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Islanders-Coyotes Preview

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The New York Islanders' off-season moves made more headlines than their play did last season.

Having hired a new coach and two general managers, the Islanders begin the new season against the Phoenix Coyotes at Glendale Arena on Thursday.

Last season under Steve Stirling and Brad Shaw, New York went 36-40-6 and missed the playoffs for the first time following three straight first-round exits.

On June 8, the Islanders turned over their front office, introducing Ted Nolan as their new coach and Neil Smith as their new GM.

Nolan's hadn't coached since 1997 when he led Buffalo to a 40-30-12 record and won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year. He left the Sabres following a contract dispute, and spent the next eight years out of professional hockey before resurfacing last year with Moncton of the QMJHL.

Smith, who as GM of the archrival Rangers helped end a 54-year championship drought in 1994 before being fired six years later, replaced the exiting Mike Milbury. Less than six weeks later, Smith was fired by the Isles and replaced by former backup goaltender Garth Snow.

"You get to a point where philosophically you're not in sync, you're just not in sync," team owner Charles Wang said. "You have to make a decision then."

Snow's first major move was a baffling one - signing goaltender Rick DiPietro to an unprecedented 15-year, $67.5 million contract. DiPietro, the top overall pick in the 2000 draft, had a career-high 30 wins last season but has just 58 in four years with New York.

"I take a lot of pride in what I do," said DiPietro, who will be 40 when the deal expires. "In order to make this a good deal, I have to perform and we have to win."

DiPietro's deal also topped the one given to mercurial teammate Alexei Yashin in 2001 - a 10-year, $87.5 million contract that sent NHL salaries soaring and led to a cap that ended last year's lockout.

The Islanders didn't do much to address an offense that scored just 230 goals, tying them with Boston for fewest in the East. Miroslav Satan led New York with 35 goals, Yashin and Jason Blake each added 28. Mark Parrish, who had 24 goals, left to join Minnesota.

Snow added right wing Mike Sillinger, who will suit up for his 12th team in 15 seasons and has scored more than 20 goals twice.

Nolan said he is not concerned about what other teams did to improve themselves.

"I watched some tapes (of last season)," said Nolan, who was a finalist for the Islanders' job in 2001 but lost out to Peter Laviolette - who guided Carolina to the Stanley Cup last season. "We know they didn't have too much success, but we're not worried about that.

"We're worried about what we have now and how we're going to get better."

The Coyotes had big expectations when Wayne Gretzky took over as coach last season. So far, his tenure has brought more off-the-ice drama than wins.

Gretzky's first year behind the bench was marred personal tragedy and professional strife. The Great One lost his mother and grandmother in a three-week span, and dealt with controversy stemming from a gambling ring that allegedly involved his wife and assistant coach Rick Tocchet.

Phoenix was 38-39-5 last season and missed the playoffs for a franchise-record third straight season. Still, the Coyotes signed him to a five-year contract.

With the Western Division shaping up to be one of the toughest to compete in, the Coyotes added toughness including three-time All-Star defenseman Ed Jovanovski, forwards Georges Laraque and Owen Nolan, defenseman Nick Boynton, and the return of Jeremy Roenick.

"There were nights (last season) when I felt like maybe we got physically outmatched, and not because guys weren't trying to be as physical as possible, but we were not quite as strong as some of the other teams," Gretzky said. "There were liberties taken at times that I wasn't very pleased with. We went out and addressed that. We're much stronger and a much more physical hockey team."

Roenick spent five seasons with the Coyotes from 1996-2001, spending three years with Philadelphia and one with Los Angeles. The nine-time All-Star played in 58 games last season and scored only nine goals - tying a career-low set in his rookie year.

Phoenix is 10-6 with six ties all-time against the Islanders and have not met since February 2004.

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