October 8, 2010

The Faceoff: Is the Season in Danger?

Sunday's episode of NYI FYI started off with a bang when Sean asked Chris point blank, "Is the season over before it started? It seems to be the million dollar question, and our opinions are different. It's time to face off.

Is the season in danger?

While I'm not writing them off before we see the first game, I am certainly concerned with the way that things are playing out. We had two devastating injuries to Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit - both of whom needed surgery; both of whom are missing a significant chunk of the season. Then we find out that Rob Schremp will also miss the first few weeks of the season. While this isn't as devastating as the injuries to Streit and KO, it's still not going to help the team win.

I would like to focus on the injuries to Streit and KO first and foremost. On Sunday, I said that losing those two would also mean the loss of around 20 goals. There have been some who agreed, while others think that 20 goals isn't a big deal. Let's assume Okposo misses 3 months, meaning he returns at the beginning of January. I went along and pulled out the old statistics from last season. Factoring in overtime and shootouts, the Islanders had 16 wins and 26 losses at the end of the calendar year(2009). Out of our 26 losses, 15 of them were by one goal. Out of our 16 wins, ten were by one goal and three were by two goals.

Honestly, you can't look at those numbers and tell me that 20 goals isn't a big deal. Knock out a large chunk of goal scoring, and you'll find yourself in a deep hole by the All Star break, which you probably won't be able to dig yourselves out of. Not to mention that you probably can't assume they'll return at 100%. It's going to probably be a slow process to get back in the swing of things, considering the length of time missed. It's probably going to lead to slow starts for the both of them. Couple that with slow starts after missing significant time, and the picture doesn't look very pretty.

You've also got to think about how this is going to hurt the power play, which is something that the Islanders haven't found a lot of success in for a long time. I think that in the last 5 seasons, our power play was at its best with Streit and Doug Weight. When Weight suffered his injuries, the power play suffered. Of course, when Streit's numbers were down, the power play struggled. Without Streit in the line up, even with Weight at 100% perfect, I feel that our power play will be lack luster. Without that big gun on the blue line, you're going to see a lot of passing back and forth from point to point with very little shooting. Face it, we've seen this a thousand times and it's not going to get any better. We've all sat in the stands at the Coliseum screaming "Shoot!".

A lot of people have also said that everyone else is going to need to pick up the slack to help keep us in it while those two are out. Of course we do, but has anyone taken into consideration how that's simply not going to do it? We finished with the 5th worst record in the NHL last season. We needed everyone to up their game and improve from last season, which is going to take a lot of work within itself. Now coupled with that, they're going to need to pick up MORE slack. I'm not sure if you're going to have enough players improving that much, that early.

John Tavares isn't much of a question mark in my mind. You can probably pencil him in for 30 goals, maybe 35. Matt Moulson has to prove that he wasn't a flash in the pan, but can he score 35 goals? Can he score 40? Probably not. He'll probably hover around the 30 goal mark, which is still a good season for him. Josh Bailey scored 16 goals last year and added 19 assists. It was a good season for Josh, and I figure he'll score between 15 and 20 goals this season. Can he be a guy who scores 25 goals or more? He played his best hockey on the wing, but I'm not sure if he's going to improve by 10 goals.

Blake Comeau is the most interesting case of them all. He was looking great last season, which was cut short when he broke his foot. He tallied 17 goals and added 18 assists. I'm still figuring him to score around 25 goals, but in order to do so, he's got to play consistent. Unfortunately, I'm not sure, or convinced, that he can improve his play enough to make up for the other losses. Truth be told, if any of these guys can improve from last season, that's great. It's exactly what you want to see, and it's what you want for the long run. But in regards for this season, you're going to need to see a lot of improvement early, and I'm not sure that you're going to see it.

On waivers we claimed Michael Grabner, a move that I am very happy about. I mentioned on the show the other day that he brings speed and has all the makings to be a very good hockey player. His age is just right for what we're trying to do in regards to staying young. In 20 games last season, Grabner had 11 points. If he can get it started early, he can help close the gap, which might make all the difference in the world. With
Schremp out for the first few weeks of the season, and if Grabner cracks the line up, he's basically his replacement in regards to speed and productivity. There's a lot to be proven here, and it will be fun to watch.

In regards to our defense, it got a lot better this offseason. It got better defensively, and we needed that to happen. In regards to having offensive help on the blue line, we're looking a little thin. James Wisniewski was an excellent addition to our defense this season, and he has said that he wants to try and chip in offensively. His 27 assists from last season was pretty good considering Streit had 38. It is possible that Wisniewski can become more of a puck mover which would be a great help, but I'm not sure that he will be lighting the lamp as much as Streit. You might be saying, "Yeah but if he's assisting, he's helping to get the puck in the net." This is true, but Streit is a player that can do both, and those types of players are few and far between, making them very difficult to replace.

