30 Teams in 30 Days: Isles turn to Tavares

TSN.ca Staff
9/3/2009 1:34:05 PM
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Join TSN in a 30 teams in 30 days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Teams will be unveiled in reverse order of the pre-season TSN.ca Power Rankings, and the New York Islanders are up next at No. 28. Get the lowdown on their off-season, the issues they face this season, and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. Use the Your Call feature to give us your take on the Islanders!

2008-09: 26-47-9 (15th in the East – Out of Playoffs)
Pre-Season TSN.ca Power Ranking: 28th
General Manager: Garth Snow (3rd Season)
Head Coach: Scott Gordon (2nd Season)

What They Did In The Off-Season:

The Islanders took a big step in the right direction when they chose centre John Tavares first overall at the NHL Entry Draft in June.  The team then solidified their goaltending situation by signing two of the top netminders available on the free agent market. Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron will compete for the No. 1 role on Long Island as incumbent Rick DiPietro continues to recover from knee injuries.

Biggest Issue Facing The Team:

For the first time in years, there are reasons for optimism on Long Island.  New York's "other" team suffered through a horrendous season that saw them finish dead last in the NHL with a mere 61 points. Meanwhile, the face of the franchise - netminder Rick DiPietro - was lost for the season (and quite likely much longer) with the umpteenth knee injury of his career. There were plenty of questions raised regarding the viability of the franchise after owner Charles Wang revealed the staggering financial losses he had suffered since acquiring the team in 2000.  Wang said he regretted buying the team in the first place and threatened to move the franchise to Kansas City. All in all, just another dismal year to be an Islanders fan.

But all of that changed on June 26, when the Isles used their first overall draft pick to select the player they feel will lead them out of the doldrums and into a brighter future - John Tavares.

Tavares' scoring exploits are common knowledge to hockey fans.  He was named the CHL Rookie of the Year in 2006 after breaking in at the age of 15. He broke Wayne Gretzky's mark for goals by a 16-year-old with 72 and was named CHL Player of the Year in 2007.  He has twice helped to lead Canada to gold medals at the World Juniors and broke Peter Lee's 33-year-old OHL record with 215 career goals. In short, Tavares is as close to a can't miss prospect as you can get.

That being said, Isles fans should not start planning the Stanley Cup parade anytime soon.  The team's scoring depth, for one thing, is woefully thin. Defenceman Mark Streit led the team last season with 56 points. Rookie Kyle Okposo finished a distant second with 39 points and a team-leading 18 goals. To put that in perspective, seven members of last season's Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins scored at least that many.

There is simply a lack of NHL level talent on the forward unit. If the team decides to stack the top line with Tavares, Okposo and veteran Doug Weight, the remaining three lines will be a collection of untested prospects and professional journeymen. The one upside of this is that it means the future is now for players like Tavares, Okposo and Josh Bailey. They will be force-fed with ice time and will be given every opportunity to prove the franchise's faith in them.

The Isles may not compete for a playoff spot this year, but giving their young prospects an opportunity to develop at the NHL level, paired with another likely high draft pick, means that brighter days should be ahead. At this point, that's something that the team's long suffering fans would welcome.

Player To Watch:

Perhaps this should be 'player to not watch' - because with the signings of Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson, it seems like the Isles are preparing for the possibility that Rick DiPietro will not see the ice this season. 

While it's difficult to feel sorry for a multi-millionaire athlete who is set for life (thanks to a 15-year contract signed three years ago), you do have to wonder if 'Slick Rick' isn't cursed. Multiple knee and hip injuries, along with reported concussion problems, have sidetracked what appeared to be a very promising career. His most recent knee injury limited him to only five games last season and virtually sunk the Islanders entire campaign before it began. 

To their credit, the club was proactive in the off-season in seeking insurance for their lineup. General manager Garth Snow, a former goalie himself, went out and signed two of the top three available free-agent netminders in Roloson and Biron.  Both players are signed to short-term contracts and each has been a No. 1 goaltender before. The competition should be fierce, as both men look to prove that they should be considered the No. 1 man between the pipes this season. That particular battle should allow a young Islanders team to at least remain competitive this season as they build towards the future.

Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:

Surely, if there is to be any great hoopla about any New York Islander for fantasy will be on first overall draft pick John Tavares, the junior scoring sensation.

While Tavares could prove to be a big-time scorer, expectations have to be held in check as he joins a team with a marginal supporting cast and Tavares' game generally requires someone to get him the puck rather than dangling on an end-to-end rush. As such, Tavares will be much more valuable long-term for those in keeper leagues, but his immediate value this season isn't likely to warrant early fantasy selection.

Read more of Cullen's Fantasy Analysis and view the Islanders Projected Depth Chart!

Snow and Tavares (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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