It's a start when a player and a team feel a mutual desire to be connected, and that's what general manager Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano emphasized about the Islanders' recent contract deals.
This week's announcements that goalie Evgeni Nabokov, 37, and defenseman Travis Hamonic, 22, were among those signing up for the team's future contribute to what Snow called an "extremely tight-knit locker room. That's one of the things our team has going for us.
"When you have a core, with most of the guys drafted here or given an opportunity here, we have a tight-knit group,'' Snow said. With Nabokov and Hamonic, Snow said, "The team wanted them and they wanted to remain Islanders.''
On the eve of the team's four-day minicamp, Snow and Capuano appeared Monday night at a charity function in Sands Point. Capuano said the Nassau Coliseum camp will not be an occasion for hockey evaluation; rather, for top draft picks "to take away the knowledge of what it takes to be a professional: nutrition, work ethic, strength and conditioning.''
The two converse regularly about player talent, Capuano said, but he leaves the business of negotiating contracts strictly to Snow. "I'd be a little less patient than Garth,'' he said.
With Hamonic and Nabokov, Snow said, it had become clear in postseason exit interviews -- "when you get a feel of whether players want to stay or become free agents'' -- that they preferred staying put.
Hamonic, Capuano said, "is an integral part of our team. Plays hard, plays gritty, shows the commitment of some of those guys signed long-term.'' Same with Nabokov, Snow said: "The team wanted him back and Nabby wanted to remain an Islander.''
The Islanders also locked up goalie Kevin Poulin, having at long last dropped oft-injured Rick DiPietro. "One thing about Rick,'' Snow said, "you never questioned his work ethic. The unfortunate aspect was he just ran into injury problems. The one positive is he now is finally healthy.
"We're happy with the goalies we have. Nabby and Poulin and Anders Nilsson.''
From the coaching standpoint, Capuano said, "What makes our team so unique is that everyone has a different personality, but sometimes opposites attract, and a lot of them have been together for a while.
"You're starting to see them come together. And when you think about certain young guys, you're not trying to hit a home run right off the bat. Let the guys develop.''
This week's camp will be a time "when the young guys come in,'' Capuano said, "and for the first time, a lot of kids will meet one another and play together. Most importantly is the knowledge they take away -- what it takes to be a pro.
"Last season was exciting,'' Capuano said of the Islanders' first advance to the playoffs in six years. "Our guys know there are a lot of teams out there that didn't meet their goals.''
When camp opens today, Capuano can't think of anyplace he'd rather be.