Tonight is the night we've all been waiting for since April 14th. It's safe to say that Islander fans have been through the gambit of emotions and turmoil during last season and this subsequent offseason. Now, at the very least, we can finally see some vestiges of hope springing forth from the youthful exuberance of a young man who less than 4 months ago didn't know he would be playing in his first NHL game to a raucous Nassau Coliseum crowd. His name is John Tavares and he's an Islander...
There were very few surprises that came out of Saskatoon's training camp. However, there was one that jumped out at everyone: Matt Moulson. Whether it's his childhood connection with John Tavares or him finally making good on the talent he's been given, we'll never know. Frankly, all I want him to do is what he did during the preseason: put the puck in the net.
Enough has been said about the talent of the OHL's all-time leading goal-getter, John Tavares. Now, is the time to make good on all that talent. He's dynamic and he will make mistakes. I urge Islander fans to not see him as a savior but as a very big piece of the whole. Remember, this is a game where if the team competes together they win. If they rely on one or two pieces to get them through, they'll most likely lose. Just ask yourself, "Who scored two of the Penguins goals in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals?" Max Talbot, a third-line player who scored when it counted most.
The rest of the forward corps is pretty much all returning from last year's squad.
Josh Bailey has especially impressed me by his work ethic and willingness to make good on the promises he made after the final game last season: "I want to get stronger, put on some weight and work on my shot", he said. After an offseason that has seen Josh put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle, I'd say he delivered and you will see a marked improvement in his play this year.
Kyle Okposo is yet another player who I'd like to spotlight in his continued efforts to not only show the league that he belongs in the elite power forward category but also display that there is very solid, young leadership on this Islanders squad. If he's able to stay healthy this season, it's not out of the question for Kyle to break the 60 point barrier.
The rest of the forwards are composed of wily veterans like Richard Park, Trent Hunter and newly anointed Captain, Doug Weight. Adding that kind of wisdom to a relatively young and inexperienced group of forwards will certainly be a welcome group of voices in the locker room.
Here's where the fewest changes were made and the most mystery lies. How will an aging blueline fare in Go-Go's system. Granted d-men like Martinek, Gervais and Streit (last season's point, ice-time and plus-minus leader) will be able to keep up and probably exceed expectations, but what of Brendan Witt. I would hate for him to repeat last year's extreme minus performance(-34). I doubt this will be the case. Brendan is too proud and too much of a warrior to let a season like that happen again.
However, I think the player to watch this season will be towering 6'6" 245lbs. defenseman, Andy Sutton. Last season, Andy came to camp in the best shape of his life and his skating was markedly better than ever. If he can manage to stay healthy, this might be his breakout year. Unfortunately, if he does play well, there is a very good chance that the behemoth will end up on the trading block when the trade deadline rolls around.
When Free Agency began on July 1st, it was a sure-bet guarantee that Garth Snow would be in the market for a goalie. Well, he got his man and more. Dwanye Roloson and Martin Biron (the most surprising free agent pick up of the offseason) will be your goaltenders for the 2009-10 season (or at least until Rick DiPietro gets his act together). Both are very capable #1 keepers and the competition for time between the pipes should be fierce.
This is in stark contrast to the goaltending situation of a year ago. I'm am a huge fan of both Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis. Please, don't get me wrong here. But this is a completely different situation. When a team knows, that the goalie they have in net will bail them out when they goof up, that confidence will influence every aspect of team play.
Not only do Biron and Roloson being the stalwarts in net help on the ice, but they also allow Rick DiPietro, the former face of the franchise, to heal at his own pace and without him having to risk his long-term health on coming back too early. The situation that happened last year with Rick's knee will not be repeated and that can only make Islander fans happy that their management team is taking steps to ensure the rebuild goes forward as planned.
Nowhere in this organization has there been such a steady and educated group of coaches than the three taking the helm this season. Head Coach Scott Gordon and his two Assistants Scott Allen and former Islander Dean Chynoweth will be able to keep the system running at full speed all season. With his penchant for teaching younger players how to be professionals, Gordon was tailor-made for this job. Now that most of his core is intact, he can do less teaching of the system and more refining the on-ice product. I think this will be a very good season for these three men behind the bench.
Yes, I know. The Lighthouse decision looms large on tonight's proceedings as today is Owner Charles Wang's date for "certainty" about the Project. However, I think if tonight, the fans show how passionate and supportive they are of this team and this organization, everything will take care of itself in the end. There is no reason to panic...yet.
As far as the season prediction goes, I believe there will be a healthy improvement over last year's, Last Place, finish (61 points). With the backstoppers to inspire a young group of forwards and a "D" corps that is eager to make up ground that they lost last season due to injury I believe that the final totals will be:
10th place in the Eastern Conference, 4th in the Atlantic Division and 81 points.
Now, let's go out and have some fun and get this 2009-10 season started off on the right foot by beating the Stanley Cup Champion "Flightless Birds"!
See you at the game!
Saturday, October 3, 2009
****Whether you believe that this rebuild has taken a turn for the better or you believe that the Islanders will no longer be playing in Nassau Coliseum after 2015, means little to the hype and hope that has been generated this summer. When you combine the smart free agent moves that Islanders General Manager, Garth Snow, has made over the past two years and the excellent job of the scouting team, selecting players that fit the mold that second year Head Coach, Scott Gordon, has instituted, you have the makings of something very special. Tonight, we will have the privilege of seeing the first steps of that rebuild. Tonight, we get our first look at the future.