Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Your season is now - Islanders preview

So what did you do over the summer?

If you're like me, you mowed the lawn (a lot), took the kids on vacation, and tried to complete at least a couple of items on the neverending honey-do list. Some of us were immersed in the baseball season, and today Yankees fans eagerly await another playoff run, while Mets fans step down from the ledge. The lucky ones are also hockey fans, and therefore have something to live for now that October is here.

The really lucky ones are Islanders fans, of course, and the summer was also good for providing some breathing room and perspective on the free agent signing period, which began with an exodus not seen since Spaulding yelled "Doodie!" at the Bushwood pool.

It was a dark day, indeed, mostly because Ryan Smyth decided to take the money in Colorado, which we know from Mike Hampton has excellent schools. But were we really surprised? You knew Blake and Poti were going, and that Smyth would have been incredible here but was probably a long shot. So give Garth Snow a ton of credit for sticking with a game plan and then going out and finding quality players who fit the system.

And that, dear reader, is the key: Fitting the system. Ted Nolan and Snow are on the same page and Nolan knows what he wants in his players, and Snow did his best to find those players. And he did a good job. Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin will help provide some of the pop lost with the departure of Smyth and Blake, and Guerin also steps into the captain's role, one that never suited Alexei Yashin, whose buyout is almost the definition of addition by subtraction.

Throw in Mike Sillinger, the underrated Ruslan Fedotenko and a solid player like Jon Sim, and the offense should produce, providing players like Miro Satan and Trent Hunter can step up their games. We love the tenacity of Richard Park and the strength of Chris Simon (we forgive you, even though Hollweg won't), and Josef Vasicek, in his second season following his knee injury, could surprise. Andy Hilbert on the second line is a surprise. We can't believe Darryl Bootland is wearing Tonelli's No. 27. If the fans had any say, that number would be retired, too.

The key could be Sean Bergenheim, who played in Europe last season having not signed with the Islanders. He is back and could be one of those special players; he is already a fan favorite. Jeff Tambellini did not make the opening roster, but Nolan put it best when he said Tambellini is not a fourth-line guy. Expect Tambellini to make it back to the Island at some point this season, and stay.

The Islanders got tough on defense with the addition of Andy Sutton. Nolan begins the season with eight defensemen, and with Brendan Witt, Marc-Andre Bergeron, a healthy Radek Martinek, Bruno Gervais, Chris Campoli, Aaron Johnson and Freddy Meyer, there is certainly depth. And don't forget about Bryan Berard, who could well end up on the team if, as reported on several blogs, the Isles can work out a trade.

That's plenty of support for Rick DiPietro, who is rounding into one of the top goalies in the league. Here's hoping his play gets more coverage than his contract, which is old news. Wade Dubielewicz gets the backup spot and we couldn't be happier.

So what does it all mean? In a tough division, the Islanders took a step back and then a few steps forward. This was a playoff team last season and despite the losses, this year's model is deeper and more well-rounded, with plenty of talent surrounding DiPietro, who should carry the Islanders to another post-season berth. Can you say sleeper? Shhhhhhhhhhh. It's going to be a fun season.

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