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That rebuild in the East

July 7, 2011

Kirill Kabanov at the 2010 Entry Draft.

Alright, so, in part two of my series of “why I support the teams I” we are brought to the venerated franchise known as the New York Islanders. My story with them is more complicated, but actually also more shallow, that than of the other three teams.

Mostly it comes from a fascination with wunderkind turned bad-boy turned reclamation project and reformer Kirill Kabanov. The lanky 19 year-old Russian was a top three draft pick until a 2009-2010 season that has been so thoroughly documented that it might not even be worth my time to recount managed to derail him. Or, at least, derail everyone’s perception of him. He struggled to break free of his KHL contract, found out he was injured upon arriving to his QMJHL team in Moncton, got poor advice from his father and his agent, got thrown off the Russian National U20 team and then wallowed on the periphery until the draft, where he dropped to the third round. He was traded to the Lewiston MAINEiacs (now defunct) for the 2010-2011 season, where he thrived and rebounded. In the dispersal draft, he was sent to the Montreal Juniors (who may not even remain in Montreal much longer).

So, to make a long story short, Mr Kabanov has been through the school of hard knocks for the last two years or so now. The fact he is in one piece, happy and performing (with a great showing in the playoffs) is a testament to something. I think he has promise and the fact that the Islanders, a wildly mismanaged team, took him, just adds to the lore and the drama.

We have Kirill covered. He may make the team out of camp this summer (he just signed an ELC last week) or he might not. But the Islanders have a bevy of other young prospects, from Nino to Strome to Mayfield. Already, with Tavares, Okposo, Grabner, Moulson, the perennial confusion of DiPietro, there’s lots happening on their roster.

Throw in Garth Snow’s cluelessness, Charles Wang not comprehending how to own an NHL team, coaches fired, the fact the team desperately needs a replacement for the Nassau Coliseum (and will be voting on it August 1 in the county) and that the banned blogger Chris Botta from reporting on the team…the Islanders are literally cast off on an Island all their own. Tangled, directionless, broke, almost homeless.

These are the Islanders. The team that won all those Cups in the 1980s. Here they are now. And as the NYC metropolitan’s third team, and one full of good talent in the pipeline, they are worth saving.

And they are a great story. And a great team to follow (ahem, minus Trevor Gillies). They lack the momentum and precision of the Oilers’ rebuild, and one look at Capgeek will tell you that the Islanders haven’t shelled out a lot of money of late, and would appear not to be a position to do so.

But there’s something appealing about their own drama, their own mangled way of making hockey club work in the face of adversity. They are in a hockey market. They are a storied club.

They just need to get their act together.

And I’m willing to watch.


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