From now through the start of the NHL season on Oct. 4, TSN.ca presents '30 Teams In 30 Days,' a quick glimpse at each NHL club as the 2008-09 campaign approaches. Get the lowdown on every lineup, storylines to follow and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. It continues today with the New York Islanders.
It's never a good sign for a hockey team when people are more interested in what's going on off the ice than on it. That's the unfortunate case for the New York Islanders, where the high point of last season was the revelation that Mike Comrie was dating Hillary Duff.
After a promising 2006-07 season that saw the team sneak into the playoffs on the final day, the Islanders were decimated by a mass summer exodus that saw Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti and Alexei Yashin escape the Island. The additions of Comrie, Bill Guerin, Jon Sim and Ruslan Fedotenko certainly didn't give the fans a sense that better days were ahead. But the Isles surprised many by getting off to a decent start, thanks in large part to the Guerin-Comrie-Fedotenko line for the first month.
By December, things started to go poorly. Chris Simon was suspended for 30 games after attempting to stomp on Penguins agitator Jarkko Ruutu. Things got worse as the injury bug decided to take a bite out of defenceman Chris Campoli and defensive forward Mike Sillinger. It all culminated with franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro getting injured during the All-Star Game's skills competition. His play was affected by the injury and he would miss the final nine games of the season, ending any remote playoff hopes.
The team's woes then came to a head with the simmering feud between head coach Ted Nolan and general manager Garth Snow, leading to Nolan's dismissal in July.
General Manager: Garth Snow (3rd season)
Head Coach: Scott Gordon (1st season)
2007-08 Record: 35-38-9 (13th in Conference)
Points Leader: Mike Comrie - 49
Goals Leader: Bill Guerin - 23
Assists Leader: Trent Hunter - 29
PIM Leader: Mike Comrie - 87
+/- Leader: Freddy Meyer - 6
PP Goals Leader: Marc-Andre Bergeron - 8
SH Goals Leader: Richard Park - 4
What They Did: The Isles had roster holes to fill at virtually every position, and started with a boost to a power play that finished dead last in the Eastern Conference last season. The team hopes Mark Streit will build on a breakout season last year with the Canadiens where he swung between defence and forward and picked up 34 points with the man advantage. The team also added playmaking centre Doug Weight, hoping that a reunion with former Edmonton Oilers winger Bill Guerin will help spark both players to productive seasons. The team also jettisoned Fedotenko, Josef Vasicek and the underperforming Miroslav Satan.
What to watch for: One of the biggest disagreements between Snow and Nolan was what type of team the Islanders were. Snow wanted to see some of the team's prospects gain experience at the big league level, while Nolan wanted to win immediately. Snow, with the backing of owner Charles Wang, won the debate and incoming coach Scott Gordon will give the kids all the ice time they need and more. The brightest spot is University of Minnesota product Kyle Okposo, who should contend for the Calder trophy as the league's top rookie. The Minnesota native is the type of player the Isles hope they can build a franchise around. He looked like the real deal scoring two goals and three assists in a nine-game stretch after a late season call up. The team will once again depend on Comrie and Guerin to provide the majority of the offence as the team is short on firepower from the forward position.
While the cupboard appears bare up front, the same can't be said for the Isles' blueline. While far from elite, New York's top six features a nice mixture of puck movers and body bangers. Along with Streit, Campoli is poised for a bounce back season after undergoing shoulder surgery, while Radek Martinek and Freddy Meyer provide depth. Brendan Witt should provide veteran leadership to a very young group and will punish opposing forwards who dare venture into the corners with him. He will be helped in that department by Andy Sutton, who missed 22 games last year with a leg injury.
This is a very important season for DiPietro. He was enjoying a fantastic season before his mishap during All-Star Weekend. He is easily the Islanders' most important player and they need him on the ice as opposed to the infirmary where he has finished his last two seasons. While his talent is unquestionable, he has earned the knock of being fragile, missing multiple games because of injuries over the past three seasons. While New York will be hard pressed to make the playoffs, an injury to 'Tricky Ricky' would be devastating.
Parting Shot: Years of poor results, paired with an aging arena, has turned potential fans off in a market that is saturated with sporting options. The biggest hope is that Okposo enjoys a tremendous rookie season giving the fans some hope for the future. If he doesn't, the Isles could be irrelevant yet again.