The brain trust gathered after last season, surveyed the team
that had gone 21-51-7-3 and missed the postseason for a seventh
straight year, and devised a two-pronged plan. First, the
Islanders wanted to acquire a No. 1 center--the Senators' Alexei
Yashin, they hoped, or perhaps the Bruins' Jason Allison.
Second, they wanted to acquire the Sabres' Michael Peca to
center their second line. An established winner, Peca would give
the Islanders leadership, someone to guide them out of their
long run of failure.
In a frenetic weekend at the Florida draft the Islanders got
their men. Acquiring the uncommonly large Yashin (he's 6'3", 225
pounds) and signing him to an unprecedentedly fat contract (his
$87.5 million over 10 years is the most an NHL club has ever
committed to a player) was the club's splashiest off-season
development, but landing the smaller Peca (5'11", 181) and
signing him to a slimmer deal (five years, $20 million) was its
most crucial. Though he has only one 50-point season in his
eight-year career, Peca, 27, is among the league's most tenacious
defenders and was the tone-setter on a Buffalo team that
consistently achieved more than was predicted for it. "We have to
believe we can win every game, even if we fall behind," says
Peca. "Alexei helps a lot with that."
Yashin can dominate the offensive zone and gives the Islanders
their most skilled forward since Pat LaFontaine in the early
1990s. In Ottawa, Yashin's captaincy was undone by his battles
with management, his cool relations with fans and his aloofness
in the dressing room; New York, though, will ask Yashin only to
play hard and play well, two things he's always done.
For all the excitement that those moves created, it was the Sept.
28 waiver-wire acquisition of goalie Chris Osgood that led
general manager Mike Milbury to proclaim, "We're back in
business." In eight seasons with the Red Wings, Osgood, 28, went
221-110-46 and played for two Cup winners. That's invaluable
experience for a roster of players that, Peca aside, has been
accustomed to losing. "The key is that if we lose a few games,
not to think about the past of this franchise," says Peca. "Given
what's behind us, we have to look forward and move forward." The
Islanders believe he can show them the way.
The Islanders have missed the playoffs seven straight seasons,
one shy of the longest streak in league history, held by the
Bruins (1959-60 to '66-67) and the Capitals ('74-75 to '81-82).
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
FORWARDS 23 Isbister may be NHL's best young power forward
DEFENSE 25 Plenty of offense, but can this unit stop
GOALTENDING 20 Osgood is a bona fide No. 1 netminder
SPECIAL TEAMS 19 Peca, Lapointe should make penalty killing
MANAGEMENT 29 Will this be G.M. Milbury's last stand?