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Sean Leahy

NHL 2010-11 Season Preview: Wrestling with New York Islanders

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

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Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene...

Last Season (34-37-11, 79 points; 5th in Atlantic, 13th in the Conference)

Despite a third consecutive last place finish in the Atlantic Division, the Islanders made strides as part of their rebuild. An 18-point increase from the 2008-09 season saw them in the Eastern Conference playoff mix for a short while before things came off the rails and they skidded back down the standings.

There was some excitement to be had at the old barn of Nassau Coliseum. John Tavares(notes) scored 24 goals and 54 points in his rookie season, including a team-best 11 on the power play. Kyle Okposo(notes) continued his development into a future team captain. Frans Nielsen's(notes) two-way play opened some eyes and has some believing he's a future Selke Trophy candidate. Blake Comeau(notes) ended his season with 11 goals in his final 18 games. And journeyman Matt Moulson(notes) cameout of nowhere to lead the team in goals with 30.

There was also more of the same as Rick DiPietro(notes) came back to the Islanders crease in January and eight appearances later, shut things down for the season after more knee pain.

Owner Charles Wang's desire to renovate the Coliseum as part of his Lighthouse Project made plenty of political headlines; and while it wasn't a distraction for the players on the ice, the fans continued to be stuck in the middle wondering how the battle between Wang and the Town of Hempstead will ever be resolved.

Back on the ice, will the development of the Islanders youngsters continue or will it be stalled as the team tries to make the best out of the tough Atlantic Division?

Key Subtractions

One of the Isles' key losses was goaltender Martin Biron(notes) who crossed a bridge into New York City to sign with the Rangers. He'll be missed if DiPietro continues to be the anti-picture of health. Other than DiPi, Nathan Lawson(notes) and Mikko Koskinen(notes) would be available to spell Dwayne Roloson(notes).

Two four-year Islander vets will be absent from the roster this season. Defenseman Brendan Witt(notes), the "SUV Destroyer", was bought out and forward Richard Park(notes) signed a deal to play in Switzerland.

Also gone are depth forwards Sean Bergenheim(notes), Tim Jackman(notes) and Jeff Tambellini(notes), as well as defenseman Freddy Meyer(notes) who will fight for a roster spot with the Atlanta Thrashers.

New Additions

GM Garth Snow went out and revamped a defense that was 28th in the NHL last season with 3.15 goals against/game. Bringing in Mark Eaton(notes), Milan Jurcina(notes) and James Wisniewski(notes), the Islanders blueline now has some added size and toughness.

The NHL's penalty minute leader (265) last season, Zenon Konopka(notes) will instantly be a fan favorite with his off-ice personality and on-ice ability to get into a scrap (33 fights last season).

Forwards

Youth dominates up front for the Isles with eight forwards in the mix 26 or younger. But on a team that was 21st in goals scored last season (214), the need for guys like John Tavares, Josh Bailey(notes), Kyle Okposo among others to take that next step is vital.

Tavares and Okposo are expected to once again lead the way in the scoring department, but questions will remain throughout the rest of the forward group. Can Matt Moulson do it again? Will Blake Comeau build off of his hot end to last season? Is Trent Hunter(notes) able to stay healthy and once again be an effective power forward? How big of a leap will Josh Bailey make this year? Was the change of scenery a long-term benefit for Rob Schremp(notes)?

One name that Islander fans are eager to potentially see with the big club is last June's first-round pick Nino Niederreiter. The No. 5 overall selection will be in for a dogfight in an attempt to impress Scott Gordon.

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Wrestler(s) That Best Symbolize the Team

Haunted by the attention given to their older brother (New York Rangers), the Islanders, like Kane, have been stuck in the shadows waiting to break out on their own. The 1980's dynasty years are so far gone that there's a large percentage of the fanbase that wasn't even born when the Islanders raised the Stanley Cup for the fourth and final time in 1983.

Mike Milbury was like the mask that Kane used to wear, hiding the ugly scars. Now that he's gone and Garth Snow is in, the opportunity is there to use the "choke slam from hell" and overtake their brother from the city.

Defense

The league's third porous defense received an upgrade with the additions of Eaton, Wisniewski and Jurcina. Joining veteran Mark Streit(notes), the Islanders blueline corps should improve from their 28th ranking last season.

