"THEY'LL BE IN THE PLAYOFF RACE UNTIL THE END"Scouts' Poll Season Preview, Part 1 – The Standings


There’s no question in my mind. The Islanders are competitive again.

This is what one of four NHL pro scouts told Point Blank this week for a preseason poll. Four out of four scouts surveyed were confident the Islanders will contend for a playoff berth in 2011-12.

“They’ll be in the playoff race in the East until the end,” said another. “I don’t see more than five teams running away with playoff positions by the start of March. All of the teams that didn’t make the playoffs got better in the offseason. I think this will be a wild playoff race. I wouldn’t be surprised if as many as 9 teams were fighting for the final 2 or 3 spots in late March. For the Islanders, it’s going to come down to how well their D and goaltending hold up.”

That sentiment, of course, was also unanimous among the four NHL pro scouts. These scouts are tasked by their clubs to spend most of their time on the road following the National Hockey League and American Hockey League. They are responsible for filing pre-scout reports for their head coaches and providing guidance to their general managers on trade acquisitions, waiver wire pickups and future free agent signings. All four have followed the Islanders and the Eastern Conference religiously for at least the last three seasons.

To a man, they believe Islanders fans will be engaged in the upcoming regular season from the beginning until the end. “The days of being out of contention way before the All-Star break are finally over,” said one.

That said, none of the scouts were prepared – at least in late August – to declare the Islanders a bonafide playoff team.

Summarized one, “I’ve got three concerns for them: lack of depth and experience – especially on defense – their history of having over 300 man-games lost to injury per season, and the competition in the East. The Islanders are getting better and they will be better, but I don’t know if they’re good enough to close out one of the playoff spots in the final quarter of the season.”

With a key roster upgrade or two, they certainly could. Looking in awe at the Islanders’ cap space, the scouts know general manager Garth Snow has the cap flexibility, resources and assets to add a key player when needed.

“Snowy is not done,” said one scout. “I know he tried all summer to add a dman, but the (Christian) Ehrhoff thing went bust because they wouldn’t give him a blank check up front and he hasn’t been able to connect on another deal like he did with Wisniewski last summer. There’s still time left. Good players will be available during camp in trades and on the wire. A quality player that an Edmonton might not want to spend for could be snapped up by Snowy.”

Said another, “I know for a fact that Garth offered a training camp invite this month to a pretty good veteran, but he turned it down for now. To me, that’s a sign Garth is trying to do whatever he can within his limitations. He has to know he needs more if he really wants his team to finally make a big splash this season. It’s good for business and it’s good for arena negotiations.”

Point Blank Take: There’s probably little above that the most ardent Islanders follower would disagree with. My biggest concern is the team’s lack of depth. The forward corps is strong, but many players still have a lot to prove in crucial game situations. The goaltending rotation is certainly deep and will be a fascinating study from the first day of training camp. The health of the team’s current top six on defense has been well-documented here and elsewhere. (An educated guess at the veteran who turned down the camp invitation “for now” – Long Island resident Bryan McCabe).

I expect the Islanders to have a very good start to the season and create some much-needed positive buzz for the franchise after the disappointment of the referendum. The schedule is favorable early and the talent is there. But the long NHL season can be cruel for teams that are not well-stocked at every position. Reality could hit for the Islanders in the second half. There are too many teams in the East with far more consistent goaltending and defense.

Unless the Islanders manage to reverse a trend and limit their man-games lost to injury to under 200, the excitement could very well last into March, but as currently constructed the team is more destined for 10th place than the playoffs. That’s if Snow isn’t finally able to make his first major impact transaction of 2011.

Still, as the pro scouts have forecasted, it’s going to be an exciting season from start to finish. Being in the battle late in the season will show marked improvement. After four years of the slow and steady rebuild, legitimate playoff contention will be welcomed. Important hockey games are back at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum this season.

In the coming days, Point Blank – with some assistance from our pro scouts – will take a position-by-position look at the Islanders in 2011-12. Your as-of-now thoughts on where the Islanders will rank in the East are welcomed in the Comments thread. Thank you.