John Tavares (left) and Rick DiPietro (right) will be pivotal keys to the Islanders success for years to come.
As part of a continuing series, writer Benjamin Benya will be previewing all 30 NHL teams over the next two weeks in preparation for the 2010-2011 regular season.
Continuing in the East, we have the New York Islanders.
Key Additions: D James Wisniewski, D Mark Eaton, D Milan Jurcina, LW P.A. Parenteau, C Zenon Konopka.
Key Subtractions: G Martin Biron, RW Tim Jackman, D Brendan Witt, RW Richard Park, LW Sean Bergenheim, D Freddy Meyer.
The New York Islanders made it fairly apparent at the start of last season that they would be completely rebuilding the franchise around a new figurehead: John Tavares. As the 20-year-old sensation enters his second year with the team, the Isles are continuing slowly but surely towards greener pastures.
In the offseason, when most teams hoped to make a splash, the Islanders simply tested the waters by building a stronger defense while drafting a top winger to play with their developing youth core. Overall, however, the team’s talent base is still far from contending with the beasts of the East.
Starting with Tavares, who had 24 goals and 50 points last year, the team is built more for learning than it is for scoring. Easily one of the youngest teams in the league, The Islanders expect players like Blake Comeau, Josh Bailey, and Kyle Okposo to keep up their strong play. Bailey and Comeau will likely compete for second line spots and 40-50 points this year while Okposo is primed to net 60-70 as he gets better with age.
The biggest surprise for the Islanders last year was Matt Moulson, who led the team with 30 goals playing alongside Tavares. For Moulson, a full season on the top line could prove him to be the biggest breakout star on the team. But anything less than his first season numbers would be a disappointment and he will face competition from promising rookie Nino Niederreiter.
Doug Weight is returning to the team as well, albeit on an expiring contract. Weight’s stock has dipped tremendously since he finally won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Weight has not played a complete season since 2006-07, and last year, in 36 games, he had only one goal. At age 39, Weight may be better dealt at the deadline than kept if he stays healthy.
Defensively, New York took a step in the right direction by gaining no less than three defenders in the off-season who will eat up a lot of minutes. Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina both come in from contenders that simply didn’t have the cap space to keep them. Eaton brings a Stanley Cup ring and big game experience along for the ride while Jurcina was more of a misfit in Washington last season.
The Islanders crown defensive jewel, however, remains the moderately paid Mark Streit. After a huge season with the Habs in 2007-08, Streit inked a long-term deal with the Isles and hasn’t disappointed. He’s a proven number one defensemen now born almost entirely out of necessity.
New York also brought in another experienced veteran, James Wisniewski, to take more pressure off of Streit. Wisniewski had career highs in assists and points last year and is just about to hit his prime. The Isles will also return Radek Martinek and Bruno Gervais, each of whom has been through the worst of times for the franchise.
In net, we simply can’t avoid the elephant in the room going by the name of Rick DiPietro. DiPietro’s notoriety in recent years as the 15-year man with very little playing time has left the Islanders with little option other than to channel new goalies for the team. That said, DiPietro may finally be ready to readjust to the NHL if he can finally put all of his injuries, and personal misfortunes, behind him.
The Isles will need Rick to recapture the numbers he had in 2006-07, the second year after the lockout, in which he was 32-19-9 with a 2.58 goals against average and .919 save percentage.
If DiPietro is again a menace, the Isles' goalie hopes will rest on Dwayne Roloson. Roli the Goalie played well last year in just over a half of season of work, but his age, 40, and general skill level when facing the Flyers, Penguins, and Devils multiple times a season could be called into question sooner rather than later.
In the weeks leading up to the 2010 NHL Draft, New York Rangers fans hoped and prayed that the Rangers could somehow land Nino Niederreiter. Imagine the reaction when not only did Nino evade them, but he was instead selected by the Islanders. The Swiss-born Niederreiter has incredible speed and skill and if he can elevate his game to the pro level quickly, he might be the perfect linemate for John Tavares and Matt Moulson.
Though the Islanders are heavy on youth and heavier on aspirations, they play in one of the best divisions in hockey and consistently find themselves behind the eight-ball in net. One healthy season from players like Weight and DiPietro could only stand to help the youngsters. Fifth in the Atlantic, 14th in the Eastern Conference.