As a general rule, I am done with making predictions as they pertain to the world of sports. This offseason, I had a blog titled, "Ryan Smyth WILL Remain an Islander." I also predicted that the New York Mets would once again run away with the National League East Title. (Ugh.) On the demerits of these two statements alone, I should be permanently banned from any and all future sports prognostications. But mainstream NHL media outlets have forced me to stick my neck out there once again because, when it comes to the New York Islanders, nobody else has the guts to give this team any respect.
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I specifically have a problem with The Hockey News, whose recent history with the Islanders had them so destined for the golf course late last season that they completely left them out of their playoff preview. Later, they called the Isles signing Ruslan Fedotenko, "The worst free agent signing of the summer," while glaringly omitting, just like all the others, the ludicrous 7-year, 51.5 million dollars that Scott Gomez (and his 13 goals) will get from the Rangers. I can't wait to see just how poorly that works out.
Historically, I am a big fan of The Hockey News. I've been a subscriber for well over a decade and have very little to complain about overall (Adam Proteau's whiny column and the constant Islander-bashing notwithstanding.) But what has me irked most recently, what has me willing (against my better judgment, based on my history alone) to once again make a prediction for the upcoming season is the way this publication (and others) gently toes the line between a love affair with Ted Nolan and pure hatred for the Isles. Far too often we've seen comments like, "We'd never bet against Ted Nolan but ..." before completely bashing the Islander roster. If you'd never bet against him, DON'T! Have the guts to say that he will get this team into the playoffs yet again this year. You know what? He will. There, I said it ... and it felt good!
A recent article (may have even been The Hockey News again actually - sorry, no time to check sources now ... ah, the freedom of "blogging" ...) said that the current Islander roster is actually perfect for Coach Nolan. It actually reminds me a hell of a lot of the Buffalo team that Nolan led to a 92-point season en route to his Coach of the Year nod. ***Editor's note: Credit to Douglas C. for the correction on Nolan's Adams Trophy-winning season. I had previously identified it as the 1999 season, where the Sabres made the Cup Final. Lindy Ruff, of course, was behind the Buffalo bench by then.*** Of course, this article too went on to bash the roster, saying something to the effect of, "If Nolan gets this bunch back to the postseason, he'll be a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy." Fair enough. Frankly, I thought he deserved more consideration last year. Postseason hardware is always nice.
Another thorn in my side and part of my motivation for writing this morning is something I heard on XM 204 just a few hours ago. Scott Laughlin made quick mention of the "much improved" Washington Capitals and specifically cited the additions of Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti. Wow. Wasn't it just last year that the Isles were so harshly criticized for bringing in these two? But now the Caps are so heavily praised for signing the same two guys? And I don't want to hear any arguments about the difference now being that these two men turned their careers around last year. Why? For starters, where'd they do it? Long Island. Under whom? Ted Nolan. Who's to say he won't do the same with a guy like Fedotenko or a Josef Vasicek or an Andy Sutton or, assuming he is finally signed, Bryan Berard? Kozlov and Poti are ... Kozlov and Poti. We're not talking Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey here. Settle down ...
So, my predictions? I'll only go as far as the Atlantic Division, in the interest of time and in the interest of avoiding another complete botch-job on my part. In reverse order of finish:
5) Philadelphia Flyers: Added firepower in Danny Briere - or did they? The Flyers are improved (how couldn't they be?) but I am of the opinion that Briere was a product of the system in Buffalo and he will struggle to adjust to Philly and the added pressure of a monster contract. Other names like Timonen and Hartnell, Smith and Lupul all look good on paper as well but, as we've seen in the past, this kind of dramatic roster change doesn't always bode well. And sophomore head coach John Stevens might not conquer this beast of a challenge.
4) New York Rangers: Yeah, that's right, Broadway - 4th in the Atlantic. How's that taste? Rivalry-ignited undertones aside, everyone and their mother has the Rangers running away with the East, or at least the Division. I don't see it. King Henrik will slump, Jagr will sulk, Shanahan is a year older, Avery will dive (as will Ryan Hollweg, my new favorite love-to-hate candidate) and the Rangers will disappoint. And what of a defense? Is it there? Oh, and those new guys they brought in? Chris Drury is a stud, no doubt. But I've already said what I wanted to say about Gomez ... now you watch it happen. Roughly $423,000 per goal ... nice investment.
3) New York Islanders: You probably thought I'd have them at the top, right? I wear orange and blue-colored glasses but they aren't that tinted. By all accounts from camp, this is a tight-knit group. We keep hearing how this guy and that guy and new guy and old guy are all "Ted Nolan-type guys." Rick DiPietro will emerge as a top-5 netminder in the league. Bill Guerin, a real captain, will influence in the room and on the ice. Mike Comrie will have a monster year (and will sign a long-term contract.) And the Islanders will finish with 95 points, good for 3rd in the division and 6th or 7th in the conference. I wouldn't bet against Ted Nolan. So, guess what? I'm betting on Ted Nolan.
2) New Jersey Devils: Some are expecting a fall from grace from the Atlantic Division's model of consistency. Those same folks have been predicting this fall for half a decade now. It's not happening. The Devils may struggle early, coming together under new coach Brent Sutter and starting the season on a 9-game road trip, but they'll get it together like they always do, play a slightly tweaked version of the same old system (say what you will about it - clearly, it works) and, oh yeah, they have some guy named Brodeur in net. (Side note: sad to see Arron Asham go to our tri-state foes. I've always said this guy can pot 20 if given the right opportunity. And now we miss out on the perpetual Asham vs. Janssen battles. Oh well.)
1) Pittsburgh Penguins: I'm on the Pens bandwagon, at least in terms of the regular season. I say Sid's crew takes the Eastern Conference by storm, led by 87, of course and an improved Marc-Andre Fleury, and runs away with the President's Trophy. I also say, however, that they are ousted in the first round by a more experienced group. (Tampa comes to mind, who I think barely sneaks into the playoffs after another up and down campaign.) Big things are in store for this dynasty waiting to happen. But every budding champion has to experience the heartache of failure and disappointment before they taste glory. (Right?)
There you have it - flawless predictions from Nostra-Jon-mus. (If these flop, I will retire ... promise.) I just may be the only one with the grapefruits to be so bold. (Or I could just be crazy. We'll see.) But I've laid them out for you here, on October 3rd. Hopefully, the "I told you so" will be forthcoming.
As for the Isles, no, they don't wow you on paper. I'll give you that. But, as we've come to learn so clearly over the years, "on paper" means nothing. (Just ask the Mets.) I challenge the mainstream media and The Hockey News in particular to find a writer with the guts to make bold predictions - not just the same old safe bets. Of course, according to them the Islanders weren't even in playoff contention last year. Maybe they were napping.
And yes, Mr. Jason Kay, editor of said Hockey News, I am available ... and will be that guy ... should you ever choose to fill such a position ...
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