It’s hard being the second fiddle in a city. With the Islanders, often times they are the forgotten team in the shadow of the New York Rangers. The Rangers play in Madison Square Garden, while the Islanders play on Long Island in Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Islanders were a proud franchise in the past, and their efforts the past few seasons have been bent on trying to return to those old glory days.
This was a franchise in the early 80’s that won 4 straight Stanley Cup Championships and dominated the competition. But those days are long gone. A different looking team and franchise is what we are looking at in New York now for the Islanders. Have they made good moves in getting back to their glory, or have they continued the regression into the nothingness of NHL obscurity?
New York Islanders
2006 Record (W-L-OTL-PTS): 40-30-12-92; 4th in Atlantic Division
2006 Postseason (if applicable): Lost in Eastern Conf. Quarters (4-1 to Bufffalo)
Coach Name (record w/team): Ted Nolan; 40-30-12 (.571)
Key Additions: RW Bill Guerin (San Jose); D Andy Sutton (Atlanta); C Mike Comrie (Ottawa); LW Ruslan Fedotenko (Tampa Bay); D Aaron Johnson (Columbus)
Key Subtractions: RW Ryan Smyth (Colorado); D Sean Hill (Minnesota); LW Jason Blake (Toronto); C Viktor Kozlov (Washington); D Tom Poti (Washington); LW Richard Zetnik (Florida); C Alexei Yashin (unsigned; Russia); D Sean Hill (Minnesota)
Offense: There has been a lot of changes made to this team through the offseason that shapes a new offensive attack for the Islanders. There is no question that it will be tough for the Islanders; three of their top five offensive producers from last season are no longer with the team. Leading scorer Jason Blake is gone to Toronto, Viktor Kozlov to Washington, and Alexei Yashin’s contract was bought out and he’s returning to his native Russia to play. That puts a lot of pressure on returning forwards Miroslav Satan and Mike Sillinger.
Both of them scored 59 points last season, modest numbers for players expected to carry the major responsibility of scoring for this team. Sillinger is a veteran that is balanced on the ice and will be beneficial for the Islanders as they continue to try and improve. Satan can also put the puck in the net and dish the puck to his teammates. The team also continued their attempts to bolster their scoring offense by signing Bill Guerin from San Jose. Guerin had an incredible resurgence in St. Louis but fizzled after a trade to San Jose. He will assume the role of captain of the team and expected to immediately add a scoring threat on the ice.
Mike Comrie, a playmaking center from Ottawa, will also have to shoulder some of the load for the players no longer with the team. Comrie is not a spectacular talent, but his consistent ability and even-keeled temperament on ice can be counted on by the Islanders to provide consistent effort. Including players like Ryan Smyth, who was only with the Islanders for a part of the season, and a lot of the grit of last year’s team is gone. Defensively, the team does not sport a lot of threat in the offensive third of the ice.
Their top scorer from the blue line, Tom Poti, joined the player exodus and is himself in a new situation in Washington. Add to that Sean Hill leaving for the Wild, and their top two scoring defensemen are gone. They are not without potential, especially from Marc-Andre Bergeron and Radek Martinek. They will need to step up and give the team some production.
Defense: With the losses of veterans Poti and Hill in free-agency, the Islanders will be tested early and often as their young core of defenders needs to prove they can withstand the pressure. At the top of their list are young guys Marc-Andre Bergeron and Aaron Johnson (signed from Columbus). Many people around the NHL believe that Bergeron is the best defender the team has. After coming over from Edmonton during the season, Bergeron showcased how vital he could be for the Islanders. This season he will undoubtedly be the team’s top player and has a chance to continue his rise as one of the better playmaking defenders in the NHL.
The Islanders will also lean on Johnson to provide the team with youth and talent on the blue line. Johnson can play the puck very well but he is still prone to youthful mistakes. He must limit those mistakes for him to be more effective for the Islanders. Veteran Brendan Witt is a tough defender that uses his body and knows how to be physical and Martinek is dangerous in passing lanes and as a transitional defender.
Goaltending: Rick DiPietro is one of the better goaltenders in the league. Of course, the best part about this is his huge contract (15 years) and the fact that he is only 26-years old. DiPietro has still not achieved all there is in his career but he has been effective for the Islanders with minimal help in front of him at times. His career GAA is less than 3 and he has won 30 games for the Islanders in each of the last two seasons so his ability and talent are not question marks for this team. What needs to happen is DiPietro getting back into the lineup after an injury late in the season and take the reigns of the team. If he can do this and get some support up front, DiPietro can continue his rise to the top of the NHL goaltending ranks.
Coaching: Ted Nolan has been considered a miracle worker for some of the things he’s achieved in his first season with the Islanders. However, it remains to be seen if Nolan can get it done yet again or if the Islander faithful were merely teased by rising expectations. He will have a new lineup to deal with, not to mention the same question marks regarding their effort and the rising talent around them. Also, there will be the distraction of whether or not suspended forward Chris Simon is allowed to return to the team. Nolan will have quite the job to do with the team, keeping them focused on the goal, which is winning and returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Points/Conference Standing: 80 – 95 pts; middle of Eastern Conference (6th – 10th in conference)
Team MVP: Miroslav Satan
Prediction Notes: This team has some talent and they should be able to win their fair share of games. Some of the growing talent in the conference, especially in the division with in-city rival New York Rangers, will stunt their growth a little bit. However, it’s hard for some to doubt Ted Nolan, especially after the job he’s done with the team in the first season. If a few things go right for this team, such as Bill Guerin producing like he did with St. Louis and Marc-Andre Bergeron’s maturation on defense continuing, the playoffs will be assured for this team. Goalie Rick DiPietro needs to stay health and consistent for the team.