While much of the credit for this team making the playoffs will understandably go to Hart Trophy nominee John Tavares, it cannot be understated the role that goaltender Evgeni Nabokov played in the process. He was not in the Vezina Trophy conversation, but he was solid enough to make up for weakness on the blueline. This team was much better after banishing Rick DiPietro to the minors. Mark Streit was their best defenseman, and he will be testing the free agent market this summer. Let's face it, Hamonic, Visnovsky, MacDonald, Hickey won't be taking this team very far. They aren't the only team with a severe need for quality defensemen, as elite D-men are difficult and expensive commodities to find.
When you think about it, forcing people who don't want to come to the Island to report to the team is a sound strategy for such a shitty destination. Lubomir Visnovsky fit right in with his new team, probably because most of those guys weren't happy when the Islanders first acquired their rights. They probably sent Nabokov to the airport to greet Vishnovsky when he finally reported, as Lubomir eventually signed a contract extension despite his protest, just like Nabokov did.
Preseason Rank: 29
Midseason Rank: 25
Final Rank: 15
GM Grade: B
1st Star: John Tavares
2nd Star: Matt Moulson
3rd Star: Evgeni Nabokov
UFAs: Marty Reasoner, Brad Boyes, Keith Aucoin, Jesse Joensuu, Mark Streit, Radek Martinek, Evgeni Nabokov
RFAs: Kevin Poulin, Travis Harmonic, Thomas Hickey, Josh Bailey, David Ullstrom
Best Contract: John Tavares 5 more years at $5.5M
Worst Contract: Rick Dipietro until the end of time at $4.5M
What I said about them in preseason: There's a good chance this team proves me wrong and are actually decent. Loaded with skilled young talent. Better chance they suck for another year.
There are brighter days ahead for the New York Islanders, but one thing is for certain, they need a legitimate top goaltender before they can be considered a true contender. Nabokov has been a pleasant surprise, but he's getting old and won't be around forever (unlike DiPietro). This year the Islanders had to acquire the rights to hold-out Tim Thomas just to make the salary floor, so it will be interesting to see if ownership green lights greater spending going forward as this young core matures into something special. They will soon be moving into a nice new building, as the future looks bright for this young team....well, bright if they can acquire a goalie of the future and an anchor on defense. That may be easier said than done.