Because the Islanders were near the bottom last year, I drew the short straw of having to write one of the first SBN team previews, now three weeks ago. I started it like this:
"The tone of this preview could change drastically between now and Oct. 9. I much prefer to do an in-depth preview at the end of training camp, when roster battles are settled."
Yeah. I guess things are different now, two major injuries and one hardly insignificant injury later. I'm not going to pretend I expected the level of carnage that took out Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo and Rob Schremp -- but I did expect a surprise or two like that. Training camp always has injuries. There are always a few high-stakes roster decisions in the final week.
Anyway, to kick things off on opening weekend, I'm not redoing the preview. I'm doing something far more worthy: Making others redo the preview. I turned to people who have helped support or build this site over the years, to answer some serious and offbeat questions about the Islanders in 2010-11. Thanks to WebBard, Dave Hanssen (once Hans und Franz), Doug (IslesOfficial 'round here) Michael Schuerlein (Islesblogger), Ken Rosenblatt (of Islanders Outsider) and mikb [Note: I added mikb's answers a little late.] for heeding the call on all-too-typical short notice. And for everyone else, I shouldn't need to tell you by now that your own answers are welcome in comments.
Big Bucks, Big Bucks, No Whammies aaaaand...
Question 1: Will Nino Niederreiter be on this team past 9 games, past which Year 1 of his ELC begins? Should he be?
WebBard: I hope not, and I really think he won't due to the addition of Michael Grabner. I haven't seen any preseason games, but what I saw of him in the Blue & Orange game was a great raw talent. But there was obviously a different level of consistency and finishing between him and the guys who had spent more time in College/Juniors or the AHL. I originally thought there was the possibility of him having a huge first 9 games and making the team, but now I think the Isles will use that time to bring Grabner up to speed.
Dave Hanssen und Franz: No and no. I don't think there is an immediate need for him to be rushed, unlike two years ago with Josh Bailey. The Isles now have enough forwards both on the big team and down on the farm that they can take their time with Nino. I think the addition of Grabner, hopefully an Austrian better than Thomas Pock, was a sign that Snow plans to let Nino develop in the juniors. Nino is one of the youngest guys in this past draft class, let him take another year or two in Portland where he can hone his skills and play first line minutes.
Ken Rosenblatt (Islanders Outsider): Yes, he will. From a business perspective, the organization really needs him to remain in the mix rather than disappear to the WHL for another year. He’s already a cult hero. My brain says there’s no way he should be in the NHL this year, but my heart is curious. Nino’s performance in those first nine games could sway my brain. He has a better chance to continue his development at the NHL level without delaying it too much than Josh Bailey did.
mikb: I hope he won't. My guess, however, is that he will be. Bailey looked terribly lost and still stuck around the whole year. So twist my arm, I say the Isles keep him with the big club.
Doug (Isles Official): Ahh, our 6'2" 205 lbs behemoth of a 1st round pick made the roster out of camp. Who didn't see that coming? This was a forgone conclusion ever since El Nino was drafted. He really was going to have to play himself out of a spot rather than into one. His big body, excellent skating ability and soft hands make him a valuable asset no matter how old he is. The nine-game stint that he'll have with the big club -- and make no mistake it will be the full 9 game audition -- will be filled with highs and lows. I guarantee he pots at least 3 goals and roughly 3-4 assists, giving pause to Snow and Gordon on whether to send him back to Portland and the Winterhawks. However, I believe that it is in Nino's and the Islanders best interest to send him back to the WHL and have him duplicate the numbers that got him drafted at #5 and give him another shot at the WJC's in Buffalo in December. He can be a regular next season when the core is a year older and will really be in need of a big body winger who's going to cause havoc for opposing defenses.
Editor's Note: What's Doug's punishment when his guarantee falls through?
Michael Schuerlein (Islesblogger): I think Nino will be up on a game by game basis, and IF (that's a big if mind you), Gordon and his assistants are blown away he may be up longer with Snow's approval.
Should he be kept up with the big club? The jury is still out on that. I have always held the belief that prospects shouldn't be rushed. However, that being said -- Nino is clearly head and shoulder above where most rookies have been. He's not quite where Tavares was last year, but he hasn't looked out of place. Injuries though will keep him up here for those nine games at the very least.
Dominik: I'm less confident than others that he'll be returned to juniors, but no, he shouldn't stay past 9. But...even with the "youngest Islander ever," I don't want to say "never" about this, and I like the idea of giving him more eval time before sending him back. He can serve a purpose in those nine games though: The barely-18 Nino and the older Grabner and P.A. Parenteau can push each other for offense until Rob Schremp and, later, Kyle Okposo return. If he stays, I'm not going to pretend I don't enjoy watching him develop. It's cliche, but he does have the "NHL body" that most his age don't.
