Is the Isles Offense Ready for 2008?|
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Tuesday, September 11, 2007
After losing most of their offensive stars from last season in less than a week, New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow knew he had to act quickly to make sure he put a competent team on the ice this season.
Signing Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedotenko and Josef Vasicek among others this offseason, one can make the argument that the Isles may have just as solid a team as last season, when no one predicted they’d make the playoffs, only to finish in the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
For a long stretch of time last season, the Isles were the talk of the Atlantic Division, winning games with grit, hustle and speed, thanks to a breakout season from Jason Blake and the resurgence of former captain Alexei Yashin. However, injuries to Yashin, goaltender Rick Dipietro and to defensemen Bruno Gervais and Radek Martinek would halt their hot streak, as the team managed to squeak into the playoffs thanks to amazing goaltending by third-stringer Wade Dubielewicz.
Not having the offensive firepower needed to defeat the Buffalo Sabres, the Isles were sent home in five games. However, things were upbeat on the Island as the team looked to resign leading scorers Blake and Ryan Smyth. That was until the free agent shopping spree begun in the NHL and the Isles watched both Blake and Smyth take contracts with Toronto and Colorado, leaving them even more prone to disaster, considering they bought out Yashin’s contract to appease both Blake and Smyth, who reportedly didn’t get along with the underachieving superstar.
To make matters worse, after a week of no moves on Long Island this summer, fans were going berserk and were hoping Snow could make a move that would alleviate the pain caused by the departure of not only Smyth and Blake, but also of Viktor Kozlov, who signed with the Capitals. Signing Fedotenko first and then Guerin and Comrie, Snow has done a solid job of replacing the offense lost by Smyth, Blake and Kozlov. As a matter of fact, it’s possible that both Blake and Kozlov will never have the same success they had last year on the Island and Comrie and Fedotenko, with ample ice-time, can both put up similar numbers as the former Islander they’re replacing.
As far as Guerin goes, he’s one of the only players in the NHL that can score 30 goals on any team he plays on and as the Isles new captain, he’ll be leading the charge and playing key minutes on the power play and in crucial game situations, making another 30-goal season an almost possibility.
With Guerin, Comrie and Fedotenko eating up most of the special team minutes, expectations for Vasicek won’t be nearly as high, but that doesn’t mean the 6’5” center can’t make a difference. While he may remind many Isles fans of washout Oleg Kvasha, make no mistake about it, Vasicek makes a living in front of the net and isn’t scared to push back, making him an ideal third line center and someone who could benefit the games of gritty wingers Chris Simon, Trent Hunter and Jon Sim, another new addition to the team who will be counted on to add some offense.
Having six 20-goal scorers last season, the Islanders had a balanced attack and had all four lines contributing on offense that led to their success. While they may not have the big names of Smyth, Yashin and Blake anymore, they still have more than enough depth to hold their own on offense, but will need breakout seasons from their new additions to swim in the tumultuous waters of the Atlantic division, rather than sink.