Isles Beef Up Defense In Rebuilding Effort
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Sunday, September 10, 2006

After failing to make the playoffs for the first time in four years last season, the New York Islanders have revamped their coaching staff and defensive corps in a desperate attempt to bring legitimacy and a winning attitude back to Long Island.

Powered by the off-season acquisitions of Brendan Witt, Chris Simon, Mike Sillinger, Tom Poti, Sean Hill and Andy Hilbert, the Islanders are a changed team, combining the youthful exuberance of youngsters like Chris Campoli, Robert Nilsson and Sean Bergenheim with proven talent like Alexei Yashin, Alexei Zhitnik and Miroslav Satan.

Bringing in Witt, Poti and Hill, the Islanders have hopefully addressed the problem with their defense, having given up 3.35 goals-per-game last season, which was unfortunately 25th in the league. On paper, at the very least, the Islanders seem to be much better team defensively.

Also, with the addition of new head coach Ted Nolan, the Isles will finally break free from the defense-first systems of Steve Stirling and Brad Shaw, giving players like Jason Blake, Shawn Bates and Trent Hunter the confidence they need to be successful offensively.

This season, the Islanders will be a team that wonít be able to make anymore excuses, because quite frankly, theyíve run out of them. Running Peter Laviolette and Steve Stirling out of town after taking the team to the playoffs three years in a row, Islanders management hopefully understands now that itís the playerís turns to be held accountable for their play on the ice, not the coaches.

New general manager Garth Snow, who replaced Neil Smith after he was fired after only a month with the team, needs to prove as well that he is capable of being a positive influence on this team. No longer having to deal with any more horrible trades by former GM Mike Milbury, Snow needs to start a new chapter Islanders history of the that gets fans excited about the team again.

Two players that really need to step up their game for the Islanders to be successful are the teamís starting goalie Rick Dipietro and center Alexei Yashin. While neither one played horribly last season, if they would have played anywhere near their potential, the team could have easily taken the last playoff spot in the division.

Having over 30 wins last season, Dipietro showed flashes of brilliance, but really faltered down the stretch. Isles front office and scouting personnel need to understand that Dipietro is his most successful when he gets a few days off during the season. Playing 50 games out of the 82 game season, rather than 65 would not only benefit his game, but would give new Islanders backup goalie Wade Dubielewicz a chance to prove himself on the NHL level after successful stints there the past two seasons.

Despite leading the Isles in scoring three out of the past four seasons, Alexei Yashin has been a huge disappointment for the Islanders, failing to bring the success he had in Ottawa to Long Island. First the Islanders believed his inability was because he didnít have a winger with his ability on a line with him, so they brought in Satan last season, to only see him moved to a line with Mike York and lead the Islanders in goals. In order for the Islanders to make the playoffs, Yashin needs to regain his form of old and be the player they thought they were getting when they traded away Zdeno Chara and others in 2001.

If Yashin can somehow manage to give the Islanders a 30-plus goal season with over 80 points, [something he hasnít done yet while on the island] his success alone will play a big part in the teamís success. With Yashin playing at his highest ability, players like Blake, Satan and Hunter will have more room to skate and will have better seasons as well. Combine that with their new faces on defense and the Islanders could easily make the playoffs this season.

However, seeing that getting Yashin to score more than 75 points at this point in his career seems like a long shot at best, the Isles will be forced again to rely on other players to be successful, making their playoff dreams this season an unlikely endeavor.