Lot’s of things changed with the New York Islanders over the summer, one of
the things that did not change was the amount of games the team will play in the
preseason. The team will play only six games, with the difference
being these games will be played over nine days. (Sept 20-29) Colorado is
the only other team to play as few as six games.
Not a lot of days to give the veterans who will be on the team a chance to
get some time playing together and even less to determine who will fill the few
openings on the roster. Some quick judgements will have to be made by rookie coach Peter Laviolette and his staff. (Greg Cronin, Jacques LaPerriere new goaltending coach Billy Smith)
Like last years training camp (Lake Placid Sept 11th-18th) practices and team scrimages will play a big part in who is going to get the best look in those early exhibiton games. At this time there is no word of the Isles sharing a rookie camp with another organization. Training camp for the Isles will last one week. Many teams will have started their exhibiton schedule while this is going on and have camps that will last only three or four days in some cases.
What will be different is that the Islanders staff after several years of shared affiliates will have their own franchise in Bridgeport. The working agreement with Echl franchise in Trenton will continue with the Flyers. Steve Stirling will be the teams head coach in Bridgeport, and is a holdover from the staff that was in Lowell for the early part of last season.
So how many spots are really open on Long Island and how many
are locked up going in to camp ?
Unless a trade happens or someone gets injured you can start with these player:
Yashin, Isbister, Czerkawski, Peca, Scatchard, Parrish, Kvasha,
Before anyone thinks Kvasha is going to the minors…forget it. He will learn
to play the left wing and Peter Laviolette (like Butch Goring) will have to give
him quality ice time at the beginning. If he struggles because of his age (23)
that is understandable, but if he is not skating the Islanders may not have the option of
sending him down without clearing waivers. He has a new three year deal and we all know the trade by heart that made him an Islander. It’s too early to make a final decision on this player.
Claude LaPointe actually had more points than 99-00 and the shorthanded team numbers dropped from twenty nine to twenty one in the second half last year. A lot of that was done after Jason Blake left the team. The fans who may be down on Lapointe should look at the bottom line and that was eighty games and only a minus two rating with a bad foot that he refused to rest. For now he will stay and continue to play as a left wing, out of position
Unless Jason Blake reverts to the player that made him available for a ninth rd pick, he will be on Long Island. If he shows the hands and hustle he showed last season, the Isles will have something special. This may be the only player Mike Milbury extended in his tenure as Islanders gm, that was not under contract deadline. He is at that age where he can take the next step as Czerkawski did a few years ago.
Add to that mix players that would not have been resigned or
traded for if they were not intended to be used on Long Island: Mats
Lindgren, Alexander Kharitonov. It would take a very poor camp for one
of these players not to be in Tampa on opening night. NHL general managers like to justify trades and Mike Milbury wants to get something out of the Tommy Salo trade for Mats Lindgren, or at least give him one final look before he is gone. Lindgren has never really been healthy enough to show what he can do here.
That’s eleven forward spots that really should be locked up.
I have not yet included Shawn Bates, who Peter Laviolette wanted here
and considers a third line center. Or the player many Islander fans must think is nineteen, because no matter how productive he is fans keep thinking he needs another year in the minors. Twenty-six year old Hobey Baker winner Jason Krog. Krog would be a good choice to start as fourth line center and if he does well can move up to play the left side where he was used last year in a few games with the Isles. At this point it’s time to see what Jason Krog can do here, the organization has two million dollars invested in this player and a new contract. It’s time for an NHL season for this player, or the team should move him and get something they can use.
So what players still have a shot if they have great camps ?
The winner of Dave Roche/Steve Webb? Roche has the better scoring touch of the two, but is advertised as an enforcer who got beat in a fight by Scott Lachance?
Trent Hunter at age twenty one, who has looked good in the minors and is a left wing?
Dimitri Upper: A center who just turned twenty four, who had a mixed year in Russia?
Marko Tuomainen: A right wing who led the Lowell Lock Monsters in goals, assists and points.
Jason Podollan: Was one of the proposed players in the rumored Ziggy deal with the Kings, Milbury finally lands him.
And let’s not forget the kids:
Raffi Torres-Many folks want to see Torres make the Islanders this year no matter what. Considering his age and how poorly young players have done here it’s time the team goes slowly with their prospects. The only way he should be here is if he just does not give the team a reason to say no. With a short camp and a shorter chance to impress in exhibiton games, the staff is likely going to find a reason to say no. The days of nineteen year olds making this organization should be over unless they are as great as Trottier and Bossy were when they were placed on the Isles out of juniors.
Justin Mapletoft- Same as Torres.
Juraj Kolnik-At his age he has to get the chance to play minutes against players his own age. Eric Brewer played here too young and went to the NHL and came back a better player and that is the approach the Isles should be taking here. Kolnik is the organizations best player to take the place of Mats Lindgren if he fails, but for now at this stage, Lindgren has to get the first look.
RW-Kristofer Ottoson is not expected to be in Islanders camp. And Matias Weinhandl wil likely spend another season in Sweden, while the Sedins begin year two in Vancouver.
Unless there are trades or injuries you can lock these players onto the Islanders defense.
Hamrlik, Jonsson, Aucoin, Cairns.
Eric Cairns- Unless Cairns is out of shape, or still has the same hand problem as last year he is going to be part of the team defense.Â He played last year with one hand and could not even drop his gloves. Look back to 99-00 because that is what Cairns can do and that is plenty to keep his spot.
Ken Sutton- He did not sign with the Islanders to be a seventh defender. He will be on the teams third defensive pairing when the season starts.
