Well here we are, on the cusp of another Isles season. It’s been a long haul for the Islanders faithful last few seasons, if not last 15 years. It has been very tolling on most hardcore fans over the Nassau Coliseum situation. As I warned back on August 1st and in subsequent blogs, no RFP went to Queens. So a lot will still cause us fans much anxious moments as the roller-coaster of Isles futures further capitulates us to and fro from our seats, our hands aching from gripping the bar. We will go deeper into that soon enough, but now its time for some checking of the magnifying glass to see what we have with these 2011-2012 NY Islanders.
Line 1: The All Star, His Pal, and The Rookie
It has been heart warming to watch John Tavares be exactly as we all hoped, growing to the player that seems to be leading the team in scoring and being the first line center. Tavares is on the cusp of all star level. So when things changed this summer from Charles after the August 1st debacle, Garth moved fast to wrap up their biggest asset for the next 6 years.
Loyalty to the home team is something that the Islanders clearly look for with those psych testing and analysis when drafting players. By doing so, they assure a straight course for the rebuild, which finds players who will stick with it and with Long Island. This attribute, which many other teams do NOT do, is brilliant and the results have quieted the cacophony of lame guesswork and conjecture by many in media who thought Tavares would not want to be on LI, nor remain.
In your face, suckers!
Watch as the rest of the Isles core also will buy in for the long haul, naysayers. For the Islanders process might be on par with none other than the Oakland A’s on breaking the mold to the NHL’s old school team building.
With Moulson, Tavares’s buddy, you have a nice finesse and handler who also will ride the first line this season. He needs to grow a bit more to break past 60 points, which needs to happen if the Isles want to make the playoffs. First lines really need to find a 70-80 range, and though Tavares seems ready to break through, I am not that sure Moulson is there just yet or if his ceiling is quite at that level. This might be the the test of Moulson being a first liner past this season.
Nino, aka the rookie, evidently has shown enough in the preseason and camp already to displace Parenteau to line 3. This was a battle many thought, including myself, that would carry on over the course of the season. So kudos to El Nino to already being tried and poised to be there at the start of the season. By doing so, it puts him in the drivers seat for the Calder. How many rookies get placed on a first line? Moreover, when the team has some realistic hopes and mission to make the playoffs? It is a ballsy move by the coach and GM. The payoff MUST be over 50 points for Nino to belong there, and for these Isles to playoff bound… Even 10-20 points more is needed. Clearly there are big expectations for the rookie.
Line 2: Growing Up
Line two is the defensive wunderkind Frans Nielsen, who is in the final year of his own contract. His competition this season is with third line center, Josh Bailey. Whoever develops and clearly becomes Isles third line center of the future is between these two (Strome will be #2 center down line). After this season, there might be only one…so watch this one play out.
The second line is another line that must blow up, and it is Kyle Okposo who might hold the key for that to happen. Okposo has everything down playing-wise, except for the tally on the stat chart. He must find it this season to take the next step.
Michael Grabner, with the Isles unlicensed Warner Bros. Gremlins shirt being sold in their official store, has been a waiver wonder. 34 goals clearly shows that Florida gave up far too soon on their prospect, who instead got opportunity and reprieve on the Islanders. This year needs that and more from him.
The 2nd line must produce, and with Grabs, that will likely happen.
Line 3: The Expendables?
Line 3 for the isles will also be an offensive line, used much like line 1 and 2. Here might be some things that will be interesting to watch. Josh Bailey is very much in his make or break year, never mind that he got a two year contract. This is the year that he shows promise to what the Isles projected, or becomes a low cost piece to deal come deadline or next summer.
The same also can be said on the tradability of his line counterpart, Blake Comeau. The kid is capable of 20-25 goals. However, Blake pre-dates the Isles system, and he was someone whose rights were being shopped around not too long ago before coming to a contract agreement. That contract agreement, by the way, is very frugal and attractive for what might be his likely being shopped later on.
P.A. Parenteau shifts from line 1 to here, for now. Will his numbers be the same? Not likely.
BUT, if Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau come on strong in key years, PA’s will also follow. The Isles do need this line to be more than expendable to make a playoff run. So if this line falters or these key cogs fail to up the ante, then there will be some changes. This line is the most likely to see some changes if things don’t go well.
Line 4: The Depth of Vets
If you have not noticed, it looks like Haley and Gillies are more set to revolve in as-needed. Gillies will remain with the big club. This leaves the vets to fill it out…
Brian Rolston, Jay Pandolfo/Matt Martin, Marty Reasoner – grinders and with some speed. Some scoring. Some of everything.
Above all, as injuries are bound to happen, these players have enough upside and ability to also play on other lines. This provides a depth that the Isles have not seen in a long, long time.
So, in conclusion, for the Isles to achieve the playoffs, a few things NEED to happen here on offense. Lots of question, luckily, this season is where we will have some answers. Even some answers to the long term rebuild.
About the Author: B.D. Gallof is a published writer and hockey blogger. He writes about Hockey, NY Islanders & the NY Islanders venue situation for CBS New York. BD has been written up in Sports Illustrated, TSN.ca, the NY Times Slapshots blog, Yahoo's Sports and SportsBusiness Journal. He has been a featured blogger for The Huffington Post, as well as owner, lead writer, and managing editor at HockeyIndependent.com.