Given the spate of Isles news that has attracted the attention of the hockey media in the way a bad traffic accident might, I thought I would fill the minds of Isles fans with some good feelings regarding the upcoming season - Bleacher Report style (without the slideshows though).
The good feelings are a function of the relative health of the team and why said health should translate to an 8th place finish in the East, even without any further additions to the team. Here it goes:
1. The 2011-2012 Islanders Are a Different Team than Last Year's "Slump" Islanders
However, this approach is flawed for a simple reason: the team responsible for most of their losses last year is very different from the team responsible for most of its wins -- without even considering the impact of the new faces of Streit, Rolston and Reasoner. The Islanders lost a total of 52 games last year, including overtime losses. 20 of those losses came during an awful 21 game stretch between October 23 and December 13, 2010 and 7 came during the last 8 games of the season. What did the Islanders look like during the 21 game slump? Here are the line combos for a random game against Anaheim in late November. (Cover your eyes as this looks worse than the Isles' rumored third Jersey):
26 Matt Moulson – 91 John Tavares – 40 Michael Grabner
57 Blake Comeau – 12 Josh Bailey – 15 PA Parenteau
17 Matt Martin – 51 Frans Nielsen – 7 Trent Hunter
16 Jon Sim – 28 Zenon Konopka – 93 Doug Weight
4 Mark Eaton – 20 James Wisniewksi
10 Mike Mottau – 24 Radek Martinek
38 Jack Hillen – 8 Bruno Gervais
Take a gander at that defense. All but two of those guys are no longer with the team and Eaton and Mottau are likely to be relegated to the bottom pair or worse this coming season. On offense, no FnGO and a 4th line that has all moved on to other things and places.
The defense during the late season slump was equally sketchy. This was the lineup for the last game of the season:
Hamonic - Martinek
Wishart - Katic
Sims - Reese
Hamonic is the ONLY guy with a definite top 4 spot on the team next year. We won't see Sims or Marty next year and the others (with the possible exception of Wishart) will likely start the season in Bridgeport.
Thus using the 2010-2011 season as a baseline doesn't make sense because the team responsible for most of the losses is simply not the team that will take the ice next season.
2. The current defense played pretty well last year
So how did the "other" Islanders team play last year? The top Isles defensemen who played last year include Hamonic, Jurcina and MacDonald. MacDonald and Jurcina were both out for most of the Fall 2010 slump (Jurcina was out for 18 of those games and AMac was out 16). Hamonic got called up on November 24, at the tail end of the streak. Both AMac and Jurcina were out for 7games of the bad 8 game stretch at the end of the year while Hamonic played with assorted AHLers and ATOs. Overall, the team's record with all three players was 20-10-5. The team's record with AMac and Jurcina was 24-11-7. Extrapolate those number over 82 games, and you have a playoff team. Then add Mark Streit. What was that about a third jersey?
Of course, the Isles' success while AMac Jurcina and Hamonic were in the lineup had as much to do with the emergence of the Isles offense in early January which saw the "revelaation" of Grabner, the return of Okposo and the development of the FnGO line. It could be that this defense on a less talented offsense would have had less success. But does it matter?
3. The Isles Offense Will be Even Stronger in 2010-2011
Certainly the bright side to the Islander turnaround that began last winter was the gelling of the offense, which finished 8th in the conference. However, the offense is likely to score more goals next year with the addition of Streit, Reasoner, Rolston and possibly Nino Niederreiter. The power play in particular should improve with Streit and Rolston adding to strong shots from the point.
Of course, there are just as many reasons to be skeptical about this analysis: the sample size of the "good" Islanders of late December through mid-March is small. They were playing with no pressure (I'm not a fan of that one). The injury bug can strike again. Streit may be less than 100%. The goalie mess. Hey, I am an Isles fan. I am so used to disappointment that I can continue going with this list all night. And I am fully prepared to be disappointed yet again.
But there is enough of a reason to forget about bad jerseys, viewing parties and Jay Jacobs, Kate Murray and the rest of them and look forward to a successful season of hockey.