There’s inexperience, and then there’s the New York Islanders.
The franchise that won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980s – and has since endured a quarter-century of incompetence – looks more like an American League team than an NHL club these days.
Consider the lineup the Islanders have iced the past few games. Islanders coach Scott Gordon – the AHL’s coach of the year last season – has to comb over his roster pretty closely to find a single legitimate NHL player among the raft of fresh-faced rookies, undrafted free agents, minor league journeymen and AHL-NHL tweeners.
Dean McAmmond, whom the Islanders acquired when they sent Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli to Ottawa in late February, is the lone New York player with more than 400 NHL games under his belt (922). Only five other active Isles, in fact, have even played more than 200 NHL games: Trent Hunter (380), Jon Sim (358), Radek Martinek (355), Andy Hilbert (288) and Mark Streit (264).
Not exactly a bunch of household names. Streit has been the team’s best player this season after signing a $20-million free agent deal last summer, but he’s still pretty far down the NHL star chart.
Of those six players, McAmmond, Hunter and Streit are the only proven NHLers. Sim and Hilbert have been around for a while, but they’re depth forwards at best; Martinek, meanwhile, is skilled, but injuries have ravaged his career.
Put it this way: How many Islanders players would crack Detroit’s lineup, or San Jose’s or Boston’s? Not very many.
A youth movement is one thing, but every team needs a few veterans to lead the way. What happened to the old guard on the Island?
Well, as mentioned, Comrie (509 career NHL games) and Campoli (234) were traded. As for the other vets: Doug Weight (1,175) is out until late March with a knee injury; Bill Guerin (1,169) sat out a couple games before being dealt to Pittsburgh; Mike Sillinger (1,049) has missed all but seven games due to various injuries; Brendan Witt (832) is serving a five-game suspension for elbowing Toronto’s Niklas Hagman in the head; Andy Sutton (513) has been out since late December with a broken foot; Richard Park (589) is out with broken ribs; and, finally, goalie Rick DiPietro (273), with a 15-year contract and a wonky hip, has been limited to five games this season.
Add it all up, and that’s about 6,000 games of NHL experience – or, in hockey vernacular, the equivalent of “a half-Chelios.”
In their place, the likes of Joe Callahan, Jack Hillen, Andrew MacDonald, Jesse Joensuu and Joel Rechlicz have been called up from the minors to play in recent games. They join a crowd of rookies and near-rookies, such as top prospects Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau, and NHL wannabes Jeff Tambellini, Tim Jackman, Frans Nielsen and Yann Danis.
Who? What? Some of these names might be known quantities in a few years, but they’re basically all question marks right now. And as such, just about all of them should be in the AHL or junior; heck, the undrafted Rechlicz, 21, played nearly 50 games in the ECHL this season and just three AHL contests. (And he picked up an assist in his first NHL game on March 5.)
The silver lining to Long Island’s losing ways is the NHL entry draft in June. The Isles, seven points behind Atlanta and eight points worse than Tampa Bay, have the inside track on finishing last overall in the league standings.
That would give them a 48-percent chance at winning the draft lottery – and, presumably, the right to select Ontario League sniper John Tavares first overall. Even if they lose the lottery, the second-best player available is biggie-sized defenseman Victor Hedman. Either teenager could join the Islanders next fall and immediately become one of the team’s most pivotal players.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.