18 New York Islanders Mending a dressing room torn by discord is imperative for a team that has playoff talent

October 12, 2003

After a season that degenerated into a miasma of backbiting,
finger-pointing and dressing-room lawyering, the Islanders--the
NHL version of Murmurer's Row--hope the team that flayed together
can play together. In end-of-season self-evaluations, players
agreed that their on-ice discipline, conditioning and motivation
were average or below last season. In addition, so many of them
sandbagged coach Peter Laviolette in exit interviews with G.M.
Mike Milbury that Laviolette was fired. The impetuous Milbury
then hired Steve Stirling, a 53-year-old longtime college coach
with no NHL experience who has a lighter touch than Laviolette. A
coaching change, however, will hardly matter unless the
Islanders, who were eliminated in the first round of the
playoffs, adjust their attitudes--notably toward star center
Alexei Yashin.

A 10-year veteran who earns nearly $9 million per season, Yashin
often has been an island unto himself. Last season his teammates
marooned him. He had but 26 goals and 65 points, career lows for
a season in which he played at least 48 games. "Yash was a guy
who took a lot of criticism publicly and privately," says captain
Michael Peca, who was hampered by a torn knee ligament and did
not score a goal in the final 20 regular-season and five playoff
games. "We were all guilty of worrying too much about Alex's game
and not trying to find ways to help him. Rather than being like
talk-show critics and making the situation worse, we should have
been better teammates."

New York needs an inspired Yashin and a healthy Peca to go
further in the playoffs. A mobile, deep group of defensemen,
featuring Roman Hamrlik and Janne Niinimaa, should take some
pressure off the odd-couple goalies, the wry Garth Snow and the
ebullient Rick DiPietro. The 22-year-old DiPietro is a
star-in-waiting, but he must relax and improve technically before
he supplants the usually dependable 34-year-old Snow.

So, Islanders, who do you like, DiPietro or Snow? Discuss it
among yourselves. Nicely. --M.F.

COLOR PHOTO COLOR PHOTO: ED BETZ/AP ALEXEI YASHIN

SI RANKING
( 1 Best - 30 Worst )

OFFENSE 16
DEFENSE 8
GOALTENDING 23
POWER PLAY 20
PENALTY KILLING 14
G.M. AND COACH 29

INSIDER

Despite his low profile, rookie coach Steve Stirling, 53, is not
a neophyte--he's been behind a bench for more than 20 years. But
he'll have to crack the whip on this bunch, and that's not his
strong suit.... G Rick DiPietro will get the first shot at
winning the No. 1 job. He's a gambler who can be a special
player.... The Islanders are stacked on D, but they'll miss
departed assistant Jacques Laperriere. He did an excellent job
helping Adrian Aucoin and Roman Hamrlik become more consistent.

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)