Remember when the NHL returned from its lockout in January, and all that New York Islanders fans wanted to talk about were the franchise’s woes? Garth Snow’s waiver-wire pickups were ridiculed:
- Fans slamming the decision to replace P.A.Parenteau, the team’s first-line RW of the previous two seasons who displayed fantastic chemistry alongside John Tavares, with one Brad Boyes.
- Lubomir Visnovsky came up with one reason after another for not joining the Islanders, and the media spun the debacle into the organization’s doing.
- And, of course, Rick DiPietro was still attempting a comeback, and onlookers were either pointing and laughing, or shaking their heads.
Then there’s July of 2011, when the Isles were coming off another bottom-five finish.:
- Fan-favorite Zenon Konopka was released in favor of Marty Reasoner.
- Nobody was sure if Evgeni Nabokov, who spurned the Islanders the previous season, would actually report to Long Island.
- Mike Mottau was signed to round out a poor defensive unit, and
- Rick DiPietro was recovering from another injury, this time resulting from a left jab to the face.
- Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit, both lost for extended time before a single game was played.
- Rick DiPietro was still finding his game.
You get the point.
The start of every Islanders season in recent years has been marred with distractions. While the return of hockey in October is always an exciting time, there seems to always be a scene on Long Island that quickly quells that energy.
Not this year. Not 2013-14.
As we enter a new, full hockey season in quite some time, the Islanders arrive to it all glowing and prepared to take on actual expectations.
Analysts across the NHL have the franchise going to the playoffs; some even have the Islanders as both a blossoming team and one built for the long-haul. The dark cloud has been lifted from over the Nassau Coliseum, now heralded as a “limited time only” one-of-a-kind experience instead of a “dump.”
But what changed?
It’s simple. The Islanders aren’t a bad hockey team anymore. And there are no distractions or drama to be had.
For the first time in years, the Islanders begin October with full knowledge of their goaltending situation, as Evgeni Nabokov has full reins of netminding duties, while Kevin Poulin is the backup. Rick DiPietro will not be on the ice, or the bench or even in Bridgeport. He won’t even be in the pressbox.
The former All-Star turned albatross is gone, as are any decisions to just “throw him in there” to see if he found his legs again.
And look at the recently announced 23-man roster. What’s wrong with it? Nothing. The team has a full-set of NHL-caliber players. Every player on this team deserves to be there, and every player who isn’t on the ice will have to earn their opportunity.
Can you believe that Casey Cizikas sat out the first few games last season because Marty Reasoner was playing 4th-line centre. Can you believe that Reasoner was on this team at all? And when were the Islanders ever able to take a former 60-point scorer, such as Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and place him on the third-line? The Islanders have viable options, as evidenced by their ability to replace a player like Cal Clutterbuck without scrambling for a replacement.
The Islanders finally enter a season with continuity following a playoff appearance–a rare occurrence to say the least.
Following the 2006-07 playoff appearance, the Islanders blew up their team, replacing Alexei Yashin, Jason Blake and Viktor Kozlov with Mike Comrie, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko. After the 2003-04 playoff appearance, fans had the season-long NHL lockout to look forward to.
It has been ten years since the last time the Isles were able to build off of a playoff appearance, and this summer has been a positive one because of this opportunity.
Lots of arduous work coupled with almost saintly patience. The rebuild has been a long, drawn-out process, and one could make an argument that it is still ongoing. For now, though – at this very moment – reflect, and you will realize how far the Islanders have come.
There’s a different vibe on Long Island, and the Islanders are entering the 2013-14 campaign drama-free.