Last season: (34-37-11, 79 points, 5th in Atlantic Division,13th in Eastern Conference) The team was scrappy enough, but really there wasn’t much to write home about beyond an acceptable season for John Tavares.
Head coach: Scott Gordon hasn’t had much to work with, but will three failed seasons go unpunished? I don’t know if he’s on the ‘hot seat’ but typically GMs – in this case Garth Snow – will fire a head coach to avoid being fired themselves. Another fifth-place finish in the Atlantic Division – the most-likely scenario for the Isles this season – might just be the end of Gordon’s run.
Key departures: G Martin Biron, F Richard Park. It’s pretty difficult to call anyone leaving this team a ‘key departure’ although Biron would be nice insurance to have.
Key arrivals: D James Wisniewski, D Mark Eaton, D Milan Jurcina. Snow loaded up on defenseman, which was a pretty smart move in retrospect considering the fact that Mark Streit got injured. Unfortunately, Wisniewski, Eaton and Jurcina might not be able to make up the difference, but they’ll help.
Under pressure: Rick DiPietro’s knee.
At some point, his knee has to get better or that much-lampooned contract shall remain, well, much-lampooned.
Protecting the house: DiPietro and Dwayne Roloson are the team’s goalies … I think? Maybe? Kind of. Ricky D is broken and Rolo is old, so it’s kind of difficult to assess them. Let’s just say they’re bad, OK?
Defensively, the Islanders are greatly undermined by Streit’s injured shoulder. Perhaps Wisniewski will be their No. 1 D-man? Maybe they’ll trade for someone like Sheldon Souray? It’s hard to imagine the Islanders staying above water in goals allowed with that combo of questionable goalies and shaky defense, but Gordon will probably have them grinding games out so they’re only bad (not pathetic).
Top line we’d like to see: Blake Comeau-Tavares-Kyle Okposo. Blah, there really isn’t that much talent in Long Island, is there? How about this revision: The No. 1 pick from the 2011 draft-Tavares-Okposo. Yeah, that sounds better.
Oh captain, my captain: Doug Weight wins the rare ‘seniority’ and can grow a ‘well, we’re not going to make the playoffs, but still’ beard better than anyone else, so why not make him the captain? No, really, I imagine Weight is a good leader to a group of young players trying to learn to make it in the NHL.
Street fighting man: It must be Zenon Konopka, last year’s leader in penalty minutes, right? He’ll have his hands full with Jody Shelley, Eric Godard, Derek Boogaard and so on.
Best-case scenario: The Islanders will be this year’s Phoenix Coyotes. After all, they have similar problems off the ice, though Charles Wang is a stable owner. Either Roloson or DiPietro would play the role of Ilya Bryzgalov, though sadly neither will provide such stimulating interviews. Unfortunately, whether they’re the Coyotes or the Colorado Avalanche, even their best-case scenario involves an early playoff departure.
Worst-case scenario: DiPietro’s knee explodes and the shrapnel permanently injures Tavares and Kyle Okposo … then travels into the future and maims No. 1 overall pick in the ’11 draft. Garth Snow panics and trades for three more goalies.
Keeping it real: The reason that worst-case scenario was so ridiculous is because I think the ‘real’ scenario is bad, too. The Islanders are in a tough division and lost their best defenseman for six months. I wish them the best (their fans have been through a lot since the 1980s, just read the name “Alexei Yashin”), but it just doesn’t look promising this season.
Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, hopefully they’ll make me eat my words, but I’m going with a 1. Maybe they’ll tank for another top pick to build up their growing core of prospects.