Musings from Eisenhower Park II

I’m back at Northwell Health Ice Center, although this time it isn’t a spontaneous trip. Still, I find this place oddly calming at night. It’s quiet, with just the right amount of background noise from the practices going on in the two indoor ice rinks. Ah, if only I had been able to play hockey when I was younger. That’s a story for another time, though.

For now, let’s talk about the New York Giants. (I’m going somewhere Islanders related with this, don’t worry.) For those of you who don’t follow football, this is all the context you need: They’re a dumpster fire. A team that many picked to contend for a Super Bowl title now sits at a lowly 1-8. Why? Many point to head coach Ben McAdoo, and rightfully so. (I’m not even a Giants fan and I hate this guy.) McAdoo has proven to be one of the worst head coaches in recent memory. He seems to have no answers for anything he is asked, repeatedly puts responsibilities on his players that would traditionally fall on the head coach, and tells his team stories of a sex-crazed lion. Yes, that last part is real. Look it up.

However, something more detrimental has happened to the Giants than McAdoo’s atrocious coaching. The players have given up, and as a result, the locker room has fractured. Players make anonymous statements to the press about McAdoo, while other players call them out. For the record, players say, “There’s no giving up.”, but actions speak louder than words. Giving up is one of the worst things an athlete can do, or be accused of. Many bad teams still band together and play for their own pride (see this year’s New York Jets team). When I think about why the Giants have given up, and analyze the situation, one thing stands out to me. This is a team thrown together with a plethora of highly paid free agents.

An argument presented by many in the New York Sports Media is that these free agents are, in a sense, hired guns. They’ll stick around when the team is winning, but once the team starts to stumble, the free agents quit and only are about the paycheck. The media argues that free agents don’t have the same “team pride” as a player who was drafted by the organization, and worked their way up to the major leagues. To a degree, I believe this is true. Playing for the team that drafted you, will always be a different experience than playing for a team you joined for more money, and/or a shot at winning a championship. However, it’s unfair to label all free agents as “hired guns”, and all but demonize the practice of signing them.

There are three ways to make your sports team better. Build through the draft, sign free agents, and make trades. There are pros and cons to all three, but for now I’ll be focusing on free agency and drafting, as that’s where the argument lies. We can talk about trades next week.

Let’s start with the draft. Perhaps the biggest upside to building through the draft is the youth of the players the organization acquires. Drafting a young prospect gives teams exclusive rights to their development. Coaches can mold them into the team’s system and culture, and the players usually grow a sense of pride for the team they play for, especially as they continue their own development. Monetarily speaking, entry-level contracts are much less expensive than signing a free agent. Drawbacks to building through the draft include how slow the process is. To use the NHL as an example: Not every draft pick is going to be Connor McDavid. Many continue to develop in places like juniors, college, and the AHL. It’s also quite possible that the prospect turns out to be a bust, and simply isn’t NHL material.

Unlike drafting, signing a free agent gives teams a fairly good idea of what they’re getting. They’ve played in the league for a few years and have shown what they’re capable of. Free agents usually meet expectations, with a few exceptions. These exceptions usually stem from adjusting to the new team and new environment. It’s impossible to assume that a player from Minnesota won’t go through an adjustment period when playing for a new team in a city like New York or Los Angeles. The two main drawbacks to signing free agents are age, and the contracts themselves. The minimum age to be an unrestricted free agent in the NHL is 27. This means that many will be in the middle of their physical prime and, depending upon the length of the contract, will eventually start to decline with the new team. Signing free agents, especially high-level ones, is expensive and may take up large amounts of salary cap space, which can prove problematic when an organization wants to sign prospects to more lucrative deals.

So, you’ve gotten this far. I might as well apply my ramblings to the New York Islanders. Let’s talk Andrew Ladd and Mathew Barzal. Ladd was a punching bag for Islanders fans last year, especially during his slow first half of the season. However, the proven veteran did exactly what he was expected to and surpassed the 20-goal mark. Andrew Ladd is a solid, 20-goal scoring player, but the general consensus is that he has reached the height of his play. It’s unlikely he improves much at this point in his career, and that’s fine. Mathew Barzal, arguably the Islanders most exciting story this season, has a much bigger upside, as he is young, and has years to improve before he hits his prime. Is this a knock on Ladd? Absolutely not. A good team builds itself up by drafting well, and signing solid free agents to bolster the roster.

Unfortunately, Garth Snow seems to be shaky at both. He has made questionable draft decisions, although it seems as though Mathew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang will end up as solid NHL players. His free agent track record is also nothing to write home about. Most notable is his inability to retain any one of Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, and Matt Martin in the 2016 offseason.

Snow has, however, made more than a few good trades during his tenure as Islanders general manager, but we can get into that next week, when we explore the wondrous world of trading in sports. Hopefully you made it to the end of my ramblings tonight, and learned something along the way. Even if it’s only how bad the New York Giants are. Have a good night, and, as always, Let’s Go Islanders!

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