Are the Islanders Finally Calling in the Calvary?

UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 11: John Tavares  of the New York Islanders leaves the ice after losing against the Atlanta Thrashers on December 11, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Thrashers defeated the Isles 5-4. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

I don’t think about it constantly, but in general, I have trouble deciding just what’s wrong with the Islanders.

Are they a team that won’t spring for quality, free agent players or are they a team that can’t attract quality, free agent players?

Given their vast amount of cap space, I had resigned myself to the former. After all, their highest paid player is Alexei Yashin, who was bought of his contract and is playing in the KHL. Bought-out defenseman Brendan Witt makes more than the Islanders’ second-leading goal-scorer, Fans Nielsen.

But what if it really is that the Islanders just can’t attract free agent talent?

Arthur Staple posted a correction to his Sunday column, clarifying that the Islanders have tried to land free agents like Paul Martin and Dam Hamhuis, and haven’t totally avoided signing players via free agency.

While it’s possible Staple re-considered his original statement (“By then, we will all know what’s to become of the Islanders. For now, the fans won’t come until the team shows some improvement. Wang won’t spend more on established stars until he has a deal with Hempstead to build his dream development.”), based upon his clarification it sounds like he might have been contacted by someone from the Islanders, reminding him of the Islanders’ recent attempts to bring talent to Long Island.

The timing is interesting because Bruce Garrioch reports the Islanders are looking to obtain a winger for rookie John Tavares.

The Islanders are concerned 1) they’re negatively impacting Tavares’ development by having him stuck on a horrible team with no one to learn from and 2) the second Tavares can, he’s going to leave the Islanders (he could be a free agent by 2013).

Tavares is definitely frustrated. Saturday night he got in a fight, the first of his NHL and junior career.

Tavares said he was just trying to stand up for his team, but I wonder if he was just trying to make sure he still had the ability to feel; the ability to feel anything at all.

With all of the negative attention the Islanders are attracting, from their inability to win to their ability to attract French-Canadians looking to reclaim an NHL franchise, it’s possible Islanders’ owner Charles Wang is finally realizing he can’t run a once-beloved franchise into the ground without developing some ill-will.

I’m also very curious if anyone from the league has contacted Wang about what his end-game might be, given the Islanders are locked into their Coliseum lease until 2015. The franchise can’t survive four more years of under-developed rookies and third-tier free agents. The fans are already disgusted. They’re not necessarily looking for a Stanley Cup. I suspect most fans would be happy if the Islanders just fielded a relatively NHL-caliber team that didn’t barely climb over the cap floor.

So maybe GM Garth Snow is looking to find a veteran to help out with Tavares. And maybe he’ll even bring in more than one solid veteran, with the idea that if he can’t attract talented free agents, at least he can trade for them.

But until any kind of trade is made, all Wang is doing is suffocating a solid NHL franchise and potentially ruining the development of some talented younger players.

At a certain point, the league needs to consider stepping in and forcing the Islanders to stop pretending to be an NHL team and to actually start acting like one.

Either that, or the Islanders need to be re-classified as some kind of very limited NHL pension fund.