Islanders Training Camp Preview

By Bill Bennett

Unlike previous seasons, this year Islanders camp will be held in two locations, one in Lake Placid, the other group will be at Ice works on Long Island. The core group of Islanders will be in Lake Placid with about 33 players, prospects invited.

Summer 2002:

For many the Summer of 2002 was a quiet one in Islanders Country. However, it cannot be understated that the Islanders did for the most part bring back the players they feel contributed to the teams highest point total (96) since the early eighties. Expectations will be tough to match and improve on in a Conference where they will need almost ninety points to return to the playoffs.

All key restricted free agents from last seasons team (Steve Webb signed yesterday) were retained. Dimitri Upper was a group two who was not signed. His future status along with Kristofer Ottoson is undetermined at this time, rumor has it Ottoson did not want to leave Europe for this season but the Islanders did make an offer.

Transactions:

Czerkawski was traded to Montreal for Arron Asham. Branislav Mezei was traded for Jason Wiemer and Mattias Timmander was traded for a fourth rd pick. Eric Godard in a quiet, but important transaction became Islander property for a third rd pick after playing with the Sound Tigers as a Panthers Prospect last season.

Several key players from the Sound Tigers were not retained and will see a team with at least half it’s roster changed going into their second season as Eastern Conference Champions in Bridgeport.

Hello:

Jason Wiemer, Mattias Timmander, Arron Asham, Eric Godard, Brandon Smith, Eric Manlow, Blaine Down, Jeff Hamilton, Alan Le Tang, Matt Higgins, Tomi Pettinen……..

Goodbye:

Kip Miller, Mariusz Czerkawski, Darren Van Impe (available), Dick Tarnstrom, Branislav Mezei, Marko Kiprusoff,

Ray Giroux, Ken Sutton, Dave Roche, Jason Podollan, Jim Cummins (available), Jason Krog, Mats Lindgren, Marko Tuomainen.

Payroll:

The Islanders payroll will be close to thirty nine million, which is a very fair market payroll. Considering the teams limited revenue streams in an outdated arena with no new facility in sight, it says a great deal about their commitment to this franchise.

Questions:

The questions going in are pretty clear-cut for most Islander fans.

1. Are the Islanders standing pat or making a real run toward a championship ?

2. Is there a pure goal-scorer in this organization who can step in and fill the void on the wings next to Alexei Yashin ?

3. Can the Islanders win consistently and be productive without Michael Peca ?

4. Do the Islanders have the defensive depth necessary to make the playoffs and more ?

5. Who is the long-term answer: Chris Osgood or Rick DiPietro ?

Answers:

1. Are the Islanders standing pat or making a real run for a championship ?

Many will see the teams lack of activity in the free agent market over the summer and conclude the Islanders are standing pat. Only problems with drawing that quick conclusion is the Islanders have a bunch of players who have now been in the league or the organization long enough where the team needs to know if they can finally show the promise and potential we have read about for years. Many finally experienced winning here for the first time last season and what it takes to win in the playoffs. It’s time for these players to produce or move on. All excuses have been eliminated.

The Islanders are not a team made up of players thirty one or older. During Mike Milbury’s tenure he has always made it a point to add young players who are in or close to their prime. The few unrestricted players the Islanders have added on defense did not work out and the team has been on the hook for those salaries that may have prevented other moves. IE: Kevin Haller, Ken Sutton, Gary Galley. And as stated above thirty nine million dollars is a very high payroll for a small market.

In the end I think the answer to that question will come from the players in the organization and how many step up to help Yashin, Peca and co. With the competition for jobs in this organization Milbury has the talent to bring back a prime scoring talent if necessary from the players who may not be the right fit here, but could be productive for another organization.

2. Is there a pure-goal scorer in this organization who can step in and fill the void on the wings next to Alexei Yashin ?

I think the first question the staff might be asking is has anyone been a good fit with Yashin from his time back in Ottawa and do the Islanders have a player who plays that style ? In other words do the Islanders have a McEachern type to be able to distribute the puck to him at his speed and in turn be able to finish his chances and take pressure off Yashin ?

