The season fell apart. A multitude of injuries to key players left a team that was already a marginal contender for the playoffs with no chance to compete for a spot. Players brought in last summer to fortify the lineup either failed to make enough of an impact or simply did not live up to expectations. The Islanders will finish under .500 and be done in early April. I'm supposed to be depressed, disillusioned, and disheartened. Why, then, am I excited? Why am I still enjoying being a fan right now? Why am I still hopeful? Let me count the ways.
- The season's demise, though punctuated by two extended losing streaks, was somewhat gradual. That was easier to handle emotionally than staying in contention until the end and then falling short dramatically.
- Instead of being overwhelmed, the young enforcements from the AHL are playing as though they intend to impact not only next year's Islanders' roster, but next year's Islanders' opponents.
- Some of the veterans are playing as though they realize they need to keep up with the kids or risk being left in the spray. I'd prefer if everyone were motivated intrinsically every game, but that's not realistic. This will do because it's important to maintain a positive culture in the locker room when jobs are on the line instead of disintegrating into an Us vs. Them mentality. Of course, guys like Hunter, Guerin, and Comrie have the security of deals for next year. But they seem to realize that their own success is only part of the answer. As a result, the team doesn't look as though it's just playing out the string of a losing season.
- In just four games, Kyle Okposo looks to be a bona fide difference-maker--not just a guy who scores a huge/pretty goal every 10-15 games, but a guy who makes opposing defenses say, "Uh, oh" several times a night. Islander Frontier had some good descriptions of this kind of ability in the last two paragraphs here.
- As told to John Jeansonne of Newsday, Blake Comeau feels like an NHL player now. He certainly plays like one.
- The schedules have aligned in such a way that the top prospects are getting a chance to get their skates wet in the NHL while still having a chance to make a playoff run in the AHL. Bridgeport has done a fantastic job of holding the ship together while it's lineup was squeezed like a Valencia juicing orange. Or sucked dry like the cup holding an apple pie a la mode milkshake from Ronnybrook Dairy Farm. I don't know, you make the call. Both are refreshing and delicious. Either way, it would be great to see the call-ups return to Bridgeport after next Friday and lead the Sound Tigers on a run deep into the playoffs.
- I no longer view Bergenheim, Comeau, Okposo, Tambellini, Colliton, Regier, and others as individual prospects, one or two of whom might become regulars. A few of them will likely drop out of the picture for one reason or another, but I can't remember a time in recent history when I was so excited about a group of young players (Dalgarno-McInnis?). And it's not a case of them filling in admirably and doing the best they can with marginal ability under trying circumstances. They look like legitimate pieces of a group that wants to be the next generation of Islanders. Yes, I'm desperately trying to avoid using the word "core."
- It's so easy to root for Wade Dubielewicz.
- The draft lottery: It's time for the Islanders to get a super-stud. With this draft and this finish in the standings, it should be harder to make a mistake. They need to draft a guy who can come in as an 18- or 19-year-old and set the barn on fire with prowess, drive, and intensity. Other teams have done it. It's time to make them envious.
- Who says a list has to have ten items?