Filling out the rest of the defensive six will be Jack Hillen(notes) and Andrew MacDonald(notes), the only defenseman other than Dylan Reese to finish a plus player, and vet Radek Martinek(notes) who hopes to shed the "injury prone" label that's haunted him over the past few seasons.

Fighting for a spot will be Reese, Bruno Gervais(notes), Dustin Kohn(notes) and highly touted prospects Travis Hamonic(notes) and Calvin de Haan(notes).

Goaltending

Manning the crease once again will be 40-year old Dwayne Roloson on the final year of a two-year contract. New York's desired situation would be to have Roloson handle the load until Rick DiPietro proves he can be consistently healthy enough to regain the No. 1 goaltending job on Long Island.

Rolson played 50 games last year splitting time with Martin Biron and behind DiPietro are Nathan Lawson and Mikko Koskinen who have a combined zero games played in the NHL. With the new slimmed down goalie equipment this season, one of the requirements did not include the ability to use bubble wrap, so DiPietro will have to find another way to try to remain healthy.

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Match We'd Pay To Watch

Rick DiPietro against Mr. Glass from Unbreakable in a "Just Don't Fall Anywhere" match.

Breakout Player

Looking at the Islanders team stats, there are a lot of minuses in a certain category and very few players are listed without one. Frans Nielsen is one Islander who finished without one, as he was second on the team with a plus four. Unheralded for his ability as a shutdown centermen, this should be the year that Nielsen's two-way abilities are noticed by everyone outside of Long Island. When you're playing on a last place team that's one of the worst defensive teams in hockey won't help the marketing campaign, but Nielsen separated from the rest of his teammates stands out.

Potential Flop

Having played 29 games in the NHL as a longtime journeyman and then popping 30 goals in a breakout season that sees you get paid as a restricted free agent ($2.45 million), has Matt Moulson hit his ceiling?

Now that he's a known commodity teams will make sure to have a body on him. Will Moulson wilt with the added pressure to once again help lead the Islanders offense?

Finishing Move

Lacrosse has really helped John Tavares' soft hands transfer over to the game of hockey.

Special Teams

No matter how much guys like Tavares, Bailey and Okposo develop this season and how well the defense plays, if the Islanders' special teams perform like they did last year, the playoff won't even be a thought.

The power play ranked tied for 26th (16 percent) and a rookie (Tavares minus-11) and defenseman (Streit minus-9) led the Islanders in goals with the man advantage.

Shorthanded was even worse (76.3 percent) with only the Toronto Maple Leafs ranking lower than New York.

Coach/GM

Entering the final year of his contract, the pressure will be on coach Scott Gordon to continue to show progress on the ice. After two up-and-down years, can Gordon make that leap from a coach who can bring along kids to one that can take them to the next level?

There were a lot of laughs when news broke that the Islanders had hired goaltender Garth Snow to become their new general manager. Turns out that Snow is having the last laugh as he's stuck to his plan and quietly constructed an Islanders team finally moving in the right direction after years of mismanagement. By building through the draft and making the right free agent signings, Snow has assembled a young core up front with a veteran defense behind it.

2010-11 Preseason Report Card:

Forwards: C+
Defense: C+ (Wisniewski, Jurcina, Eaton additions boost a poor blue line from last season)
Goaltending: C
Special Teams: D
Coaching: C+
Management: C (Snow gets a B+, but Wang's hands-on methods brings it down a grade)

Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)

There won't be any playoffs this year for the Islanders, but building off of their 79-point effort last season will be a boost to the fanbase as they will likely continue to be stuck in the middle between Charles Wang's battle with the Town of Hempstead over his proposed Lighthouse Project.

The Islanders have plenty of room under the salary to make a needed addition should Garth Snow feel it would give them a better shot at the playoffs. Playing 24 games against Atlantic Division rivals will make that a tough feat, but should things break for the Islanders (including anything on Rick DiPietro), they won't find themselves making a lottery pick next June.

New York Islanders' Entrance Music to the 2010-11 Season

Ric Flair, Ole and Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard made up the original "Four Horsemen" stable. Josh Bailey, John Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo make up the Islanders incarnation of the "Four Horsemen", though we're not sure which pair are cousins like Ole and Arn "were".

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