Webby: With Rollie and DP, it definitely won't be a pure platoon like it was early last year in the Rollie/Biron mold. But given that Rollie is 41 and the oldest starting goalie in the NHL, I would expect DP to play either night when the Isles have back to back games and any games following a rough Rollie outing. I'm not sure what's more important for DP, the number of games he plays or just staying healthy for the whole season. Either way he has to show that he can still cut it as a starter so there's a clear goaltending picture going into next year.
David und Franz: A conundrum... A riddle if you will... Ideally I would like to see a 50/50 split between the two, but I know that both DiPi and Roloson play better when they are given consistent and continuous playing time. If DiPi is totally healthy like what we're hearing, then he should be the starter.
Ken Rosenblatt: Since you mentioned it, see there.
mikb: I think RDP has a lot of Boston in him - you challenge him and he will respond if at all possible, just to stuff it in your face. Add to that Rick's fragility over the past two years and I agree with Ken - make Roli the starter, publicly; let Ricky work to reclaim his job. For him, it's the job, not really the money, so it would definitely motivate him.
Doug/IslesOfficial: "The Rick" should be beaten with a wooden stick on an uninjured area of his body...if you can find one. Just kidding. Being serious, I think that there should be a platooning setup where Roloson, who has proven that he can handle the workload, receives twice the amount of games Rick does. Remember that Nate Lawson is down for an indefinite amount of time so the next guy on the goaltending carousel is my fave to make noise next year in nets: Mikko Koskinen.
Michael Schuerlein: The DP situation should play out like this, if he's healthy - he starts the home opener. You rotate him and Roloson for the first couple of games as a precaution and then maybe piggyback starts if you like what you see and if health is no longer an issue. I think we are going to surprise lots of people if DiPietro remains healthy this year - we finally have a real tandem.
Dominik: Roloson should be the starter until Father Time tells him the gig is up, and DiPietro should play one game on every back-to-back. Meanwhile, Mikko can cast a shadow on the Coliseum all the way from Bridgeport.
Question 3: Who are the best and worst hockey commentators on TV/radio right now?
Bard of the Web: This is too easy for me, Milbury is so far above anyone else in the stupidity he is allowed to spew to a larger audience then any of the other talking heads makes me sick. You would think this was the same bombastic Milbury that the Islanders hired in 95 and that 10 years of insanity didn't even touch him. Unless of course he's taking it to a player he drafted and gave up on, like his claims during the Olympics that Luongo couldn't lead Team Canada to the Gold.
I still like Roenick as a commentator right now, and wish NBC would hire him all year long. I found him crying at the Cup ceremony to be touching and to show how much the Stanley Cup means to anyone that competes in the NHL.
Hans und David: Worst - Play-by-Play: Jack Edwards. Hands down. Whether it is his evil cackle, blatant homerism or one of the litany of just horrific calls he's made, man I'm glad I no longer have to listen to him out here in Wild Country. Color: I could go easy with Joel Micheletti, but I do believe that like Darth Vader there is some good still in him and he does have a chance one day to redeem himself once the Dolans have released their grasp on him. So I'll go with Edward's booth-mate Andy Brickley. I don't mind his thick, exaggerated Southie accent. What I do mind is his total lack of communication hockey to the audience.
Best - Play-by-Play: Pierre Houde. Nothing quite like listening to the Canadiens in French. While I do have a basic understanding of French, honestly I have no idea what he's saying 90% of the time but I don't care. Howie is a close second, but its always been hard for me to forget the "Matteau, Matteau" call. Color: Billy Jaffe. Sad to see him go. Intelligent, communicates well and relatively impartial. He'll be doing national games in either the US or Canuckistan for someone soon.
Ken Rosenblatt: I’m just going to stick to the local market for this one because my exposure beyond that was limited last season. So I’ll say that I do enjoy Doc Emrick’s style and I tend to turn off Al Trautwig.
mikb: For keeping up with the league, Puck Daddy is a great resource.
Billy Jaffe, of course. Gonna miss him. He was easily the best color guy and analyst of all the locals.
For humor, the mighty Down Goes Brown is tops.
Chris Botta is doing great work, as long as one ignores his comments section.
And forgive me, but I think Al Trautwig is the best thing MSG has going for it.
Editor's Note: What, you don't think Paul Steigerwald's nerve-strafing announcing has awoken a patient or two out of comas?
