Thursday, October 9, 2008

A SEASON'S PREVIEW: EXUBERANCE V. WISDOM

Much has been made of the Islander's roster going into the start of the 2008-2009 season. It is most certainly a rebuilding year, with young talent that is finally ready for a shot at the big time. But what does this really mean for the Islander's hopes this season? Let's take a look at some of the good points and the bad points and then predict where things might end up.



Does rebuilding really mean that the Playoffs are out of reach?

The simple answer is, No. The Islanders just like any of the 30 teams going into this season, have a shot at making the Playoffs. What are the realistic chances? Well, I hate to rain on the parade but I'd rather see youth get served and the team come together as a group this year, rather than make the Playoffs. If it happens, it is just a bonus. That's not to say that I hope they don't, I really hope they do. But, it will take a Herculean effort and some healthy bodies to get there, which leads into the next point...

What will it take to keep the team healthy, especially the man between the pipes?

Last season, we all witnessed the devastation that can be wrought by injuries to a hockey club that relies on the team and not individual players to compete every night. The second half of last season was a microcosm of everything that could have gone wrong for the boys in Orange and Blue. What's most disturbing is the surgeries that Rick DiPietro, now entering his third year of a fifteen year deal, had to endure during the summer. He had not faced game action since March, until Monday night in Florida! What this means for the beginning of the season is the coaching staff needs to be cautious with Rick. As much as I understand he wants to play all 82, Coach Gordon needs to rein him in and let him know how he can best help the team. That means staying between the pipes and listening to the coaching staff on when to rest. Is it plausible with tight team defense and by limiting the amount of quality chances Ricky sees every night that he could play more than 60 games? Sure. Is it the right course of action? Most definitely, no.

As for the rest of the team, especially the defense which also suffered debilitating injuries down the stretch (Andy Sutton, Brendan Witt, Chris Campoli, Bruno Gervais) as well as some of the forwards (Mike Comrie, Mike Sillinger and Billy Guerin), proper precautions must be taken to keep these players healthy. The injuries that occurred were mostly of the "lower body" variety (minus Campoli and Gervais) and mainly were hip or knee problems. Already, as the Islanders enter the new season, two of the top six d-men are already nursing injuries, Sutton and Campoli. Reports of Sutton's recent hand surgery may keep him out until the second week of November, while Campoli may return sometime later this month from what can vaguely be termed as "general body soreness". If the training staff can't get the injuries under control, this will be a very long season.

How much does a introducing a new coach factor in to the equation?

Having met Scott Gordon briefly on August 20th at the Islanders Open House and what I've seen at training camp and during the preseason, one can only gush at the prospect that under Coach Gordon this team will thrive. The biggest difference between Scott and Ted is that Scott is a very vocal and systems-oriented coach. Right now, that is the exact person who needs to be navigating this ship. Things will get rough during the season. It's just a matter of how the coach handles those rough spots and gets the players through them that will define this season's success or failure.

Old dogs can learn new tricks?

With the additions of Doug Weight and Mark Streit the Islanders may be the oldest, young team I've ever seen. A gaggle of players including Weight, Guerin, Witt, Sillinger, Streit, Sim, Sutton, Martinek and Park are all over the age of 30. That's 9 out of 18 skaters who will be asked to perform in very important roles this season. If these players can perform at the levels they have in the past and pass on the knowledge to the younger generation of Islanders, then this will be a successful season. If they can't, well you know...

Unbridled youth...time to learn the ropes.

There are still several younger players on the roster that will need to prove why they are the future of this team. Two definitely need to prove why they're here: Kyle Okposo and Jeff Tambellini. I'm not quite so worried about KO. He has the potential to be a legitimate Calder Cup candidate and seeing 40-50 points out of Kyle is not out of the question. The real question lies with Tambellini. Will he put up the numbers now that Ted Nolan is no longer coach? For the record, you can't judge by the preseason where the only number he put up was 5 (shots that is). So, in fairness to Jeff, here is my prediction: 20 G, 18 A for 38 points. If Tambellini can come close to those numbers, then Garth's faith in him will be justified. If he is no where near the pace required by mid-December, I think it will be time to send him packing.

Final Prediction:

With all the offseason moves and the stress on youth and rebuilding, this could be a tough year for the Islanders. However, if and only if, they get off to a fast start, which means of the first 15 games, they win 9 (which is completely possible coming out of the gate), they will have a shot at the playoffs. If they don't, then most likely by the All-Star break, you might see some new faces in the lineup. My prediction (and I hate doing this) for this season is a finish between 8th-12th place in the Eastern Conference. For those of you thinking they will be in the Tavares/Hedman sweepstakes, you need to start rooting for Atlanta.

Next up...hopefully prior to the puck drop at The Rock tomorrow night, I will be going over the rule changes for this year's NHL season, so when you see them you'll be in the know.


Photos courtesy of Islanders.NHL.com (Rich Stieglitz) and HotStoveNewYork.com

For Questions, Comments and Bonehead Calls e-mail me at DougD84@optonline.net.

1 comment:

Walt Webb said...

Just thought I would say hello. The Leafs are rebuilding this year too, much like the Islanders.
Walt AKA All Sports on the Web
All Sports on the Web