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Islanders Esprit de Corps: Something special here?

It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever played on. There’s a lot of youth and enthusiasm and energy every night.  There wasn’t a bump in the road. The moment I walked in I felt like I was part of the team and obviously the longer I stayed, the more comfortable I felt. We had some incredible ties and it’s a great mixture of veterans and youth.

>>Dylan Reese, discussing his post-deadline initiation to the Islanders

  • Before I get to that quote, a brief host promo: Depending on your location, you've likely seen the right-margin ads for local SBN meet-ups. The one in New York -- an SBN meet-up for fans of any area team, or even transplanted SBN readers in the area -- is tonight from 6-9 p.m. at The Ainsworth at 122 W. 26th St. (between 6th and 7th). A reminder that if you RSVP at this link, you get drink specials and select food comped by SBN. Marty asked about this in comments the other day, so if you plan on going, drop a line in comments. There more upcoming meet-ups across the country, such as in Philadelphia (6/22) among other locations. Basically, if you're logging in from a meet-up area, look for the promos in the right margin.
  • Also: The pre-draft rumor noise is starting to pick up. Yesterday we had mainstream reporters say Columbus is shopping its #4 overall pick (discussed in this FanShot) as well as Boston angling to vault up in the 1st round with its own pick (i.e., not the Hall/Seguin pick Brian Burke gave them). All those possible shenanigans will be fun as the Cup is handed out and we inch closer to the NHL's annual teenager auction. I'll be anxious until the moment I hear Garth Snow say, "the Islanders select" instead of "We have a trade to announce."

As for the topic of this post: The official website's "Show Stoppers" series on different Islanders' first NHL games continues to be fantastic. Dylan Reese's, posted yesterday, is no exception. He goes into all the details of his crazy tour after the deadline trade, the one game in Bridgeport, the call-up the next day, and returning to the AHL for the Sound Tiger playoffs.

But the quote I'm seizing on is where he describes (the first of two times) the young, enthusiastic and tight-knit group he joined, and what -- if anything -- that says about these Islanders.

Now, you can look at that one of two ways: It's standard "one game at a time" fare from the athlete cliche handbook -- particularly from a rookie just glad to be there. Or, maybe there's a bit of there there. I call it out only because I've seen similar quotes enough times lately, from enough Islanders players, to start to wonder if they do have a special group emerging. If maybe the club's focus on character prospects is starting to have tangible results.

Are the Islanders building not just a group that has a shot at contending a few years down the line, but a group whose cohesion, once they get there, will help them push the final inch for each other to win those important battles?

Or is this just the naive innocence of youth, before the money and the inevitable family add divisive variables? And even if it's not, isn't it subject to change via roster turnover each year -- the elusive "chemistry"?

First, to be clear, I'm a believer that good players win, average players go home. No amount of "group spirit" can Halak a team all the way to the Cup. That said, we know the character flaws of talented players can undermine a team. The playoffs in particular create pressure situations that can make talented players perform poorly -- not just during the game, but in the aftermath in terms of players' psychological response to adversity.

So I keep hearing this suggestion that the Isles have an enthusiastic and tight group, and I don't know how much to read into it. But I do think about what, in this nebulous department, the Islanders had going for them in 2009-10:

  • An immensely well-liked captain in Doug Weight, and respected younger veterans in Mark Streit and Richard Park
  • An AHL team that worked smoothly with the big club to introduce the many needed reinforcements into the NHL
  • Several emerging young core players have character reputations to match their talent: John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Jack Hillen.

It's natural for a young group of guys in this profession to get along. But when I keep hearing that guys like Reese -- who wasn't even part of the organization two days before his sudden trade and call-up -- feel right at home right away, I confess that my jaded soul does start dreaming that the character focus is paying off. They certainly made Rob Schremp, who had a mixed reputation coming in, feel welcome and comfortable.

It's a question worth pondering.

In some ways, this is a great time to be following the Islanders. I can't make that statement without acknowledging the many uncertainties surrounding the franchise, but consider this:

  • The team's best players are only getting better, and they're growing up before our eyes;
  • The GM is following a careful plan;
  • Expectations are still low, so there is greater room to achieve and succeed and feel like progress is in the air;
  • We're still in the phase of innocence, before contending teams' fans get frustrated that a talented team keeps knocking at the door without getting in.

I tend to think about this stuff because I know that even if things proceed according to plan over the next three-four years, the playoffs are still a roulette and playoff disappointments lead people to burn the house down. I'm not looking forward to that time when fans want to burn down the house that JT and KO and Bails built.

Just two months ago, it looked like the Flyers might not make the playoffs amid season-long whispers of locker room dissension. There were strong hints a pretty loaded team (except in goal) would be blown up this summer. They squeaked into the dance via shootout. Now, they're Eastern Conference playoff champs two wins away from their first Stanley Cup in 35 years. Their path to the Cup final opened up wide, and they've played tough against the best team in the West.

The Isles should be so lucky sometime in the next decade. When they get there, I hope that team character is still around to help.

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Do you buy into this idea at all? If you do, does it make a difference? If you don't, do you suspect such comments are just young players being awed by making it to the show, with the nice buildings and the fancy hotels?