August 8: The new D, new rules for Ricky and Yash™s line
I hope you are as excited about the upcoming NHL season as I am. I feel the Islanders have made some strong moves filling Aucoin's spot with Zhitnik, signing Satan, and the trades for York and Sopel. Any idea on a captain yet?
Our preference is to continue to let the team take shape, see what happens in camp and then make a decision. Michael Peca will not easily be replaced, but I'm confident we will find the right captains and come together as a team. In the new age of the NHL with lots of player movement, it's going to be the job of the head coach to pull it all together.
Tell me how you view your defense now with Aucoin and Jonsson gone and Zhitnik and Sopel in.
It's a different look, no doubt about it, but we're very happy with how things turned out. It's no easy task replacing guys like Adrian and Kenny, but the staff did a great job finalizing a deal with Alexei Zhitnik and making the trade for Brent Sopel. Zhitnik reminds me of KJ in some ways, because he's one of the most respected defensemen in the game. Everyone tells me he's a real pro on and off the ice. Alexei is going to be a real steady player for us and be a terrific role model for our prospects on D. Sopel's not a household name, but Long Island fans who have satellite dishes and stay up late know that this is a young man with a lot of talent and a lot of heart. I'm also excited for Janne Niinimaa because he is a player who thrives on increased responsibility, and now he's going to get it. Knowing Janne, he will relish the opportunity.
Where do you see Oleg Kvasha in your plans this year?
More than any other guy, when I called Oleg after the lockout finally ended, he was simply ecstatic. As you know, Oleg can be reserved, but he sounded like he wanted to jump on the first flight to New York and get the season started! It was so nice to hear that from him. Oleg's coming off what we felt was a breakthrough season. He felt good about it, and so did we, and everyone feels he can grow even more as a player. I won't commit to a line for him, but he will see a lot of icetime and play plenty of special teams.
First off, welcome back to hockey season! Now that we have our game back, how does a coach in today's NHL prepare to adapt to the new rule changes? Do you think these changes will benefit the Islanders core players? Thanks and good luck this year!
Staten Island, New York
It's my job as a head coach to make sure we benefit. There's no question the D are going to have to be a lot more on their toes and move the puck up ice. With the moves we have made, we have a good balance that should help us thrive under the new rules. But it's up to us to take advantage of the new rules by utilizing our speed and creativity.
What do you see as Mike York's role this season?
I'm really looking forward to working with Mike because I know so many people who think he's a special player. We only saw him once a year in Edmonton, but I remember him in college and with the Rangers and the scouts tell me he's only getting better as he hits his prime. What I love about his acquisition is the flexibility he gives us. Mike could play center or wing. He can win a faceoff. He uses his quickness to jump into holes. I think our forwards are going to like having him as a linemate.
One of the main reasons DiPietro was drafted was for his puckhandling abilty. Having him as a "6th" stickhandler helped make him great. What effect do you think the new rules will have on DP and how do you envision him in the new era of the NHL?
New York, NY
To be honest, I don't think the new rules will affect Rick whatsoever. Having seen the rule change implemented at the AHL level, I'm confident Rick will be fine. He's so mobile and reads the ice so well that he'll get to the dump-ins before it reaches the extended goal line. He'll now have the play in front of him. You can make the case that guys like Rick might become even more effective under the new system.
Having been to a few Islander events and seeing Garth Snow take over the room with his personality, how important was it to sign him and how do you think he will respond to the rule changes?
It was real important for us, for a few reasons. As you mentioned, he's been a very good Islander on and off the ice. He's one of our leaders. He's been the first star in so many big games the last few years and he'll win a lot more big ones for us. And I like the rapport he has with DiPietro. Garth and Rick really push and pull for each other. We wanted to keep it that way for a while.
What part of youth hockey would you stress the most on the kids - skating, shooting, passing? Do you find roller hockey beneficial at all?
The absolutely most important skill is skating. There is no substitute for excellent skating. The rest will come after you get the skating down pat. That's what I have preached for years. And as for rollerblading, it only helps. Rollerblading strengthens the muscles and improves the stride. I recommend it for young kids who can't get on the ice as much as they'd like.
C'mon Coach: give it up. Who's going to be on Yashin's line this season?
Now don't hold me to this, but I will share with you some of my thinking. First off, I feel that some of our European players have a sixth sense about where there are on the ice. Of course, I'm as intrigued as anyone about the possibility of putting Miroslav Satan with Alexei. I've also liked how Matty Weinhandl has looked at times with Yash. So although I won't commit to anything - and as you know line combinations are always subject to change - at some point I'm sure we'll take a look at Yashin between Satan and Weinhandl.