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By Pierre LeBrunThe Atlantic Division is a tough place to be if you're the New York Islanders, who hope to avoid finishing last again behind Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey and the rival Rangers. "I actually think we're better off playing those teams," Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro told ESPN.com. "We seem to play better against the Rangers and Devils and the teams in our division." The Isles did indeed go 6-1-1 against the Devils last season and 15-15-2 overall against their divisional opponents. Still, few believe this team has any chance of making the playoffs. But don't tell that to DiPietro. "I think we're in a good spot," he said. "I know we're probably being picked to finish 29th or 30th like we do every year. But for us, it's about the end result, not just making the playoffs, because I'm sick of just making the playoffs. We don't want to back into the playoffs, but go in and give ourselves an opportunity to do some things." Off the ice, the relationship between GM Garth Snow and coach Ted Nolan was clearly no longer working. Nolan was fired and replaced by Scott Gordon, whose AHL credentials are impressive. "I was a little bit surprised," DiPietro said of Nolan's firing. "I didn't think it would happen. But we didn't make the playoffs last year and I guess they felt it was time for change. The new guy is young and excited and he's focused on winning. It'll be nice."
By Jay FeasterThe biggest improvement on the Island may be the synergy created by having the coach and GM on the same page. Don't laugh! It is very difficult to win in the NHL, period. It is even more difficult when there is dysfunction at the highest levels of the organization. While it appeared Garth Snow might hire his old minor league coach, Bob Hartley, to lead the Isles, he went with an NHL rookie, Scott Gordon, instead. In any case, give Snow high marks for making sure he hired someone who shares his philosophy and approach. Having said that, the additions this summer (Doug Weight and Mark Streit being the major ones) may not be enough to get the team into the playoff mix; and, as the crop of youngsters (Okposo, Comeau, Bergenheim and NHL door-knocker Jeff Tambellini) matures but also experiences a baptism by fire, there will be even more pressure on goalie Rick DiPietro to hold the fort. Not only will Rick have to keep his team in games on a nightly basis, but he will also have to steal a lot of wins without much run support from his teammates. Here's hoping Ricky can stay healthy this season because the Isles need him, and he is fun to watch. Jay Feaster served as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning from the 2001-02 season before resigning last season. He is a contributor to ESPN.com.
Bust: Mark Streit, D: His chances at a repeat of his 62-point performance from 2007-08 are slim to none, mainly because the Islanders' power play, simply put, is not the Canadiens'.
Outlook: Gone are disappointments Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedotenko, Josef Vasicek and Bryan Berard; veteran playmaking center Doug Weight and Streit were the only two "big-name" types brought in to replace them. That puts the microscope on the team's younger, up-and-coming types, a group that includes Blake Comeau, Okposo, Jeff Tambellini and Chris Campoli. Those four, incidentally, have combined for 319 career NHL games, so it's a fairly raw group with plenty to prove. -- Tristan H. Cockcroft • Sign up for ESPN's NHL Fantasy Game now!