NEW PLAYERS 9
NEW RULES HELP
BETTER THAN '03-04? NO
Few general managers enjoy housecleaning more than Mike Milbury. Even though the Islanders are one of 10 teams to have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, Makeover Mike gave the roster a thorough Swiffering when the lockout ended. Into the dustbin of Isles history went captain Michael Peca (traded to Edmonton); the team's top three defensemen, Adrian Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik and Kenny Jonsson (all departed as free agents); and third-leading scorer Mariusz Czerkawski (also left as a free agent). They were replaced by tenacious center Mike York and defenseman Brent Sopel, who arrived in separate trades, and free-agent blueliners Alexei Zhitnik and Brad Lukowich. Milbury also lured sniper Miroslav Satan, a breakaway artist and former 40-goal scorer, from Buffalo with a three-year, $12.75 million contract.
It was an impressive overhaul, but Milbury was careful to clean around the centerpiece of the room, goalie Rick DiPietro. For the first time since Milbury made him the top pick in the 2000 draft, DiPietro, 24, entered training camp as the unquestioned No. 1 netminder. New York is counting on this being the year he fulfills his star potential--hence the one-year, $2.5 million contract he signed on Sept. 7.
DiPietro is the heart and soul of the Islanders' dressing room despite his having played only 86 NHL games (including the postseason). He made the Isles his team by carrying them into the 2004 playoffs and then playing solidly in a first-round loss to eventual champion Tampa Bay. DiPietro further enhanced his big-game credentials with a brilliant performance for the U.S. at the world championships last May. Says Islanders coach Steve Stirling, "He's a very important player for our present and future."
Whether there will be big games for New York next spring may depend on how well the newest obstruction crackdown is enforced. If the team's speedy forwards are free to skate and DiPietro blossoms, Milbury may not have to clean next summer. --S.C.
The Isles need new captain Alexei Yashin to perform consistently even without Michael Peca around to prod him.
Robert Nilsson [rookie]
• ALL CAPS denotes new player
• Italics denotes rookie