"Now suddenly Islanders games are games to watch. ... I've already seen a few John Tavares Islanders jerseys walking around Toronto."
>>the conversation on NHL Home Ice on XM radio this morning
In all the musing about free agency and Islanders fantasy trades, I'd forgotten about this aspect for a moment: This is going to be a new experience to have the Islanders under the national (multinational?) microscope now that they have last June's first overall pick in the lineup.
When Rick DiPietro was selected #1, it certainly turned the spotlight on the Isles, but for (mostly) the wrong reasons, considering the broader context of Mike Milbury's reign. Further, DiPietro was a "pick-and-wait" selection -- you knew he wouldn't be showing up to make an impact right away.
Not so with Tavares. Even granting that he is projected to be a notch below Sidney Crosby in terms of impact, suddenly the hockey world's (okay, Canada's) biggest junior hype is stepping right into an NHL lineup -- our lineup.
So this season, be prepared for:
- more stories from Canada checking in on the Isles and hyping their youth -- or, alternatively, saying their youth is nothing beyond Tavares
- more contrarian stories from Canada, as the odd columnist tries to argue that Tavares has been a disappointment after a) two weeks of training camp; b) 10 NHL games; c) half a season; d) by the trade deadline. (Get riled up by these to the degree your mental health allows.)
- perhaps, if we should be so (un)lucky, more stories in the New York press (ye gods!)
In general, this will be a good thing. More attention means more buzz -- and long-term, we sure need this team to have more buzz (even
if when it means, ultimately, higher ticket prices). Having more eyes on this team creates more scrutiny and gives us a more rounded view of things. I generally like what Garth Snow is doing in this rebuild, but having a few more critical eyes trained on him never hurts. And while there will be columns from out of the blue that trash the team -- because formula is still the lazy columnist's crutch -- some writers who know the game (and actually write about the game) will turn a closer eye to the team on the ice for the first time in a while. I look forward to their perspectives -- and by all accounts, Tavares is experienced and more than ready to handle the coverage.
Last year, coach Scott Gordon had a bit of a baptism by fire in terms of adjusting to greater media coverage with his jump to the NHL. Hopefully he and the rest of the hockey department are comfortable with the drill now -- and hopefully they're prepared for another uptick in coverage thanks to the Tavares story. If they handle it well, we'll be freed to talk more hockey; if they don't, more than a few sideshows and manufactured controversies will distract us from an exciting rookie's season and the promising young core he's joined.
What do you think? Are you ready? Will you be scanning the Web for grumpy columnists with knives out? Or are you just happy that more media will finally have an on-ice reason to give the Islanders a look?