Saturday, December 30, 2006

Isles Hanging Tough

Well, this is my inaugural weekly column covering the Isles and I'm excited about that. What a season it has been so far. After a summer of much discontent that read like a script from Days of Our Lives, the team partially assembled by Neil Smith and the Gang of Four (or is it five?) has done quite well for itself, due to several factors, not the least of which is the coaching performance tendered by Ted Nolan. He has got the team motivated most nights (with the exception of the Carolina game last week in which the team barely broke a sweat and looked out of synch for all 60 minutes) and the guys look well coached. They are in position, playing the game that suits their style, not trying to do too much, but playing hard nosed and getting dirty in the corners. And how about Alexei Yashin. Wow, the guy is doing it all, not only scoring but playing a really spirited defense as well. And Jason Blake has been outstanding, really coming into his own, especially with Yashin next to him.

While the season is looking up, I think Garth Snow knows that the team still has an uphill battle to make the playoffs and then thrive there. Both trades of Zhitnik and York are telltale signs that Garth is is filling the piggy bank so he can spend and fill a hole or two. But where are the holes? The obvious need is a second line scoring center with speed. Sill is a good 3rd line center and Kozlov is a better winger than center. Bates is really a 4th liner at this stage of his career. If possible, this type of acquisition would benefit the team sooner rather than later. But it will probably happen closer to the trade deadline as teams will be less willing to part with high quality guys until they get a better sense of their chances of making the playoffs and being able to contend. Who to watch for? I would keep a very close eye on Tampa Bay. TB is not going to continue paying 4 guys 21 million dollars to languish near the bottom of the conference. If this continues, look for Jay Feaster to unload either Lecavalier or Richards, with my bet on Richards. He would be a very nice fit on the Isles second line and make everyone around him more productive with his set up skills.

Who would the Islanders have to give up? I think any package would have to include a young defenseman. Over the next few weeks I think we will see Campoli play a few more games and then when Freddy Meyer has recovered from his injury, he will take that spot for the short term. I think you will see one of the two moved before the deadline. To sweeten the deal, don't be surprised to see Hunter go as well as a draft pick. The Islanders arguably need a top tier quick, scoring D man as well, but they probably won't get one this year and will wait until next summer to focus on that.

Today's game against the Devils should be a good test for the Isles. The Devs are playing much better lately with nine wins in December. Let's see if DP can outplay Brodeur.

Happy New Year to all - see you next week.

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