Yes, indeed, despite the promise of impending labor Armageddon and a prolonged work-stoppage, your friends at Puck Daddy are previewing the 2012-13 NHL season (whenever the heck it starts). Why? Because this is the most important election in the history of all-time ever, and you need to know the candidates — like the New York Islanders.
Wade Dubielewicz's pokecheck on Sergei Brylin on an Easter 2007 afternoon was the last bit of excitement regarding the Stanley Cup playoffs for the New York Islanders. After bowing out to the Buffalo Sabres in 5 games in the following week, the Islanders haven't come close to returning to the postseason. In the five seasons since, they've finished No. 13, 15, 13, 14 and 14 in the Eastern Conference as GM Garth Snow's rebuild continues with the franchise stockpiling top-10 draft picks.
Last season, there might have been a change in leadership with a healthy Mark Streit taking over for the retired Doug Weight as team captain, but injuries were the same old story. After leading the NHL in the "man-games lost" category in 2010-11 with 614, the Islanders ended the 2011-12 campaign with players missing 351 games -- an improvement, but still one of the highest in the NHL. It was another season where the idea of the "future" was being pushed and Islanders fans were still wondering where their team might be playing after 2015.
Hoping for good health, can the Islanders make strides up the standings in the Eastern Conference?
"Either you're with us or you're asbestos..."
The two biggest moves made by Snow during the off-season were bringing in defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks and signing Brad Boyes. Visnovsky was acquired during a trade on Day 1 of the NHL Draft and after a dispute over whether or not his no-trade clause still existed, he's officially Islanders property. Boyes, a 43-goal scorer in 2007-08 with St. Louis, signed on for one season at $1 million. It's a simple "low risk, high reward" signing that's worth the gamble if he can reclaim his scoring touch.
P.A. Parenteau took advantage of being on a line with John Tavares and netted 120 points in two seasons on Long Island. That success allowed him to sign a 4-year, $16 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche after negotiations with the Islanders couldn't get anywhere.
Two of the key players in the Feb. 2011 brawl with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Micheal Haley and Trevor Gillies, will not be back. Haley signed a 2-year deal with the New York Rangers, while Gillies took his talents to Vityaz Chekhov of the KHL, where he should fit right in. The Islanders replaced that toughness by bringing in Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton, who know a thing or two about dropping the gloves.
With the likes of Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson coming through the system, netminder Al Montoya was expendable and signed on with the Winnipeg Jets. Also not re-signed were defensemen Mark Eaton (UFA), Milan Jurcina (UFA) and Dylan Reese (Pittsburgh). Veteran forward Steve Staios, who played his 1,000th NHL game in April, retired and joined the Toronto Maple Leafs front office.
At forward … Talking about the Islanders' offense begins and ends with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. The pair have been Nos. 1 and 2 in points in each of the past two seasons. Moulson has blossomed since coming to Long Island and has put up the quietest 97 goals since 2009-10. Tavares has done nothing but improve since his rookie season in, coincidentally, 2009-10. He's made linemates in Moulson and the departed Parenteau better and he'll face the same task if Boyes ends up on his wing.
Michael Grabner cashed in on a contract season with 34 goals (6 shorthanded) and 52 points, but came back to Earth last season finishing with 20 goal and 32 points, with just one shorthanded tally. He, along with Frans Nielsen (17 goals, 47 points) and Kyle Okposo (24 goals, 45 points) will be part of an important second line for the Islanders. Unless they get support from their depth players, the top-six will once again be carrying most of the weight offensively.
Two of the Isles' recent top-10 picks haven't fared so well. Nino Niederreiter, No. 5 overall in 2010, struggled mightily in his first full NHL season potting just one goal in 55 games, while Josh Bailey, No. 9 in 2008, was the only forward outside of the top-six to score more than 10 goals. Fans have been waiting for Bailey to break out one of these seasons and while he produced only 32 points, he did net 18 of them in the final 20 games of the season after moving to the wing, giving some hope for this season.
