August 24: On Chemistry, Quarterbacks, Tradition and Shot-blocking
With the signings of players like Miroslav Satan, Alexei Zhitnik and Mike York, what's your aim in the playoffs? Thanks for taking the time to answer.
You know there's only one answer to that question, Alexandre. Our one and only goal, as I would think it is for all of the 30 NHL teams, is to win the Stanley Cup. I would think if I said to you, "We're looking to win one or two rounds," you would not be very happy with me.
With all the changes in the NHL as a result of the free agent signings and departures, it would seem to be that chemistry will be an issue and that in some ways, teams that didn't make many moves could be in a better position to get a good start out of the gate. Since there were a number of major moves with the Islanders, how will you approach team development and team building?
You're absolutely correct in your assessment about the importance of team chemistry, and it's the number one reason why we're taking the guys to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia for the first week of camp. Yarmouth will give us seven straight days on and off the ice bonding through workouts and team events. We will also be away from our homes, which can be helpful when you're coming together as a team. And the forming of chemistry will not end when we return. We'll be doing lots of things throughout the season to address the issue of chemistry and teamwork.
The new rules would seem to set the stage for a LOT of power plays throughout the season. Who will "quarterback" the main power play? Will we be seeing more of Parrish in front of the goalie?
Barbara from Massapequa
You're right, Barbara. I would expect a lot of power plays, especially during the first month or two of the season as everyone gets used to the crackdown on the hooking and holding. We have several options at quarterback. Zhitnik takes the shot when it's there, but also knows how to make a play. Sopel loves to shoot it and he always impressed me when I caught Canucks games on the dish. You better believe Janne will be there a lot, and I'd like to give Radek a look because he's been quietly steady when he's been on the point. I know Miro Satan has played the point and he may be there at times for us, but I really like him off the half-wall. As for Parrish in front of the net, you bet.
Do you think good young players who played in the minors last season (ex Bouwmeester) will have a leg up on the veterans (who mostly didn't play) this season? Is this a factor, and if so, how long do you think this advantage may last?
Las Vegas, NV
The advantage for players like Boumeester and Weiss was not necessarily to give them a leg up on this season. It was for their development. That's why we had Papineau, Godard, Bergenheim and some of our other younger players in Bridgeport. It was a year of seasoning in the AHL they could not miss. As I've said before, our veterans will be fine. Most played somewhere. The others will benefit from the rest and are too dedicated to conditioning to let the year off hurt them.
How important is the history of the team to the current generation of players? Some were not even born the last time the Isles raised the Stanley Cup back in 1983. Are their reminders in the locker room?
Our great tradition means a lot to our team. When you have legends like Bob Nystrom and Clark Gillies as such great friends to the current team, it helps me a lot. Those are men I can point to and say, "That's what an Islander is." This year will be fun because the franchise will have a night to honor the 25th anniversary of the first Stanley Cup team. As for the locker room, we're making some improvements as we speak, and you'll be happy to know the artwork throughout the room will be a combination of the present and our rich past.
1. Do you see an issue with leadership in the locker room this season with the recent trades? 2. Do you think the team has enough "muscle" to protect the smaller, faster players?
I'm not worried at all when it comes to leadership. Yes, some respected veterans have moved on, but we have plenty of guys who lead in various ways. As I told Kenny Jonsson many times, you don't need a C or an A on the ice to be a leader. All of our new veterans are guys who have led and will lead. We also have plenty of returning players who are great leaders, including Mark Parrish and Janne Niinimaa. In goal, both Garth Snow and Rick DiPietro may not be able to have letters on their sweaters, but they are tremendous leaders. The muscle question has also come up in the emails, and the answer to that is also no. We can take care of ourselves.
I'm from Nova Scotia, Canada and I'm the biggest Islanders fan I know of, I'm just wondering if the fans are allowed to watch your training camp when you come to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Our practices and both of our intrasquad games are open to the public. I hope you and everyone else in the province will stop by and see us.
How do you think Wayne Gretzky will do behind the bench this year with
Phoenix? What advice would you have for him?
Wayne doesn't need any advice from me. Keep in mind that he had a long time to make his decision. It wasn't made overnight. The best player in the history of the game knows exactly what's he doing, and I wouldn't bet against him.
What do you think the FA signings by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh mean for the Atlantic Division? And how will the Islanders have to adjust in order to battle those teams for a playoff spot?
The fact that a team like Pittsburgh was able to improve as a result of the new CBA is great news for the NHL and our fans. Think about it: Edmonton acquired a superstar defenseman from St. Louis, Columbus signed one from Colorado. What this means is that you will see parity. The moves by the Flyers and Penguins mean that a good divison just got a lot better. It's going to be a lot of fun playing them, the Rangers and Devils eight times each this season.
You were always a more trap/defensive style coach. How will you adapt to the more north/south game that we all assume the NHL will become this year?
It's been a major point of discussion daily with our coaching staff. I've spent a lot of time this summer talking to friends of mine who are European and college coaches, picking their brains for ideas. We'll be more aggressive at times, pursuing the puck and getting defensemen involved. You will see us trap less this season. It will be a different game, no doubt, but my staff and I are ready.
With this upcoming season's pronouncement to eliminate or minimize obstruction, I would expect there will be even a greater need for the forwards to help out the defense. Do you see this as being a challenge to the Islander forwards, especially those with more offensive mindsets? What would be the right approach in training camp and early in the season to ingrain quick transitions from O to D?
You're right - you will see most teams use a support system in the defensive zone. Instead of keeping one guy back, you'll often see everyone back. Aggressive forechecking teams working down low in the offensive zone should be able to make plays and counter quickly. With the speed and talent we have, we should be able to excel. In camp, we will do plenty of drills and have a focus on the transition game.
One of the aspects of the game of hockey that the Islanders of the glory years will be remembered for is their outstanding ability to block shots. Would it be possible to implement into the Islanders' game plan an emphasis on blocking shots?
It's happening. In 2003-04 we were just an average team in blocking shots. It's going to be a huge part of the game because you don't want to give a lot of time and space to the skilled players on the opposing team. All we have to do is remember what the Lightning did on their way to the Cup. The forwards got in the way of just about everything, and whatever they missed, Lukowich and the rest of his teammates got a piece of. One of our mandates this season will be to improve as a shot-blocking team. We have the personnel to get the job done.