They played much of the 2010-11 season without their captain, Doug Weight, and all of it without alternate Mark Streit, their best defenseman. Younger players were forced to take on leadership roles perhaps before they were ready.
That's why Isles GM Garth Snow went out of his way this offseason to sprinkle in more veterans who were not only capable of accepting leadership roles, but ones who relish them.
"I think we've got a good mix," coach Jack Capuano said at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, just moments after naming Brian Rolston, Steve Staios, Kyle Okposo and John Tavares as alternate captains. "You don't want to talk about last year too much, but when we did lose Eats and Motts (Mark Eaton and Mike Mottau) and Dougie (Weight) to injury, it gave other guys a chance to step up leadership wise. I love the mix that we have right now with our youth and our veteran guys."
With the signing of Jay Pandolfo earlier this week, the Islanders will boast eight players who are 30 or older as they open the 2011-12 season on home ice against the Florida Panthers. It's a far cry from the past few seasons, when the Isles would often ice a rather inexperienced group.
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"They've added some age and I'm obviously one of those guys," the 38-year-old Rolston said, smiling. "But the thing is about our young guys, they're mature. Even though they're young in years, they're mature. They've been around. They've been in this League long enough to have their feet wet. They know what to expect and know how to play 82 games. That's what's exciting. They're ready to step up and make that next step, and we're just here to help out in that aspect."
Staios, 38, entered training camp without a contract and accepted an invite to Long Island on a tryout basis. Obviously, the 15-year veteran made quite an impression as he not only landed himself a contract, but now has been labeled one of the leaders of the locker room along with Rolston, Okposo, Tavares and Streit, who was named captain last month.
"It's been an interesting month," Staios told NHL.com. "It took a while to get to this point, but I was focused on coming in and being a big part of this team. I have a lot of experience that this young group can lean on at any time. I'll try to lead by example more than anything. Hopefully the way that I compete, guys can follow and rely on that.
"There's a few guys here that have been through the battles and understand what it takes. It's much easier to be a good teammate when things are going good, but there's going to be tough stretches during the year that every team goes through. I think that's where we as leaders have to take full responsibility to get our team going again. It's a process. We can't make the playoffs today or tomorrow or Game 1. But we certainly can start to build that culture and build that team identity that we need to be successful."
Okposo spent the first half of last season on the injured reserve list after injuring his shoulder during training camp. Now fully healthy and raring to go, the 23-year-old is preparing for what he hopes is a breakout season -- both individually and from a team perspective.
"It's great and we're excited about it," Okposo said. "We've had some veterans in the past, but this year I think we've done a really great job of blending. We're just excited to get under way."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL