New York Islanders
On Long Island it’s been another offseason full of turmoil. The fan base has had to deal with the future unknown of their franchise as Nassau County voters declined to say yes to a new arena for the club. They also had to deal with their general manager Garth Snow acquiring the rights to Christian Ehrhoff before he became an unrestricted free agent, then turned them down to go to Buffalo. Needless to say, it isn’t always easy being an Islanders fan, but for the first time in a long time the organization has some good, young talent.
The question for the Islanders heading into this season is do they have what it takes to finally make a run at a playoff berth? The Isles haven’t been to the post season since 2006-07 where they quickly exited in the first round as a number eight seed.
The current roster is littered with youth. John Tavares returns for his third NHL season and looks to improve on his 29 goals and 67 points from a year ago. Kyle Okposo should be fully healthy after missing most of the season with a shoulder injury last year. Michael Grabner will look to prove to the hockey world that last season was not a fluke, scoring 34 goals in his first full season. Matt Moulson will look for his third consecutive 30 goal season. Being a number one overall pick, Tavares is expected to continue putting up numbers. Moulson has been so impressive for two seasons now, and Grabner exploded onto the scene last year. Whether or not those players continue to produce will be key to New York’s success.
Garth Snow always has difficulty luring big time free agents to the island, but he was able to make a trade for Brian Rolston. Despite Rolston’s slow start last season in New Jesey, he came on strong towards the end of the year. Rolston can provide valuable depth and exceptional leadership for a young squad that’s looking to learn what it takes to be a consistent winner in this league. Rolston will be relied on heavily to replace the newly retired Doug Weight in that department.
In goal the Islanders look for a healthy season of Rick DiPietro. The former first overall pick in 2000 hasn’t played more than 65 games in any year during his nine season career. Former Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov will report to training camp, and based on DiPietro’s history would it really shock anyone if he won the starting job? This position is a complete question mark right now for the Islanders, but the DiPietro of old, or a strong year from Nabokov could play a big role in the team’s success.
The blue line is still a huge question mark, even with the return of Mark Streit this season. While Streit’s leadership and offensive ability will help, New York still lacks a snarl and tenacity on defense. In one of the toughest divisions in hockey the defensive depth could be the downfall of the Islanders playoff hopes.
The Islanders should be a team that is close enough to believe they’re in contention for the post season come the trading deadline. Improving on their 73 points from a year ago shouldn’t be hard to do, but likely still won’t be enough in a difficult Eastern Conference.
New York is oozing with skill and young talent, but still lacking in experience and physicality. The Islanders are likely a few pieces away, but their organization is finally headed in the right direction.