I love these ferry rides from Long Island back to school in Connecticut. They allow me to sit down and write up speculation pieces without worrying about having anything else to do. While most of my blogs usually contains facts or fun opinions, these ferry ride blogs are usually speculation pieces simply because I do not have internet, and I like to write down some fun thoughts. Now, on to the blog!
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Now, I must say, that I am a tremendous supporter of “the plan” that Garth Snow and Scott Gordon have in place. I think it is a very intelligent and smart path that they have chosen, especially considering how deep last year’s draft was and how tremendously deep this upcoming draft is going to be. (For all of those who have not read up on this year’s draft, I’d begin reading now. The top ten picks are all considered franchise players, while there is first round talent well through the second round. This is the type of draft that can make or break a future!) However, have you been watching the Islanders play lately? The last two games against the Ottawa Senators, and the last handful of games in general, have been a tremendous display of just how effective the overspeed system can be, as well the fact that the players are really starting to grasp it. Watching the penalty kill at work, the Islanders were very effective in having one skater pressure the puck-handler immediately, and forcing him to make a quick pass. This system truly can work at the NHL level, and when it does, it shows just how great it can be. My questions to the reader are this: what happens if the Islanders turn out to be that good? What happens if the players really can keep up the current play, and beat even the best of teams? What happens if the Islanders go on a roll, and move up the standings? Yes, I understand it was just two wins this past weekend, but Joey Mac is 4-2-2 in his last 8 games, and the Islanders really look one hundred times better than they did during the first few weeks of the season. Plus, Ottawa is a good team, and we have even been able to dominate teams such as the Rangers, and even the Canadiens for the first forty minutes. Now add in Rick DiPietro (although MacDonald has been phenomenal), Brendan Witt, and Freddy Meyer. That is a tremendous boost to any team, especially a team that needs that veteran leadership so direly in order to hold on to leads! This team really could surprise many, once again.
Now, to answer my own questions:
What happens if we turn out to be that good? Well, I can tell you one thing, it is not really that far out of reach. The team is playing tremendously well in all three zones, and ironically, scoring a pretty decent number of goals. Many thought that by losing the offense provided by Satan, Vasicek, Fedotenko, and such, that we would immediately see a tremendous drop off in goals, however, the opposite has occurred. Under Gordon’s high pressure, offensive-minded system, the Islanders are scoring many more goals than last year, and still playing as tight on defense. It has been a joy to watch the Islanders come around this season, especially considering the tremendous number of injuries incurred at the beginning of the season and into mid-November. With the return of Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, and Freddy Meyer, you can be sure that opponents will recognize just how much tougher it is to beat the Islanders, as well as how much tougher it is to fall behind the Isles. I really do believe that once those three are back to normal playing time, the Islanders will be a much tougher team to beat. Secondly, once Rick DiPietro comes back, the Islanders confidence will grow tremendously. Now, I am not saying MacDonald hasn’t been amazing, because he has truly shown everyone that he has the potential to be a solid goalie in this league, however, not many can compare to DiPietro when he is in full health. The confidence in front of DiPietro is so strong compared to any other netminder the Islanders will put in net. This confidence boost will only further help the Islanders realize that they do have a great level of talent if they use it wisely.
What happens if the players can keep up the currently level of play, and beat even the best of teams? To be honest, there is no reason they shouldn’t keep up this level of play. Doug Weight was truly a tremendous acquisition, and he has been playing as if he has something to prove still. After last year’s disappointing twenty-five point campaign, I guess he really wants to show everyone that even at his age, you can still play great hockey. Bill Guerin, who is a great leader both on and off the ice, has been scoring, playing in all three zones, and has found that chemistry with Doug Weight. When those two, along with Sean Bergenheim, are in the offensive zone, they cycle great, find the open man, and seem to put many shots on net. If I recall correctly, Bill Guerin had six shots on net in the first period alone against Ottawa on Thursday night. Richard Park, who can easily be one of the most under-rated players in the NHL, has been playing with a fire in his game that you can almost expect out of him now-a-days. His defensive-game is as sound as anyone on the roster, his transition is great due to his speed, and he is great at keeping the puck in the offensive-zone, even while he is on the penalty kill. The Islanders are tied for the league-lead in shorthanded goals so far this season with 7, and he is a huge part of that. Andy Hilbert, regardless of what anyone may say, is playing great hockey. He is not a scorer, and we have come to accept that, even though he has two goals already which is good for him. His defensive play, much like Richard Park’s is phenomenal, he is grasping the system exceptionally well, and he is a tremendous penalty killer and third to fourth line player. Mark Streit, who was jeered in Montreal for a poor defensive game, has completely put any of that talk to the side. He is exceptional in his defensive zone this season, and he has not committed any bad turnovers or poor defensive plays in his own zone that really stand out. To be honest, he has been our most consistent defensive performer, as well as an exceptional offensive performer. His outlet passes and transition game are easily ranked amongst the top in the league, and his vision for the game is very good as well. I am looking forward to having him around for the next four seasons. Trent Hunter, the next captain of this team, is finally coming out of his defensive-shell now that he is on a line with Frans Nielsen. Hunter, who has seven goals already this season, is playing great in all three-zones, and is even able to play in the “overspeed” system that is really meant for quick skaters. His play along the boards, especially in the offensive zone, and his defensive play on the penalty kill and five-on-five has shown why he deserves to be a top player on this team and deserved the five year extension he received this season. Frans Nielsen is a pleasant surprise to the season, as well. He has not only shown why he belongs in the NHL, but he has also shown that he can be a force in the league. His skating is excellent, his vision is much better than I thought, and he doesn’t mind taking defenseman on one-on-one and beating them. He is great at leading a rush, and I look forward to seeing him develop further over the next few months. While this is just a sample of the players who have really been playing exceptionally well, the Islanders have been getting great efforts all around. MacDonald, Campoli, Thompson, and even Jackman have been playing much better than many thought they would. This is why there is no reason this team can’t keep up the tempo of play that they have been playing at lately, as well as no reason why this team can’t turn a few heads.