Mark Eaton is an interesting case to me. On this very forum on July 1st, I held a chat with some of our listeners and readers. One of you asked if I thought the Isles may sign Eaton, and I had said no. While he was an option for what the Islanders were looking for, I thought that his injury prone history would scare them away. Well my crow was a little rare, but edible none the less. A lot of people are talking about how good our defense can be and how we have depth. We do, and that's a good thing. My question is for how long? Take a look at our defense for a moment. As good as it is, it can be delicate.

Eaton played in 79 games last season, but in the years prior to that, he did get battered around. His knees have taken a bit of a beating, and has had a history of back injuries. Streit is already hurt, so our best defenseman is already out of the mix. Wisniewski has missed some games in the past, but he is a few years removed from knee surgery and if you take away the 10 games he was suspended for last season, he didn't miss a lot of time. He'll probably be in the mix for almost the entire season. Milan Jurcina has been chipped apart a little as well. Figure him in to 65 games, maybe 70. I'm sure at some point he'll miss a little time.

In regards to missing time, Radek Martinek is certainly going to miss his share. I'm not sure when, but eventually his knee or shoulder will re-aggravate itself. He's played in the NHL for 8 seasons, and he's never played a full one. His best was 74 games five years ago. The shame of it is when he's healthy, he may be the best defensive defenseman on the team. He could be a top d-man on any team, but his injuries keep him restricted. Remember, he hurt his ACL last season, and we've learned how devastating ACL injuries can be for a strong player (Mike Peca). You're going to be seeing depth players and maybe some AHLers throughout the course of the season. My fear is that with Streit already out, Martinek goes down and either Eaton or Jurcina go with him, or around the same time. If you're without these guys for any period of time, our defense will be significantly weaker, and if the offensive players aren't making up for the lack of scoring, then we are right back where we started.

A lot has happened since I made my statement on Sunday. Grabner's addition can prove to be exactly what we needed, but I'm looking at the situation for what it is: Two of our top three points makers from last season are out. Our defense is strong, and a lot of people are looking at them to carry the workload, and make up for the lack of scoring. But what if we lose three of them at once? What if we lose four of them at once? Can all of our young guys get it going early? Because that's what its going to take. Anything (both positive and negative) is possible, and that's what makes me nervous. Is the season over before it started? It might be. Is it a definite? No. Does it scare me that we might be in a hole too deep for us to climb out of by the time KO and Streit return? You bet.


While the injuries to Okposo and Streit obviously hurt, this season is far from over. Should we just not play the games at all? Of course not, and to suggest that the season is over is way off base. Yes, the offense takes a hit. Yes, the Islanders lost one of the top defensemen in the league. But this team, before those injuries, was still going to rely on two main things: breakout years from other co-stars and a solid defense.

We can look at numbers of wins and losses and how many goals each game were won or lost by. The one thing that sticks in my mind is how many of the games the Islanders had decided by the shootout. Five of the first 20 games were decide by the skills competition, 14 over the entire season. This number will change due to the improved defense that the Islanders will be sporting, even with Streit out. There's going to be a little bit of a swing for some of these close games.

As far as individual players are concerned, the Islanders were already hoping for some breakout seasons from some of the supporting cast. Now, they almost need it to happen. Sure, it's really hard to go into a season with a  bunch of "ifs" but I think you, Sean, are being too pessimistic in some of your thoughts on these guys, especially when some of them are young and up and coming.

Lets start with Bailey. He scored 16 goals last season, and had 23 points in the final 34 games in the season, including a stretch of seven games in January when he had 12 points. Bailey was invisible for much of the first part of the season, and a switch to the wing, which he appears better suited for now, seemed to do him well. As he said to me when I interviewed him, he has played his best hockey there. To say that he most likely won't score more than 15-20 is not fair. Based on the numbers he put up as a 20 year old, and after being a disappearing act for much of the first half of the season, then by theory it should continue. In preseason he looked pretty good to me, and seemed to be skating really well and throwing his body around more. He's going to have a breakout year, and will absolutely hit 22-25 goals. Keep in mind that Bailey will be playing for a new contract as well. That will play some sort of a factor. He needs to show what kind of player he is, and now is the time.

We can agree on Tavares getting 30-35 goals. Moulson is where we differ. You seem very skeptical as to whether or not he can even put up 30 goals again. I think he can. The key for him is not getting away from the style of play that made him successful last season. He has said multiple times this offseason that he is keeping that fresh in his mind, and is using it as justification for his self-proclaimed prediction of 40 goals. I'll agree 40 goals is a bit optimistic, but I have seen this guy all camp and there is no changes in his game. He went through a little slump of his own last season, where despite being 26 he still had to learn the ropes and did get away from his game. I do not expect him to make the same mistake.