Which brings us to the final spot.
Branislav Mezei-Mezei had a very good finish and should win the spot out of camp alongside Kenny Jonsson if he picks up where he left off at the end of last season. If not, the Isles can protect their only bluechip young prospect (outside of Fin Prospect Defender Arto Tukio) (20) on defense and let him start the season in Bridgeport. Milbury’s strategy is reflective in this with all the veteran defenders brought in from Eurpope.
Kevin Haller-Milbury had him on waivers once and he will be again.Â Sutton can fill his role and the Isles have Cairns and a younger, physical Mezei. This is one where the Isles should look to make a deal and pay a large part of the contract to fill another need, his plus five rating may help that happen.
Which brings us to the European Imports. All of them bring something to the table that can replace a skill a current Islander provides in case of injury. The staff and the fans will not have an answer until they are seen in some games and make an impression. Here are some background going in that gives us a place to start. None should be mistaken for the stop gap defenders that were here the last few years. The days of Dallas Eakins, Scott Pearson are over.
Marko Kiprusoff- 6’0 194 lb, the oldest of the group at twenty nine. He has a well rounded game with six goals and twenty six assists in forty three games with Kioten in Sweeden.
Radek Martinek-6’1 200 lb, age twenty six. Eight goals, ten assist, in forty four games with HC Ceske Budejovice in the Czech League.
Dick Tarnstrom- 6’0 180 lb, age twenty six. Is a draft pick that goes back to the final rd of the 1994 draft for Don Maloney. Ten Goals, Eighteen assists, in Fifty games with AIK Solna in Sweden.
Evgeny Korolev-Korolev could only find eight games on the Islanders last season with all the injuries, he is still young and has some time. To call him up and have him sit in the stands makes no sense at age twenty three, it made less sense last year. Needs to go to Bridgeport and put up numbers.
Ray Giroux-He may have lost his best chance to make an impression on the orgainzation last year with all the injuries when he went to play in Sweden, that was his best chance to grab a spot and hold it. Now he may lose out to the numbers game. He is much closer to this than the Brian Rafalski comparisions being made in some circles.
Ray Schultz-Has a very nasty edge in his game and can take an opponent off his game. Only problem is the organization has too much depth for him to see Long Island.
Chris Armstrong-Recently signed.
At this point the goaltending competiton is wide open. Mike Milbury has said three goaltenders could make the team. This position is considered the teams prime weakness in 2001-02 and there are huge questions. The good news is all three have plenty to prove and will be hungry and driven toÂ do well.Â
Who is likely to be here?
Garth Snow is the veteran and the Isles doubled his salary and gave him a second year to have him come to Long Island and be insurance for Rick DiPietro. He is expected to win the job right now, but that could change over a quick camp and six exhibition games in nine days. It could change even quicker if the Isles start slowly against a tough schedule.
Rick DiPietro- Mike Milbury still feels DiPietro can stay here, split the games and be good enough to take the starters role and hold it. Talent makes up for his inexperience and whenever the staff gave him a few games off at the end of last season he came back strong. Without a doubt he has depth in front of him this yearÂ on defense and a team that should have the talent to allow a bad goal from time to time. Billy Smith is back as goaltending coach for Mike Palmateer. Expect Bridgeport, but for a guy who sawÂ the IHL, the World Junior Championships, an injured Islander team on a long exhibition schedule, and a few games in the World Championships in Germany may be able to do this. Sure he bent a few timesÂ last year, but he did not break.
He is at the age (20) where Roberto Luongo played twenty-four games with the Islanders.
Dusan Salficky- Without a doubt the big X factor in the mix, he could take the job and run with it as we saw in Philadelphia last year with Roman Cechmanek. Or he can be here one year and go back to the Czech Republic after a year in Bridgeport.If DiPietro shows he can play in the NHL and Salficky offers more than Snow, the Isles should send Snow and his big contract to Bridgeport with Andy Chiodo, Guy St Germain, or Steven Valiquette.
The Islanders have the first pick in the waiver draft before the season and considering the financial problems on many teams, the Isles may find a player good enough to play here from the beginning. A scoring winger may just become available. Detroit had to restructure contracts to add Brett Hull and even though it’s highly unlikely Detroit may not find a partner to trade with for Osgood and want to get him out of Detroit before the season starts. Even a Claude Lemieux may find himself available.
Management-Mike Milbury did not exactly stick to his plan at the end of the season for a coach or bringing back almost the same roster and I find it hard to believe he would have kept Ilya Kovalchuk if he won the lottery. He did not get the experienced coach he said was needed after he fired Butch Goring. Laviolette should have the final say over Milbury if problems occur over player decisions and make no mistake Gordie Clark is being groomed to take over if this team fails and has been named manager in Bridgeport. Milbury is taking a very good gamble on Salficky, who is at the right age to come over and play well and paid for some expensive insurance in Snow, who needs to prove he can be a number one goaltender.
Peter Laviolette and his staff will have some very quick decisions and he may be inclined to go with who he knows best: Jason Krog (Providence Bruins) Sean Bates (Boston). He will have a very hard act to follow in Butch Goring, who had as good a first year as a coach can have with the 99-00 Islanders. Unlike Milbury’s minor league options at center last year, Laviolette has an outstanding top three down the middle with Yashin, Peca, and Scatchard which means the team has a competitive chance in all areas of the game. What will work the most against Laviolette is a lot of players needing time to get to know one another and a schedule that has many of the best teams early.