Plenty of players got chances last season with Yashin to be that kind of player, none seemed to work very well for long stretches. With the key players on that list a year older they may find something that works, or perhaps one of the teams prospects is ready to fill the role next to Yashin. There are lots of solid options worth trying and last season a line of Bates/Yashin/Parrish produced as a unit. Among Juraj Kolnik, Mattias Weinhandl, Trent Hunter, and Raffi Torres someone may very well be the answer. The Islanders have the kind of team, leadership and enviorment now where an Isbister, Kvasha could become what Todd Bertuzzi became when he left Long Island. For years that was never possible, now it is.

3. Can the Islanders win consistently and be productive without Michael Peca ?

They can and they should. This is where we learn a great deal about Peter Laviolette and his ability to motivate a team on a nightly basis. It will take a team effort to replace his abilities and the 500.record for the four middle months will not get it done. As written here in past articles the gritty players have to fill the role and not only hit, but be able to score on their opportunities late in close games. The Islanders could not score in the playoffs on the road when they had to last season, this must change and it must start day one.

4. Do the Islanders have the defensive depth necessary to make the playoffs and more ?

The biggest question mark going into 2002-03. The hurray-up face off rules, the new obstruction rules, all will put more pressure on this defense and force the third pairing onto the ice in key situations because there is no break to leave Adrian Aucoin on the ice for over thirty minutes. The Islanders top three are solid, but Martinek has to perform as he did before his knee injury and has very little NHL experience. Mattias Timmander has to rebound from a season where he did not have much help and Peter Laviolette will now have to use Eric Cairns in key situations. The new rules may force teams to carry an extra defender on a nightly basis.

Where the problem lies right now is with the depth, which did hurt them in the playoffs as Laviolette had a quick hook when players looked very shaky. There are no prime young defenders in the North American System for the Islanders and no defenders in the top fifty of any draft left in the organization after Mezei was traded to Florida.

Evgeny Korolev, Brandon Smith, Alan LeTang and Ray Schultz for the most part are minor league players in their mid-late twenties. Most have played some games at the NHL level and Korolev, Schultz are well-known to Islander fans. Korolev was called up for the playoffs but sat too many nights before they began and it showed.

When you consider the injury histories of many Islander defenders these players will be a factor at some point on Long Island. This is where there could be a problem that might have to be addressed at some point by a trade or late signing/waiver pickup.

Kevin Haller’s injury status remains unchanged from last season and is not expected to play. Too bad, because this player at his best would have been a perfect seventh defender.

5. Who is the long-term answer: Chris Osgood or Rick DiPietro ?

The question here is can DiPietro do better than be a 15-20th ranked goalie and should the Islander rush to find out ?

The offer of a long-term deal to Chris Osgood means the Isles may have their answer.

Mike Milbury was quoted after last season as saying ” He did not want to hold DiPietro back.”

The idea in 2000 was to draft a Franchise Goalie. The plan should be to take time and see the process thru, but things have changed since that draft.

Peter Laviolette is quoted as saying, ” He will give DiPietro a chance to make the NHL in this camp.”

The problem that holds Milbury, DiPietro back is his contract as a franchise NHL goalie, which could pay him five million dollars if he reaches marginal incentives as an NHL backup in 20020-03. You cannot pay two franchise goalies at the same time.

To do this the payroll for three Islander goal tenders would be over ten million dollars and force Snow’s departure, which was critical last season. He not only won key games, but was very popular in the room and with Osgood.

To have an Osgood-DiPietro combo also means you have David St.Germain or Steve Valiquette as your starter in Bridgeport next season or on Long Island if there are injuries.

St.Germain is fifth on the teams depth chart and will not be part of camp at Lake Placid.

At this time there is no NHL team DiPietro would be the starter for. No team will take his contract as an NHL backup and pay him five million dollars to sit behind their starter, so even in a trade his likely destination is the minor leagues.

Another 70+ games in Bridgeport would help management answer that question, but it could also hurt his potential trade value if Ozzy signs or if DiPietro does not do well.

A poor season on Long Island will likely clear the way for DiPietro to play some games. With his three year deal expiring after this season, the Islanders can work a deal without the bonus clauses, gamble on Osgood with a shorter deal, and give the job to whoever is the best over the next few seasons.

But again the offer to Osgood means the Isles may have decided on a franchise goalie.

As for Osgood:

The extension, was reported to be four years.

