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Revisiting Some Debates: Defense, goaltending, the uncertain future

Maybe it's because of the Islanders off days. Maybe it's because we passed the new year and the half-way point of the season. Maybe it's because a certain #39 has now officially been recalled to the big club after a healthy (second) conditioning stint over the weekend with Bridgeport. Regardless, I feel like there are some early-season topics worth revisiting now.

Consider this an open forum on a variety of topics. I'm a devout believer in the Church of I Am Neither Genius Nor Clairvoyant, so I like to revisit my earlier opinions or beliefs and check how they're panning out -- and to check whether I've changed my mind or "still need more data." I'm curious whether your opinion has changed as well. (And even though I left that sect long ago, followers of the Church of Always Damn Cocksure are encouraged to weigh in with full voice.)

On defensemen present and future, on our pressbox-dwelling shootout experts, on the three-headed goaltending monster, on last summer's top pick and next summer's location news, let's hear how your thinking has changed (or solidified) on these and other topics:

The Defensemen Situation

So, pretty much everyone this side of Garth Snow's office door went into this season thinking the blueline was subpar and/or at least way to vulnerable to injury. Maybe Snow believed that too, but was in three-year, let contracts expire mode. There was pre-season talk around these parts of trading for/signing Anton Babchuk or Adrian Aucoin or Dennis Seidenberg to augment things (caveat: We never truly know whether a free agent would come here).

Naturally, Radek Martinek went down with a season-ending injury, opening some opportunities: I've been pleasantly surprised by Andrew MacDonald. I've had moments of relish with Jack Hillen, but he can't do anything about his small frame, and his pairing with Andy Sutton has sort of reaffirmed his ceiling.

The Islanders also twice had a chance to reclaim Brad Lukowich -- both when he was originally assigned to Austin and this past week when he was recalled by the Canucks. Related to that, the Isles had a chance to claim disgruntled ex-Isle Mathieu Schneider last week. I think he would have goosed the powerplay; he also would have been a 5-on-5 liability (in other words, he'd fit right in!). At the same time, Doug Weight returned -- and the powerplay point is where Weight is most useful at this point.

How I've changed: I always thought the Isles needed another D-man. I was just never really happy with the options. A one-year veteran for depth would've been nice. Aucoin I'd have loved. I originally poo-poo'd Lukowich, the Sharks and Canucks' discards could actually still be the Islanders' gain. Basically, I'm a child here: I want, I want, I want, but I have no brilliant solution. I look forward to a day when (hopefully) Calvin De Haan, Matt Donovan and Travis Hamonic might make this question moot. I cry that Hamonic has just had six weeks of the most important year in his career taken from him because of a last-minute hit in a blowout. Speaking of which...

2009-10 Jack Hillen 39 1 9 10 5 32 0 0 0 0 46 2.2
2009-10 Andrew MacDonald 19 1 0 1 5 8 0 0 0 0 13 7.7
2009-10  Dennis Seidenberg 42 1 14 15 3 27 0 0 0 0 69 1.4
2009-10 Adrian Aucoin 43 6 13 19 4 30 0 0 2 0 80 7.5
2009-10 Mathieu Schneider 17 2 3 5 0 12 1 0 0 0 14 14.3


The Defensmen, Part II

Before this season I was excited about Calvin de Haan, still hopeful about Aaron Ness, and curious about Jyri Niemi. Half-way through this season, I'm excited about Travis Hamonic (though the injury sucks), hopeful about Matt Donovan and de Haan, and curious about Ness and Niemi.

How I've changed: This will change quarterly, for several years, until two of them become legit NHL defensemen. Most will probably say, "Come on, at least two will become legit NHL defensemen!" But the fact is every team's road of dashed hopes is paved with prospect after prospect who looked great for a few months here and there. There are only so many NHL jobs. There are myriad teenagers chasing them, and nearly as many scouts and pundits hyping them.


The Goaltending Situation

We're heeeeeeere. Rick DiPietro practiced with the big club today. The three-headed monster is on the horizon. Scott Gordon and Garth Snow have some decisions to make. Right now it's probably: Dwane Roloson drives and Martin Biron and DP battle over the scraps, at least until one has a dynamite performance. We're still on pace for this situation to be pretty clear by the Olympic break, which ends right before the NHL trade deadline.

