Islanders want to accelerate path back to playoffs

A franchise that hasn't won a playoff series in nearly two decades and faces an uncertain future needs a solid 2011-12 campaign.

Thursday, 08.18.2011 / 10:08 AM ET / News
By Brian Compton
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Islanders want to accelerate path back to playoffs
A franchise that hasn\'t won a playoff series in nearly two decades and faces an uncertain future needs to parlay second-half success last season into a more consistent 2011-12 campaign.
The time is now for the New York Islanders.

For a franchise that still doesn't have a deal in place for a new building, it is imperative that the Islanders accelerate what has been a slow and steady rebuilding process and qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007.

GM Garth Snow believed he had assembled a playoff team last summer, then watched his top defenseman (Mark Streit) and power forward (Kyle Okposo) suffer serious shoulder injuries before the puck even dropped on the 2010-11 season.

Now fully healthy, the Islanders boast a young, talented core that is eager to put the franchise back on the map. With their top blueliner back in the mix, this group -- headed by John Tavares -- could be one of the surprise teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Let's not forget that New York went 25-21-8 over its last 54 games.

Snow wasn't a big player in free agency, but he did improve his club up front. The Islanders signed Marty Reasoner to replace Zenon Konopka on the first day of free agency and more recently acquired Brian Rolston from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Trent Hunter. Both Reasoner and Rolston are quality veterans who are expected to contribute both on and off the ice.

The last two players from the Islanders' big turnaround back in 2001-02 are no longer with the club. Radek Martinek, who was New York's eighth-round selection at the 1999 Entry Draft, signed as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets in July. Often sidetracked by injuries, Martinek has appeared in 453 NHL games, all with the Islanders. Meanwhile, Hunter, who made his Isles' debut during that pulsating 2002 first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, was dealt to New Jersey on July 28 -- and his contract was almost immediately bought out by the Devils, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Two key veterans from last season -- Doug Weight and Konopka -- are also gone. Weight announced his retirement in May after 19 seasons and will remain with the organization as an assistant coach and senior adviser to Snow. Konopka, who appeared in all 82 games for the Islanders last season, signed with the Ottawa Senators as a free agent.

Also gone are defensemen Bruno Gervais, who was traded to Tampa Bay, and Jack Hillen, who recently signed with Nashville. Depth forward Jesse Joensuu also opted to play in Sweden.

The most important newcomer is Rolston, who gets a fresh start with the Islanders after a rough season in New Jersey. Now 38, Rolston, a four-time 30-goal scorer who is closing in on 1,200 NHL games, will get every opportunity to play the point on the power play and be one of the Isles' top six forwards. More important -- he'll be a calming influence and an important voice in what remains a very young dressing room.

Reasoner will be the club's fourth-line center who is capable of contributing offensively. The 34-year-old appeared in all 82 games for the Florida Panthers last season and tallied 14 goals and 18 assists. His arrival makes New York very solid down the middle along with Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey.

The Isles' blue line also receives a huge boost with the return of Streit, who missed the entire 2010-11 season after suffering a shoulder injury during training camp. One of the better free-agent signings in the summer of 2008, Streit racked up 105 points in his first two seasons with New York.

Snow also added some depth to his AHL club in Bridgeport with the signings of forwards Tim Wallace and Sean Backman. Wallace has 24 games of NHL experience on his resume, all with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had 20 goals in 62 games for AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season. Backman, who is Matt Moulson's brother-in-law, had 23 points in 67 games for the Texas Stars in 2010-11, his first professional campaign.

The Islanders are closing in on two decades without a playoff-series victory. Can they change their fortunes in 2012? Perhaps, but it will likely depend on their goaltending.

Rick DiPietro enters training camp as the No. 1 goaltender, but his 26 appearances last season were the most he's made since the 2007-08 season. DiPietro, who will be 30 when the season begins on Oct. 8 against Florida, went 8-14-4 with a League-worst 3.44 goals-against average and .886 save percentage in 2010-11. If he stays healthy, those numbers will need to improve drastically for the Islanders to have any chance of making the playoffs. After all, the other starting goalies in the Atlantic Division are Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov.
Al Montoya was impressive in his two-month stint in New York after being acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes in February. A first-round pick of the Rangers (No. 6 in 2004), Montoya went 9-5-5 with a 2.39 GAA and .921 save percentage in 20 games with the Isles.

And let's not forget, Evgeni Nabokov is still Islanders' property and he fully intends to report to training camp. If nothing else, reporters will have something to write about come September.

If the goaltending is solid and the team's top players manage to stay out of the infirmary, the Islanders could be ready to take that elusive next step. It's time things go right for a franchise that is desperate for good times.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

Author: Brian Compton | Staff Writer




1 x - NYR 73 47 19 7 224 168 101
2 MTL 75 46 21 8 197 167 100
3 TBL 75 46 22 7 244 194 99
4 NYI 75 44 26 5 228 208 93
5 PIT 74 40 23 11 204 186 91
6 DET 73 39 22 12 212 201 90
7 WSH 74 40 24 10 215 182 90
8 OTT 73 37 25 11 213 195 85
9 BOS 74 36 25 13 195 193 85
10 FLA 74 34 26 14 184 202 82
11 PHI 75 30 29 16 196 216 76
12 CBJ 74 35 35 4 203 230 74
13 NJD 74 31 31 12 166 189 74
14 CAR 73 27 36 10 170 201 64
15 TOR 75 27 42 6 194 241 60
16 BUF 74 20 46 8 141 249 48


J. Tavares 75 34 40 -1 74
R. Strome 74 15 31 19 46
K. Okposo 53 15 31 -10 46
F. Nielsen 74 13 28 9 41
B. Nelson 75 18 22 9 40
A. Lee 69 23 16 14 39
J. Bailey 63 15 23 6 38
J. Boychuk 65 8 25 10 33
T. Hamonic 65 5 25 16 30
N. Leddy 71 10 19 16 29
J. Halak 35 16 2 .915 2.39
C. Johnson 8 8 1 .889 3.08 is the official Web site of the New York Islanders Hockey Club, L.P. and are trademarks of New York Islanders Hockey Club, L.P.  NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2015 New York Islanders Hockey Club, L.P. and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.

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