Jul 31, 2000
It's been a long time since Islander fans have had something to truly be excited about. Ever since the Oilers brought the team's dynasty to a screeching halt back in 1984, more downs than ups have plagued an organization once thought to be indestructible. Sure there have been a couple of highlights in the 15 plus years that have elapsed, but let me emphasize the word "couple." Probably the only two that stand out would be Pat LaFontaine's overtime goal in a game 7 playoff marathon against Washington in 1987 and a game 7 playoff miracle in 1993, when David Volek scored to vault the Isles into the Conference Finals against eventual champs Montreal. Other than these two events, recent years have been plagued with missing playoffs, bad ownership, a poor arena and a dwindling fan base. Plain and simple, things have been disappointing.
It's true, Islander fans have seen the worst. But now it's time to see the best once again. All of the pieces seem to be slowly falling into place. Of course, as with any organization, success must start at the top. The Islanders organization won the lottery when deep-pocketed owners Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar were able to gobble up the struggling franchise. An immediate increase in budget was instituted and GM Mike Milbury's financially tied hands were finally free to dabble in free agent signings and trades that didn't involved the dumping of salaries. Wang and Kumar have shown a commitment to the team from the very beginning, demonstrating a true desire to transition the dynasty of the past into a newfound glory.
A second piece of the puzzle was secured when the Islanders leaped into the #1 overall slot in the NHL's draft by winning the lottery. Sure there may not have been a superstar in waiting as other drafts may have boasted, but don't tell that to Mike Milbury who quickly secured goaltender of the future (and maybe the present), Rick DiPietro. Only time will tell whether this bold move will pay off, but the 18-year-old seems to have all the necessities to make it big, talent, confidence, and a the heart of a lion.
With new ownership in place and a win in the draft lottery, Milbury was able to focus his attention on a third piece of the puzzle - acquiring talent. Even through the tough years, the Islanders have always boasted a core of fine young players. What they lacked was depth and experience. Now it seems like they are well on their way to putting together a team which boasts all of the above - a rich group of "young guns", depth at all four lines, and players with experience who have put together successful seasons in the NHL. Tim Connolly, Brad Isbister, Taylor Pyatt, and Kenny Jonsson (among others) will undoubtedly be the future of this franchise. But now they will be joined by a group of players acquired via trade and free agency that will fill many of the Islanders depth needs. Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha (acquired from Florida) will most likely team up on a second line and provide a much needed scoring punch behind Isbister, Connolly, and 30 goal man Marius Czerkawski. Roman Hamrlik (acquired from Edmonton), is one of the league's premier offensive defenseman, who will step in and immediately provide some offense the Islanders so desperately need from their blueliners. Kevin Haller (signed as a free agent) brings veteran leadership and stability to a youthful defense core. And John Vanbiesbrouck (acquired from Philadelphia) will be there to help young DiPietro fulfill his potential, ready to step in if needed.
For some reason there has been quite a bit of negative reaction regarding Milbury's moves. Sure they were bold and very aggressive, but he was able to fill most of the holes on the team. Adding more scoring up front, an offensive defenseman and a veteran defenseman were all needs that have been taken care of. The only question mark would be goaltending, where prior to draft day the Islanders boasted two of the league's premier young goalies, Kevin Weekes and Roberto Luongo. After a furious weekend of trades however, the youngsters were soon replaced by DiPietro and Vanbiesbrouck. Only time will tell if the swap will pay off. With all of DiPietro's tools, including an amazing ability to move and handle the puck, things could be in the Islanders' favor.
Many organizations have gone through numerous unsuccessful years before putting together all the pieces and making consistent runs at championships. Examples being the Atlanta Braves, the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche, and the current example of the St. Louis Rams. There is still a lot of work left, like making sure youngsters like Raffi Tores, Taylor Pyatt, Branislav Mezei, DiPietro, and others develop their full potential. But having great owners, getting a little bit of luck along the way (winning the draft lottery), and being able to acquire players to immediately impact the organization are the necessary building blocks all pointing to successful years ahead for the Islanders and their fans.
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