At Monday’s press conference, the Islanders introduced new acquisitions Jon Sim, Ruslan Fedotenko, Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin. GM Garth Snow held the surprise of the day in his hands as he approached the podium, said a few words and handed Guerin his new # 13 Islanders jersey with the captain’s “C” sewn into place. So, the Isles have named the 11th captain in team history, a fine choice in my humble opinion. What now?
After the initial panic, Snow and company have put together an impressive string of signings to replace departed free agents such as Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Vik … ah … TIMEOUT! Time for some therapy, Isles fans. By now, you know who left. So do I. So does he, she, it, et al. No sense rehashing old news, right? Besides, they’re GONE and it’s time to move forward. Okay. Therapy – over. In any event, the roster has started to take shape but, while naming a captain is usually something done when an entire team has been assembled, I’m not so sure the 2007-08 Islanders are ready to take the ice just yet. Let’s take a look at who’s returning to the team and what to expect from them. I’ll leave it to the masses to speculate as to what might come between now and training camp in a couple of months.
Two returning forwards who will continue to be relied upon for scoring are Mike Sillinger and Miroslav Satan. While Sillinger was perhaps the most consistent, well-rounded Islander last season, playing every game in all situations, notching 26 goals and 59 points and was among the league best on faceoffs, Satan continued his career trend of being a very streaky player – the model of inconsistency at times. One night, Miro can dominate a game with the best of them. The next, he can be downright invisible. (In this era, I am not sure there has been a single player that has had that said about them more than Satan.) Statistically, Satan produced almost identically to Sillinger, with 27 goals and 59 points, but there’s just something about his game that is screaming to break out and reach the 40-goal plateau as he did in 1998-99 for Buffalo. Will Comrie boost Satan’s production? If they get the chance, there just might be something there. As for Sillinger, expect a similar, consistent effort from the consummate professional.
Andy Hilbert and Richard Park return as valuable role players who muck and grind in typical Ted Nolan fashion. Both men, Hilbert’s early season goal drought aside, scored in clutch situations as well. Park’s 2-goal performance in the season finale against New Jersey was as clutch as clutch gets, though it has rarely been mentioned, what with the Islander playoff berth clinched later that day in a shootout and all … Look for both men to spend the majority of the upcoming season on the fourth line, continuing their roles as unsung heroes.
A big difference in the upcoming season may just be made by a couple of youngsters in Sean Bergenheim and Jeff Tambellini. Returning from a season overseas, Bergenheim looks to build on the brief success he had in the 2005-06 season, when a poor Islander team saw increased ice time for prospects. By all accounts, Nolan is thrilled with the chance to work with the speedy Bergenheim and, personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sean notch 20+ goals as soon as this season. Tambellini showed up at a recent Islander prospect camp in peak physical condition and should crack the opening day lineup this season for sure. With 115 points in 106 career American League games, expectations are lofty for the former Kings first-rounder. Tambellini has an outstanding shot and played the point on the power play at the University of Michigan. While the latter may not happen as a pro, though it is possible, there is little reason to believe that Tambellini won’t one day find his name on the score sheet at the NHL level as consistently as he has in the AHL. Could that day be just about upon us?
A couple of questions that I have right now revolve around two of the longer-tenured Islanders on the current roster: Shawn Bates and Trent Hunter. With Bates, it’s pretty simple. When healthy, he’s an awesome, all-around contributor and a player that fans can really get behind. The problem, unfortunately, is that he has never played a full season in the National Hockey League. Injury frustrations for Bates reached an all-time high last season as he appeared in just 48 games and scored just 10 points. Bates will be forever remembered in Islander lore for his game 4, game-winning, penalty shot goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2002 playoffs (as well as for a stellar, 52-point output that year) but it remains to be seen if he can rebound from recent injury woes and become a key cog once again. Hunter’s name, interestingly enough, has been conspicuous in its absence from the team roster at www.newyorkislanders.com
. A simple oversight? Maybe. But Hunter’s restricted free agent status, coupled with being mentioned in multiple trade rumors this summer, leaves us wondering whether Trent is in our long term plans. He reached the 20-goal mark for the second time in his 4-year NHL career last season and appeared to be on the verge of becoming a real complete player. Still, something in my gut just keeps telling me that we may have seen the last of Hunter in an Islander uniform.
The toughness factor will almost assuredly be answered with the impending re-signing of Chris Simon. A longtime favorite of Nolan, it was never really in question as to whether or not Simon would get another chance with the Isles after his season-ending suspension for a slash “to the face” of Ranger forward Ryan Hollweg. (Points of clarification – one: I still am not completely sold that Simon’s target was Hollweg’s face so much as Hollweg in general. The debate lingers – maybe. Two: the suspension has not been totally satisfied as of yet, with 10 games and a date with Gary Bettman looming before Simon can once again take the ice.)
