BT's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews: New York Islanders

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BT's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews: New York Islanders
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

While I should be getting today off (It's Labour Day here in Canada...I'm not up to date on United States Holidays), I'm working.

That's right. Like every musician, dog-walker, or lady of the night we don't have to work, but we do because we care.

Or something like that. I mean, at least those people get paid for what they do—I'm just some lonely guy who can't stop writing.

Awkward.

 

New York Islanders

2008-09 Record: 26-47-9, 61 points, finished 15th in East.

 

Additions

Dwayne Roloson—G (two-years/$5 million), Martin Biron—G (one-year/ $1.4 million), and John Tavares—F (2009 NHL Entry Draft).

 

Subtractions

Mike Sillinger—F (Retirement), Yann Danis—G (FA), Joey MacDonald—G (FA), Thomas Pock—D (Europe), Joe Callahan—D (FA), Dean McAmmond—F (FA), and Andy Hilbert—F (FA).

Before we get started, I forgot to include the links to the previous Divisions in my rant above: We've already gone through the Pacific, the Northwest, and the Southeast.

The New York Islanders are building towards something they haven’t done in a very long time, 16 years in fact.

Winning a playoff series.

Although there’s a long way to go for the Islanders, as they begin to integrate their young stars into the NHL, they’re certainly making strides along the right path.

For a lot of the players, this is a very important year. For the sophomores, it’s a confidence building year after finding out that they could play at the highest level last year. For the rookies, such as John Tavares, this could be the year where they realize a dream and take the first few steps in the NHL.

Hopefully New York (or Hempstead…or wherever the future lies) steps with them towards a bright NHL future.

 

They’re Chock-Full of Something All Right

I guess you can say something for the preparation of General Manager Garth Snow.

I don’t know how many more ways there are to say this, but Rick DiPietro just has no clue how to stay healthy.

Whether it’s a hip or a knee, ever since DiPietro drew headlines with his 15-year contract (and even a little before that), the key for DiPietro has been staying on the ice.

Apparently someone swallowed that key.

After some people recently saw him on crutches at an Isles' summer skate, one thing is for sure: No one knows when we’ll see DiPietro back on NHL ice in game action.

So while the Isles’ All-Star, yet oft-injured keeper sits on the sidelines, Snow’s foresight and preparation have paid off with the acquisitions of Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson.

Both goalies saw No. 1 ice time over the past season and both, while not upper-tier netminders in the NHL, can win games for their clubs.

Biron has the advantage of playing on teams that have gone deeper into the season in Philadelphia the past few seasons, as well as the fact that he is younger than Roloson, although Rolo offers great experience and past successes to a young Islanders' team looking for a leader.

For all anybody knows, DiPietro could be in true game shape early on in the season and slowly worked into shouldering the starter's load once again, with two steady goalies behind him.

That, or he comes back for four games and gets hurt again.

 

"Streit" up, I'm at My "Witts" End

Last year, I wondered if Mark Streit, a 30-year-old defender who had just come off of a career year, during a contract year, was for real.

Truth be told, I had my doubts.

Turns out Mark Streit was more than for real. For a team that struggled to stay healthy and battled consistency, Streit was the healthiest (he played in a team-high 74 games) and most consistent (he led the team in points with 56).

Even more surprising may be that the offensive specialist even shared a hand in leading the defensive responsibilities with a team-leading Plus/Minus rating of five.

While Streit continues to maintain his status as an offensive dynamo on the back end, Islanders fans will have to wait for their future mainstays in Calvin de Haan and Aaron Ness to round off their top-pairing.

Brendan Witt may be one of the most hot-and-cold players in the NHL today. When he’s hot, Witt hits with the best of them and can play on an even keel, defending his zone. When he’s cold, however, he turns in seasons like his slow-footed -32, including a team worst 34 power play goals against when he was on the ice.

Granted Yann Danis' and Joey MacDonald's inexperience defending an NHL power play may factor into this, but of the top-10 defensemen in shorthanded ice time over the course of the season, Witt’s goals-per-minute average was higher than just one of them—strangely enough Greg Zanon played 100 minutes more shorthanded than Witt did.

