Isles put offseason distractions behind them
Open Rookie Camp in Anticipation of Critical 2017-18 Season
That arena site in Belmont, N.Y., that the New York Islanders’ ownership group appears intent on securing?
Still in the works, or so we hear.
The pending free agency of superstar center John Tavares following the upcoming 2017-18 campaign?
It can wait till next year, unless, of course, he suddenly decides to re-sign before the Oct. 6 regular-season opener at Columbus.
The Islanders have had a busy summer of speculation regarding what might be in their future, be it waving bye-bye to Brooklyn, or even worse, bidding farewell to the best player they have had on their roster since the halcyon days of the 1980s.
But beginning Friday morning, when the team officially opened its rookie camp on Long Island, the still-Brooklyn-based Islanders began to work in earnest toward a more immediate and pressing matter: putting together a team that will return them to the postseason, and perhaps even seriously challenge for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title since 1983.
“I’m definitely ready. It’s been a long summer,” veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said last week, fresh off a busy offseason in which he competed with the German National Team at the IIHF World Championships in Cologne, Germany.
“Some guys came in already, but it’ll be nice to see the rest of them and get back together and get back working,” he added.
Working on anything other than contract and arena discussions will certainly be a relief to the Isles, who spent the entire second half of last season chasing an Eastern Conference playoff spot only to fall a single point shy on the campaign’s final weekend.
General manager Garth Snow and freshly minted full-time head coach Doug Weight spent the summer reshaping the roster as well as the coaching staff.
But ultimately, this team will be judged by its performance on the ice, even if the condition of Barclays’ playing surface has also been called into question during the team’s first two seasons here in our fair borough.
The camp will run from this weekend through next Wednesday, when the Isles will travel to Philadelphia for a rookie exhibition contest against the Flyers.
The squad will consist of 14 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies, including former first-round picks Matthew Barzal, Kieffer Bellows, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang.
New York will begin its full-team preseason slate Sept. 17 versus Philadelphia at the Nassau Coliseum, its newly renovated former home which is still in contention as at least a temporary future locale for the team that originally began playing there in 1972.
In one month, the Isles will kick off this critical campaign against the Blue Jackets in Columbus, hoping their strong second half, an eye-popping 24-12-4 finish following the firing of longtime head coach Jack Capuano, is something they can build on in the opening weeks of the new season.
“As a group, I thought we had the personalities to do a little better job coming out of the gate [last season], but for whatever reason, we didn’t,” Tavares said last month on the team’s website.
“It is what it is and I think all of us learned from it and realized how important the start is, how we can’t let things get away from you and how much effort and energy it takes to get back into it.”
The Isles’ captain, who has been the most integral part of the roster since being selected first overall by New York in the 2009 NHL Draft, knows that finishing strong last year doesn’t necessarily translate to a strong start to 2017-18.
“It gives you a sense of your potential and the level we can play at and I still think we feel we can be a lot better,” Tavares said.
“It obviously was a great sign, but at the same time it doesn’t mean much to start the year being a fresh season,” he added. “We have to prove it once again and come together once again and we’re going to have some more new faces this year. It’s a great opportunity really to do something special and that’s what we want.”
One of those new faces is a very familiar one to Tavares.
Snow, sensing the need to surround his top forward with more offensive talent, sent Ryan Strome to Edmonton for Jordan Eberle, a 27-year-old forward and four-time 20-goal scorer, who has played with Tavares on the Canadian National Team.
“We know each other pretty well and have had some success playing together for Team Canada,” Tavares noted of his newest line mate.
“I’m excited to have him, he’s obviously a very good hockey player with tremendous ability around the net, great hands and great hockey sense. He is proven as well and has done it for many years so I know he’s excited about coming in and being an impact player for us.”
As for the rookies and second-year players who will be grinding it out over the next six days to carve out a spot on the roster for themselves, Tavares believes the more youth the better for a franchise that can only rise toward the top of the NHL title race if its collection of top picks over the past several years live up to their potential.
“We have some good young blood wanting to be a part of that too,” Tavares said.
“Having that is just really exciting. For me it’s just about that journey and us coming together and wanting to achieve that ultimate goal. And that’s what drives us all. We believe it in that locker room.”
Believing is one thing, while achieving is another.
But at least the Isles can take heart in knowing that their offseason of speculation regarding their future is about to be left in the rearview mirror.
It’s finally time to start playing hockey again.
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