I thought today would be a good day to play a little fact vs. fiction regarding the 2008-09 New York Islanders and some statements you read in the media.
1. This will be a rebuilding season for the New York Islanders.
This team was very competitive all last season in its own division, aside from some self-inflicted damage by its own special teams against Philadelphia.
When you lose games to Pittsburgh with Crosby and Malkin putting on a skill show that's over-matched, when you lose three one-goal games because of a Laraque shorthanded goal, a Ruutu goal, a bounce off Brendan Witt late in a game with a 52-shot loss to Ty Conklin, this is not being over-matched.
When you open a combined 9-0 against the Rangers and Devils and win both season series with two more MSG wins in March and April, this is not being over-matched.
When you go 0-8 against Florida and Boston you are not going to make the playoffs.
Another reason is that this team has too many veterans here at this time playing for their careers on one-year contracts. Then you also have a lot of defenders in their 30s signed to longer-term deals.
For the veterans on one-year contracts, they are not passing through or marking time because if they struggle now this could be the end for them.
If the club enters the second half well out of contention then you will see some veterans traded and a little rebuilding. But for now this team is playing to win with a lot of players like Tambellini, Gervais, Campoli, and Bergenheim who are not kids anymore. They have had years of seasoning and it's time to produce or move on.
Also a little reality check for those in the media who go back to the late '90s to start any current discussion of the club. New York has been to the playoffs in four of the last six years and stayed competitive with a lot of flaws last season.
This is not one of the franchises in this league that starts poorly and is so far out of contention the competitive part of the season is over by Christmas—aside from 2005-06 where it was clear the club was in a free fall.
2. Rick DiPietro must have his workload reduced and a set schedule because he cannot stay healthy.
The schedule and the days off in the second half combined with more road trips make this year different from last year where the Isles never got a break because they were off most of October. On top of that, the injuries he had in 2007-08 were different than the injuries he had in 2006-07.
To lay out a set schedule of games and a target number now for March is pointless because he may be completely healthy and a lot of this also depends on his workload in games.
If his shots against continue to drop as they did last season he will be more durable. If he has to stop over 30 shots a game and carry the club it will take a larger toll.
3. This team will struggle with injuries.
Many players on this roster (especially on defense) are not going to play 82 games because it's not their career track record. Up front Guerin, Comrie, and Sillinger all played hurt or missed significant time, and Doug Weight is no stranger to injury.
That's when a Colliton, Walter, or Nielsen (whoever does not start the season here) will sink or swim because they will have to step up and be a factor.
Sutton, Witt, Martinek, Campoli, Gervais, and Meyer have all missed significant time with injury and some of them will be injured again.
4. Islanders lack the speed to keep up.
If Scott Gordon thinks this team is going to stay in games playing wide open hockey, then he has not watched the tapes of Guerin, Sillinger, Hunter, and Weight. This is not a fast roster and it's something Ted Nolan talked about often. Plus, those players are not getting any younger or quicker.
My biggest concern is what Montreal did to them last season in the open ice and what Ottawa has done for years to dominate them head to head. Western Conference brings a lot more skating clubs into the mix that the Islanders did not play a year ago.
5. This team lacks a true enforcer.
Tim Jackman and Joel Rechlicz are not NHL enforcers. Does that mean the Islanders should have made a play for Eric Godard to occupy a spot on the fourth line? No,
because a team this limited on offense with a lot of third and fourth line players cannot afford such a luxury.
The bottom line is that in games like this the Islander wingers along with Witt, Guerin, and Sutton will have to fight their own battles.
6. This team will drop from the race because it cannot score.
How much worse can the club do after last year's roster scored two goals or fewer for 14 games in a row?
At times this was called the worst offensive club in the team's history statistically, and yet going into January they occupied a playoff spot.
If they can stay in the race with Vasicek going through his 30-game scoreless streak along with most of the roster being scoreless at various times, they should be able to survive with the kids if a few players step up.
When does it become fact? If the players who won the jobs do not produce as much as the players who left, and the players who struggled last season pick up right where they left off—struggling.
7. The powerplay will be terrible.
It's a different year and some different players at the point and up front who did not get the chance a year ago will now get that chance.
Berard, Bergeron, Fedotenko, Satan, and at times Vasicek were a big part of the powerplay. Streit will be on this club's powerplay, but needs another reliable pointman and a far better second unit on the backline.
8. Okposo has to have a big year at a very young age.
Fair or not, Okposo has to give this team 20 goals, 40-plus points, and be far more visible than Satan. Park and Hilbert are not the answer if they are in that spot for any length of time, and you do not get that kind of player in a trade unless you give up something of value.
There is no right wing in Bridgeport that can play in the club's top six until Robin Figren comes over, unless Marcinko or Joensuu change positions or Tambellini, Comeau, Bergenheim change wings, which does not seem in their best interest.
I think if Okposo is not ready or productive he has to go down and Garth Snow has to trade for a veteran right wing. The fact is for this to work Okposo, even at his age, is a key. Otherwise someone else who can produce 20 plus goals must be in that spot.