yes, it's late. Quite late. Late enough so that even by
west coast time, this preview is a day late by about 20 minutes.
I promise tomorrow's will be up in a more timely fashion. Don't
look at me like that, I said I would! Ok, well maybe not
super-early, but during daytime, anyway! Yes, I really mean it
this time, please don't tell the boss I was so late with this
one! I'll be good from now on, I swear!
Bear in mind that these
previews will appear, two a day, until the season starts on October 5th.
They will be put on-site by division, roughly in order of predicted
finish. Note that the rookies listed are only those most likely to make
the team, not necessarily ones who have already sewn up a spot, and surprises
always occur in training camp. The In/Out portion represents significant
players added and lost since the end of the 2003-04 season. And now, on
with the show...
In: Brad Lukowich, Miroslav Satan, Brent Sopel, Mike York,
Alexei Zhitnik, Joel Bouchard
Out: Adrian Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik, Kenny Jonsson, Mike Peca,
Cliff Ronning, Dave Scatchard, Sven Butenschon, Mariusz Czerkawski, Eric
Cairns, Alex Karpovtsev
Rookies: Chris Campoli, Bruno Gervais, Robert Nilsson, Sean
To buy out or not to buy out? That was the question faced this off-season by Islanders GM Mike
Milbury when it came to Alexei Yashin, who several years ago signed a massive
ten-year contract for nearly ninety million dollars. The buyout of the remaining six years on that deal would've been
huge, but it would've given the Isles some flexibility under the NHL's new
economic system. Now, the team has so
much payroll committed to Yashin, recently named the captain, it has
little choice but to try to build the roster around him and hope he lives up to
Strengths: 1. The Islanders have some excellent shooters up
front. Yashin, Satan, York, Trent
Hunter, Jason Blake and Mark Parrish give the team six forwards who have scored
25 or more goals in an NHL season before.
Satan and Yashin have each broken 40, in fact, and the team is hoping
that they'll bring each other to those heights again on a line together. With Sopel and Janne Niinimaa on the points
and those two plus another sniper up front, the Isles could have a very good
2. Though perhaps lacking a flashy young scoring star such
as a Kovalchuk or Ovechkin, the Isles have a solid stable of young players
either already in the lineup or close to breaking in. Goaltender Rick DiPietro, who turns 24 just before the season
starts, is still years before his prime. Gervais and Campoli provide some hope
for the future on the blueline. Young
forwards Hunter, Mattias Weinhandl and Justin Papineau may be joined this season
or later by Sean Bergenheim, Petteri Nokelainen, Robert Nilsson, and Jeremy
Colliton, all great prospects, while Mike York and Oleg Kvasha are both just 27.
Weaknesses: 1. While having a lot of snipers is great, it
helps to have good centres that can get them the puck. The Isles traded Mike Peca to Edmonton for
York this off-season, while also losing Dave Scatchard to free agency. While both were more defensive-minded
players, they could distribute the puck fairly effectively and win a lot of faceoffs. Though the Isles are likely pencilling York
in as their second line centre, he has generally been more effective in his
career on the wing, as has Kvasha, who had his best season in 2003-04 playing
mostly on Yashin's left. Never
fact that other than Shawn Bates, who actually spent a lot of the last
few seasons on Peca's left, the Isles don't have a man on the roster
had a better faceoff winning percentage in 2003-04 than York's 45.9%
with Edmonton, they
really don't have anyone, forward or centre, who's widely considered a
2. In the past three years, the Isles have relied heavily on
their defense to get them into the playoffs, particularly their top four. However, with Aucoin, Hamrlik, and Jonsson
all moving on, they could be in trouble.
Aucoin routinely played over 30 minutes a night; he seems to get better
the more he plays, but he'll be playing big minutes in Chicago this season. Hamrlik and Jonsson
averaged 24 and a half and 23, respectively.
That's a lot of minutes to make up.
Zhitnik will help, but Sopel, though a good power play man, isn't as
reliable as any of those lost, and Lukowich isn't really a guy who thrives on a lot of ice time. While Niinimaa
remains, and can perform well with more minutes than he got in 2003-04, the
Isles still need to make up some minutes somewhere, and badly need one of
Gervais or Campoli to be NHL-ready this season.
Don't be Surprised If: The Isles really stink it up, but
don't do much about it. Milbury's put
himself in a very difficult position by not buying out Yashin: the future of
his team, led by DiPietro and Hunter, is maturing, but he's got Yashin's
contract hanging over his head, and some obligation to at least try to put a solid
team around him and take a shot at success.
However, this team looks more like a disaster in waiting than a
contender, but by giving players like Lukowich, Zhitnik and Satan long-term
deals at salaries no other team is going to want to pay, Milbury won't easily
be able to deal them away for prospects at the deadline if his team flops, as
is customary for squads trying to jumpstart their rebuilding. It's a miracle Milbury still has his job at
this point; by the end of this season, there's a very good chance he won't, not
when and if this squad tanks.
Outlook: This is a good team, but not a great
one. The playoffs aren't out of reach,
but it'll take a supreme effort from each of Satan, DiPietro, Niinimaa, York
and Zhitnik to get there. Then, of course,
there's Yashin; this is his team now.
He needs to realize it, and quick, and while he has a good enough
supporting cast that he doesn't have to put them in the playoffs
single-handedly, this team can't get there if he doesn't perform.
Centres: 1. Alexei Yashin 2. Mike York 3. Shawn Bates 4. Justin
1. Miroslav Satan 2. Oleg Kvasha 3. Jason Blake 4.
Trent Hunter 5. Mark Parrish 6. Mattias Weinhandl 7.
Arron Asham 8. Sean Bergenheim 9. Eric Godard 10.
Robert Nilsson 11. Travis Brigley
Defensemen: 1. Janne Niinimaa 2. Alexei Zhitnik
3. Brent Sopel 4. Brad Lukowich 5. Bruno Gervais 6. Radek Martinek
7. Joel Bouchard 8. Chris Campoli
Goalies: 1. Rick DiPietro 2. Garth Snow
Restricted Free Agents: Justin Mapletoft (C)