders draft history, which draft picks had the most positive impact on the franchise? Are there any amazing steals that stick out to you? I’m going to guess wildly that those might be around the late 70s.

DOMINIK: Obviously, the ’70s drafts are what made this franchise. Nystrom in ’73 (3rd pick, 33rd overall), Denis Potvin #1 in ’74, Clark Gillies (#4) and Bryan Trottier (#22) in ’75. Mike Bossy (#15) and John Tonelli (#33) in ’77. Add some more grit and a crazy clutch goaltender and you have a dynasty.

The Isles don’t really have any steals, but all of their best late finds seem to involve the former Czechoslovakia. David Volek at #208 in 1984; Zdeno Chara at #56 in 1996 was a great gamble on an awkward, lanky kid who everyone thought should be playing basketball. Radek Martinek at #228 in 1999 was inspired — despite learning in retrospect he was made of exploda-bones. I should add that Russian Vladimir Malakhov at #191 in 1989 showed general awareness of the rest of the world. Better late than never, I guess.

4. Conversely, what are some drafts that were absolute disasters for your team? Share some of the most painful “What if?” scenarios in Isles draft history.

DOMINIK: The obvious one is, “What if Mike Milbury didn’t have his hands on the roster for a decade?” But that’s like asking, “What if The biggest current-era tragedies you’ll hear from tortured Isles fans include drafting Robert Nilsson in 2003 over Zach Parise (“Oh, is he good? Is he the son of an ex-Islander? Better pass on him.”). 1998’s Michael Rupp at #9 hurt, but a look at the picks right after him shows no one really knew what to make of that year’s pool other than “Lecavalier is Michael Jordan.”

But for me the reign of error starts pre-Milbury, in 1989: What if in 1989, instead of Dave Chyzowski at #2 overall they’d taken Bill Guerin or Bobby Holik? Or anyone Detroit drafted in that epic year? What if, instead of Scott Scissons at #6 in 1990, they’d taken Keith Tkachuk (#19) or Derian Hatcher (#8)? What if they’d heard of Sweden before and drafted Peter Forsberg in 1991 instead of Scott Lachance at #4? That’s not funny, that’s cruel. [Editor’s note: That’s just a brutal paragraph chock full of pain and regret.]

In fairness, you can play that game with any team, in any draft year. The draft is above all a crap-shoot involving projecting a bunch of hormonally explosive teenagers, which is why I always feel like a tool ripping some scouts’ hours upon hours spent enduring bad coffee and cold rinks to parse future Daigles from future Zetterbergs.

If you’d projected me at 17, you’d have said I’d become one wealthy bastard. If you projected me at 19, you’d be stunned if I ever got a full-time job to support an inevitable 10 children with five mothers. Stuff happens. Still, that 1989-91 run of first-round misses set the stage to make Mike Milbury sound like an improvement.

5. Feel free to take the floor. Any thoughts on the future of the Islanders or how the draft will affect the Lighthouse Project? This is your chance to stand on a soapbox.

DOMINIK: I’ve talked your ear off already, but things are looking guardedly optimistic for the Lighthouse Project. Wang and the politician seen as obstacle #1 (Town of Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray) finally met — twice — recently and are formulating a timetable going forward. I’ve always figured it would eventually get done, there would just be a lot of posturing and pissing matches before then. There are surely more of those to come, but some form of this project seems too logical — for Long Island, not just for the hockey club — to not happen.

A necessary procedural vote happens July 7. If that goes well after the #1 pick — and Wang is even talking about “shovel in ground” in April 2010 — then I can see things looking up, tickets being sold, future sort of bright, gotta wear shades ‘n all that. Even if the Isles disappoint 80% of fans by drafting Hedman, I think the sun will come up.

***Something non-Islanders that intrigues me about the draft: What if the Isles take Hedman — then what does Tampa Bay do? They almost *have* to take Hedman/Duchene and trade Vinny for blueline help, right?

(In the next draft post, we’ll ask the folks from SBN Nation Lightning blog Raw Charge that very question, as well as a few others.)

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