BT's 2008-09 NHL Season Preview: New York Islanders
Preface: We're in the home stretch now, and I think I'm panicking.
My original goal was to have the season previews done by October 4—the opening of the NHL season overseas.
Well, as I've been taking Saturdays off from the previews this month, I took last weekend off, and I'll be away next weekend attending the University of Western Ontario's homecoming, I'd have to do two today, two tomorrow, one Friday, and then one per day every day next week to make it in time.
I guess we'll see what happens...
Well, I'm now playing second-fiddle to Alan Bass.
He got to the Atlantic Division and the New York Islanders before me. Way before me. As in, I was in California (not literally) covering the Pacific division, while he was breaking things down and stealing my headlines.
I got really jealous. That and his little tagger at the end of his articles is better than mine. I may quit and try writing for Oprah or The View out of depression now.
Just kidding. I think.
Anyhow, let's give this a shot. Here's lookin' at you, Alan.
Roster Additions: Mark Streit-D (F.A.), Doug Weight-F (F.A.)
Roster Subtractions: Bryan Berard-D (F.A.), Josef Vasicek-F (Europe), Miroslav Satan-F (F.A.), Wade Dubielewicz-G (Europe), Ruslan Fedotenko-F (F.A.)
How did 2007-08 go? 35-38-9, 79 points, 13th in Conference, fifth in Atlantic
2008-09 Goal: Top twelve in conference.
Let's break'er down...
Dee Karl and I both have the 2002 Playoffs entrenched in our minds. We don't know it, but we became almost like brother and sister during that year—a very estranged brother and sister mind you.
There was the hit on Michael Peca: Like a brother and sister, I loved it, she hated it.
There was the hit on Kenny Johnnson: Like a brother and sister, I loved it, she hated it.
There was the fact the Leafs won the series: Like a brother and sister, I was elated, while she was crushed at the idea that that could have been her team's year too.
Then Martin Gelinas happened, and we reunited in our sorrows. I don't like Martin Gelinas very much.
Some people might think that what I just told you was only written to fill space before we get to the actual breakdown.
They'd be right.
Little Ricky, how's your hip?
"Attention ladies and gentlemen. Now entering the third year of a fifteen-year contract, your starting goaltender for the 2008-09 season....RICK DIPIETRO!!!"
That should be something along the lines of the introduction the Rick receives entering this season.
Over the past few years, DiPietro has looked like he can be the goalie to take the Islanders back to their glory days. Going into last season he was working on back-to-back 30-win campaigns, and one of the best save percentages (.919) of his career.
Last season, though, injury problems—like seemingly every year before—caught up with DiPietro. After suffering through various lower body ailments and a late-season neck injury in 2006-07, DiPietro hoped he could stay healthy. Well, a knee injury and a hip surgery later, DiPietro was shelved for the season with a mediocre save percentage (.902) and fairly high goals-against average of 2.81.
If DiPietro can stay healthy, then the Isles have a goalie capable of 30 wins, and consistent enough to post a goals-against average in the neighborhood of 2.30, while keeping his save percentage around .910.
If DiPietro can't stay healthy, though, the load will fall to former Canadien Yann Danis, who'll be barely adequate as a spot-starter, while Joe MacDonald may only be effective for four or five games.
Granted, Wad Dubielewicz wasn't the most experienced option, but he was certainly a commodity proven—to an extent—to have as DiPietro insurance. Now, if No. 39 gets hurt, his team will be in trouble.
Ollie Ollie Oxen-Campoli!
On the back end, the Isles' defense is a mix of youngsters who need to prove themselves, and mediocre NHL defenders.
Granted, the Islanders went out and signed the 61-point-producing Mark Streit, but 34 of those points also came on the power play. Although his strong skating will come in handy, don't expect Streit to produce at the same rate this year—especially with the possibility of him being a one-hit, 30 year-old wonder—or be what the Islanders need to survive in their own end of the ice.
Both Brendan Witt and Andy Sutton provide a big, physical presence on the back end for the Islanders, but neither will put up a ton of points. If they can be consistent on the back end and play some steady D, then the Isles may be in an adequate position.
