MEANINGFUL GAMES? YOU BETCHA!Islanders will be in the hunt for a playoff berth

So many people have picked the Islanders for 14th or 15th in the East – SI, TSN, ESPN, Dirk from Kukla’s Korner – but I just can’t see it.

 

A pick of last or next-to-last comes with the implication that, like Los Angeles and Tampa Bay last season, the Islanders will be way out of playoff contention by the trade deadline. Again, that seems foolish.

 

The Islanders may be an easy target for many in the national media that don’t pop their heads in the Coliseum very often, but this sometimes clouds judgment. Two years ago, in the wake of the Neil Smith thing, a big-time NHL broadcaster picked the Islanders last in the East. I traded a few emails with my friend:

 

“Let me get this straight. The Islanders didn’t lose anyone, and added Witt, Sillinger, Kozlov, Poti and Simon. You don’t think they’re going to be better”?

 

“Oh, I don’t know. That whole GM thing…”

 

“Dude, the roster is set. The GM wears a suit in a suite during games. If the Neil thing didn’t happen, where would you have picked them”?

 

“Probably around 8th.”

 

Too bad. That’s exactly where they finished.

 

****

 

Look, I don’t know if the Islanders can keep it going for six straight months and find a way in. (This site has also been bombed with emails and comments about how the team really needs to tank its way into the Tavares-Hedman sweepstakes). But in a league where even “struggling” teams hover around .500 with overtime and shootout losses, to be blunt – you really have to blow to be out of it by Christmas.

 

The Islanders don’t blow. In fact, with all the obvious musts – DiPietro’s health, commitment to the system (I think even Scott Gordon’s already tired of that subject), some more-than-modest production from a few forwards – I think they’re going to be pretty good.

 

Picking the Islanders last means you’re certain the team isn’t going to get anything out of Guerin and Weight. Picking the Islanders last means your medical expertise tells you the 26-year old goalie can’t come back from surgeries, or you don’t think he’s at least among the top 15 goalies in the NHL. Picking the Islanders last means you believe Okposo, Tambellini, Sim and Hunter don’t have a chance of scoring at least 15 goals each.

 

Picking the Islanders last probably means you’ve never really watched Radek Martinek play…have stats that say Mark Streit got all his points playing forward in Montreal…didn’t hear or completely reject what Scott Bowman has said about Sean Bergenheim…don’t have the respect for Brendan Witt that everyone else in the game does…you get the point. Those Rodney Dangerfields in that cruddy old barn next to the Marriott can’t possibly compete.

 

I wouldn’t be so sure.

 

Do the Islanders have problems? Geez, plenty. For starters, they don’t have a superstar forward to carry them for weeks at a time. They do not have a bonafide No. 1 line: I doubt even the Islanders would argue that. They actually don’t have a typical fourth line; it’s more like two 2s and two 3s.

 

With Andy Sutton out, Witt is the only dman who might scare anyone around the crease. The team added Nate Thompson for grit and guts and all that stuff the farm system should have already had. They could use at least one more Thompson.

 

But even with all that, the team will be loitering around the 7-12 group when March comes around. Last season, the Islanders hosted back-to-back matinees on March 1 and 2, saluting the dynasty while the current team went bust – turning Craig Anderson into Terry Sawchuk. This season, they host back-to-back matinees on March 7 and 8 against the Devils and Phoenix. The games will be sold out because Gordon’s gang will still be alive.

 

If I had to put down cash, I’d say they’ll come up short in the final weeks of the regular season. This has less to do with Gordon making strides with his rebuilding team and more with facing Detroit, the Flyers (twice), Washington, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Boston down the stretch.

 

When it’s all over, you’ll have learned a lot about which kids are for real. Josh Bailey and the other 37 players the Islanders drafted in June will be a year older. There won’t be a Tavares or Hedmen at the end of the road, but it will have been a fun ride and worth every second you invested in it.

 

And who knows? With some blessings from the hockey gods, they could even make the playoffs. Enjoy.

 

2008-09 Eastern Conference Predictions

 

1. Philadelphia

 

2. Montreal

 

3. Carolina

 

4. New Jersey

 

5. Pittsburgh

 

6. Buffalo

 

7. Boston

 

8. Washington

 

9. Rangers

 

10. ISLANDERS

 

11. Ottawa

 

12. Florida

 

13. Toronto

 

14. Atlanta

 

15. Tampa Bay

 

Instead of your top 15, let’s poll everyone to see where you think the Islanders will finish this season in the East. I look forward to checking out the Comments when I arrive at The Rock Friday morning.