I agree with you about Comeau being one of, if not the most interesting player this season. He finished last season with 20 points (11 goals, 9 assists) in his final 18 games before suffering a broken foot from blocking a shot. He is going to be playing on a line with Tavares, and the two of them had some excellent chemistry to end last season. From what I had seen during camp, they continued that. To me, Comeau has looked very strong and appears to have added a power move to his arsenal. His ability to read plays and use that move will come in handy, especially during Okposo's absence. Comeau is entering the crossroads point of his career, and needs to step up. He has the tools to do it, we just have to hope is head is in the right spot now as well.

Weight looks healthy and rejuvenated and should be able to help quarterback the power play. PA Parenteau is another wild card and will be on the line with Comeau and Tavares to start the year. He seems to have some skills and good hands, and time will tell if that translates into a Moulson-like story. Trent Hunter, if healthy over a full season can put up 20 goals. Grabner, if he plays like he can when he ultimately gets into the lineup, may very well produce here and this is the perfect situation for him to come to. Also, who knows what we'll see from Nino Niederreiter, and who knows for how long. But he's a guy who likes to play in front of the net, and protects the puck well and he heads to the in tight areas. Who knows how much NHL success that will translate to at 18.

As I mentioned earlier, this team is going to have to get strong showings from the defense and goaltending. Eaton was a guy I always felt the Islanders liked, and I did want him. How you were able to say they would have no interest due to injury history, I'm not too sure. He is a few years removed from all of those injuries, and over the past two seasons was one of the go to guys for the Penguins, averaging almost 20 minutes a night last season and being paired with Sergei Gonchar.

Wisniewski was always thought of as an offensive defenseman when he first came up with the Blackhawks. Over the past few seasons, he's really evolved his game, but not necessarily at the cost of the offense. Last season, his best in the NHL by far, he did have good numbers and also played a much more complete game while averaging 24 minutes a night. He has said himself he didn't get used on the power play as much as he would have liked. Well, now he'll get that chance and I don't see him failing. There is no one that the Islanders could have or would bring in that will offset the loss of Streit. He's a very hard player to replace. But you can mitigate the loss.

Wisniewski, Jack Hillen and Andy MacDonald will all be go to guys when it comes to offense on the blue line. There's been a lot of talk about MacDonald and how he sees himself stepping up and showing the offense that he is capable of. He ended last season as Streit's defensive partner more often than not, and I'm sure he learned a thing or two. He has looked very strong to me in preseason, and I would expect him to turn some heads this season.

Jurcina as of right now is a spare defenseman. He has always been bounced in and out of lineups in his career, and did not have a major injury until last season (hernia). To say he's injury prone and his body is chipped at is unfair and wrong. What he is, however, is good depth to have in the event of further injury. He has the relationship with Gordon, and Gordon thought enough of him for the Islanders to bring him in as a wild card. He is a bit of an unknown.

Martinek has always gotten hurt in freak accidents. Every time he's come back, he has looked great. Nothing was re-aggravating itself. If he gets hurt, it's because of a freak accident. I'm going to cringe at the beginning of the year every time he is about to be hit against the boards because that seems to be where he gets hurt the most often. Hopefully he has learned more on how to take a hit over the years.

Don't forget where Mike Mottau fits into all of this. He made a name for himself with the Devils the last three season's and is a guy that Gordon seems to really like. Garth Snow described him as a good puck mover, and I can't say I agree or disagree with that because I don't know how he is on the offensive side of things. But I do know that he's a guy who played 22 minutes a night last year, has been very durable, blocks shots and plays solid defensively. After Streit went down, bringing him in was a good move. It brought the depth back, and made Jurcina and Bruno Gervais the 7th and 8th guys it appears. We won't be seeing some of the same guys, the AHLers, we saw last season for a while, if at all. There is not going to be your doomsday scenario where four defensemen are going to get injured at the same time, when really there is only one guy who you can say for absolutely certain is prone to injury (Martinek).

Couple that with the goaltending of Dwayne Roloson and a healthy Rick DiPietro and I think we'll get by for the beginning. The goalies work loads will hopefully be less than they were last year which helps to make them more effective, and which helps us to win some games. This team still has a lot of potential given how young they are. It's not like this is an older team where we are hoping that players at 35 can repeat production from earlier in their careers. We are looking for guys who were between the ages of 19 and 23 last year to continue their development as logic says they should.

Who do you agree with? Do you have your own thoughts you would like to share? Feel free to comment or send us your e-mails.

You can e-mail us at: nyifyi@gmail.com

No comments: