Islander coach Scott Gordon’s submission to a sort of Rorschach test, offering his thoughts on (almost) all of the team’s players during a Wednesday chat, may or may not indicate that Long Island’s long hockey recession is over -- partly depending on the fans’ own ink-blot reading of Gordon’s comments.
Overall, though, Gordon pronounced the 2009-10 team one marked by “character and work ethic.” Compared to his first season on the job in 2008-09, Gordon essentially said there was no comparison. “I mean, [last season] was like trying to play poker with four cards instead of five. You couldn’t even get a measure of what you do well.”
After finishing 26-47-9 a year ago, the Islanders are 34-35-10 with three games left. (They play at Pittsburgh on Thursday.) And, though the progress may be incremental, and a third-straight failure to qualify for the playoffs may be a fact, Gordon said, “You can’t accelerate the progress. It comes with time.” The team’s 19-year-old player will turn 20, the 20-year-old will be 21, and so on, he said, “and they’re going to get better. They’re going to get stronger.
“Even though you have expectations, you’ve got to be realistic about where they are right now.”
So, here’s where they are, in the coach’s words:
John Tavares (22 goals, 27 assists, 49 points). “I’m really pleased with the way John played after the Olympic break. We identified where he could get better and he really applied himself. After the fast start he had and then the frustrations he had for a while, he played an overall, well-rounded game that gets me excited about his potential.”
Kyle Okposo (17-30-47). “Kyle has built on what really was his rookie year last year. He established himself as one of the top young players, in all situations. With a few breaks here and there, he could’ve had a huge offensive year. He could’ve had 25, 30 goals, and I expect he will [in the near future].”
Matt Moulson (27-18-45). “Nobody expected him to come in here, first of all, and play in the NHL. He was going to be a depth guy for us in Bridgeport, but he led the team in scoring in training camp and found a spot and never let up.”
Mark Streit (11-33-44). “Another great year for Mark. His points might be down a little. But, as our younger players get better and more confident, his production will go up.”
Frans Nielsen (12-25-37). “He’s the best defensive forward on our team, with a tremendous offensive upside. He was consistent all year long; he’s going to be an important guy for us.”
Blake Comeau (17-18-35). “He put together a real good last month and half. To do it over a whole year will define the kind of player he is.”
Josh Bailey (15-19-34). “I’m really happy about the work he put in last summer; it paid dividends in his skating, his shot and his confidence. He got stronger and he did everything we asked him to do.”
Richard Park (9-22-31). “His character and work ethic are second to none. In the second half, he never was in an offensive role, and in the first half, being minus [in the plus-minus rating] was not his fault and which didn’t bother me -- but he bounced back and always was focused.”
Trent Hunter (11-16-27). “I’m real happy with the way he’s played the last few games. He was hit with so many injuries. He’s an important guy.”
Rob Schremp (7-18-25). “He was given an opportunity to play at the NHL level and, after 14, 15 games, he was getting close to a point a game before he got hurt. Which is great. He’s a good addition for us. I didn’t know how skilled he was.”
Sean Bergenheim (10-13-23). “I think we’ve seen, the last little stretch, what he’s capable of. He’s a hard worker.”
Jon Sim (12-9-21). “He’s bounced back from last year [from injuries and a stretch in Bridgeport]. Even though he’s not a big-minutes guy, he did score 12 goals -- five off his career best -- just being a pest to the opponent, which is an important part of his game.”
Jack Hillen (3-17-20). “He had a great first half, before he got hurt, and he’s finishing out the way he was playing prior to the injury. The way he came into training camp, ready to play, he separated himself from the other defensemen in the organization.”
Doug Weight (1-16-17). “Obviously, he was limited physically. But he always was a presence in the locker room, with a personality and leadership that really represented the captain’s role well.”
Bruno Gervais (3-14-17). “Inconsistent at the beginning of the season, [then] he was back up to his old level in the second half of the year. When he’s playing the way he’s capable, he’s able to have an impact.”
Freddy Meyer (4-9-13). “It took him a while, but from the middle of the year, he got back to the level that said, ‘This is a guy who can be a pretty good NHL defenseman.’ He finally got his game back after being injured, and really stepped up after the Olympic break. He’s probably our most physical defenseman.”
Tim Jackman (7-6-13). “He got his cheekbone crushed and wasn’t able to play the way he had the year before. But he brings a lot of energy and some occasional fighting, which is an important part of this game. Every night, he gives the same effort.”
Andrew MacDonald (1-5-6). “He’s a guy we thought would be a depth guy, but when Jack Hillen went down, he stepped in and proved to be a guy we’re excited about.”
And the goalies:
Martin Biron (9-12-4, 3.01 goals against average). “I love the way Marty has handled himself in a tough situation, and to be able to pull it all together down the stretch the way he has, he reestablished himself as obviously capable of playing in the NHL. He’s let everybody know he’s the same guy [as when playing regularly with Philadelphia the past two seasons].
Dwayne Roloson (23-18-6, 2.92). “Great year. He played like we expected he would. He gave us the stability in net that every team has to have.”
Gordon has acknowledged that his team has given away an edge in pure talent, so one of his desires is to get more size on the team. “We want guys who can eat minutes and win more battles, just because of their size.”
So, if he can’t have the maximum in skill, he was asked, would he prefer speed over size -- or vice versa?
“We want ‘em both,” Gordon said. “Together.”