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A blog by a long time New York Islanders fan who stays true to the fellas wearing orange, white and blue…but thinks the Islanders organization has some shaping up to do.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Assessing A Season, Part 2

The next part of this posting binge looks at some more critical areas of the Isles' past year, starting with the captaincy.

Last year the Isles had done the unthinkable and bought out lackluster captain Alexei Yashin for the remaining four years of his contract. Some time later, they brought forth Bill Guerin and gave him a two-year contract, along with the captaincy.

When I first heard of this deal, I hadn't thought highly of it. I thought the Isles would have done better to just bring him to training camp and see how the players respond. As I'm sure I've said before, Brendan Witt or Mike Sillinger would have been a better fit for this team's captain. Months later, my opinion hasn't changed much.

I do agree that Guerin is a step up from Yashin- a big step, as far as leadership goes. He scored 23 goals, including some key ones that provided big wins. However, he also missed a bunch of nets, took a bunch of penalties, and was too invisible on the ice late in the season to really make me say, "Wow, this is a good captain."

Perhaps I'm looking at this from the wrong perspective, but I am of quite a few who believe that this player doesn't have much longer on the ice. He's slower, and his shot, while still effective, misses the mark quite often. Of course, that comes with the territory- he's 38 this year, no longer a spring chicken. He seems to like being on Long Island, and he seems to enjoy being captain for the first time- and of course, there's that revelation, that in his fifteen years in the NHL, he has not been captain once, until now. For a first-timer, it's a big adjustment.

Still, in order to really prove himself, he will need to step it up a bit next year and truly lead by example. Otherwise, I'm sure many on the Island will think it's just another misstep by the organization concerning the "C".

And now we turn our attention to the coaching by Ted Nolan and his assistants, John Chabot and Gerard Gallant. I give Nolan a lot of credit for getting as much from this team as he had this season- even after the injury bug ravaged the roster, the younger kids getting ice time made the most of it and were working hard. However, some things he could have handled much better, among them the situation of young player Jeff Tambellini. Tambs went from Bridgeport to the Island and back, at least twice last season, and that could have thrown him off his game enough that he wasn't able to show coach Nolan what he could really do. Other young players also were benched in favor of veterans who were falling short of the mark they needed to reach, and that contributed to a couple of losses.

However, overall I believe Nolan did the best he could over the year, as he got the Isles started off in the right direction. Also, Al Arbour Night was a first-class move to honor one of the greatest coaches ever, and it was Nolan's idea. There's no doubt this coach wants to be here, and he wants to win- and next year, with a full and healthy roster, here's to hoping they have a winning season.

Over the summer, the Isles will be working on a new formula for a winning season, in which they will hopefully reach the playoffs once again. Fans have been debating about the primary concern- offense, or defense? Should the Isles pick up a smart, speedy goalscorer or a strong, solid defenseman to help the rebuilding?

In my opinion, it's all about the "O"- offense, that is. While DiPietro and the defense were doing all they could to make the few goals they scored stand up tall, the offense was sputtering along, missing nets and coming up empty on power plays. The season opener against Buffalo was definitely a huge illusion- over the year, the Isles won scores of one-goal games, and had long streaks in which they failed to score more than three goals a game. In the first half of the season, DiPietro was luckily up to being the savior of the team... however, after he hurt his hip, he no longer could overcome the lack of offensive talent on the Isles bench.

What this team needs is a scoring forward- not so much a playmaker, as they have plenty of those on the roster, but someone who can finish up chances as they are made. Too often this season I'd seen plenty of chances tipped wide or over the net, or whiffed on completely and left for the opposing defense to pick up and move to the other side of the ice. The plays mean nothing without goals to show for them. Defense is a question mark as well- how durable are these guys, really? - but our first concern should be the offense. After all, the best defense IS a good offense. (Yes, I saw X-Men: The Last Stand.) Without goals, there's no game. Besides, even if defense wins you games, offense does add excitement- how else do you think the Washington Capitals got so many people in the seats near the end of the season? (Hint: Begins with "O" and ends with "vechkin.")

So whatever the Isles do with their fifth overall pick in the draft, let's hope it goes to a good player who has lots to bring to the table come October of 2008.

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