One consistent theme emerging from interviews during the first three days of New York Islanders training camp: Like Mark McGwire, we're not here to talk about the past.
The Islanders playoff appearance and dangerous showing in an eighth-seed role was revitalizing for the organization, but they are recalibrating expectations based not on that bar, but on much higher ones. Even owner Charles Wang seemed to hint that last year's playoff appearance was a year behind schedule.
"Last year is last year. We have to stop talking about it, to be honest. New goal in mind as a team, as a group, as an organization this year."
Newsday's catch-up with goaltender Evgeni Nabokov included several responses discouraging playoff talk and any self-congratulatory remarks about the six-game first-round exit last May:
"We can't continue to think about what happened last year. Last year is last year; it was a 48-game season, was totally different. That's in the past. Who cares? I don't care."
"We can't be thinking about the playoffs right now. It's our goal, but I think it's wrong," he said. "We can't talk about playoffs now -- this year's playoffs, last year, we need to forget about this. If we're going to think about Pittsburgh Penguins playoff in October . . . We're not going to make it far."
Other returning Islanders have shared similar thoughts this first week.
It's sometimes cheesy, but usually necessary: In organizational communications and team-building, mantras like "last year is last year" and "we can't keep talking about last year" help focus disparate personalities on a common goal. The common mentality in this case probably stems from players' own intuition but also from coaching staff talks and from player discussions amongst themselves.
The Islanders returned to the playoffs last year. They got fans, media and peers to notice and cheer them in the offseason. Friends gave them a pat on the back. But that was last year, it was well short of the ultimate goal, and it's nothing to keep dwelling on.
There's a much bigger goal as a new season dawns.
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