Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Preseason: 10 Former Islanders to Follow

As training camps start up around the NHL, we are compiling a list of the Top 10 FI storylines to follow during the 2008-09 season. For many of these players this may be a season of redemption while for others it is chance to continue their shining play. Here they are in no particular order.

1. Olli Jokinen (C, Phoenix) - Jokinen leaves South Florida via trade to join the Coyotes after years of trade rumors. For years the heart and soul of the Panthers, O-Jok now gets a chance to show off what he can do with right winger Shane Doan, the long-time heart and soul of the Phoenix squad. Given that he now has quality teammates to pair with on the 1st line, Jokinen should easily rebound from his poor season last year in which he dropped 20 points in production. A reliable player, he has not missed a game over the last 4 seasons, Jokinen should easily return to the 90 point range and could potentially challenge for his first 100 points season. Finally, there is some hockey to be excited about in Maricopa County.

2. Bryan McCabe (D, Florida) - Taking Jokinen's place as the top billing FI for the Panthers, McCabe lands in South Florida in a lateral trade that takes him from one underperforming team in the Toronto Maple Leafs to another. After the atmosphere got toxic in Ontario, McCabe must have been willing to sign off his no trade clause to go just about anywhere that was not Toronto. McCabe is looking to bounce back from an injury-shortened season with little offensive upswing. A powerplay quarterback by nature, the oft defensively inept McCabe is looking to return to offensive form. After 3 straight 50+ point seasons, McCabe is looking to rebound from last year's 23 point effort but may struggle at times with a team that looks ill-prepared to find the back of the net. Time will tell if the McCabe-to-Florida experiment works out.

3. Todd Bertuzzi (LW, Calgary) - Well rumor has it that friend Jarome Iginla pushed the Calgary brass pretty hard to pick up Bertuzzi only shortly after he was bought out by the underwhelmed Anaheim Ducks halfway through his 2 year contract. While Bertuzzi performed fairly well with the Ducks, he must have left some in Anaheim wanting more. Depending on his health, Bert might not make it back to the 80 game-per-season pace but he could reasonably make it back to the 50+ point plateau like he had for 6 straight seasons in Vancouver especially if he gets playing time with Iginla.

4. Robert Nilsson (LW, Edmonton) - Nilsson had a solid first full season with Edmonton, even if the media was not interested in his story. Now Nilsson is primed for a full on breakout in his fourth season and expect his play to shine, especially if noted Oilers' rookies Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano suffer sophomore slumps. Nilsson has the ability to sparkplug the Oil offense at times. Even if he only gets 3rd line minutes, Nilsson could easily top the 50 point mark for the first time in his career.

5. Jason Blake (LW, Toronto) - According to Maple Leafs' (interim) GM Cliff Fletcher things do not look good in Toronto. With that said, things could be a struggle for left wing Blake who lost his top center, (Mr. Never Gonna Decide My Future Because I Make Swedish Players Look Like Indecisive Morons Who Believe Bodies Begin Decaying At 37) Mats Sundin. Since Sundin will most likely not return, especially soon, Toronto is going to struggle on offense. Blake turned a negative into a positive despite dropping from 40 goals down to 15, he partially compensated by notching a career high in assists (37) and winning the Bill Masterson Trophy for perseverance in the face of his cancer battle. Blake will be lucky to get that many assists again and may even drop below the 50 point threshold if he continues to struggle finding the net. A sub-50 point season would be his first since before the lockout but on the other hand would could be wrong and Blake could return to 25+ goal form, that is if the Blue and White can find ways to click offensively.

6. Chris Osgood (G, Detroit) - Osgood literally had the Conn Smythe Trophy stolen from him by Euro-trashy Henrik Zetterberg. That bit of bashing aside, Ozzie is primed to backstop one of the most potentially offensive lineups in the history of the NHL. It is always hard to say that a team could repeat as champions but the odds are really on Detroit's side to pull of the feat especially since they not only kept their core but actually got better with the acquisition of Marian Hossa. With Dominik "the Dominator" Hasek officially retired, again, Ozzie takes over the reins of #1 keeper and will see increased play time in front of backups Ty Conklin and Jimmy Howard. As a full-fledged start, expect Osgood to hit the 30+ win plateauf for the 7th time in his career and his first since 2001-02 when he was the Isle starter. The real question is will Ozzie be able to continue the stellar play and diminutive goals against average playing a full season?

7. Zdeno Chara (D, Boston) - It is fairly obvious that FIW are not big fans of Detroit, especially the European players who strut like they own the ice and snap up awards based on reputation and not on deservedness. Much like Osgood was denied the Conn Smythe to pave way for superstar Zetterberg, Boston's Chara was robbed of the Norris Trophy for best defenseman so Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom could add another one to his mantle. Chara, coming off the heals of his best season, was robbed and rather blindly at that. While it is always dangerous to predict an improvement over a career year, Chara is squarely in line to get better. Now 31 years old, Chara is coming off his first 50 point campaign and with a Bruins squad that is more and more imposing Chara will be the leader on the blueline especially on the powerplay. Expect Chara to at least cap 50 points again but it is very possible for him to even top 60 points, especially if he does not sit out any games with minor injuries like he did last year.

8. Miroslav Satan (RW, Pittsburgh) - Satan, coming off the single lowest goal scoring season of his career, has been given a golden ticket. Offered a spot with the Penguins, Satan could not refuse. Now that Satan will be given playing time with Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin, Satan should return to the offensive form that made him a goal-scoring powerhouse in the NHL for nearly a decade. Look for Satan to easily top 60 points for the 7th time in his career and maybe even hit the 70+ point mark for the 3rd time. If Satan stays fully healthy the skies the limit in Pittsburgh, especially since players like Miro benefit from having world class linemates. The first season Satan came to the Island the management predicted 50 goals for Satan (ha!) but Satan could potentially hit 40 goals for only the 2nd time and first since 1998-99 while with Buffalo. Stop laughing! He honestly could.

9. Richard Zednik (LW, Florida) - For all you hockey critics out there, yes hockey is a violent sport. Yes, we fans do like to see blood on the ice after a good fight. But the kind of blood spilled by Zednik over 7 months ago was the kind of horror scene that sticks in the memory for years to come, a scene that reminds us that while hockey may be a lifeline to millions of fans, life can be lost in an instant. Zednik battled life and death but now returns to the sport he loves, albeit with a neck guard. The emotional pick on this list, Zednik is a storyline you cannot help but watch. While it is doubtful that a full season would get Zed back up to the 50 point mark, Zed could reasonably shoot for his 6th 30+ point year especially after flashes of brilliance before his untimely accident last season. Zed is a streaky scorer and the tough times will be tempered with the good but look for him to prove that he is still a solid player even if in reality he is not 2nd line left wing material.

10. Roberto Luongo (G, Vancouver) - No FI list like this could be complete without one of the best goalies in all of hockey. While Boston d-man Chara climbed mountains in Africa during the offseason for charity, the biggest mountain to climb might be Luongo and his task ahead in Vancouver. The Canucks, not renowned in recent years for their offensive prowess, feasibly have no actual offense to bank on aside from the Sedin twins and an unreliable Pavol Demitra. That means Luongo will have to bring back his near-Hart Trophy winning effort from 2 years ago when he almost proved to the league that he was MVP material. Though Luongo has 3 consecutive seasons with 35 or more wins, do not expect him to make it 4. Until Vancouver figures out how to compile a team that clicks and can tally real goals, things are bleak for Luongo and Co. But Luongo is about proving the naysayers wrong and he might just do that, might.

Check back soon for more FIW news, highlights and updates.

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