So tomorrow is the final preseason game before the season opener at home (for once!) against the Penguins. With so many one-way contracts, it hasn't been an overwhelmingly suspenseful camp. How many questions could possibly remain? Quite a few, actually:
Who's the Captain? Do you go with last season's MVP Mark Streit, who's wed to the team for four more seasons, or do you go with stopgap (and veteran mentor) Doug Weight, with the idea that a non-Streit youngster will take the helm next season? While Weight could be gone in March, the Isles have traded their captain before...
Who's the Starter? Initial signing Dwayne Roloson and late bargain find Martin Biron figure to compete for alpha dog status. The preseason has done very little to indicate who has the upper hand. I just want Biron to be in good form come trade deadline time, should it come to that. But who gets the start on opening night?
Who's the Star Rookie? The Islanders are bringing John Tavares along slowly -- not overexposing him with preseason off-ice commitments or on-ice games. But it's fellow 2009 1st rounder Calvin de Haan who's really turning heads. Could the Isles keep him around for the ol' nine-game trial before returning him to juniors? Roster numbers aren't in his favor, but injuries have a way of changing things.Who's the Enforcer? Joel Rechlicz is the one-track pugilist in training. Jeremy Reich is the more rounded player who would match Tim Jackman and Nate Thompson's two-way style and willingness to fight. Or, as Chris(topher) Botta had it from Gordon himself:
"They are two completely different players," said Gordon. "Jeremy is more accomplished as a player and can handle himself. Joel at this point is more one-dimensional and we’re working with him on all aspects of his game."
Will Gordon go with a full-time enforcer or the player/pugilist by committee? Like last year, the answer is probably a hybrid approach depending on opponent and health.
Who are Tavares' Linemates? The combos -- as is the trend these days -- are subject to constant change. But it does tickle the fancy to wonder who will be benefiting from John Tavares' presence in the ilneup. Will the veteran Weight be feeding and mentoring him (while acting as landlord at home)? Will he be on a "kid" line? Or will he be creating space for someone unexpected, like erstwhile roster aspirant Matt Moulson? Speaking of Moulson...
How do the Winger/Center Dominoes Fall? A question this summer: Does Tavares begin his NHL career in his natural center position? Gordon has given him every opportunity to do so, while Frans Nielsen's injury creates an opening at center. Meanwhile, Kyle Okposo's concussion creates a temporary opening on the wing. Could that create the opportunity for Moulson, or does it help a lower-skill guy like Reich?
What of the Blueline? With Mark Streit and Bruno Gervais backed by injury-prone veterans like Andy Sutton, Radek Marinek and Freddy Meyer, a veteran in serious need of a rebound in Brendan Witt, and a still-learning Jack Hillen, we may not see new faces right off the bat. But we can see why they're needed and why they're likely to get into the lineup throughout the season. With all the forwards in camp, do the Isles carry an 8th defenseman right off the bat? What does the blueline look like in December? In March?
Well, that's what's on my mind heading into the final week. What about you, Isles fans? Where do you see the answers? And what other questions are on your mind?