Talk about a rough off-season—the stalled Lighthouse Project, rampant talk of relocation, no big free agent signings and, more recently, shoulder injuries that have shelved their two best players until early 2011 at best.
Stop the not-so-merry-go-round, Islanders fans want to get off.
Following a season that saw an 18-point improvement in the standings over the previous one, the post-season is very much on the radar for the 2010-2011 Islanders. Anything less has to be looked at as a disappointment and for coach Scott Gordon, in the final year of a three-year contract, will probably spell the end of his time on Long Island.
After a strange pre-season schedule that saw the team play a mere three games (plus two split-squad affairs) it’s tough to assess exactly where they stand.
However, one thing we feel fairly certain about is you won’t see another 18-point improvement in the standings. The Eastern Conference is too deep and most of the teams that missed the post-season last year have made some major improvements.
With 79 points last season, the team missed the playoffs by nine points. Our guess is it will take at least 90 to get in this year’s Stanley Cup chase. Are there 10-12 extra points hiding in this year’s edition? Tough to tell, but here’s our thoughts on the team that just opened the 39th season in franchise history.
One look at the roster and the question that begs to be answered is—where are the goals going to come from? Asking Matt Moulson to crack the 30-goal mark again might be expecting a bit much and with Kyle Okposo on IR there simply isn’t another legit 30-goal guy to be found. What about John Tavares? The Isles should be happy if JT matches last season’s totals (24-30-54) as he simply isn’t surrounded by enough skill on the wings to expect much more just yet.
The hope here is that four or five other forwards hit for 20-plus and the third-period meltdowns are kept to a minimum. This group will work hard every night but unless a few surprises emerge this team will be hard pressed to improve on the paltry 222 goals they netted last season (21st ranked). The fact this year’s first round pick (5th overall) Nino Niederreiter has made the club out of camp can be looked at two ways: A: the Swiss winger is a fast learner and his play in camp has justified the high spot Snow selected him at or B: when an 18-year-old kid makes the team it’s clear there isn’t a ton of depth on offense. The jury’s out on this one.
The addition of tough guy Zenon Konopka via Tampa was a wise one as the Isles were pushed around up front far too often last season. If Trevor Gillies can cut out the costly (see dumb) penalties, he too will provide some snarl. Isles fans will be particularly impressed with Konopka’s ability to both deliver and take a blow—this dude can scrap.
A healthy Doug Weight and the fast-tracking of Josh Bailey’s progress wouldn’t hurt their attack either—though the latter might be unfair and the former is just plain unlikely.