Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Youth Movement Arrives and Dubie is Done

Today in Newsday, Islanders beat reporter Greg Logan revealed that the team does not plan to bring back unrestricted free agent forwards Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Josef Vasicek for the 2008-09 season. In addition, backup goaltender and fan favorite Wade Dubielewicz rejected what GM Garth Snow described as a "signficant offer" to remain an Islander.

The writing was clearly on the wall for Dubielewicz as far back as April 10th when Logan first reported Snow's dissatisfaction with the goalie's early season conditioning (discussed in this Islanders Outsider post). It's not a stretch to speculate that Snow's mind was made up even earlier, given the presence of Joey MacDonald and the one-way, two-year deal he signed last July.

It is unfortunate that Snow found it necessary to comment publicly on the team's early-season lack of confidence in Dublielewicz. Such talk is better kept to internal conversations. Having the organization sell them out to the press isn't a good selling point to players the Islanders are courting. Just make the decision and leave it alone, even if you do believe that the player put the team in a weakened position.

As for the contract offer to Dubielewicz, Logan states that it was likely a multi-year deal but the first year had a two-way clause that would have destined Dubielewicz to spend most of the upcoming season in Bridgeport rather than in Uniondale. After finally earning his first one-year deal and a full-time job in the NHL last season, you can't blame Dubie if he interpreted the offer as an instruction to get lost. In fact, it's somewhat akin to Joe Torre's exit from the Yankees last fall (with .001% of the media interest).

Dubielewicz was a very capable backup. With him on the roster, his position was one you didn't have to worry about. MacDonald certainly hasn't established himself to that degree. His 17 NHL appearances with the Bruins, Red Wings, and Islanders are not enough to gauge how well he will fill the role, but his play at least suggests that the Islanders aren't being reckless here. And, of course, there's no guarantee that another goalie doesn't enter the picture.

On a personal note, I'll miss Dubie in the locker room. He came across as appreciative of the attention but never the least bit intimidated by being the focus of it. He wasn't afraid to give non cookie-cutter answers and had a good sense of humor about himself and the game.

Snow's comments regarding Satan, Fedotenko, and Vasicek do not preclude the team from making any of them an offer before the July 1 free agency period, but his words strongly suggest that no offers will be forthcoming. The Islanders appear ready to hand over the roles filled by those veterans to young players like Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, and Sean Bergenheim.

According to Snow, Jeff Tambellini, Frans Nielsen, Ben Walter, and Jeremy Colliton will also be in the mix. His quotes to Logan are a strong indication that finding ice time for young players will be a priority.

This development should be welcome news to Islanders fans. Satan brought with him the hopes of being a consistent scoring threat, but his production has decreased each year he has been on Long Island. He will turn 34 in October and there is little chance that the downward trend will reverse itself.

Fedotenko and Vasicek were brought in to play at a level that they can only achieve in fits and starts. While they each demonstrated the ability to play an important role, they only surfaced as impact players for short stretches. The truth is that Snow could make free agent signings of this caliber just about every summer if needed.

So rather than trying to patch together a quality product, Snow is following through on his plan to build a quality team. I don't see how watching the likes of Okposo, Comeau, Bergenheim, and Tambellini fight to make their mark on the NHL could be any less enjoyable than watching last year's team lurch and hesitate.

In fact, it should be far more exciting. I know there's the little matter of awarding this season's Stanley Cup, but can't we start next season now?

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