I walk to work with a kick to my step. Not that it's that great of a day. A foggy murk lays about the morning like a Yashin knee-injury. The air is humid. The city is its usual stale self. I walk outside MSG, home of our dreaded rivals. They won their first game, kicking off two lackluster periods where they were being booed by opening night fans. Chris Drury scored the gamewinnner, someone we actually bid higher than them on.
I don't sit there and pine for him or others who spurned our offseason offers. Not even for Ryan Smyth, who went to Colorado. Or Jason Blake, who wanted his rewards for his tremendous growth, despite becoming even more of a distraction while doing so. Blake will likely have a great season in Toronto, less a burden to lockerroom dynamics. Good luck to him...until he meets us that is. Then I want Chris Simon to lay him out like a wall-to-wall carpet. I even wish Alexei Yashin well in Russia. His last season crash and burn, maybe more than just injury, and I at least wondered if it was the destruction of his longtime relationship with Carol Alt. Alt was last seen on Henrik Lundquist's shoulder back in September.
I can't blame Yashin because I always thought Yashin wasn't a good fit for this team, when Milbury had this bright idea of grabbing him or Jason Allison, trying to bring a star with Charles Wang's generosity as new owner. At least Yashin was still capable of playing in the NHL, even if he chose to play back in Russia. Allison still has not even done a tryout despite words over the summer of being available. And the terrible contract only buried things further into a bad situation. So, now thats all over, and it's full speed ahead.
I want, at the start of this season, let go of those rehashed arguments, and concentrate on those who wanted to be here. Bill Guerin who looks and acts like a captain with every breath he takes on Long Island. He has looked relaxed in the lockerroom and been everything the doctor ordered thus far. Yesterday, on WBAB's short radio interview, besides discovering he is a Van Halen fan . . . the two buffoons asked him why he signed onto this "crazy organization". Guerin's response: 'So far it's been crazy good'. So, hopefully he and the rest of them will let the good times roll.
Mike Comrie has been diving into his job as 1st line center using his scoring skills and speed with aplomb this preseason. Then you have Ruslan Fedotenko who might fly under the radar in stats, but really creating many of the opportunities for his linemates with his smart plays. This first line looks as good as perhaps Garth Snow and Ted Nolan hoped when they had expectations with Smyth and others fall back to earth this offseason. This first line has the type of grit and aggression from all 3 players that has been missing over the years.
Miroslav Satan, besides in a contract year, also has always done better when Yashin hasn't been around. For a guy who Neil Smith had some disparaging words in a impromptu interview with the boys from 2ManAdvantage, he has not missed many games over the years. And recently revealed, as did Ted Nolan on the WFAN yesterday, that he played the end of the season with a fractured foot. Satan really is the key to the Isles fortunes this season. Him plus Josef Vasicek gives the 2nd line possibilities. The 2nd line must be a threat so that other teams do not focus solely on shutting down the 1st line. It is because of that, I find Andy Hilbert, an excellent depth guy with some potential offensive upside which he needs to find again, role of the 2nd line a bit surprising.
Ted Nolan's words for moving Jeff Tambellini down was that 4th line play from a potential top 2 line player simply won't work. But why then take a 4th line player who has never worked on the top two lines in the NHL, much less preseason, and place him there? Seems a mixed message that might be more to give Tambs a real lesson in being present in every game as Hilbert sits as a placeholder. Or Nolan is like Kane from Kung Fu, farseeing that Hilbert will serve better just by determination and playing his heart out, giving that 2nd line more consistency day in and out. I am still concerned at the power outage, but I do see the logic. Hilbert is a gutsy player who really needs to find that touch and not just hope things happen: make things happen. That is the difference between a 4th line player and a 2nd line player. Make the game happen by will, skill, and heart.
This really will be the mantra of the Isles this year. And what will make this season unique, now that Nolan has a more self-styled personnel. Yes, there are holes, as we noted on the defense, and as they head to Buffalo, Bryan Berard might be staying home because Snow failed to make room on the roster to sign him, refusing to let Meyer go for nothing. Meanwhile, fans would drive Meyer to the station themselves to get this done already. It is very odd and very ill-timed to have 9 potential dmen, a roster full of 8, and your projected Powerplay leader stuck on LI as a result to start a season fresh and new.
Lets hope something gets done quick there, because it is a supreme failure to have an opening night roster that is essential incomplete with people who deserve to be there. Buffalo has a full gamut and all their ducks in a row...and plan on playing their best tonight. Better be ready, willing and able to meet that.
But, to all that, despite those concerns and loose ends, I still walk tall. New season. New challenges. Mistakes will happen, its how we handle them and overcome that is the true merit of achievement.