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New York Islanders
Projected Finish 9th
By Alan Hahn
Fear and Loathing has returned to Long Island.
Beleguered G.M. Mike Milbury's brief stint in the good-let's make that
tolerable-graces of the fans, and owner Charles Wang's three year
honeymoon with those same passionate fans have both officially ended.
Ticket Prices went up, but the payroll-like most around the suddenly
cost-conscious league-was expected to go down. A new arena on Long
Island remains a dream. And although a defense of Roman Hamrlik,
Janne Niinimaa, Kenny Jonsson and Adrian Aucoin is among the league's
best, in mid-summer the best the team could afford in it's search for
for a top-line caliber wingman for center Alexei Yashin was the
previously ex-Isled Mariusz Czerkawski. Of all the former Islanders
Milbury has scattered about the NHL in his tenure-Todd Bertuzzi,
Ziggy Palffy, Roberto Luongo, et al-it is the unheralded
yet talented Czerkawski who returns.
The team enters the season with transition in two key areas, Steve
Stirling is a 53-year old rookie coach who spent the past two seasons
with the organizations successful AHL team in Bridgeport. Rick
DiPietro is a 21-year-old goalie who is among the prospects the
franchise has developed and hopes are ready.
Meanwhile,the foundation is suddenly a bit shaky. Yashin, who
exploded offensively late last season, was a lost and maddeing cause
for most of last season.
Captain Michael Peca must regain his Selke form after struggling
mightly while recovering from off-season surgeries.
On the optimistic side, the team is going for a third consecutive
playoff berth, something not done since a glorious 14-year run that
ended in 1988 and included a Stanley Cup dynasty. This team is led by
an impressive core of defensemen, has enviable strength and depth
down the middle with Yashin, Peca and Dave Scatchard, and includes
a quality supporting cast with plenty of size, speed and versatlity.
Stirling was be the oldest coach to make an NHL debut, but he has a
record of success. In two seasons with prospect-laden Bridgeport, his
teams reached the Calder Cup Finals and in 2002-03, the Eastern
Conference semi-finals. He also has a history with just about every
Islanders prosepct looking to make the jump into the NHL this season,
The knock on Stirling is he lacks NHL experience. His only exposure
was at the end of the 2000-01 season when he was an assistant for
seventeen games under interim coach, Lorne Henning. This is where
Stirling will need to rely on his assistants.
TSN Rank 27th.....
Stirling is aware of his teams assets and will use them. The Isles
will continue their cycling stylem, looking to get the puck deep and
use their speed and quickness. Defenseman will be involved but will
hold their positions to guard against odd-man rushes rather
than force the attack.
Like cycling down low, an aggressive forecheck will remain an
Islander trademark. One or two speedy forwards will swoop in as
forecheckers create turnovers or keep the opponent from setting up
it's breakout. If the opponent get's set up before a forecheck
is established , the Isles will drop into a typical 1-4 trap.
In the defensive zone, Stirling won't look to sperad out. Instead, he
likes to play a penalty-killing style five-on-five, with tight
coverage to allow defensemen to be aggressive down low.