September 19, 2009
NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy: Fifteenth in the Eastern Conference. Fifth in the Atlantic Division (26-47-9, 61 points). There were very low expectations in Islanders Country for the 2008-09 season. While many fans might have pretended to want to see the team show some signs of life, they were really chanting "Tank for Tavares" in the back of their minds. Helping their campaign to have a shot at John Tavares(notes) was the fact that the team was hit with the injury bug yet again, something that they've fallen prey to since the end of the lockout.
At the end of the day, New York finished last in the National Hockey League, won the Draft Lottery, wound up with Tavares and now enter the 2009-10 season with expectations of progress. There's also the looming specter of the Lighthouse Project, owner Charles Wang's vision of a revitalized Nassau Coliseum and the area that surrounds the 37-year old arena. It's a project that's seemingly been supported by every politician in New York, but the process of approvals has been delayed constantly by the Town of Hempstead. Wang has set a date of October 3rd, the same day the Islanders open up at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as the deadline before he begins to seek other options.
The game of political hardball takes it up a notch this coming Tuesday when the Town of Hempstead has scheduled an important re-zoning hearing on the project. Tuesday also happens to be the same day that Wang and the Islanders are in Kansas City to play the Los Angeles Kings at the tenant-less Sprint Center.
With their arena issue in the background, the Islanders '09-10 campaign will attempt to be one of progress and show signs of whether or not head coach Scott Gordon matures from someone who can manage young talent to one who can develop it. Youth is all around on the Islanders and their fans are expecting steps forward in a season that's vital in more ways than one.
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): Rick DiPietro(notes) and his never-ending string of injuries forced Garth Snow to go out and sign not one, but two veteran net minders in an attempt to sure up a position that should have been set for another 13 years or so.
Eyebrows started to rise about DiPietro's future when Snow went out and got Dwayne Roloson(notes) on a two-year contract. A one-year deal wouldn't have sent Islanders fans into a panic, but two years was what Roloson wanted. Further adding to the crowded crease in Uniondale, Martin Biron(notes) played the free agent game and lost big-time signing a one year, $1.4 million deal after thinking he'd be able to snag a much better contract. Biron could be a useful trading chip should DiPietro recovering fully at some point this season.
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): Mike Sillinger(notes) finally closed the suitcase for good, retiring after a well-traveled 17-year career, spanning 12 teams. His veteran presence will definitely be missed in the Islanders locker room.
Also departing and making room for the Islanders kids was journeyman Andy Hilbert(notes), veteran Dean McAmmond(notes) who was acquired from Ottawa in exchange for Chris Campoli and Mike Comrie(notes) last February, and both back-up goaltenders to Rick DiPietro, Yann Denis and Joey McDonald.
Introducing ... (Potential Breakout Player): The future of the Islanders is in the hands of John Tavares (okay, and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray). Hope seeped into the hearts of Islanders fans as soon as they won they draft lottery. Hundreds showed up to a prospect mini-camp at the team's practice facility in July. It's all about John Tavares. If he turns into Wayne Gretzky, then the glory days will return to Long Island and maybe they'll remain on Long Island. If he ends up like Alexandre Daigle, then call the Mayflower trucks because the Islanders are a franchise that does not need any more disappointments than they've had in the last 15 years.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): When Mark Streit(notes) signed a 5-year, $20.5 million contract with the Islanders last summer, many thought it was an absurd amount of money for the then 30-year old blue liner. In his first season on Long Island, Streit showed his worth by leading the team in assists, points, time on ice, power-play goals and representing the team at the All-Star Game in Montreal.
Aside from Streit, Radek Martinek(notes), Brendan Witt(notes), Freddy Meyer(notes), Andy Sutton(notes), and Bruno Gervais(notes) make up a blue line that's added to the incredibly high total of man-games lost since the lockout. Health is a major concern.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): There sure are a lot of goalies on Long Island, eh? If there's one thing different about the Islanders crease this season, it's that it's dramatically improved. Dwayne Roloson guided the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals three seasons ago and is still a capable goaltender as he proved last season starting 63 games, posting 28 wins and a .915 save-percentage. Biron has put up good reg2lar season numbers, but has struggled in the playoffs.
The Inventor (The Coach): Entering his sophomore year as head coach, Scott Gordon's task is to now cultivate the young talent he has from Kyle Okposo(notes) to Josh Bailey(notes) to John Tavares and help them grow into productive parts of the Islanders roster. Gordon stuck to his mindset of playing the kids last season, making some veterans like Brendan Witt unhappy in the process, but that plan falls in line with how Garth Snow wants to build the franchise. (It's also the same mindset that Ted Nolan didn't agree with causing him to be let go last summer).
2009-10 Preseason Report Card:
Goaltending: B- (Two established starters can instill confidence in the defense)
Special Teams: CCoaching: C (Young coach has to build on rookie season)
"Prediction? Pain. Clubber Lang would have waved the white flag on LI long ago. Isles are missing a bonafide enforcer. Scoring...not much. Defense...besides Streit, shaky as DP's knee. Sure, they are a good bunch of kids collected, but serious deficiencies will make it a long season. Coach Scott Gordon might have a 3 year deal, but year 2 we will see what he is really made of. Anything out of the bottom 5 in standings will be a step up."
"The 2009-10 season will probably be a long drawn out affair with a few good performances predictably ending in total disaster. Kind of like the movie Titanic except instead of Kate Winslet's boobs we get Rick DiPietro's knees."
"Simply put the Islanders are in the playoff hunt up until the ref drops the puck on opening night. The addition of John Tavares makes them a team to watch and with the goalie situation in better shape than last year the team will undoubtedly win more games. I wont put them in the NHL basement but lets just say I wouldn't be putting a deposit down on Islander's playoff tickets"
Don Draper Says ...
What is a Lighthouse if not a beacon of hope, a way to guide a rickety vessel into the safe harbor without meeting your maker on a rocky shoreline? This is more than just 5.5 million square feet of new mixed-use development and a state-of-the-art arena for Charles Wang, gentlemen; this is our ancestors bravely sailing by a single star in order to find their own Wangs.”
Results May Vary (Biggest Issues Facing the Team): Where they'll be playing hockey in five years is the issue facing the franchise, but for the on-ice product it's whether or not the youngsters develop properly. With the two-headed monster of Biron and Roloson in goal, the Islanders will be better than last year, provided they stay healthy. Garth Snow has stuck to building from within and developing through the draft. Now that the youngsters are gaining experience in the NHL, it's time for them to show something.
Warranty Expires (Prediction): It's likely another cellar-dwelling year for the Islanders at the bottoms of both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, but it won't all be dire straits. John Tavares should plant a seed of hope and give the team a chance to have its first 25-goal scorer since Jason Blake's(notes) 40 tallies in the '06-07 season.
If the Lighthouse Project eventually gets approved, ensuring hockey on Long Island for years to come, then the on-ice results may be quickly forgotten about amid the rejoicing fan base.