Like Kevin Costner in The Big Chill, Brad Isbister had a role in
a surprise hit, but his part wound up on the cutting-room floor.
The Islanders finished fifth in the East and made the playoffs
for the first time in eight years, losing a riveting seven-game
series to Toronto in the first round. Yet the 6'4", 230-pound
winger scored just 17 regular-season goals, was hustled off the
No. 1 line after several brief auditions and missed four playoff
games with a back injury. "Last year was a great one for our
team," Isbister says. "But I wasn't happy with my play. I expect
more from myself."
So does his team. New York needs him to become the
power-and-speed force he appeared to be when he scored 22 goals
in 64 games three years ago. General manager Mike Milbury
elected not to go after free-agent wingers such as Bill Guerin
and Tony Amonte over the summer, placing his faith in holdovers
such as Isbister and 6'5", 230-pound Oleg Kvasha, 24. With Selke
Award winner Michael Peca out until December with a knee injury,
Isbister's performance will be even more vital. "Brad got a
little lost in the shuffle last year," says second-year coach
Peter Laviolette. "I think he has more to contribute."
During the off-season Isbister worked with a personal trainer in
Calgary, cutting back on heavy weight training and focusing on
resistance-based skating drills in an effort to increase his
explosiveness. He's five pounds lighter and, Laviolette says, has
shown more jump. Though neither Milbury nor Laviolette have told
Isbister how many goals they want from him--30 is a good guess--the
message has nonetheless gotten through. "I don't need them to
tell me they want more," Isbister says. "I know what's expected."
The franchise has high expectations of its own. As Laviolette
puts it, "A lot of good things happened last year. This year we
need great things to happen." The Islanders have a solid
goaltending duo in Chris Osgood and Garth Snow plus three fine
defensemen in Adrian Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik and Kenny Jonsson.
The question is whether they have enough firepower; last season
only center Alexei Yashin surpassed 60 points. That's where the
Islanders hope Isbister can emerge as a true leading man.
Chris Osgood's 2.50 goals-against average last season was the
best for an Islanders netminder (minimum 20 games) since Chico
Resch's 2.28 GAA in 1976-77.
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 12 A consistent Isbister can pop 30 goals
DEFENSE 15 Top-heavy unit led by Aucoin, Hamrlik and Jonsson
GOALTENDING 13 Osgood gives up too many rebounds
SPECIAL TEAMS 18 Peca's injury badly hampers penalty killing
MANAGEMENT 16 After pratfalls G.M. Milbury has made right moves