Clearly this means the Islanders are very high on Osgood, he is a solid goalie and a leader who is entering his prime. His ranking based on numbers is that of a 15-20th best goalie. He has stretches where he struggles badly. To lock him up at four million as he enters his prime is a bargain because he could get even better, but it is a gamble if he struggles as he did in his final season with Detroit.

What’s key here is the organization’s mind set on it’s core players. Charles Wang wants Islanders who are around for a decade and are identified with the franchise. This was the thinking behind signing Yashin and Peca.

Openings:

Right now based on everything said and written, there are few openings on the 2002-03 team.

Whoever makes this team will need to have a good camp and in many cases perform outstanding.

With only five pre-season games the veterans have to play their minutes and this team has a fourth line that is likely set with Lapointe, Blake and Steve Webb.

Many players will most likely be sent down before the exhibition games begin.

The defense will most likely see the pairings as follows:

Kenny Jonsson-Adrian Aucoin

Roman Hamrlik-Radek Martinek

Mattias Timmander-Eric Cairns.

Options:

What cannot be overstated is how many prospects in Bridgeport started on the lower lines, had moderate scoring results and late in the season were placed on the top lines and produced. They grew up as the season progressed and it seemed by the Calder Cup Playoffs these players were able to take their games up even another level.

Trent Hunter: Seems to have the inside track and will most likely be on the opening night roster, it’s his spot to lose.

Arron Asham: Could be the odd-player out if prospects produce, but again it’s his spot to lose when you consider what the Islanders gave up for him. He has to get his points.

Mattias Weinhandl: Is a Rw/C who will get a good look and may just break onto the top two lines with a good camp.

Juraj Kolnik: Several writers in the local papers, who have not watched the Sound Tigers are saying it’s getting late for him to make the Islanders. The local papers have not followed the Sound Tigers.

Clearly he made an impression last year with an extended look in camp and had a fine finish after being switched to the left wing with Bridgeport. Also scored two goals in brief call up. There is still plenty of time for Kolnik and he needs to continue his progress. He could very easily find himself on Long Island opening night because he is a sniper and the Islanders could use one.

Raffi Torres: Local writers again, are saying he is a third line NHLer. Is this based on the fourteen games he saw very limited minutes in with the Islanders or the fifth overall pick, who made fine progress in his first AHL season and became a dominating pressure player in the Sound Tigers drive to the Calder Cup Finals ?

For him to make the 2002-03 team as a left winger, someone will likely have to go. Needs to have the kind of camp where he gives the team no reason to send him down. As a fifth overall pick, Isles should be hoping he makes it as soon as possible and clear the way when they think he is ready.

Martin Chabada: Veteran winger who may just pull an upset and make the Islanders, will need to have the kind of camp and pre-season where he is too good to send down. Will he get enough of a chance to do that is the question ?

Justin Mapletoft: Had the kind of season in Bridgeport where he showed the maturity to learn the defensive game first and incorporate his offensive skills as the season progressed. Was a key member of the Sound Tigers run to the Calder Cup Finals by contributing at both ends. Is likely moving to the top two lines with the Sound Tigers next season, but has the maturity and skill where he could pull a real upset and make the 2002-03 Islanders and may bring to mind another young player in Brent Sutter.

Notables

Bill Armstrong was hired as the Head Coach in the teams shared affiliate in Trenton of the ECHL.

Msg Network released it’s television schedule for the 2002-03 season.

The first Leafs game will be on TV-55, which some fans cannot get outside the area.

Once again Msg will have a Rangers-only telecast at Nassau Coliseum in April. The Rangers only come to Long Island twice next season.

Gordie Clark signed to work for the Rangers this week.

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers have started a Booster Club that has it’s link on the teams website and will be placed in the Islanders Section of Hockey’s Future.

Alan Hahn, who does an outstanding job covering the Islanders in Newsday was not able to get to my question about Islanders coverage in Newsday in his ask Alan segment.

At this time the City Edition of Newsday does not include Islanders coverage, meaning thousands of fans who support the team are not getting the teams best source of information on a Daily Basis. Perhaps Newsday’s Sports editor can help out the fans on this one because Islander fans in the five boroughs are missing out.

Correction:

In the previous article, I wrote Brandon Smith played with the San Jose Sharks, he played in the AHL last season.

Until Next Time….