I have been on various blog websites and no matter which one I read there seems to be one similarity, write-off the Islanders. This blog will explore why other fans in the NHL (even some Isles fans) are doing so prematurely.
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Gone from the team this year are the following players: Yashin (buyout), Blake (FA), Smyth (FA), Kozlov (FA), Poti (FA), Robataille (FA), Asham (FA), Hill (FA), Zednik (FA), and Dunham (FA). Added to the mix are the following players: Guerin, Comrie, Fedetenko, Vasicek, Sim, Sutton, Dubielewicz, and Bergenheim. Because of the extreme make-over of the team, most analysts have written this team off. They state you cannot replace the scoring that was lost, or the heart and soul players. The coach, Ted Nolan is why I think you can.
After being shutout of the NHL for 9 years, Nolan finally got his chance with the Islanders last year. He suprised the NHL by taking the team to playoffs on the last shot of the regular season, only to lose to the Sabres in a tough 5 game series. But more importantly, Nolan and GM Snow have now had 2 years to mold the team into the vision they share. Yashin had to go, so they took an expensive buyout option. The proof that Yashin was replacable is that no NHL team thought he was worth over 2 million a year! This is clearly addition by subtraction. Blake and Kozlov also were top 5 scorers on the Isles, but in my opinion were defensive liabilites. So the Isles "committee" did not value them the way the teams that signed them did. Poti, who was horrible on the Rangers in 2005-06 had a very good year (possible his best) and was rewarded by the Caps for it. The committee again thought the price was too high, so they let Poti walk. Smyth was offered slightly more money to sign here, but choose to go back to the Western Conference and an apparent powerhouse in Colorado. So after the first 3 days of free agency, the state of Isles was very much up in the air.
Then Snow got to work. He signed Jon Sim, a tough checking, character type player that works hard. He has scored 17 goals in each of the past 2 years in a limited role on the Thrashers. Ruslan Fedetenko was signed. He might have been the Bolt's MVP during their Cup run a couple of years ago, but had fallen out of favor in Tortorello's mix. Bill Guerin and Mike Comrie were then signed on the same day. Guerin was named captain and should be a great leader this year as he battles every night, and Comrie will get his shot at a #1 center spot. True he has not proven he is worthy of being a # 1 center yet, but he is an upgrade over Yashin either way. Finally Snow added Sutton and Vasicek. Sutton should solidify the defense with his shot-blocking and hard hitting style (yes, he has been undisciplined at times in his career, but so was Witt prior to Nolan's coaching). And the Isles took a chance on Vasicek, who has underperformed the past two seasons. Vasicek will be playing with a good friend in Radek Martinek on the Isles. What is interesting is the flexibility the Isles management has created. Fedetenko, Comrie, and Vasicek are on 1 year deals. Basically prove your worth or you will be replaced.
Players the Islanders have controlled and that are out to prove their worth this season are Hunter, Satan, Gervais, Bergenheim, Martinek, Meyer, and Dubielewicz. All of these players are playing for new contracts next year. That makes for 10 players looking to prove that they are worthy of a bigger role and more money next season.
The Islanders lines should break down to something like this:
Line 1 Fedetenko-Comrie-Guerin
Line 2 Bergenheim-Vasicek-Satan
Line 3 Sim-Sillinger-Hunter
Line 4 Simon/Hilbert-Bates/Park-Tambellini or any combo of the 5
Each line should work extremely hard, and be able to provide offensive opportunities. I look for Fedetenko, Comrie, Guerin, Satan, Sillinger, and Hunter to put in 20+ goals a piece. While Bergenheim, Vasicek, and Sim should be capable of 15- 20 goals a piece.
The defense will look like this:
D #1 Witt-Martinek
D #2 Sutton-Bergeron
D #3 Campoli-Gervais
The big question is who will be the PP QB. Right now that job seems to be going to Campoli, but let us let Nolan figure that one out in pre-season.
And of course there is up and coming goaltender Rick Dipietro. He is the rock of the team, and he must stay healthy for this team to compete. Dubielewicz is a capable backup, but he will be exposed if he is played too much. Snow also signed Joey MacDonald as a backup this off-season.
The Islanders have several good prospects for the future; On offense Kyle Okposo, Rhett Rakhshani, Franz Neilson, Sean Bentivoglio, Jeremy Colliton, Masi Marjamaki, Maxim Gratchev, and Justin Bourne. On defense Dustin Kohn, Aaron Johnson, Andrew MacDonald, and Matthew Spiller. Stefan Ridderwall had an outstanding season in a U20 Swedish league in goal.
While the Islanders have what many will consider to be a no-frills type lineup, I expect this team to make it to the playoffs again, and this time actually win a round or two. The key will be hard work, sticking to the system, and cutting down the amount of penalties against. But clearly from management on down, there are many players in Islander land that have to prove themselves this year, and the hockey world and it's critics counting them out again is just the fuel needed to get this team rolling in the right direction again. Drop the puck already!
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