We're about halfway done with our season preview and are a little ahead of schedule. Hopefully we can get this kicked out well before September ends and the teams start their travel season in lovely Europe. Pre-season hockey rules so go check it out in a town near you!
And now, the New York Islanders.
Team M.O.: These guys are the like the Edmonton Oilers but in the Eastern Conference; they had their glory years during the 80's before becoming a so-so team in the 90's and followed that up with a roller coaster ride into oblivion, which is where they're at today. Only problem? They haven't made the Stanley Cup Finals in recent history and have two other teams to compete with in their market: One's an original six franchise while the other is a Stanley Cup winner who have two of the best players in the game skating for them. These guys are in rebuild mode but while the future might not be here, it can't be that far off... right?
Last Season: Thirteenth in the conference and out of the playoffs. Not great, but still an improvement over the dead-last finish the season before that landed them John Tavares. About that...
Offense: Tavares wasn't necessarily spectacular in his rookie season but all things considered, 54 points was probably more than could have been expected for on that team that's rebuilding. He convinced management to sign his friend Matt Moulson though, and the end result was giving the team a solid-yet-completely unexpected 30 goal scorer; the heat will be on for him to hit those same kind of numbers again. Kyle Okposo took a step forward with his production this season; if he can become better defensively he'll be one of the best scoring wingers in the league. Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey both took a few steps forward last season and if they can build off of their previous campaign, they can provide the Islanders with solid and reliable second line forward who can produce as such. It would be excellent if Blake Comeau could start avoiding the injury bug because his rate of production's steadily improving with him. Doug Weight gives the team a playmaking forward who's close to the end of his career; at best he'll give the team close to 40 points, but at worst he'll go down early with injury and be done for the season (or for good.) Trent Hunter also seems to be particularly affected by the injury bug and while he's not their top scorer, his versatility is important enough to warrant his presence in the lineup. Rob Schremp was claimed off waivers and gave the team some decent production considering the amount of games he was in. He went down with a knee injury toward the end of the season so hopefully he can set the tone in camp.
Looking at the remaining portion of the forward position, we see a mix of grit and youth. John Sim seems to have a nose for the net and an attitude that gets the opposition riled. He'll be joined by Zenon Konopka, who was acquired as a free agent to provide an interesting combination of leadership, face-off skills, and fighting ability. The remaining positions will likely be battled for by PA Parenteau, Jesse Joensuu, Matt Martin, and possibly newcomer Nino Niederreiter. If the team opts to have an enforcer to supplement Konopka, the battle will be between Trevor Gillies and Jeremy Yablonski. Wonder if these guys have talked about their tilt last year in the AHL...
All and all, these guys could use a veteran scoring winger or two, and they definitely have the cap space to take salary. They could probably score Brian Rolston from the waiver wire if they call up the New Jersey Devils and say "You want us to take his salary off your hands?" Any other moves would be awesome, but owner Charles Wang's kinda tightfisted when it comes to investing in the payroll of the club.
Defense: Defensively the club's unspectacular but complete. Mark Streit was a point shy of another 50 point campaign and gives the team an unlikely-yet-intriguing Number 1 defender. James Wisniewski was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks to give the club another point-producing defenseman, he's just of the P.O.'d variety. Mark Eaton came over as a free agent; expect him to log Top-four defender minutes in a defensive role. Jack Hillen broke out last season as a source of points from the back end; he'll get more ice time when he gets better defensively (ditto for Bruno Gervais.) Andrew MacDonald has done well enough in call up duty for the club to warrant consideration on either their second or third-pairing units, depending on the type of defensive strategy they're going for. Milan Jurcina comes over through free agency after an oft-injured campaign last year while Radek Martinek was out most of last season.
It'll be interesting to see who ends up getting "the cut" and why.
Goaltending: Dwayne Roloson wasn't dominant last season but was by no means terrible, posting a 3 GAA with a .907 save percentage on a club that dealt with a lot of youth and injuries. Speaking of injuries, Rick DiPietro is starting the season off healthy and one can only hope that he can reverse his fortunes and get back to being a consistent NHL performer. The goaltending depth gets a little thin after them so unless their prospects are spectacular in camp, they might want to see if any of the remaining free agent goalies are interested in a two-way deal.
Management: Give Garth Snow credit, he can't make all the moves necessary to make the team uber-competitive but he's definitely doing what he can to make shrewd moves while ensuring loyalty. Scott Gordon will have a second year with the club and while people will be realistic with the team's expectations, he will be expected to get them to gain more victories than they did last season.
Prediction: Fifth in the Atlantic Division and out of the playoffs.
Simply stated, these guys will improve from last season and the season before that, but they aren't anywhere near the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, or even the New York Rangers in regards to competitiveness. Their current roster will have to be older or better fortified in order to make that kinda jump and unless spectacular injuries happen to any of those teams, the Islanders can't realistically be poised to succeed.