Radek Martinek is another fairly underwhelming veteran defenseman, who could rack up between 13 and 17 assists this season, with a few goals to go along with it.
Chris Campoli is one young defenseman that I'm excited to watch this season. Campoli really came into his own in 2005-06, when he registered nine goals and 34 points over the course of his first full NHL campaign. Following a year split between the AHL and the NHL, Campoli looked to be back on track for the Islanders, with 18 points in the first 46 games of last season, before his time was cut short by shoulder surgery.
Campoli looked to be getting back on track last season, so it wouldn't surprise me to see him come in close to the 30-point plateau once again this year.
Bruno Gervais is another young D-man who could turn in a solid season on the Island. He's poised, and can move the puck fairly well—but he still has a little ways to go before he develops into a consistent NHL-calibre defenseman. Granted, the concussion late last season didn't help, but if Gervais can overcome that, look for him to continue his improvement from last season.
Freddy Meyer is also another quality late-pairing guy who can provide some consistency for the Islanders from the blue line.
The Islanders also have two young defensemen who could benefit from seeing regular NHL time this season.
Dustin Kohn is a big-bodied kid who'll benefit from filling out a little still. He's developed a solid offensive game in the WHL with Brandon and Calgary, and also had a solid debut in the AHL with 12 points and plus-nine rating in 62 games.
Jack Hillen, the puck-moving defenseman coming out of the WCHA, really came into his own last season with Colorado College, and could surprise people for a few games this season, despite his small stature.
Okposo or Ocho Cinco? Oh, and Oso Cinco is five bears in Spanish, I think
The New York Islanders have three veteran forwards that—if this were 2000-2003—would give them one of the top line combos in the NHL, and a quality two-way center.
After Mike Sillinger's solid 59-point campaign in 2006-07, people wondered if his fall-off would be imminent the following season, or if he could maintain some semblance of that form.
Unfortunately, Sillinger fell hard, posting 26 points and a minus-10 rating. With the influx of young talent in Long Island, don't expect 'Sills' to really step it up this season, especially with a reduced role.
Bill Guerin and Doug Weight got their wish—to play together one more time. After spending 2006-07 together in St Louis, Guerin fled to be the leader of a young Islanders team, while Weight split the year between the Blues and Ducks.
Weight was fairly ineffective last season, netting only 11 points with St Louis, and just 14 points with the Ducks, while Guerin was a little more successful, posting a 23-goal season—but that came along with a minus-15.
All three of those players are hitting the "over the hill" period of their careers, so if you're expecting hard-core contributions from them on the scoresheet, you might be disappointed.
As far as other names go, I'm really intrigued by Trent Hunter. Over the past four years, Hunter has been the definition of inconsistent. In 2003-04 Hunter scored 25 goals, tied up neatly with 51 total points. The season after the lockout, Hunter posted a measly 35-point season, with only 16 goals. Hunter followed up the next season with a 20-goal season, but had another 35-point showing thanks to a poor showing in the assists column.
Last season, Hunter became a bit more of a playmaker, but struggled to sore goals finishing with 12 (41 points overall). I personally believe that this will be the season Hunter puts it back together, and we maybe see another 50-, or even 60-point season from the much-maligned winger.
Mike Comrie is the other big scoring threat on this team who hadn't been born by the time the Watergate scandal got President Nixon indicted. Last season, Comrie posted a solid 49-point season, and could be inching his way back to the 60-point range, as he'll spend his second-consecutive full season in the same system—something he hasn't done since his Edmonton days.
Blake Comeau and Frans Nielsen may be primed to start their ascension through the Islanders' ranks. Blake and Nielsen are both solid playmakers who are going to have to continue to work hard as they make their way through the organization. But they could easily pair up with a guy with a goal-scoring mentality—possibly Trent Hunter?—and create a pretty flashy second line.
In his brief Islanders' career, Sean Bergenheim is starting to develop into a strong third-line player, who—if he adds some bulk and finds a little more offense—could really become a fan favorite on the Isle.
One hockey name you might recognize on this roster though might be that of Tambellini—Jeff Tambellini (yes, the son of Steve). Once a pick of the L.A. Kings, Jeff does what he can to work beyond his size and perform both offensively and defensively once he steps on the ice. If his scoring rounds into form at he NHL level, Tambellini could be great if surrounded by the right players.