Herr Islesblogger Schuerlein: The best? Howie Rose and The Jaffe (Billy Jaffe) were in my opinion the cream of the crop and I am very disappointed the way that situation played out this summer. Now don't hate on me, but I also enjoy Doc Emrick because to me he's always been that classic hockey voice.
...Who do I hate? Anyone on the Rangers broadcast, Chico, Don Cherry and most of the TSN idiots who think hockey outside of the Canadian market isn't as good.
Dominik: Worst: Milbury and Jack Edwards, by a margin longer than the wait in line to pay your phone bill in 1991 Czechoslovakia. However, while he's not the worst, Doc Emrick is the most overrated. "Passing the puck is Elias, spiking the puck is Rolston, verbing the object is every subject whose name I save until the end of a veerry looong sentence." While I'm at it, Jim Hughson just bumped Doc from my personal Overrated Throne. Best: Billy Jaffe. Knows his stuff, great demeanor, great analyst, never says stuff just to Milbury up some cheap headlines. But if we're going outside the familiar, J.P. Dellacamera was a wonderfully play-by-play guy who used to toil in obscurity for the Thrashers.
Question 4: How much do the injuries to Streit, Okposo and Schremp change your prediction for the Isles this season? Are there any silver linings to those injuries at all?
WebBard: I still think the Islanders can fight for a playoff spot. Obviously no single player can make up completely what is going to be missed with Streit and Okposo out, but there are definitely enough talented players on the team. Some of them have to realize that without the injuries they wouldn't be on the team this year. So it's definitely the last chance for some of them to prove they deserve to continue playing on the NHL level.
Hanssen und Franzzen: Honestly, I still feel the same way about this season as I did before the injuries. They're a year away from Prime Time. Sure with KO, Striet and RSH they'd be more competitive and might have a shot making the playoffs, but I think it would have been a false hope. So let the key guys get healthy, get another chip in the rebuilding in the form of another lotto pick.
Ken Rosenblatt: The injuries do alter it a bit. I looked (prayed?) for the Islanders to keep up with the race for a good portion of the season and then fight tooth and nail for the eighth spot over the final stretch. I still think they can hang around and surprise some people with their competitiveness for a few months, but I think they’ll fall off the pace earlier and find themselves fighting tooth and nail just to get back in it, ultimately falling short. As for silver linings, maybe Grabner turns out to be a gem and he wouldn’t have been here without the injuries. Maybe James Wisniewski, Jack Hillen, and Andrew MacDonald really step up in Streit’s absence.
mikb who be mik: I'd have said that we were challenging for a playoff spot before, and probably out of it after the injuries. Also, it triggered a predictable media rash of "Those guys are gonna suck again" talk.
Okposo on the other hand hurt, in some ways I think even more. Okposo is that offensive guy who does things on both sides of the puck that lead to offensive production, not just for himself but those around him. He was used on the power play, used shorthanded and really worked hard every shift. While Streit's loss hurts offensively as well, that's now two players you need to make of for production wise. Hopefully though, one of the players held up with the big club will miraculously provide magical offense (ala Moulson) and surprise everyone.
While I like Schremp and think he has potential, he was scratched a majority of the first half last season so this isn't as big of an issue. Especially if he's only going to be down a few weeks at most.
I do like what Snow said, when these players return and the Islanders happen to be playing well - talk about a shake up.
Dominik: I may not betray it in daily posts (or do I?), but I'm absolutely gutted by Streit's injury. My heart says the D is deeper and the team can suck it up for a while, but 4+ months is just so long. In roughly three decades of watching hockey I just cannot remember a team not suffering a significant decline when their #1 D-man goes down for an extended period. By the end it feels like death by a thousand cuts: You've watched several guys step up admirably, yet the equation never balances. So my expectations have gone from an outside shot at #8 in the East to actually pondering if there might be a really nice draft prize out of this. Won't change how I root, though. I cannot wait for Saturday night.
Question 5: Going into the season, between the injuries and arena uncertainty on one hand and the still-on-track prospects on the other, what do you think is the zeitgeist among Isles fans?
WebBard: Right now, I think everyone is still trying to get over the injuries. It just feels like a kick in the gut for a team that was on the cusp of turning it around. It feels like an infamous saying for Jets fans fits perfectly here, "Same Old Jets", in that if your not paying close attention to the Islanders it feels like they took one step forward and three steps back. But the Islanders should be competitive this year and the Islanders aren't the first or the last team to have injuries this season.
