The Thrill Ride is Over: A Metro Hockey Wrap-Up
By Andrei Petrovitch
Isles go down in seven to Leafs
A promising season ended prematurely for the New York Islanders, who made their first playoff appearance in seven years. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Isles 4-2 in the deciding seventh game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. However, it can be argued that the Isles' hopes were dashed in game five, when team leaders Kenny Jonsson and Mike Peca went down with injuries injuries caused not by unfortunate accidents, but by the questionable tactics of Toronto ruffians Shayne Corson and Darcy Tucker. Without their best defenseman and checking center, respectively, the Islanders became demoralized. Although sniper Alexei Yashin did manage to deliver his best performance of the series in game seven, the war of attrition was to great for the Islanders to win.
So, what now? Well, the team is not too far out of contention. To improve for next season, the Islanders should:
Sign Darius Kasparaitis: The man once known in Uniondale as the Lithuanian Assassin looks out of place on his current team, the Colorado Avalanche, which emphasizes positional play over bone crushing hits. He desperately wants to return to the Islanders, and granting his wish would not only help the team but also keep him off of the roster of a rival such as the Leafs, Rangers, Devils, Flyers, or Bruins. Kasparaitis will also make a goon (like the aforementioned Tucker) think twice before doing anything impolite.
Acquire more scoring depth: The team doesn't necessarily have to sign or trade for a big name player; midlevel forwards like Edmonton Oiler winger Anson Carter or Pittsburgh Penguin center Robert Lang are available and relatively cheap. Either player can provide more goals than current Islanders Mats Lindgren or Oleg Kvasha.
The Devils' era is pretty much over
The Devils were defeated in six games by the Carolina Hurricanes. It was assumed by many (including yours truly) that the defending Eastern Conference champions would be able to tame the upstart Hurricanes and face the hated Philadelphia Flyers in the next round. However, age and injury rapidly caught up with the Devils and made them vulnerable for the kill. Metro area hockey fans normally wouldn't feel too bad about such a loss after all, you can't expect the Devils to get to the Stanley Cup Finals every year, right?
The sad fact, however, is that the Devils' long-term forecast looks bleak. Forwards such as Scott Gomez and Patrick Elias are looking for the type of hefty pay raises that General Manager Lou Lamoriello loathes to give. Defenseman Ken Daneyko is another year older and another year slower. Add Joe Nieuwendyk's chronic injury problems to the stew, and you have a recipe for disaster. In the offseason, it is essential for the Devils to:
Rebuild: Lamoriello must not make anymore veterans-for-youth deals. The once mighty farm system is almost depleted; aside from Brian Gionta, the team lacks anybody promising.
Re-sign Bobby Holik: Keeping Holik can help the team remain competitive while the team scouts, drafts, and develops another two-way center. In Holik, the Devils have their premier face-off man, checking center, and clutch scorer. He is also regarded as team leader and a motivating presence in the locker room. It would be an understatement to say that the team would be worse off without him.
Wanted: Ranger Coach
The coaching search continues for Ranger GM Glen Sather, with some media outlets speculating that one-time Ranger coach (and 1980 Miracle worker) Herb Brooks is the current favorite. While the team can certainly benefit from Brooks' presence, it will take more than a revered name to straighten out the mess that is the New York Rangers. The team is old and not very physical. The team is also clueless when it comes to defense. After hiring a sucker uh, excuse me, coach, Sather must do the following:
Let the Kids play! The Detroit Red Wings benefited from the contributions of younger players like Pavel Datsyuk, who energized the veteran-laden Wings with his pinpoint passes and creative playmaking. Jamie Lundmark should be given a chance to do the same with the Rangers. Ditto for blueliners Tomas Kloucek and Dale Purinton, who can both give the Broadway Blueshirts a much-needed physical presence on defense.
Let the Coach, well, coach! Sather was accused of running the bench via two-way radio during the season. If the next coach is to succeed, he must be given the autonomy to dictate plays and line-up changes without meddling from his superior. "Coaching by Committee" systems have historically failed in the NHL, and chances are such a system will fail in New York as well.