I want to begin by first apologizing to Gary and the Eyes on Isles staff and our readers for my absence over the last few weeks, if not the majority of the summer. It does have to do with there not much to write about during a hockey off season and that the Islander news has not been tremendous. However, it also has to do with just getting caught up with work and personal matters.
The short end is my time to write has been limited and without a good “topic” to inspire me, it has made it a bit more difficult. Unfortunately, my brain has been stuck in technology training and support, as that is what I am now doing to feed myself. It has given me little time to actually sit back and come up with something “interesting” to write that just won’t take up space or waste anyone’s time.
In any event, I am going to throw out some random thoughts and “blind observations” in regard to the Islanders and the NHL that I have collected over the last couple of months. These are not in any particular order nor in any order of “importance”. Some of this, if not a lot of it, has probably been touched on here and in other places, but here are my takes on some things:
• The labor dispute is quite troubling to me between the NHL owners and the NHLPA. I have tried not to be negative about this and have the sour memories still too fresh from the lost lock out season only just over half a decade ago. In short, the league can ill-afford having a repeat performance of that. The damage that was done to the credibility of the NHL overall was felt for years, and in a time in which hockey is trying to grow and become more popular south of Canada, another lock out is potentially going to be significantly destructive in so many ways. Of course, there is a lot of posturing in these situations, but the bottom line is both sides have to figure this out quickly and get rid of the dark, menacing clouds that are currently shrouding the start of preseason camps in September.
• the arena situation is another of those things that seems to cause a riot in Islander Country. I am just as frustrated and disconcerted about it as anyone else, and I can’t tell you how many people ask me what I think is going to happen to the Islanders after 2015. I’d like to be able to confidently say that when the smoke clears, the Isles will remain in Nassau County playing their games at a new version of the NVMC, but I simply don’t know any more. Personally, if you’d like my “dream” or “wish”, someone in Suffolk County would get off their incompetent backside and throw the Isles an offer. How I’d love to be able to use Suffolk County Alternate Transit to get to a game with a little help from my friends to make a bunch during the season for a change.
• The amount of money and long term contracts that are being tossed out to players has really amused me. Remember when Rick DiPietro’s 15 year deal drew so much criticism from so many sources? How many years and for how much money did Shea Weber get resigned by Nashville? What kind of money did the Wild toss about to land Parise and Suter. If the NHL ever lost the salary cap, I’d have to say that the league would quickly head in the direction of Major League Baseball in which the rich get richer and the smaller market teams are quickly becoming an endangered species.
• I’m sure Eyes on Isles will have our season preview before the start of the 2012-13 campaign (whenever it will begin), but I can’t help tossing out some thoughts about the state of the team. Not to copy Toby, but our opinions certainly coincide.
1. It certainly can be debated just how much the team “improved” in the off season. Without a doubt, I am satisfied that some badly needed toughness was added to the ranks, but my concern is the talent of the offense. By losing PA Parenteau, which still leaves me shaking my head, I believe there is a lot of faith and hope being placed on prospects. Not that I don’t believe that a Ryan Strome can’t step in and surprise us or that Brad Boyce won’t recapture some of his former goal scoring prowess. The thing is, as it stands on paper, there are just too many “hopefully” parts of the picture to my liking.
2. Provided the Lubomir Visnovsky situation can be resolved in an intelligent manner, the defense appears to be somewhat improved. Injuries and depth will, as always, be the question, but there is surely 3 or 4 guys who are nearing NHL readiness who can step in if required. So, to me, this is an area that was also addressed. Perhaps, not as vastly as I would have liked with some of the names that were out there in early July, but I guess I’ve gotten used to the “under the radar” approach that has frequently been used for free agent signings.
3. Hopefully, some lessons will be learned and the young core group of developing players will continue to mature. Toby made a very important and glaring point about the number of games that the Islanders blew in the third period last season. That was a recurring theme that needs to disappear. A team that wants to make the playoffs needs to be able to hold leads and have the “killer instinct” Al Arbour so often made reference to. Confidence and consistency will help to address that issue, but I also agree with Toby’s observations about the importance of coaching as well.
4. I am almost afraid to write this paragraph as I think I made a similar comment last season, and I fear jinxing the guy again. However, if Rick DiPietro comes back healthy and capable of playing, it can potentially give the Isles a very strong goaltender pair in Nabokov and DP. Of course, we have the big “If” here, but we do also have a couple of guys pretty ready to step up to the NHL level as well. Goaltending, to me, “shouldn’t” be a problem for this team.
• Do I expect the Islanders to make the playoffs? Like Toby, I have my doubts. I hate to admit that as a typically positive fan, but the “improvements” that I was hoping for in the off season, to me, leaves me with concerns. Granted, it can be argued that the Devils, Flyers and Penguins didn’t do much to help themselves, and contrary to what some think, I don’t believe Rick Nash is the answer for the Rangers. Still, the fact is the Isles are still in a very tough division and in a conference in which every point is going to make a difference.
It is not that I don’t think the Isles can’t potentially grab the 8 or 7 spot. Anything can happen. If we do get that luck Toby mentions and we see continued improvements, anything is possible. I do think this team will be exciting to watch, and I do expect to witness continued growth and improvements among the players.
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