Lastly, what happens if the Islanders go on a roll and this team starts to move up the standings? First, I am pretty sure Scott Gordon would get recognized as a great coach, which he does deserve. He is patient, organized, smart, and confident that he can take this team to the Stanley Cup within the next few years. Second, it would give Garth Snow some credibility as well, and credibility that I feel is much deserved. He gets ripped on left and right for having moved to the general manager post straight from back-up goaltender. I really think he is a smart man that was thrown into a situation where winning needs to happen in order to keep the franchise intact. It was smart to finally decide the team needed a rebuild, and they were going to do it right this time around. Third, the seats would start to fill up in the Coliseum again, and we might even see the passing of the Lighthouse Plan. I really doubt that the Islanders would go after someone at the trade deadline. Even if we are over-achieving by that point in the season, and in playoff contention, I really do feel that Garth Snow would stick to his plan of drafting and not trading away draft picks for rental players. The only difference is that he might hold onto players such as Guerin and Weight, who have been tremendous in helping the Islanders this season. (He might even re-sign the two if they can continue to play at this level and be mentors for the younger guys on the team!). Regardless of where we finish, we will have four picks in the top 45 to 50 or so, which is great in such a deep draft! The focus must still be on the plan, which will only continue to make the franchise stronger when players such as Guerin, Weight, and Sillinger depart.
To take things on an even more positive and dream filled side: If the Islanders win more than expected and the Lighthouse Plan passes, which I feel it will within the next few months, word would spread around the league very rapidly that the Islanders are going to have beautiful facilities for the players in the next one to two seasons, as well as a team that is on the rise quickly. That would be great considering the free agent pool that will be available this July 1st. Both Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa are free-agents this offseason, they are best friends, and looking to play on the same team at some point in their career, according to many news outlets. Both would excel in the Eastern Conference, and especially under the Islanders system that promotes speed, skill, and two way play. For those who haven’t watched them play, Gaborik is probably the fastest player in the league, and Hossa is exceptionally fast as well. Both are smart two way players, and would thrive in an offensive minded system. If the Islanders can offer them both 7 years at $6.5 million, and limited no-trade clauses, they might accept a pay cut and join so they can be together on a team with young-talent. Obviously this is just fun, positive minded speculation, but it could really be feasible if the Lighthouse Plan passes and players see the positive vibes coming from Long Island! The Islanders have the cap space to get it done, and I am sure Garth Snow wouldn’t mind signing two players entering their prime in order to speed up the re-build and fill the seats of the Coliseum, and eventually the Lighthouse. These two wingers would be top-line wingers together, and they still wouldn’t take away roster spots from the young guys like Okposo, Comeau, Bailey, and Figren who are coming up the ranks. In fact, imagine seeing Bailey playing in between Hossa and Gaborik! Anyway, take the last few sentences with a grain of salt, as they are just fun speculation that keeps us Islander fans sane during a rebuilding season. If they happened, great for us, however we must keep our heads on the ground and only remember that this is just dream-filled speculation for fun!
I hope I was able to answer the questions I proposed in the beginning. I really do believe that the Islanders are finally grasping this system, and are showing success when they execute it. They really have grown since day one, which is a good sign, and they really are playing as a team that believes it can win. If they can continue the play, and then get the boost from returning injuries, the Islanders may surprise many. Obviously I am having these positive thoughts after a few pretty decent games and it is a long season, but it’s a Monday morning, and there needs to be some positive light coming from somewhere! As an advocate of the plan that Snow has, I would love to see Tavares in an Islanders uniform, however, no one controls how well the Islanders play but themselves, and we might be in for a surprise! As always, please feel free to leave comments and questions in the comments section, as they are greatly appreciated! You can also email me at [email]Justin@IslesNation.Com[/email] if you would like.
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