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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Match We'd Pay To Watch
Rick DiPietro against Mr. Glass from Unbreakable in a "Just Don't Fall Anywhere" match.
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.
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?