Finally, can Matt Martin break his own single-season hits record after dishing out 374 of them last season?
On defense … Mark Streit will get some offensive support in the form of Lubomir Visnovsky and another puck-moving blueliner to add to a top-10 power play.
The Islanders were 27th in the league last season in defense allowing 3.06 goals per game, but have enough players in the system to better that ranking in the near future. The duo of Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic provide a solid shutdown pairing and will continue to be relied upon in tough minutes.
Carkner will provide the sandpaper and a mix of Matt Donovan, Calvin de Haan, Ty Wishart and Aaron Ness will fill in on the third pairing.
In goal … It's Evgeni Nabokov's net for now as Poulin and Nilsson get more seasoning in both Bridgeport and in spot duty with the big club. The 37-year old signed a 1-year extension in March and took over the starting role from Al Montoya after being sidelined with a groin injury in November. Meanwhile, Rick DiPietro played just eight games last season as injuries once again derailed his attempt at completing a full season. His presence will continue to be background noise as his contract remains on the Isles' books, but with two kids almost ready for primetime, what DiPietro's future holds is a question mark. Amnesty (if negotiated into a new CBA)? Buyout? Permanent backup?
Remember the glory days...
Jack Capuano was brought back as head coach after taking over for Scott Gordon and drastically improving the team in the final months of the 2010-11 season. With a mix of veterans and young players, Capuano isn't afraid to hold anyone accountable. Remember when he iced five defenseman during a shift in April after the forward group weren't carrying their weight? But knowing expectations aren't all that high, how long of a leash does he get?
Snow has been rebuilding the Islanders for five years now, but his hands have been tied by owner Charles Wang. As the team searches for an arena solution with their lease at Nassau Coliseum running out in 2015, the purse strings have been tightened and the payroll has been barely above the salary cap floor. Inexpensive solutions and young players have been used to fill voids in the roster with the inability to lure bigger free agents blamed on the Coliseum's outdated facilities.
Whenever the Islanders name a captain after Mark Streit leaves (his contract is up this season), John Tavares is likely in the drivers' seat to have the "C" attached to his jersey. His offense has improved in each of his three NHL seasons and when the he signed a 6-year, $33 million deal in 2010, it signaled that the 2009 No. 1 overall pick would be the face of the franchise for a long time to come.
One day, we're all going to wake up and Frans Nielsen will have won a Selke Trophy. One day, my friends.
Visnovsky had a very busy off-season, one that gave the impression he didn't want to play on Long Island. He said all the right things to the press and he'll have plenty to prove in the final year of his contract. But after a freakish 18-goal, 68-point season in 2010-11, he ended up with 6 goals and 27 points last season after a broken finger cost him time. Will this just end up being another Evgeni Nabokov place with Visnovsky enjoying his time (and role) with the Islanders and contemplating an extension after this season?
"The fishing industry. Unpredictable. Unstable. From season to season, never knowing whether there will be a bounty or a bust on the treacherous seas.
"Aquafresh toothpaste. Not Crest. Not Colgate. Struggling for market share every quarter, hoping to keep workers making multi-colored mouth cleaner.
"The New York Islanders used to celebrate these American institutions. Now, it's all about black hockey jerseys and unapologetic greed.
"The Fishsticks Jerseys. Bring'em back, for their sake.
"Paid for by Trawlers for Healthy Teeth."
While they're trying to allow some of their youngsters to gain experience, the results will be hard to come by playing 24 games against their Atlantic Division rivals. The Islanders will need better starts -- it was in the double digits the number of times the Islanders allowed a goal on their first shot faced -- if they're to scrape themselves off the bottom of the conference. But without any significant investment in acquiring upgrades up and down the lineup, it'll likely be another cellar-dwelling season. The only positives to come out of the 2012-13 campaign will be good news on the arena front and the continued development of their bevy of prospects. Oh, and Hockey Canada finally calling up Matt Moulson for World Championships duty.