Mike Milbury was right on the mark in at least one remark following a daring series of events, his reputation is definitely on the line. Knowledgeable Islander fans collectively swallowed their tongues in shock or at least banged their heads on the nearest solid object after hearing of Milbury’s high stake trades. What at the end of last season was the most promising young goaltending tandem in league was decimated. Weekes was moved to Tampa Bay along with last year’s first round pick Kristian Kudroc to obtain the 5th overall pick. Not a bad maneuver considering that franchise caliber goaltender Roberto Luongo seemed ready to shoulder the load. However, that scenario was quickly shattered when Milbury’s next maneuver was announced. Roberto Luongo, the best prospect in hockey, and Olli Jokinen, the 3rd overall pick in ’97, were sent packing to the Panther for forwards Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish.
Milbury has been infatuated with Kvasha for years, and although he has yet to become a consistent offensive threat his upside makes him an equal value for Jokinen who was a disappointment last year. However, how any GM can trade Luongo, a can’t miss all-star, basically for Mark Parrish is a mystery. Luongo had made Milbury look like a genius when he was selected 4th overall in 97 the highest ever for a goaltender at the time. Luongo was a star at every level, had the confidence, size and ability to be a star #1 goaltender and was voted the best prospect in hockey two years running. While Parrish is a solid scorer and a speedy winger, he in no way represents equal value for the Luongo.
This trade is a huge part to the Islanders future. Parish is a natural finisher who I like, but he is not spectacular. Kvasha is a bit of a mystery man and the key to the trade. Milbury wanted a big center who can shoulder the scoring load with Connolly. While only 22 and seeing limited ice time in Florida, he is still a massive package of size, speed and tempting skills. However, it’s alot to risk on a player who has played sparingly at center and registered only 25 points in his first two seasons.
To replace the goaltending tandem that went south, Milbury made history yet again by selecting Boston University phenom Rick DiPietro first overall. While DiPietro has star potential, placing your hopes in the hands of an 18 year old is always a risky proposition. In a matter of minutes Milbury turned one of his teams greatest strengths in to a weakness. His goal for the weekend was to get the Islanders closer to the playoffs. I for one do not see how replacing two highly regarded young NHL goaltenders with an 18 year old who only played 28 games at the college level brings the team closer to the playoffs.
With the newly acquired 5th pick the Islanders selected Raffi Torres, a gritty scorer from Brampton. Torres plays a hard, driving game and has a great release and scoring touch. He loves contact and is extremely strong his skates. With his acquisition the Islanders now boast two top-10 scorers from both the WHL (Justin Mapletoft, Trent Hunter), OHL (Taylor Pyatt, Torres), and if not for injuries another in the QMJHL (Juraj Kolnik).
Milbury’s time in the spotlight was not yet complete however. He further depleted the prospect pool by dealing promising blueliner Eric Brewer and solid winger Josh Green, along with a 2nd round pick to Edmonton for two time All-Star Roman Hamrlik. This is not a bad deal on its own since getting a top blueliner was their biggest need, but in addition to the other trades it hurts their overall depth. The departure of Josh Green also indicates that top prospect Taylor Pyatt will be on the team next year.
Milbury is like a finicky child who tires of his best toys after a short time. Since his arrival the departure of almost every first round pick has been assured. Included in the list of former first round picks Milbury has traded are: Todd Bertuzzi (23rd overall in ’93), Wade Redden (2nd overall in ’95), Bryan Berard (1st overall in ’95), J.P. Dumont (3rd overall in ’96), Roberto Luongo (4th overall in ’97), Eric Brewer (5th overall in ’97), Olli Jokinen (3rd overall in ’97), and Kristian Kudroc (28th overall in ’99). We can only hope that Milbury doesn’t get bored of seeing the likes of Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt. Or who knows, maybe next year he’ll like Pascal Leclaire or Dan Blackburn better than DiPietro.
In what was probably his best move of the weekend, Milbury obtained veteran John Vanbiesbrouk to solidify the goaltending situation, surrendering only a fourth round pick. This move gives some credibility to the Islanders in goal, where Milbury expects DiPietro to make the squad. For comparison; Luongo had played in 210 regular season and playoffs games his last 3 years in the QMJHL. Even with all that experience against better shooters he was not quite ready for the NHL as a 20 year old when this season started. Now, Mike Milbury expects DiPietro to make the team as an 18 year old who played in only 28 games last year against inferior college players. While DiPietro now carries the franchise’s, as well as Milbury’s, future on his young shoulders, he should not be in the NHL next year. He needs to play 50+ games next year, the AHL being the best place. He no longer has college eligibility and needs to see better competition. He can’t be rushed into the NHL as a starter and will not develop as a backup.
As an Islander fan all I can do now is continue to hope. Only instead of hoping for a solid ownership group, now I can only hope for the best with we have. I hope that Oleg Kvasha develops into the top pivot his skills suggest he can be. I hope that Rick DiPietro can be at least as good as Luongo. I hope that Vanbiesbrouk isn’t quite over the hill. I hope that Kenny Jonsson’s fragile head doesn’t take another hit. I hope they don’t trade away any more first round talent. I hope that Mike Milbury looks better in three years than he does right now.
Here’s a look at next year’s projected lineup as it stands right now:
LW C RW
Isbister Kvasha Czerkawski
Pyatt Connolly Parrish
Lindgren Scatchard Muckalt
Nabokov Lapointe Webb