I am Hanssen und er ist Franzen: Guarded optimism? At least that's what I am feeling. I know there are those out there that are getting impatient, but this team is going in the right direction. I think we can all wait another year before making the playoffs with the promise in a couple of years we'll have a legit cup contender.
mikb nimble mikb quick: I get the feeling from my Isles buddies that things are moving forward. Most important, I don't see the injuries triggering a lot of "Of course, woe is us, here we go again!" talk. It's more frustration that it could cost us a playoff spot this season - and when you go from fatalistic to optimistic like that, it's a positive sign. The Islanders are making progress; this is a team on the rise.
Ken Rosenblatt: I think there’s a sense of disappointment and extinguished excitement. The fan base has mostly been accepting of the team’s on-ice success being on hold for a while as the young players get better and Garth Snow patiently constructs his team. But that patience was contingent on continuous progress and forward momentum. I think a lot of fans are doubtful that the next step forward can occur with Okposo out for a few months and Streit gone for the majority of the season. It’s hard to maintain enthusiasm when it feels like another wait-til-next-year season, even if Bailey, Tavares, Comeau, Nielsen, Schremp, MacDonald, Hillen, etc., all show signs of improvement. This was supposed to be the year that the media picked up on what many teams were saying last year: the Islanders are tough to play against. But most of the media only gets that if they’re winning.
IslesOfficial Who Is Called Doug: Islanders fans should be happy about a lot of things right now: JT has his own clothing line, Rick finally has come into a season "healthy" (let's see how long that lasts) and the D should be upgraded even without Mark. The direction is there, the arena issue will hang over this team...until 2015. STOP WORRYING WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN WITH THE LIGHTHOUSE WHEN TALKING ABOUT THE ON-ICE PRODUCT! What the team does really has little to do with the process of developing the land around the Coliseum. That's just political B.S. at its best.
Islesblogger Who Is Called Mike: I will take the easy route on this one. Die hards will be there, bubbles may moan and groan but stick by and those who complain will do just that (oh noes the sky is falling!!)
Dominik: [Editor's self-loathing subconscious: Woo-wooo, someone has thesaurus, don't they? SOMEone just HAD to use zeitgeist in a post, didn't they?] I don't know the answer -- that's why I asked the question. I'm completely colored by the tone of comments at LHH: As always, a mix of immediate panic, immediate Bluto-rallying cries, big-picture doomsayers and big-picture optimists. In other words: Fun Islanders fans who like to have a good debate and a good laugh.
Question 6: TV/Film Character, Actor, Rock Star: If the following Islanders were any of these, who would they be? Mark Streit, Jon Sim, Dwayne Roloson, Rick DiPietro
|Islander on Screen
||Jason Statham*||Hans Landa, "Inglorious Bastards"
||Mr. Bean||Johnny Cash
||Patrick Monohan from Train
||Keiffer the Nihilist, "The Big Lebowski"||
Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Hercules the dog, "Sandlot"
||Noel (or Liam?) Gallagher, Oasis
||Joe Pesci's character in Lethal Weapon 3|
|Marshall Rueben J. Cogburn, "True Grit"||
Creed from The Office
||Unabomber. (Hey, you never know.)||Jack Palance||Obi-Wan Kenobi|
||The Gingerbread man, "Shrek"||David Dunn, "Unbreakable"||Bobby Ewing from Dallas
||Somebody on "Jersey Shore"
*photo chosen for equal-opportunity beefcake-type deal for the ladies (and Creed-compliant men). You've been warned. **Michael/Islesblogger passed on this question, explaining: "Ugh. I am horrible at this."
Further explanations follow...
WebBard: Mark Streit: Jason Statham. You can put him in just about any outrageously bad action movie plot with even worse co-stars and the guy is still money.
Jon Sim: Patrick Monahan from Train. You know he's good and the band's talented, but whenever you think they are finally done they keep coming back with one more song.
Dwayne Roloson: Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino. If you haven't seen that movie your missing out.
Rick DiPietro: The Gingerbread man from Shrek, Just because I picture him walking around with an icing repaired knee and a candy cane for a cane.
Ken Rosenblatt: Streit: I gave this one a lot of thought and all I could come up with is that Streit is Igor Larionov. (If you think that doesn’t fit the categories, Larionov was and always will be a total rock star.)
DiPietro: Bobby Ewing from Dallas—wouldn’t it be nice if the last two seasons were just a dream?
mikb: BONUS: Trevor Gillies - Brock Samson ... DOUBLE BONUS: Frans Neilsen - Batman
Doug (who drank too much coffee while cramming for an organic chemistry test): Mark Streit: Markie Mark Wahlberg. Hands down. Gotta love a guy who can peg a Dinty Moore can with a bullet from over a mile and still sing "The Right Stuff" with four other happy white boys. Love it.
Jon Sim: Hercules, the dog from The Sandlot. Bark is bigger than his bite and he may run really fast but he still can't get out from underneath Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez's P.F. Flyers.
