As recently as two weeks ago, the New York Islanders chances of making the playoffs seemed dead in the water. The team was fighting injuries and was playing it's most uninspired hockey of the season. Fans began to glumly accept that a shot at the Cup was not to be and started debates over which players should be moved at the upcoming trade deadline.
Then things got interesting.
The Islanders are now in the midst of a four game winning streak and are once again in the thick of the hunt for one of the coveted 8 spots. They dismantled an underwhelming Atlanta team in convincing fashion on Saturday and today defeated one of the league best squads, the San Jose Sharks. Fans began singing the praises of players such as Mike Comrie and Ruslan Fedotenko when, only days earlier, they were ready to send each of them to any other NHL destination for a bag of pucks and a couple of rolls of tape.
So, which team is for real? The underachieving Islanders who need to be rebuilt or the hungry group who needs a few key parts to win it all?
As a long time fan, I am not fooled. This team, winning streak notwithstanding, is fundamentally unsound and cannot compete in the long haul. This has become the trend in recent years: Strong start, middle of the season swoon, rebounding effort at the end just to make the postseason, then first round exit. It is not a formula for success and needs to be revamped.
I believe that GM Garth Snow has a rebuilding plan in mind and is determined not to repeat the mistakes he made during the Ryan Smyth fiasco. I think he signed players like Comrie to 1 year contracts in order to either sell high on them at the trade deadline or to simply use them as a stopgap measure until players from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers were ready to assume regular roles with the big club.
Stay the course, Garth. Do not be tempted by the silver lure gleaming off Lord Stanley's chalice. The Isles do not have a chance to win this year, but if they continue the rebuilding program they are on, they may have a chance to compete for many years to come.