Garth Snow picked his words carefully.
Snow had sat and watched as his employer, Charles Wang, was questioned about Nassau Coliseum and the state of the proposed Lighthouse Project. Eventually, Snow was asked if the National Hockey League’s second oldest building provided difficulty in attracting quality NHL players to Long Island. The general manger compared other arenas to “Ritz Carlton” and the Coliseum to an “Auto Lodge.”
Those four words more than adequately describe the New York Islanders universe. Not seven days after Snow offered his thoughts, the snake-bitten franchise absorbed the long-term losses of defenseman Mark Streit (torn labrum and torn rotator cuff) and right wing Kyle Okposo (shoulder).
John Tavares is the Islanders franchise cornerstone. The Ontario Hockey League’s all-time leading scorer finished his rookie season with 24 goals and 54 assists. The 2009 No. 1 pick will be expected to explode like the ’08 No. 1 pick, Tampa’s Steven Stamkos, who exploded for 51 goals and 95 points in his second year.
Tavares likely won’t hit the back of the net 50 times because the Islanders do not possess the caliber of scoring talent that Tampa Bay has around Stamkos. That said, Tavares should be able to score at least 30 goals in his sophomore season.
The loss of Streit is devastating. Among the NHL’s best all-around defenseman, Streit scored 49 points, averaged 25:41 of ice time and played in all situations. Simply put, he cannot be replaced.
The Islanders will try to make due with James Wisniewski (acquired from Anaheim), Mark Easton (signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh), Milan Jurcina (signed as a free agent from Columbus), Jack Hillen and rookie Calvin de Haan. Wisniewski had 27 assists last season and will have plenty of chances to help out on the offensive end.
Snow and coach Scott Gordon developed a one day on, one day off work schedule for Rick DiPietro prior to the start of training camp. DiPietro joked it made him “feel old.” The netminder, who has 11 years and $49.5 million remaining on a contract, was limited to just 13 NHL games over the last two years because of injuries.
While both wait for DiPietro to recuperate and regain the form that had made him an All-Star, the starting job will be Dwayne Roloson’s, who went 23-18-7 with a .907 save percentage last season.
The Islanders were nine points out of a playoff berth last season after being the NHL’s worst team in 2008-09. Some executives would feel the need to sign free agents. Snow and Gordon decided to eschew adding from the outside, opting to keep building around those draft picks.
Tavares, Okposo and Josh Bailey may one day be household names. The youth and the Lighthouse Project, though, would have benefited from adding an Ilya Kovalchuk, Bobby Ryan or Matt Lombardi. The Islanders finish 13th in the East.