How I've changed: I always figured the DiPIetro situation wouldn't come to a head until December or January. But in September, I fully expected Biron to have a nice enough season for someone to want to acquire the starter's pimp juice he has on his resume. I didn't think the issue would be that he hasn't gotten enough starts nor wins to be attractive to someone; I've no insider knowledge of the trade market, but that's how an educated guess would go now. Drat.

2009-10 Martin Biron 17 950 2 11 51 3.22 508 457 .900 .788 1
2009-10 Dwayne Roloson 28 1679 15 7 78 2.79 886 808 .912 .887 0

Jeff Tambellini, Meet Rob Schremp

When Rob Schremp arrived I thought it was a worthy experiment. The guy's still youngish, he clearly has some rare skill, so give him a new start and see if it works out. I also thought it spelled bad news for Jeff Tambellini, and I think that's true: Though Tamby is a wing and Scott Gordon has decided Schremp can only work at center, with Josh Bailey's move to the wing and Doug Weight's deployment at wherever, it's clear Tamby falls down the depth chart.

I'm of two minds on Tambellini: He's certainly improved and I don't like scratching him for such long spells. At the same time, the Islanders have given him multiple chances and when he goes through a handful of uninspiring games I don't mind him hitting the press box. That said, his presence has rarely made the Islanders less likely to win, particularly when you consider this team's love of overtime and the shootout.

How I've changed: Haven't really. Tambellini is always an enigma for me, and Schremp is still in an evaluation period for me. Schremp has clearly gotten a greater chance this year (and produced less), but that's because the Islanders have more to learn about whether he is a fit -- in other words, they've gotten to know Tambellini quite well. Ultimately, it's no stretch to doubt either will still be Islanders when the team is a legit playoff team.

2009 - Jeff Tambellini 24 7 6 13 -1 8 3 0 11:56 1:07 46 15.2
2009 - Rob Schremp 21 2 6 8 -5 8 2 0 13:55 2:57
37 5.4



The Playoff Bubble, or Rebuild (don't call it a rebuild!) Year II

I never expected this team to make the playoffs. I did hope -- for entertainment and player development's sake -- they would hang in the picture for half a season. They've done more than that, partly thanks to the Eastern Conference's craptastic nature, which has kept a lot of teams not named after weather phenomena within a winning streak of eight place.

How I've changed: Haven't really -- except that the proximity to eighth place has made me live and die with each game far more than I expected to, even though I still believe a finish closer to the top pick than to the last playoff spot is better for the franchise. Of course, given the way the East is shaping up, a finish close to eighth place can be close to the top pick.

The Uncertain Future, Part I: Tavares vs. Hedman vs. Duchene

You just don't know the deal on any draft pick until a few years into his career. Even the #1 overall. I was sympathetic to the "build with a franchise defenseman" theory and actually mulled it for much of last season. In the end, I thought Tavares' talent was a surer bet for the franchise now, and in the future. All the top three picks look like great talents, but that's about all we know so far.

How I've changed: In truth, I was pleasantly surprised by Tavares's hot start, and expected more dry spells like the current one to come earlier. Obviously I don't have high expectations for 18- and 19-year olds, no matter the buckets of Pierre McGuire saliva spilled over them.

The Uncertain Future, Part II: Lighthouse Project (or: Where the hell we gonna play?)

I am no more clearer about the fate of the Lighthouse Project today than I was a year ago, when Charles Wang first unleashed the PR machine to publicly pressure Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead powers that be. That gambit was worth a shot, but Murray's party has kept control and now Wang is back into don't-do-it-through-the-press mode.

How I've changed: From the Kansas City call which I knew was unrealistic from Day 1 to the Saskatoon training camp announcement, I've always believed the most likely home for the Islanders would continue to be in the New York area. I'm less confident in the Lighthouse Project's chances than I once was, but every alternative is messy: The ones that keep the club in the area are ultimately less messy than the ones that would remove the Isles from such a deep media/TV market.

*  *  *

So that's a lot of topics, but how have you changed on any of them? Or stuck to your guns? Defense, prospects, the #1 pick, goaltending, the future -- or any other topic that I didn't list: What have you learned in the last 40-some games and 3-4 months?