As of right now, it does not look like Arron Asham will be back with the Islanders. I have argued for some time now that, in the right setting, Asham could score 20+ goals consistently. Unfortunately, it appears as though that will have to happen elsewhere.
Other forwards in the Islander system who may see some time this season include newcomers Sean Bentivoglio, Kip Brennan and Darryl Bootland, as well as Bridgeport mainstays Jeremy Colliton, Blake Comeau, Masi Marjamaki and Frans Nielsen.
The top-six, as of now, rounds out about like this by my calculations (in no particular order): Brendan Witt, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Chris Campoli, Bruno Gervais, Radek Martinek, Freddy Meyer. After a year of getting to know each other, We know what we can expect from Witt. His nasty, bruising, gritty style was a welcome addition to the team (and a swift kick in the rear for opponents: ask Jaromir Jagr.) We can only hope for more of the same from this grizzled vet. Snow’s acquisition of Bergeron made an immediate impact on the Islander power play but, as much of an asset as he was offensively and with the extra man, Bergeron’s play in his own end left a bit to be desired at times. Still, I quickly became a fan and I expect big things from # 47 this season. Take care of things at home first though, okay Marc? Campoli and Gervais built on impressive rookie campaigns in their second seasons and could be along the Islander blue line for a long time to come. (Although, like Trent Hunter, I keep hearing Chris Campoli’s name in summer trade talks. Hmm …) Meyer played well after being acquired from Philadelphia but a late season injury made him unavailable for the playoffs. The jury remains out on Frederick Meyer IV (incidentally, my favorite name in all of hockey.) That leaves Martinek, who endeared himself to Islander fans in his rookie season (2001-02) when, after being named the game’s first star, the inexperienced Czech literally took a complete victory lap around the Nassau Coliseum ice, kisses to the crowd and all. There’s a sight that I won’t soon forget. Postgame dramatics aside, Martinek has been steady from the start on the ice and improvements in his game have been visible. But Martinek too has had his share of injuries. Some – like the broken leg he’s still nursing – of the freak variety. You can’t help but wonder if he might just be one of those unfortunate, injury-prone types, not unlike Shawn Bates.
The defense, as currently constructed, appears solid. The one thing that sticks out to me with this group as a “top 6” is inexperience. After Witt and Martinek, the eldest member of this bunch is the 26-year-old Bergeron. (Don’t expect a salt-and-pepper, Scott Niedermayer-like playoff beard from Bergy anytime soon.) This would explain the Islanders-after-an-experience-Dman rumors that have persisted all summer.
Seemingly everyone’s first choice is former Canadien Sheldon Souray. Paired with Bergeron on the power play? Scary! Paired with Bergeron in the defensive zone? CAPITAL SCARY!
Andy Sutton, Bryan McCabe, David Tanabe, Bryan Berard and (gasp) even Janne Niinimaa have also been mentioned.
Others that may get the call to the Islander point some time during the season could include recent signee Matt Spiller, formerly of the Phoenix organization, tough guy Drew Fata or even first-year pro (and former Moncton Wildcat under one Ted Nolan) Andrew MacDonald.
Well, we all know who’s starting, right? (Insert lame, overplayed, far-too-easy-even-for-a-Ranger-fan Rick DiPietro 15-year contract joke here.) Seriously, there aren’t many concerns from the majority of the Islander faithful as far as Ricky goes. (That whole head injury thing aside, of course.) This summer’s Islander goaltending news came when late season hero Wade Dubielewicz earned a well-deserved promotion as DiPietro’s backup. Dubie has done everything asked of him and more when called upon for the Islanders and has done yeoman’s work in Bridgeport in recent seasons. Dubielewicz’s job in Bridgeport will now fall to former Detroit top prospect Joey MacDonald, who was signed from free agency recently as well.
Plenty to talk about regarding the Islanders this off-season yet again but, so far, I’ve only heard once so far, within my Islander circle, what might just be the key to this team for a long time to come. The way this team is being set up – speed, grit, toughness, balanced scoring – the Islanders will go as far as Rick DiPietro will take them. Food for thought, anyway.
So, what’s left to do? Could be plenty. The hockey (under)world has been buzzing with talk of a big Islander trade in the works. Is Hunter involved? Campoli? Is this where the experienced defenseman will come from? What holes might be left after such a deal?
With just under three months left until the 2007-08 regular season, there’s still plenty of time. Amidst all the doom and gloom after the departures of, you know, whatever their names were, there’s still a real solid bunch coming back from last year. Add in the likes of Sim, Fedotenko, Comrie and Guerin, as well as the potential production from young guys like Bergenheim and Tambellini and what could be a true breakout year for DiPietro and things really aren’t so bad, are they?
Our team, folks, will be just fine. Guerin’s the captain – the unequivocal leader of the team – and if the other 19 players dressed night in and night out follow in his footsteps, we’ll have every chance in the world to be successful.
When that happens, if you haven’t already, you’ll forget all about that group of players who thought they’d be better off elsewhere.
Hell, I can’t even remember their names …