The New York Islanders have a better chance of ending their playoff drought than they have had the past few years. Even though I have reservations about their defense, they are my sleeper pick in the Eastern Conference.
Why the 14th-place Islanders, who have missed the playoffs the past four seasons, have a reasonable chance to be six places better this season:
1. Evgeni Nabokov
is going to join the team, meaning the Islanders either have a new No. 1 goalie or an attractive backup to the injury-plagued Rick DiPietro
2. Offensive-minded defenseman Mark Streit
will return from the shoulder surgery that cost him the entire 2010-11 season. He will help the team's transition game and power play.
3. In John Tavares
, Michael Grabner
, Matt Moulson
, Blake Comeau, Kyle Okposo
, Brian Rolston and PA Parenteau
, the Islanders have interesting/noteworthy/desirable scorer options for their top six forward positions.
4. Tavares will be 21 when the season starts, and it's not unthinkable that he could go from 67 to 90 points. Would anyone be stunned if he netted 40 goals?
5. With seven short-handed goals, Frans Nielsen
has proved to be an effective penalty killer and role player. He had 13 goals and 31 assists last season and deserved, and received, votes for the Selke Trophy.
6. The Islanders have quality rookies, particularly Nino Niederreiter
and perhaps Calvin de Haan
, who could make some contributions this season.
7. Defenseman Travis Hamonic
, 21, played more than 21 minutes a game last season as a rookie and presumably will be even more effective this season.
8. In the offseason, the Islanders added one of the NHL's better role players in Marty Reasoner
, who is a good face-off guy and owns a knack for making big plays at the right time. Of his 14 goals last season, four were game-winners.