Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Islanders Making Smart Decisions Now to Ensure Stability Later


The New York Islanders have had plenty of injury woes this year, and as we near the conclusion of the 2010-2011 season, that continues to be the case.

In the last two weeks alone, the Isles confirmed that Mark Streit would not be playing this season,

Andrew MacDonald has had a nagging injury which will require off-season surgery (he is also done for the year), Doug Weight will not return and may retire and, just recently, Milan Jurcina is now dealing with a hip-flexor issue.

Had the Islanders been in playoff contention, this series of unfortunate events would have been devastating.

Just look at what’s happened to the LA Kings. If you think losing Anze Kopitar doesn’t significantly damage LA’s ability to make a deep postseason run, think again.

They may not be a playoff threat now, but the Isles certainly can be next season. Of course, whether or not that comes into fruition will largely depend on the team’s ability to stay healthy.

Imagine if Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit had been with the team all season. Had that been the case, I honestly believe they’d have been a much better team this year.

Throw KO and Streit into a lineup that’s oozing with talented players such as John Tavares, Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic.

Pretty scary, huh?

You better believe that’s exactly what the Islanders are thinking, which is why they are being smart and shutting down Streit until next season. They don’t want to rush him back too soon, only to see him re-injure himself. That would be disastrous.

Andrew MacDonald mentioned he had been playing through his injury since the All-Star Break. The way he’s performed night-in and night-out, he definitely had me fooled. That being said, had he continued to ignore the pain, that injury might have become far more severe.

MacDonald will undergo surgery in the off-season. When training camp rolls along, “A-Mac” will be at 100 percent and ready to go.

Health issues aside, the Islanders are also taking other steps to solidify next season’s roster.

Just yesterday, the team signed goaltender Al Montoya to a one-year contract extension. Should Rick DiPietro find himself on the sidelines yet again, at least the Isles know they can count on Montoya to step in.

Likewise, you can likely expect to see Garth Snow re-sign Michael Grabner, Travis Hamonic, Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey, all of which are RFA’s this summer.

The Islanders have an incredibly bright future and they’ve been teasing us with flashes of that potential since the re-build began.

In 2010-2011, the team’s young core has developed nicely, with John Tavares reaching the 60-point plateau, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson netting 30 goals, Blake Comeau finally scoring 20 and Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald emerging as reliable NHL defensemen.

Since the All-Star break, New York has been one of the best teams in the league. Jack Capuano has turned this squad around and unlikely heroes, such as Al Montoya, have helped spark this recent resurgence.

Before the All-Star break, not so much. Despite storming out of the gate, the Islanders proceeded to lose 20 of the next 21 games, essentially digging themselves in a hole they could not climb out of.

The absences of Streit and Okposo played a major role in the Isles’ descent towards the Eastern Conference basement. Without their powerplay quarterback, the Islanders were abysmal with the man-advantage. Additionally, the loss of Okposo hurt the team’s ability to produce offensively.
KO’s return to the lineup has given the Islanders a boost, as he’s tallied 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) in 35 games. If he can stay healthy next year, there’s no reason why Okposo can’t break 60 points.

There are instances in hockey where a team is faced with making difficult choices. By making those decisions now, the New York Islanders will have less to deal with next season.

Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter: @dfriedman_isles

Comments are welcome.

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