I believe that most NHL pundits, without even seeing their predictions, will probably place our beloved Islanders at probably the same or lower position in the Eastern Conference standings as the team ended up last season. To this blogger, it is a typical response that this team has encountered for ‘decades’ , but over the next few paragraphs, I am going to attempt to put some ideas to paper and prove that these experts and analysts just want to put the Islanders down.
When I look at the work that Garth Snow has done over the last few seasons, it is a similar game plan to what Dale Tallon and the Blackhawks did in the few years before they experienced their glory. Chicago went in a track that most other teams in te NHL were not willing to do. They were willing to take the time (years, in fact) to build this team from within. A great deal of the teams in the lower portion of the NHL table, are also trying to work on that same method.
Garth has been doing this for a while, and the team is trending in the right path.
There are many fans of the Blue and Orange that are on the blogs and formus that every year seem to scream and yell about the fact that so many high-priced free agents are going to other organizations and the Islanders seem to obtain the odd player that does not look ‘hockey sexy’ in their eyes. Do you remember how people thought that the Islanders were nuts when they got Mark Streit? Dwayne Roloson?
How did those players do for us?
Could the Islanders spent $100 million for Ilya Kovalchuk? Sure they could have, quite easily. However, the average fan is quite guilty of wanting a star player on their lineup. The heart says I want the player. The smart general manager, on the other hand, is looking for a ‘chemical’ fit for the team.
In my conversations with Garth Snow, as well as what I have heard on TV, he has expressed that not only is he looking for players that will fit for his organization, but aso wants men with a good sense of character. Both components will make the team not only better on the ice, but also in the locker room.
To me, the moves that Snow has made, are moving the team the right way. Chicago has been the blueprint on which a team can come from the depths of despair to the exaltation of victory. The Islanders are moving in that direction. I just sincerely hope that the fans have the faith in the management and staff to head in that same pathway to success.
Now that I have come up with my thought on the progression of the Islanders, let’s look at what, in my opinion will make the Islanders a much improved team.
1. Goaltending… Yes, I said Goaltending. Many an Islander fan is not in love with #39. I know that, and honestly, I feel that these people just do not believe that the player will not return, but in the end, the Islanders may have to invoke that insurance policy on that lengthy contract. Many a fan was hoping that Snow would elicit help from players such as Turco, Niemi, among others. In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that Ricky will be able to overcome, and possibly return to the level that he was at, before that All-star game weekend a few years back. Do I expect 40 wins and 70 games? No – but I believe that a 60/40 split with Roloson would be a good thing. 50/50 to start, and when Ricky’s game gets back to the level that we expect, then move forward. From the quotes that we hear, I believe that this long wait has not only humbled the netminder, but will take a much different approach to his game.
2. The defense – this I believe will be the biggest difference. Mark Eaton, James Wisniewski, and Milan Urcina are not household names to the average NHL fan – but combined, will give this team a great deal of stability. Eaton, a former Cup winner in Pittsburgh was a vital key to the Penguins success. Wisniewski, a former Blackhawk draft pick, has become a player with so much poential, and his besst days are in fron of him. Urcina, a monster at 6’4″ and nearly 240 pounds, and has good skating ability, will be this year’s answer to Andy Sutton, and nearly a decade younger. Along with Mark Streit, you now have four solid men on the back line. And with the continued maturation of Andy MacDonald, Dylan Reese, and Jack Hillen, you have the makings of stronger defensive corps. Oh yea, you got the young guys Calvin deHaan and Travis Hamonic coming along too. Also – Radek Martinek will return too. Even Bruno Gervais has to be put in the mix. This is a much improved area of this team. There just needs to be some faith, and hopefully a lot less man games lost to injury.
3. Forwards – Another year older for the young guns. With JT, a little more strength and muscle will make him a better player at this level. I am not expecting to see Stephen Stamkos numbers for year 2 of #91’s career; it would be great, but if we see 30-35 goals and 70-80 points, I would be pleased. My hope for this season is the breakout of Josh Bailey. So many people just did not feel that he was worth our pick. I like the way he has progressed, and in the last 20 games of the season, really showed there is an up side to him. Look for a big jump. Matt Moulson, with 30 NHL goals inhis pocket last season, has to live up to that level again this season. The pressure will be on, but the makeup of his character will be the ingredient that makes him a candidate for a repeat performance. Then there is Okposo. Our next captain, in my opinion, is on course for some serious numbers, and I do not expect him to disappoint. Add Zenon Konopka, the NHL leader in penalty minutes last season, along with Trevor Gillies and this team has the power to match with the skill.
There are a lot of things to get potentially excited for this upcoming season, and I really believe that there is a chance that this team can equal the 18 point increase from the prior season. That would mean securing a playoff spot. I really think that the team can make the next rung of the ladder. The pieces are in place, stronger than the last year. The guys are motivated. All that is left, is the desire. We all know that the boys feel that way; camp is the place to put it all together.
Are you ready for the season? I am SO READY!