The biggest gem in this equation though, is Kyle Okposo. The 20-year old had a solid debut with the Islanders last season (five points, plus-three in nine games), and is in the forefront of the Islanders' plans in the future.
Although his production could tail off to 30 or 40 points his first full season (or two) in the NHL, Okposo will be the name and the face of this franchise going forward—and a feisty leader the Isles may not have seen since Brian Trottier.
So what's it all mean?
The New York Islanders have struggled to find consistency the past few seasons. They've had their highs, they've had their lows, and they've also been mired in between.
If the Isles do end up locking up a top-five pick in the draft next season (and not trading it to Toronto—although I did appreciate that), then drafting a big, strong centerman could be the key to moving up in the division. Or a stud defenseman.
Either way, the Islanders have depth (Especially in the likes of Richard Park, Jon Sim, and Ben Walter, all of whom I neglected to mention), but the quality just isn't there yet to compete.
With a few more pieces and a few more years though, the Isles could find their way back up the standings.
And I mean, they've got the time—DiPietro is there for another 13 years.
Fifth in Atlantic
But that's all nice and dandy in knowing what I think, but what about the aforementioned Dee Karl?
Frankly, her knowledge of this team puts me to shame. Just sit back and enjoy this...trust me:
Yes, all eyes are on Rick DiPietro, our Bionic Goalie. But truth be told, he has the makings of a Hall of Famer. When he's on—he's DEAD on! When he isn't, well, let's just forget about those games.
Jon Sim will be a man possessed. I saw him so many nights standing in the tunnel in a suit, eyes burning to be on the ice with the team. He will fly and and surprise. No two ways about it. Trent Hunter is just "damn good" as is Richard Park, our short-handed goal scorer. They are consummate hockey players who produce when they're needed.
You touched on a few of my personal favorites, and considering that I AM the Seventh Woman, I am allowed to have favorites and not just be objective. Campoli and Gervais needed each other. They are BOTH home-grown talents that deserve a year without injury so they can shine. One always looks for the other.
I hope that Scott Gordon realizes it. Bruno and Chris are like matched bookends. They don't even need to see each other. They just know where the other is. They will be very important to the Islanders this year.
My boy Sean (Bergenheim)—as I have been calling him since he's 18 and was our first-round draft pick—has come very far, and with luck and ice time, will continue to impress. Hell, the man impressed Scotty Bowman.
He's got the feet, he just needs to work on his hands. And by the way... he can't bulk up any more than he has. He's a brick wall on the ice. (Campoli could use a few cheeseburgers though, since he's been out so long.)
Jack Hillien could be one of Garth Snow's best pickups. I just loved the way he skates. So close to the ice. He is unique.
You hit the nail on the head with Kyle. He will be the face of the franchise. I hope they are not pushing him too much. Blake Comeau has a great shot and a great attitude, and he clearly may overshadow Jeff (I've got the Islander bloodlines) Tambellini. But that's why it's a game. Every day things change.
Joey MacDonald may not be the best back-up goaltender for certain situations, but I'd take him in a brawl any day. He's got a fire that will scorch if it has to.
Guerin and Weight... well... we'll have to wait. They are both excellent hockey players. And they are warriors. If they have to play through pain, they will.
Witt is in a class by himself, and Comrie, to me, is an enigma. Sorry. We can only hope that Hilliary Duff is in the barn every night, because he seems to play better when she's there. But to be fair to the man, he played hurt last season.
Our most important asset this season will be Scott Gordon. The Islanders have found themselves an "x's and o's" coach who can teach, instruct and plan. When they tell me that there are now THREE computer monitors on the coach's desk, I can tell this is a man that has an attention to detail that we were so lacking.
No, we have no superstars on the NY Islanders. But what you will end up seeing is hockey as hockey should be played. With passion and desire. Hey... in this game, some days WILL beats SKILL. And that's what I'll hope for.
Ladies and gentlemen...your Islanders virtuoso!
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. If you'd like to read more of his work, you can check it out in his archives.
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