New York Islanders season preview

Updated: October 2, 2006, 12:29 PM ET
ESPN.com

New York Islanders

STARTING LINE

By Scott Burnside, ESPN.com

Let's forget for a moment the boardroom fiasco of this offseason and look strictly at the hockey operations, and the results are the same: The New York Islanders are a team without a clue. Coincidence? We think not. In the new NHL, where teams can spend a finite amount of money on players, the good players are going to go where there is stability and a plan for the future. The bad teams will simply end up overpaying for lesser talent, which is why the future remains bleak for an Islanders team without a clue. The Islanders haven't won a playoff series since 1993. The fact that owner Charles Wang fired former Rangers GM Neil Smith a little more than two months after hiring him and then installed backup netminder Garth Snow as the new GM before signing netminder Rick DiPietro to an NHL-record 15-year deal will set the team's development back years. The one good thing about such colossal mismanagement is that the Isles will almost certainly be a lottery team. Of course, they're one of the only teams that is capable of screwing up a first overall draft pick.

Offense: The Islanders' 230 goals put them 26th in the league last season, and there's little to suggest that will improve this year unless Alexei Yashin suddenly emerges from his catatonic state as one of the most overpaid professional athletes of all time. Jason Blake continued his evolution as a top-flight, two-way player with a career-best 28 goals, his third straight NHL season of 20-plus goals. Miroslav Satan led the Islanders with a solid 35 goals, but he will continue to battle criticism that he's not a team player. With only three 20-goal scorers last season (Yashin, Blake and Satan), the Islanders have little in the way of offensive depth. Rookie Robert Nilsson was a disappointment with just six goals in 56 games. After notching 25 goals and being named to the all-rookie team in 2004, Trent Hunter's production dropped off last season to 16 goals. The big winger will need to rediscover his touch if the Isles are to stay close to a playoff berth. The travel-weary Mike Sillinger arrives, but he is best suited to being a role player, not a go-to guy.

Defense: A virtual All-Star roster of defenders has passed through Long Island over the years, but you'd hardly know it looking at the crew that will man the back end this season. Brendan Witt will provide some toughness, although he's prone to taking bad penalties, and Tom Poti, well, we're not sure what the chronically underachieving defender will bring to a defensive unit that ranked 25th in the league last season.

Goaltending: If there's a netminder in the league who doesn't lack for confidence, it's former No. 1 overall draft pick DiPietro. Too bad his game hasn't matched that confidence. Perhaps it was a function of the poor team play in front of him, but DiPietro's play was wildly inconsistent as he turned in a 3.02 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 65 games. All that did was earn him the longest contract in the history of the NHL.

Coaching: After a decade of exile from the NHL coaching ranks, Ted Nolan returns to the same kinds of whispers, that he was a meddler and GM killer, which dogged him when he was relieved of his duties in Buffalo after being named Coach of the Year in 1997. True or not, Nolan will have to prove he's still an NHL-caliber coach by getting a lot out of a little. Look for Nolan to try to have his troops play a physical, hard-forechecking style even though he may not have the right components for such a game plan.

WHERE THEY'LL FINISH
15th This is a classic case of water finding its own level. Given the team's mismanagement, the Isles will be at the bottom of the Atlantic and East.

BUZZ FACTOR
Stock Down
Stock down (um, as in down the tubes). Well, unless the New York Islanders are hoping to appeal to circus fans in Nassau County, things won't get much better for a team that ranked last in attendance last season.



FANTASY AND THE FUTURE
TRISTAN COCKCROFT'S FANTASY SPIN
THE HOCKEY NEWS' TOP PROSPECTS
With Ted Nolan on board and Rick DiPietro locked up for the next 15 years, it appears the Islanders' plan will focus on defense, a tough strategy in such a strong division. DiPietro continues to improve, though, serving as a solid No. 2 fantasy option. Miroslav Satan and Alexei Yashin should score enough to crack your weekly lineup. The problem is plus/minus could again be an issue, and in a defense-first system, a 50-point performer like Jason Blake or Mike York isn't going to get things done for fantasy. The Hockey News' Top 5 Prospects for the Islanders:
1. Ryan O'Mara, 19, C, Erie (OHL)
Statline: 61 GP, 27 G 50 A, 134 PIM
2. Blake Comeau, 20, C, Kelowna (WHL)
Statline: 60 GP, 21 G, 53 A, 85 PIM
3. Jeremy Colliton, 21, C, Bridgeport (AHL)
Statline: 66 GP, 21 G, 32 A, 44 PIM
4. Dustin Kohn, 19, D, Calgary (WHL)
Statline: 31 GP, 2 G, 13 A, 30 PIM
5. Shea Guthrie, 19, RW, Clarkson (ECAC)
Statline: 33 GP, 9 G, 17 A, 60 PIM
• Subscribe to The Hockey News

New York Islanders
When We Last Saw Them ...
Record36-40-6 (78 points)
DivisionFinished fourth in Atlantic
ConferenceFinished 12th in East
PlayoffsDid not qualify

Who To Watch Now ...
Center: Petteri Nokelainen
The 16th overall pick in the 2004 draft played in only 15 games last year due to injury, but he will get a chance to develop considerable skills this season.
Winger: Andy Hilbert
Former Boston Bruins prospect Andy Hilbert had a terrific year in the AHL during the lockout (37 goals, 79 points), but couldn't find a home in either Chicago or Pittsburgh last season. Now, he's on the Island.
Defense: Chris Campoli
A late draft pick in 2004 (227th overall), Campoli led all Islanders defensemen with nine goals last season. Under a new defensive-minded system, he could play a bigger role.
Goalie: Rick DiPietro
Too much talk, too little walk. How will a new 15-year, $67.5 million deal affect his play?

Key Moves
How does a team that fires its new GM 10 weeks in and then hires its backup goalie as its GM earn any respect? They don't. On the ice, the arrival of Brendan Witt and Mike Sillinger bring some much-needed credibility in the dressing room.

SportsNation
Rating the Islanders
The New York Islanders finished 12th in the Eastern Conference last season, but what is the team's outlook this time around? Who will lead the Islanders in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench?
Vote now, SportsNation!