2010-11 NHL season preview: New York Islanders

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for hahatavares.jpgLast 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.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for rickydsmiling.jpgUnder 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.

konopkafight.jpgStreet 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.

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    San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

    SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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    In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

    For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

    What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

    This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

    Quite a promising present

    So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

    Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

    The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

    The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

    Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

    Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

    With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

    In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

    Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

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    EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

    The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

    Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

    Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

    Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

    Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

    Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

     

    Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

    Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

    Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

    91rinneea

    To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

    Some other debate-starters

    Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

    ***

    Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

    You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

    And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.

    NHL says it isn’t bothered by Coyotes’ salary cap methods

    PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 02:  Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skate after the loose puck in Game Three of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is deftly playing the system when it comes to the salary cap to the point that some might accuse him of exploiting loopholes.

    If the NHL bristles as such tactics, they’re at least not showing it in public.

    In taking on the absolutely dead money of Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk along with the possibly dead money of Dave Bolland, the Coyotes are getting to the cap floor while saving money in the actual cash they’re dishing out.

    The Score’s Ian MacLaren succinctly explains the savings they’re enjoying thanks to these clever trades:

    That’s how the league is viewing Arizona taking on the salaries of Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk and Dave Bolland. The cap hits amount to almost $18 million but result in less than $2 million in actual salary paid out by the club, while simultaneously allowing it to reach the cap floor.

    Honestly, it’s difficult to shake the image of Gary Bettman & Co. bristling at the tactics of a franchise they’ve defended year after year amid myriad arena issues.

    Today’s Slapshot’s Craig Morgan caught up with Bill Daly, whose overall message is that the league is OK with what Arizona is doing.

    “I would say that it’s a matter that we monitor, like all other areas of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and if we believe it starts to be abused in a way that is inconsistent with how the system is designed to work, at that point, we would try to correct it in collective bargaining with the union,” Daly said. “I would say we aren’t at that point on this issue — we do not view it as the loophole that‎ some describe it as.”

    One key point from Daly is that he doesn’t view Bolland’s case as the same as that of Pronger or Datsyuk. The critical distinction is that Bolland at least hopes to become healthy enough to play again.

    (Chakya’s update wasn’t particularly optimistic in that regard, but a return isn’t totally inconceivable since Bolland is just 30.)

    Best of both worlds for Coyotes

    Again, the Coyotes are really reaping the benefits of this gameplan. Not only are they saving real dollars by absorbing other teams’ dead money, they’re using those trades to acquire promising assets like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse.

    These are the sort of moves that make the team look bright today and possibly terrifying for opponents in the future, even if the 2016-17 product may be a little hit-or-miss.

    Time may tell how the NHL truly feels

    To some extent, we probably won’t know how the NHL truly feels about this situation until the next CBA eventually gets hashed out.

    Then again, the league did make a big stink about cap circumvention during the memorable days of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations, so perhaps such maneuvering really doesn’t bother the NHL?

    Maybe, but you’re free to picture Bettman grumbling about Chayka’s moves either way.

    (H/T to the Score.)

    Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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    via Alex Ovechkin's Twitter page
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    Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

    His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

    Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

    Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

    This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

    There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

    This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

    In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.