This is the first year since 1996 that I just flat out have no idea how the Islanders are going to do. Remember during the wonderful Colgate-and-Stan Fischler looking jersey era the teams that we had? I pretty much knew out of the gate that we were going to suck that year. And remember when we got our real jersey's back the teams that we had ('99-'01)? Man, I DEFINATELY knew that that team was going to suck. And remember when Yashin and Peca first got introduced? I pretty much knew that the Isles were going to have a huge turnaround and be a good hockey team. And, last year, in my heart, I knew going in that the Isles were going to play much better hockey than people gave them credit for...
Obviously, there are only 3 options as to how the Islanders are going to end up:
1) They are going to be worse than last year
2) They are going to the same as last year (and 4 of the last 5 years)
3) They are going to be better than last year
And, to be honest, I just don't know right now how they are going to end up. There are WAY too many variables and questions. They have a ton of potential to silence their critics, and they could just as easily wind up in the basement. And I think that is the most frustrating thing. Will they pick up another D-man? Will Comrie emerge as a solid 1st liner? Will Guerin be the leader that we are hoping he will be, and does he have the legs to have another 30+ goal year? Will Gervais and Camper continue to grow and refine their games, and if Snow picks up another D-man who is a vet, will that vet help the kids along? Will MAB be the PP point man that we need all year long? Will Asham and Simon still be on the team, and will they provide more toughness and support than they have? Will Hunter finally become the player the I am hoping that he is and start to show more dominance on the ice? Will DP's head be OK all year? Will Ted Nolan still be the coach who can get the most out of his players?
I think that last one is the only one that I have real confidence in. And he is the only thing right now that helps me sleep at night. I guess I know the potential for this team...to yet again overachieve and make it to the playoffs. But, is it overachieving if the team actually believes that they should be there in the first place? I think that's why Nolan is such a great coach. He makes the players believe that they should be there, no matter what the "experts" say. Whatever level you think the team should be at, Nolan will make sure the players play to a level higher. Most of those questions above are up to Nolan and, of course, the players themselves. Only Trent Hunter can make Trent Hunter more of a dominant player, with some help from Nolan. What is now up to Snow/Wang and Co. is to answer some of the other questions, in particular, the question of a veteran D-man. A positive answer to that one could mean that the "experts" put the Isles in a 7 or 8 spot in the standings.
Then, it's up to Nolan to make the players believe that they are a level higher than that...