Just to add to points Gary made in earlier posts and to toss out some of my own thoughts, here are a few comments about the approaching season and the state of the Islanders.
Firstly, I must agree completely with G. I think too many people tend to count the Isles out before the season starts, and you read the same stuff in the preseason publications about the boys from Long Island finishing at the bottom or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference year after year. This, to me, has become pretty standard prediction material. Perhaps, a quick look at the team at a glance and the lack of “big name” signings in the off season might lead one to conclude that a 26 to 30 finish in the overall NHL standings will be where the New York Islanders will land. I don’t think this is the case, though.
I believe that the signings Garth Snow made will help the team a great deal, especially on the defense side of things. Bringing the experience of Mark Eaten, James Wisniewski, and, Milan Urcina will help the back line tremendously. This will make it more difficult for the younger guys to crack the lineup, and it will make it quite interesting to see who exactly ends up being the six guys to go on opening night. Still, it gives the Isles true depth and guys who can get the job done every night when it counts.
Offensively, one cannot underestimate the importance of another year of development for young players. If JT, Kyle Okposo, and Josh Bailey keep taking steps forward, Matt Moulson can put together another 30 goal campaign, and Blake Comeau and Robby Schremp can pick up where they left off prior to their injuries last season, the Islanders could score more goals than most people think. There is simply an upside to the offense that will make the season quite entertaining and exciting. Who knows which of the kids might surprise in camp and also make the lineup to add some firepower?
In my humble opinion, there are three “major” areas that I feel could be issues for the Isles. The first, is how the goaltending will pan out. Obviously, if Ricky is truly healthy and ready to go, this will significantly detract from that potential “problem” and then become an asset for the team. Rolloson certainly can get the job done, and a Healthy DP will only help us exponentially. If, however, Ricky is not as “ready” as is being reported, it will force Snow to either sign someone or we will rely on one of our prospects to expedite his development a bit. This, in turn, could be a major issue for us.
The second area that concerns me is overall toughness, especially on the defense. Losing Andy Sutton and Brendan Witt will unquestionably effect the physicality of the back line. Yes, Urcina is a big guy and Wisniewski does play with grit, but the Eastern Conference is filled with teams that have big, strong wingers who love crashing the net. This is where the crunching check of a Sutton or a Witt express hit clearing the crease might be missed. I have my uncertainties about the size and overall ability of the eight or nine potential blue liners in the overall scheme of things.
On the offense, Trevor Gillies and Zenon Konopka, will enhance the toughness of a fourth line, but we still do not have the biggest group of forwards in the NHL by any stretch. There are teams with some pretty big boys on the blue line, and those battles in the corners can prove to be rather important. Thus, hopefully, Bailey, Okposo and Tavares put the off season to good use to get stronger on their skates. I believe Josh Bailey did put on some bulk, so this could help more than a little game in and game out.
Lastly, a factor that hurt the team quite a bit last season was our power play and penalty kill. We need to get better on the PP and have our young guns provide much more scoring punch. Our puck possession and recovery on the power play were quite suspect at times, and the lack of quality shots came back to haunt us quite a bit in many games. How many times did that “timely” goal on a late period power play never materialize? This must be addressed in order for this team to be successful in the long term.
Similarly, the PK has to be sharper and more consistent. Yes, we had stretches where we killed off several chances in a row, but there were too many cases in which the penalty kill was God awful. In fact, it literally cost us games in the later part of the season when we badly needed the points. The loss of Richard Park is something that comes to mind, and I had thought that Garth might sign him because of his value on the PK. So, Blake Comeau, Robby Schremp or someone else is going to have to step up and help Okposo and Hunter kill off the shorthanded opportunities.
So, overall, to me, the New York Islanders are doing quite well as far as the development progress goes. Despite no blockbuster off season acquisitions or the like, I think what we will go to war with will help the team to improve. I agree with G that I could easily see a 15 to 18 point jump and a playoff spot in the end. Of course, if we can stay away from the injuries and stay healthy, it will only bode better for the blue and orange.