It's understandable if the Islanders faithful cringed when the
team's new owners, Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang, said they were
studying the finer points of the game by reading Hockey for
Dummies. After all, front-office incompetence is commonplace on
Long Island. The two computer software executives, who bought the
team for $187.5 million in April, are the club's fourth owners in
five years, and their predecessors were adept at little besides
cutting costs and reducing the franchise to a laughingstock.
What a pleasant surprise, then, that Kumar and Wang have tried to
ensure their team won't play like dummies. They increased the
payroll from $16.4 million to nearly $25 million, allowing
general manager Mike Milbury to bring in much-needed experience.
(The average age rose from last season's 25.5 to 27 this year.)
New faces include right wing Mark Parrish, who scored a total of
50 goals for Florida over the past two seasons; defensemen Kevin
Haller and Roman Hamrlik, who have combined for nearly 1,200 NHL
games; and 37-year-old goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck. "The
veterans will let our kids go a little slower," says coach Butch
Goring, whose team went 24-49-9-1 last season. "We're optimistic
that we can get back to where we'd like to be."
That's only going to happen if the Islanders improve their
pitiful offense. Goring will look to Parrish to energize a team
that ranked 27th in scoring last season, even with the efforts of
right wings Mariusz Czerkawski (35 goals) and Brad Isbister (22
in 64 games) and center Tim Connolly (14 as an 18-year-old
rookie). On the power play, Hamrlik and his heavy slap shot join
a unit that converted only 14.1% of its chances, 23rd in the NHL.
"Roman will have a tremendous effect on our special teams," says
Goring. "His addition is the biggest change this year."
Already the changes have engendered optimism that's been missing
for nearly a decade. "We're better than just average now," says
defenseman and captain Kenny Jonsson. "We are definitely going
to make the playoffs." Goring is more realistic. "The new owners
have had a very positive effect on everybody," he says. "On
paper we should be better, but we've got to get it done on the
Wing Mariusz Czerkawski's 16 power-play goals were second in the
NHL last season and accounted for 35.6% of the Islanders'
man-advantage scores, the highest rate for any player in the
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 22 Parrish has to take pressure off
DEFENSE 20 Haller's irritating style drives
GOALTENDING 28 Vanbiesbrouck can't play 60 games
at high level
SPECIAL TEAMS 26 Key to the power play is Hamrlik
MANAGEMENT 28 Milbury, in seventh year, has yet
to make playoffs