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2011-2012 Islanders Preview

photo courtesy of the New York Islanders


Islanders look to rebound after a tough 2010-2011 season

The 2010-11 New York Islanders got off to a hot start, posting a 4-1-2 record and picking up ten quick points before the roof fell in. From October 23rd until December 18th --- a 54-day span --- the Islanders won just one game, which came against their local rivals, the New Jersey Devils.

During the losing streak, New York slipped from 4-1-2 to 5-18-5, recording just three points in total. The skid cost head coach Scott Gordon his job on November 15, as he was fired with the skein at ten games. Replacing him was Jack Capuano, the head coach of the team’s AHL (American Hockey League) affiliate.

Although the Islanders would lose ten out of their next eleven games to complete the dreadful stretch, the team showed fight, dropping two overtime contests, one to Atlanta and one to Columbus. After reaching the low point on the 18th of December, Capuano got New York to play inspired hockey, as they went 24-15-7 over their next 43 games before a late slide dropped their 2010-11 record to 30-39-13 --- 4-10-3 under Gordon but 26-29-10 under Capuano.

After removing the interim tag from Capuano’s job title immediately following last season, general manager Garth Snow made moves to shape his roster for 2011-12. Snow signed three veterans: left wing Jay Pandolfo, center Marty Reasoner, and defenseman Steve Staios. He also acquired left wing Brian Rolston from New Jersey in exchange for fellow left wing Trent Hunter, while re-signing right wing Blake Comeau.

In addition to adding these veteran pieces, Snow moved to secure his younger talent, re-signing right wing Michael Grabner to a five-year contract extension. About two weeks later, Snow locked up the homegrown Kyle Okposo, to a five-year contract extension.

With two of his top young players having been extended, perhaps the biggest move Snow made came in mid-September, when he secured the top pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, center John Tavares, to a six-year, $33 million contract extension that will keep him with the franchise until 2018.

All in all, it was a successful off-season for Snow, as he added seasoned vets to serve as mentors for the very green Islanders, whose top five point scorers in 2010-11 --- Tavares, right wing P.A. Parenteau, left wing Matt Moulson, Grabner, and Comeau --- were all 28 or younger.

Going even further, the Islanders who ranked sixth through ninth in points scored --- centers Frans Nielsen and Bailey and defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic --- are all 27 or younger. That is an encouraging sign for Capuano going forward: his top nine points scorers from 2010-11 are all returning and all are 28 or younger.

With the positive moves this offseason, optimism was undoubtedly high for the 2011-12 season, but the events of August 1, 2011 cast a pall over Snow’s successful summer.

That night, voters in Nassau County rejected a $400 million proposal for a new arena to replace the Nassau Coliseum, where the Islanders currently play. This is a huge setback for owner Charles Wang, who says that he’s lost $230 million in the eleven years that he’s owned the team. The team’s lease at the Coliseum expires after the 2014-15 season, and Wang has said that once the lease expires, the Islanders will not continue playing in the Coliseum, which was built in 1972.

So, even though the Islanders look like they improved from last year, there is a sense of apprehension in the air, as the team may only have four more years left on Long Island. One possible relocation destination is Brooklyn --- where they would play at the Barclays Center, which will host the Brooklyn Nets starting in 2012-13. Other possible destinations are Queens, Suffolk County, Kansas City, Mo., or Canada.

Despite the seemingly imminent move, the Islanders can’t focus on something that may or may not come four years down the road. They have to put their focus on this season and get off to a strong start to erase last season’s disastrous beginning.

The Islanders have not qualified for the playoffs since 2007, when they fell to the Buffalo Sabres in the first round. But, with a lot of young talent on hand, as well as the wisdom of the veterans, there’s no reason the Islanders can’t build off last season’s strong start and make a run to end their playoff drought.