Rick DiPietro: Henry Winkler. If you don't know who that is, I point you in the direction of "The Fonz." HHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!
Dominik: Grabs the microphone first... All regulars here know Frans is my boy. It takes a big man -- as Fletch says: "I am not a big man" -- to so quickly let bygones be bygones the way he and Mottau have. I am aware that hockey is a physical game, and mistakes happen. I am also aware that in times of famine, Inuit people used to kill their elders by sending them away from the village, whether by frozen path to the forests or frozen ice floe out to sea. If Mottau doesn't lead the Isles to a Stanley Cup...I don't know, that sounds like the only honorable thing to do. Is that so wrong?
WebBard: There's this guy in Montreal, Mike Cammalleri, I think you know what needs to be done, Mottau...
Hanssen the Manssen: Nothing. As long as he and Frans have worked it out between them, I don't think it should matter to us.
mikb: He needs to stand up to the first person taking liberties with his guys and throw it down. Also, he needs to learn the Danish National Anthem and sing it whenever Frans scores a goal.
Islesblogger: Well as Katie Strang of Newsday Tweeted, the pair talked about it and got over it and then hugged it out.... so that's enough for me. It's part of the game and wasn't really a malicious thing (Cammalleri needs to do more should he ever find his way on Long Island) so we're cool.
Doug: Mike Mottau needs to kneel at the feet of Frans Nielsen and kiss his feet...after a game. I don't care how many kids he has because he might have to sacrifice his first born on the alter of the Dane as well. Can you tell I really haven't forgiven him yet? Frankly, I'm impressed with both Frans and Mottau's good guy "hugging it out" when Mike got here. Just don't be surprised if Nielsen butt-ends Mottau in the face during a practice while they're on the road. I'm just sayin'. (P.S.: Regarding the slap on the wrist he got fro the NHL's disciplinarian, just check out the defenseman (#5) in this video at about 1:02.)
Ken Rosenblatt: Donate 51 pounds of danish to charity at every home game.
||A Very, Very Large Road Cone||Scratch
Stay Puft Marshmallow Man: Looks scary but in the end blown to fluffy marshmallow bits.
||Pride of Liptovsky Mikulas, before prize mule Prmysl came along
||Boston (you're my home)
||Flash in the pan
||Go to the net!!!
||Deserving (of a core role)
||Heaven (must be missing a center)
Question 9: Finally, if you had to bet your favorite jersey on what season the Islanders will return to the playoffs, what year would you pick?
WebBard: I still want to believe they can get in this season. They came close last year and that was with everything falling apart around the team. From having to replace half the starting defense, both special teams falling off and third period struggles, this year's team should be an improvement in all areas. But if I had to bet my favorite jersey, I'd have to bet on next season. Everyone will be one year older and better, hopefully Streit and Okposo recover fine and don't miss a step, and you have the crop of top prospects who should be NHL ready. I do want to see them make it this year, just because it will be a morale booster for everyone that's been struggling on the team for a few years now and for us fans in general.
David Hanssen: I would be willing to bet my Olympic Norway OK Tollefsen jersey that the Islanders will return to the post season next year, the 2011-2012 season. I would be willing to bet my radioactive Fisherman jersey they'll make it this year.
Ken Rosenblatt: 2011-12.
Islesblogger: Being none of them are my favorite, 2010-2011.
mikb: Next season. If you want my navy roadie from '02, though, I'll gladly say that they'll win the Stanely Cup by Thanksgiving.
[Editor's note: Deal.]
Doug: Dom, you want my favorite jersey? You bastard. You touch my 1980 Lake Placid Patch, Vintage Mitchell 22 Bossy Jersey and I'll have your head on platter. Wait, you don't want the jersey? Good 'cause it's mine. I think the Isles will consistently start playoff runs as soon as next season. Can they do it this season without two of their best players? I wouldn't bet my favorite jersey on it but it's possible if you look at the East. The Atlantic is going to be a byatch of a division. If the Isles can pick up half the games in the division, play the West like they were red-headed stepchildren and make the Southeast and Northeast at least work for their meals, then there's a chance. Slim as it may be. Still should be a heck of a lot of fun though.
[Editor's Note: I know where he lives. Bossy Jersey will be mine.]
Dominik: I wouldn't even loan my NIELSEN 51 jersey to my own mother. (Sorry Mom. You remember the stuff you taught me about creative license...right?) But if I'm betting, they make the playoffs in 2011-12 unless I do something stupid like preseason player projection posts here next summer.
* * *
Thanks again to all contributors. Now let's drop the puck!