It's hard to imagine things getting much worse for the
Islanders. In the past year this forlorn franchise, which has
had one winning season in the last 11 and is suffering through
the NHL's longest current playoff drought (five seasons), has
traded three of its best players--high-scoring forward Ziggy
Palffy, captain Trevor Linden and defenseman Bryan Berard, a
former No. 1 pick--dumping roughly $8 million from its
already-low $24 million payroll. Remember, this is a team that
last year lost 48 games and finished next-to-last in the Eastern
Conference. But if things can't get worse this season, it's
equally hard to imagine them getting much better for a young,
inexperienced club devoid of stars and scoring threats, all the
while toiling in a crumbling arena.

In 1998-99 the Islanders were one of only seven NHL teams to
score fewer than 200 goals, and lighting the lamp should be even
more of a chore this season. Inconsistent forward Mariusz
Czerkawski is New York's only returning 20-goal scorer, so the
Islanders will be forced to rely on 20-year-old center Olli
Jokinen (nine goals), who came over in the Palffy deal, and
third-year wing Mike Watt (eight).

Felix Potvin, 27, whom the Islanders acquired from the Maple
Leafs for Berard last January, got off to a shaky start. He did
make 55 saves in a win over New Jersey last season, but he'll be
hard-pressed to do that every night. Potvin is just keeping the
pipes warm until the Islanders' top prospect, Roberto Luongo, is
ready, but that won't be for at least another year. Backliners
Kenny Jonsson and 6'9", 240-pound Zdeno Chara are a capable
first pairing, but beyond that the Islanders' defense is leaky
at best.

Off the ice, the Islanders' ownership situation is a mess--the
team is about to change hands for the fourth time in four years.
Current owners Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern bought the
team last year but were so distraught when a federal judge
wouldn't allow them to get out of the team's lease at aging
Nassau Coliseum that they are in the process of selling the team
while slicing the payroll even more.

Butch Goring, a centerpiece during the early '80s when the
Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups, is the new coach,
but even in a best-case scenario it will be a few years before
New York returns to the playoffs. The Islanders do have a few
top prospects in the minors, although the usually-optimistic
general manager Mike Milbury says, "I don't have a clear vision
for this year." Which means it's going to be another long season
on Long Island.

--B.J.S.

FAST FACT
Though he played in only 23 games last year, left wing Gino
Odjick led the Islanders with 133 penalty minutes. That's 5.8
per game, a higher average than any other NHL player (minimum
five games).

INSIDER
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY

OFFENSE 27 Last year's top three scorers were traded
DEFENSE 28 Young group may be solid in a couple of years
GOALTENDING 22 Potvin a bust last year; Luongo's a future
star
SPECIAL TEAMS 27 Lack of talent will show
COACHING 28 Goring back in NHL after 12 years in minors

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)