Rounding out the core of experienced defensemen is Andy Sutton. Sutton has great size at 6'6"-245 lbs., but he’s slow-footed and finishing last year off with a broken foot (he missed the last 50 games of the regular season) won’t help. Sutton also has a bit of a problem staying healthy, having only played more than 70 games once in his career.

As it seems that Radek Martinek has peaked in terms of production (10-15 points is where he maxes out) and effectiveness, the Islanders have finally started to build up depth through youth.

While Jack Hillen may not be big (or bad) on the blueline, Hillen has the ability to get the puck out of the zone and cycle it up to the forwards. The former U.S. College star has the opportunity to develop his game and at worst could turn into a solid, low-pairing puck-mover.

From the same mould is Bruno Gervais. A smaller puck-mover, Gervais began to display his abilities last year, raking in a career-high 19 points.

While Gervais can still develop into a solid defenseman capable of playing in all situations, he still needs to prove he can stay healthy. To this point in his career, Gervais has missed double-digits in games three times due to injury—one per year for the past three seasons.

Freddy Meyer may still have an impact at the NHL level in him, but it’s all in if he’s able to stay healthy. If not Dustin Kohn has the opportunity to perhaps sneak into the bottom of the rotation, while Mark Katic or Mark Flood may get the same chance.

 

A Tease of Tavares

The only Islander forward that anyone is going to be talking about this year is John Tavares. Whether he flounders or flourishes, implodes or explodes, lights it up or turns it out, Tavares is now the toast of the town.

So much so that if you say he can learn something from Sidney Crosby, Isles Fans jump to his defense. Even though I didn't say anything bad about him.

With that said, it’s impossible to gauge how a new star such as Tavares may adapt to the new league. He may flourish like Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, or Patrick Kane, but he may also struggle early on, or even for the full season like Steven Stamkos.

However, the goal-scoring guru, drafted out of London, will find no shortage of players to line-up with.

Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey are two players that would help make a formidable first line for the Islanders alongside JT. Okposo was the leading goal-scorer for the Isles last year with 18, so he and Tavares could form a dangerous wing combination centered by Bailey.

Bailey undoubtedly has the smarts and poise to be saddled with that kind of a task, while his vision and creativity will be invaluable in getting his linemates the puck.

After the three big guns, there are a host of young forwards left to fill out the second line, as well as garner some lower line ice time.

Frans Nielson has impeccable passing skills which would be best put to use alongside big-time shooter Sean Bergenheim (who had a surprising five game-winning goals last year) and a mucker like Blake Comeau.

Jeff Tambellini has the speed to burn his opponents off the wing, but currently listed as 5'11"-186 lbs., Tambellini will need to become tougher and a little bigger to avoid being completely outmatched physically.

Depth-wise Richard Park is back to chip in 25-30 points, but he’ll be playing with a re-tooled third and fourth lines, which may feature Trevor Smith, Tim Jackman, Matt Moulson, Jeremy Reich, and Nate Thompson.

Rookie-wise, it’s hard to get past John Tavares, but Jesse Joensuu has the best chance of any forward whoe number is not No. 91 to make an impact as a rookie. From there, Sean Bentivoglio, Justin Dibenedetto, or Bobby Hughes have to go above and beyond to prove they belong.


So What Does It All Mean?

Youth is a hard thing to compete against. While I firmly stand by the fact that not everyone lucks into a Steve Mason or a Carey Price, not every team is as fortunate as the Chicago Blackhawks who have had it all come together very quickly.

The forwards are in place, but they still need time—most have spent (or a portion of) one season in the NHL, and for many that just isn’t enough. Defensively, the Isles just need to stay healthy this year, but going forward they need to develop more and target top-four defensemen instead of miscasting their depth options.

In net, it’s simply figuring out if Rick DiPietro can still be counted on to lead this team.

If he can’t, unfortunately the Isles will have to look beyond Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson as neither are long-term options.

The pieces are there, but they're simply still growing until they find their fit.

 

Fifth in the Atlantic


Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, or you can email him at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.

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