Tuesday, September 13, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: MetsTwerp & the New York Islanders

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 26 of 30: the New York Islanders


The past year has been a roller coaster for the New York Islanders.

In the early 1980s, the Islanders were a dynasty, winning four consecutive Stanley cups (1980-1983), plus going to the Final round in 1984, giving them the longest streak in the history of professional sports for winning playoff series (19). But that was then, and this is now.

In the past five seasons, the Islanders have only made it to the playoffs once, in 2007, when they were knocked out of the Conference Quaterfinals 4-1 by the Buffalo Sabres. They've consistently finished at the bottom of the highly competitive Atlantic Division, and in 2010-11, they barely squeaked ahead of Florida to not finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

However, it's worth nothing that the Islanders had the kind of season in 2010-11 that would've thrown any team for a loop: the team's top-name players sidelined by injury early in the year. Their coach got fired early in the season. In fact, the most noticeable games in the Islanders' season last year were a couple of games that turned into giant line brawls against the rival Penguins - not the finest moments for a once-proud franchise. The building they play in (Nassau Coliseum) is old and outdated, desperately in need of replacement, but an August vote in Nassau County rejected the proposal to replace it.

So what looks positive for the Islanders? Well, more than might seem at first glance.

The Islanders recognize that they need to post a winning season in a hurry - and, with the proposal for a new arena shot down in August, they need to do it now, to help draw interest and attention back to the team on Long Island.

But there's a lot to be positive for out on Long Island. For starters, one of 2010-11's top rookies, Calder candidate Michael Grabner, burst onto the scene last season after being picked up off waivers from the Panthers. The speedy Austrian put together a 34 goal/18 assist season with just 10 PIM while playing on one of the worst teams in the ultra-competitive Atlantic division - home to the Flyers, the Penguins, the Rangers, and the Devils. 2010 Draft pick Nino Niederreiter may stick with the team this year, helping bring even more youthful energy to this team. 

The Islanders will have Mark Streit returning this year after he lost last season to injury. Streit is consistently underrated but is very solid defensively; he should help bolster the blue line. NYI also added solid veteran experience with the acquisitions of Marty Reasoner and Brian Rolston. Solid players like Matt Moulson, John Tavares and Blake Comeau help round out the top of the talent pool.

One of the more colorful storylines from late in the Islanders' season last spring was the acquisition of goalie Evgeni Nabokov, picked up off re-entry waivers en route between the KHL and Detroit. It was a bold move for GM Garth Snow and certainly one that didn't pay off in terms of the team's record to end the season, but it had an interesting effect. When Nabokov balked at reporting to the Islanders, it seemed to trigger a great deal of pride and loyalty among both the players and fans of the Islanders. Who was this guy who seemed to feel he was too good to report to their team? It might not have been his career intention to end up in Nassau County; but there's inherent risks in the rules of the NHL contract rules, specifically designed to prevent teams and players from easily shuffling players back and forth between leagues without risk. Nabokov was caught; and for refusing to report, the team suspended him.

Nabokov is reported to be expected at camp this week. With Rick DiPietro, the Islanders' number one goalie's health always seeming to be a question mark, it's not entirely impossible for Nabokov to steal the #1 position.

Actually, let's correct that - even healthy, there's a very good probability that Nabokov could "pull a Niemi" and usurp DiPietro, whose stats have been unremarkable at best for the past few seasons. The Islanders used no less than five goaltenders last season, and DiPietro - their $4.5M/year goalie - played just 26 of their 82 games. Dwayne Roloson played 20 games for the Islanders before getting traded to Tampa Bay, where he went on to helped lead the team all the way to the Eastern Conference final. The Islanders have been hurting in net, and Nabokov could be the solution, if he's fully committed to this team and can play to the same form that helped keep the San Jose Sharks atop the Western Conference for many years.
New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Sean Backman (DAL/AHL), Evgeni Nabokov (KHL via DET), Marty Reasoner (FLA), Brian Rolston (NJD), Tim Wallace (PIT)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Bruno Gervais (TBL), Jack Hillen (NSH), Trent Hunter, Jesse Joensuu (Sweden), Zenon Konopka (OTT), Radek Matinek (CBJ), Dwayne Roloson (TBL), Rob Schremp (Sweden), Doug Weight (retired)
Right now, the Islanders have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain. Expect them to be a not-so-surprise dark horse candidate to make the playoffs this season.

* * *

For the Islanders, we talked with @MetsTwerp, who has been an Islander fan for 33 years.

Let's talk about your fandom to start.

Started watching hockey when the Isles were up and coming. In 1993 drove down from where we lived in Albany to see the Islanders beat Washington in game 4 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Division Semi Finals. 2 OT win for the Isles, best game I ever saw. Went to Montreal to go to Mike Bossy's Steakhouse in 2000 (it was only open for a year), and had the man himself buy ME a drink. Chatted with him for a while. Best moment for me as far as meeting an athlete foes.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Well, it may not be this season, but Ryan Strome for sure. Not much to get super excited for as far as their signings for this year goes. Bryan Rolston? Michael Grabner as far as returning players signed to new contracts.

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on? If the team has lost their captain, who do you think will wear the "C" next?

The Isles didn't do much in the way of bettering themselves via free agency. They will rely heavily on their great core of young players continuing to build and flourish as they play another year together. Doug Weight is gone, so I guess its possible Rolston gets the "C" due to his veteran status. I definitely expect an improved squad this year. Goalie will remain the big question mark, as its unknown what we will get from DiPietro. Will Nabokov play for the Isles or will they trade him? Will be interesting to see.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?


What was your favorite moment for your team last season?

Grabner winning the fastest skater competition at the All-Star Game.

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