New York Islanders season previewESPN.com
For a team that seemed ready to take a couple of steps forward after
three straight playoff appearances, the Islanders appear to have lost
ground to most of their Eastern Conference competitors, starting the
2005-06 season with more questions than answers.
Offense: With Peca's departure Alexei Yashin will wear the
captain's 'C', sparking yet another round of debate over Yashin's
focus, dedication and unrealized potential. The gifted forward is one
of dozens of skilled players who should benefit from a more open
style of play. Still, it's difficult to imagine Yashin being the kind
of dressing room leader that can motivate his teammates for those
crucial late-season division games.
The Islanders said goodbye to Dave Scatchard and captain Michael
Peca, both character guys. In their place is Miroslav Satan who, if
you listen to his former teammates and the coaching staff in Buffalo,
doesn't quite qualify in the character category. Former Ranger Mike
York arrives via the Peca deal with Edmonton and he'll need to
realize the offensive potential that has seen him twice top the 20-
The Islanders do have some promising players coming through the
system, including 2004 rookie of the year finalist Trent Hunter, who
will have to continue his surprising development if the Isles are
going to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Defense: With the loss of underappreciated Adrian Aucoin to Chicago,
the retirement of Kenny Jonsson to Sweden and the defection of Roman
Hamrlik to Calgary, a team that once boasted one of the deepest, most
talented defensive groups is now just ordinary. Alexei Zhitnik comes
in from Buffalo, but he and Janne Niinimaa do not a blue -ine corps
The Islanders need considerable help from Brent Sopel, who arrives
from Vancouver where he was considered expendable, and Brad Lukowich,
who won Stanley Cups with Dallas and Tampa Bay, but likewise wasn't
part of the Bolts' long-term plans. Both Sopel and still-developing
Radek Martinek will have to step forward to keep the Isles on sound
Goaltending: Rick DiPietro will also be asked to take a giant stride
forward. The brash former No. 1 pick showed he is on the right track
with a star turn at the World Championships and no one will be
surprised if he is the starting goaltender for the U.S. at the 2006
WHERE THEY'LL FINISH
If DiPietro can deliver quality starts while shouldering
an enormous workload, he should keep the Islanders close and give the
new defensive alignment time to jell.
If DiPietro breaks down mentally or physically, the Islanders
are doomed. If Yashin is no different than the Yashin that has
meandered through his time on Long Island, this is no better than a
PLAYER TO WATCH
Trent Hunter. The native of Red Deer, Alberta, led the team with 25
goals and 51 points as a rookie. If the developing power forward can
avoid a sophomore letdown, his production and on-ice style may push
the Islanders into the playoffs.
Steve Stirling completed his first season behind the Islanders' bench
with a record of 38-29-11-4, good enough to clinch a playoff berth.
The organization was also impressed with how Stirling advanced the
skills of DiPietro and other youngsters. That will again be a
challenge this season.
FACEOFFSBEST OFFSEASON MOVE --> COULD IT BE
Miroslav Satan. Yeah, he's not the most popular guy in Buffalo. But
that's not where he's playing. And if ever there was a time for the
talented, underachieving Satan to show his stuff, it's now. Playing
alongside Alexei Yashin should help. So should the new rules.
WORST OFFSEASON MOVE --> LATE START
With all due respect to veteran Garth Snow, the Isles could have used
a little more insurance than the 36-year-old netminder whose outsized
equipment was Exhibit A in the push to downsize gear. DiPietro may be
ready to take on the world, but an upgrade over Snow would have taken
some pressure off of the young goaltender.
Comings & Goings
D Alexei Zhitnik; D Brent Sopel; LW Mike York; LW Miroslav Satan; D
Brad Lukowich; D Joel Bouchard; LW Travis Brigley.
D Adrian Aucoin; C Michael Peca; D Roman Hamrlik; C Dave Scatchard; D
Eric Cairns; D Alexander Karpovtsev; D Sven Butenschon; D Kenny
Jonsson; RW Mariusz Czerkawski; C Cliff Ronning.
When we last saw them
Trent Hunter, RW
Huner led the team 25 goals and 26 assists in 2003-04.
Rick DiPietro, G
DiPietro carried a bulk of the load in 2003-04, posting a 23-18-5
record and .911 save percentage.
"I've made my feelings known that Long Island is where I want to
spend my career."
DiPietro on his future