Let me begin by stating that I am extremely happy that we will be salvaging part of the season and that both hockey and the New York Islanders are back. I was going through hockey withdrawals and was NOT a happy camper as the canceled weeks of the season kept being announced. I love the game, I love the Isles and I am relieved beyond words that we will, at least, get a 48 game season.
At the same time, though, I will also confess to a great deal of bitterness and dissatisfaction. This situation was handled very badly by both sides and I simply feel that differences could have been resolved with a lot less drama and, more importantly, without the loss of nearly half the season. I think it is a disgrace that things unfolded as they did. It has made a lot of fans quite angry and disgusted. I can say that I know a few who have already decided to ignore this season and not bother watching any games.
Before I get into my Islander content for this post, I think that the biggest question that will be answered right away is how well the fans greet the return of the game. Will there be sold out arenas across the NHL or will the fans show their discontent in terms of showing up disguised as empty seats? I am a bit concerned that there will be some back lash, not that I don’t feel that it would be deserved. There was a LOT of money at stake, and there are some that feel that the whole lockout was not going to go beyond January 15 because neither the NHL nor the NHLPA could afford the overall money lost if the entire season was lost.I know some of the following comments and thoughts that I will toss out as my “blind observations” have been touched upon by my colleagues here at Isles Talk, but I still wanted to include them as my own agreed upon thoughts as well as my personal answers to a few of the questions they have tossed out.
• The Islanders, despite it being a shortened season, still have a great deal to prove. In fact, I’d say that they probably will have even more to prove BECAUSE of the abbreviated campaign. Now with the new arena set, they have to start putting a winning, viable team on the ice to fill the seats in that new arena.
• Relating to that, the shortened season leaves the field wide open. The Islanders have just as much of a chance to make the playoffs and go far as any other team in the NHL. That is a simple reality. Forty-eight games is not necessarily enough for there to be a great deal of separation to be established by too many teams. If the Isles can get hot, they could easily use the shortened season to their advantage.
• As mentioned in a previous post, yes, just like the team has a lot to prove, there are, indeed, guys who need to step up and show that they belong here. DP, for example, needs to answer MANY questions the fans have on their minds, not the least bit being, Can He Play in the NHL at all Without becoming injured? Josh Bailey has to have a full season of playing with confidence and intensity, and Michael Grabner needs to bounce back with a 30 plus goal season. El Nino also has to make a statement as well, and the young defenders desiring to earn a place here have to bring it to Win It.
• How will the 48 game season work to JT’s advantage? Could John win the scoring title this year? If he catches fire at the right time and goes on one of those amazing streaks, I’d be willing to say that it’s certainly possible. If not, I could see a top 10 or even a top 5 finish for him.
• What about goaltending? This ties into the Rick DiPietro point, but will it be Evgeni Nabokov and DP the entire way, or will the Islanders be forced to call upon one of the youngsters. In a shortened, compacted season, goaltending could very well be a major factor for a team being able to sneak into the playoffs and get beyond the first round.
• How will the fans respond? I mean both to the lockout and the Islanders announcement of their pending move to Brooklyn? The reality is, as much as some might not like it, stability for the long term now has been established for the organization. Nassau County has only itself to blame, so I personally do not have much sympathy for how that was mishandled. The Islanders will be staying in New York, they will have a new facility and, thus, free agents will be more likely to sign here. As far as I am concerned, these are all big pluses. Will the fan base see it that way though?
I approach this season with mixed emotions and that includes hope and excitement. I am also looking forward to combining with my colleagues here at Isles Talk to provide game coverage, news,and our opinions on all things Islanders. I think Gary has collected a great staff here, and I really encourage those who browse here casually or who are regular visitors to please spread the word and send folks here. I’m proud to be a part of Isles Talk, and I look forward to posting my “blind observations” as the season unfolds.