Backchecking: Not the Predictions You Wanted

I am not one to make predictions about where a hockey team will finish. Not any team. Not even the Islanders. Suffice it to say, I just don’t see the team as a playoff contender this year. Not without a lot of “ifs” breaking the Islanders way. While anything is possible. I just don’t see it. Think of it as the 2012 campaign for the Presidency. Mitt Romney had a legitimate chance to win. He was competitive enough in enough swing states, but he had to more or less have them all break his way to win the election. Seriously unlikely, as we found out in November.

So where does that leave the Islanders in this abbreviated season? And how will fan react if things don’t break their team’s way? I am sure we already know that answer. Fans will comment about how much the owner, Charles Wang won’t spend money despite solidifying a long term deal at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The GM, Garth Snow is too enamored with draft picks and youth, and either can’t or won’t deal any of that youth for proven talent. The team lacks a “real” coach, who is in over his head and can’t raise the level of play in his young squad, and therefore development is suffering. Speaking of development, why aren’t Strome and Reinhart on Long Island along with Donovan, Nino and Nelson, and when are we signing Andres Lee.

It all sounds very familiar doesn’t it? And there is some truth to it all. But reality is just that.

So let me save myself (and perhaps you) some angst. Enjoy the shortened season for what it is. A small snap-shot of Islander hockey for a few months that will act as a bridge to the start of the 2013-14 season — a season that we should be looking at as the real lift off for this franchise.

I know, that too sounds familiar, but for the first time since the 2008 rebuild began in earnest, 2013-14 is the year where the youth that we have been drafting and waiting for will make an impact on the Islanders. Right now, the Islanders still remain in stop-gap mode. And while I will not make any predictions on this season, or next, one thing I will predict — the time that the Islanders are a bottom dweller is slowly coming to an end.

The smartest thing the Islanders have done in the brief training camp window is leave Nino Niederreitter, Brock Nelson, Matt Donovan, Kevin Poulin and Andres Nillsson in Bridgeport. It was equally smart to send Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome back to Juniors. Islanders management is finally behaving like a responsible, professional organization. They learned from the mistakes of bringing Josh Bailey along to fast. They are not repeating the mistake of Nino’s rookie season. They are allowing their kids to develop properly, where they belong. Allowing these players to compete in meaningful minutes night after night without the pressure of an roller coaster NHL campaign that is going to be a fast pasted nightmare, is far better for their development.

Garth Snow was smart to add via waivers Joe Finley, Thomas Hickey, Keith Aucoin and as of today, Brian Strait. Outside of the 34 year old Aucoin, the other additions are all under 25, and in the right environment could add depth, and some skill to the Islanders. Clearly, the team feels that the shortened season, as a sprint, could lead to injuries, and call-ups. Hamonic is coming off of a concussion, Martinek tends to get hurt with a blow of the nose, Streit is getting older, Visnovsky is not here, and A-Mac has been known to get hurt too. When healthy and playing at 100%, the Islanders top 6, including Visnovsky, would be pretty solid — an improvement over last season, and together with the forward units, have a darn good power play. But the team was very shallow on depth, and rushing Donovan, Aaron Ness or trying to will a player like Mayfield, or Reinhart into the NHL prematurely has been a proven mistake. Players like John Tavares or Skinner in Carolina are rare exceptions.

Patience is very difficult for Islander fans who suffered through much of the last 20 years. 1993 was a very long time ago, and they are in dire need of some success. But blowing up the future is not the answer — because perhaps I am alone, but I think the future is very, very close.

Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Streit should all have good seasons. I am uncertain of Kyle Okposo, only because he has not played since last spring and tends to be a slow starter. Brad Boyes has a good chance to regain some of his scoring touch, and I expect a bounce back season from Michael Grabner. Frans Neilsen will be steady per usual. But, consider the 4 teams the Islanders will face this season for 18 games are all teams who has more than 100 points last season to the Islanders 79. The big if is can those teams remain healthy? Can the Islanders match their own potential? Is Boyes going to score 15 goals? Is Okposo? Will Tavares get at least 50 points, and will Moulson put up 20 goals? Will Neilsen and Grabner lead the league in short-handed goals as they did 2 years ago? All of that is going to be needed for the Islanders to manage enough wins to make any kind of run at a playoff spot — not to mention a monster season from an aging but steady Evgeni Nabokov. The season hinges on his health, because anything outside of a few missed games, and the Islanders are in real trouble. We all know about the condition of Rick DiPietro, and his ability.

Some more predictions…

The Islanders will dress at least 3 rookies next season. Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Matt Donovan have a very good chance at making the Islanders.

Sometime between now and the start of 13-14, Josh Bailey will be packaged in a trade. With players like Strome, Nelson and Nino all vying for regular jobs in 2013, and the emergence of David Ullstrom and Cacey Cizikas it will be tough to see where Bailey will fit.

Besides these upcoming forwards, Andres Lee will be signed and turn pro before next season. My guess is he will be poised to play in Bridgeport.

Calvin de Haan is the biggest question mark in the organization.

Rick DiPietro will not be bought out — ever. Stop asking for it. Accept that it won’t happen, and understand that as of now it has no real impact on the team, provided he plays less than 10 games a season.

Should Visnovsky show up, and play, and the Islanders are out of it by the deadline, he will be traded to a contender.

Overall, this season is more about preparing for next season. It’s hard not to consider what having a legit #2 center in Strome, with perhaps Nino and Nelson on his flanks will  look like next season. Not to mention, how much better it will be for the Isles on the ice with Frans where he belongs as the #3 center with Grabner as part of a shut down line.

I am looking forward to Saturday after watching some of the stupidest nonsense coming from these players and owners. Perhaps my dream of 30 empty arenas on opening night will never come to fruition, but it is still good to have the game we love, back!

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About the Author: A graphic designer who loves the game....and knows that age has slowed him down — but the passion is there. Islanders fan since the 70s, Dad, Husband and Coach of the Flying Tiger's Email: andre@filamentdesigns.net Twitter: http://twitter.com/FilamentDesigns

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  1. ChrisTriants says:

    I agree. Future is very close. This is a “bridge” for next season, as you put it. I think they have a great group of guys on the Island, but need a stronger supporting cast. Although I do believe they can squeak into the playoffs this season, I don’t think this year has any impact on what the team does down the line. The shortened season provides unpredictability throughout the league, but I expect the Islanders to stay the course, and ultimately, have their prospects ready for next year. Wouldn’t be surprised if they brought in a player or two with a package deal for next season as well.

  2. MattandDan says:

    Dray,

    Nice stuff. Pie in the sky fans think these guys can do something, but the fact is, if you saw that scrimmage Wednesday, it was cringe invoking. This is not only a lottery team, but a lottery team that will challenge for #1 overall. When you expect offense from Ullstrom and Reasoner to salvage your season, you should think about what that means.

  3. John Keitz says:

    I agree. I’ll be relaxing and looking for the signs of breakout from the Isles this year. I’ll be sweating the playoffs with the Nets this year.