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09-19-2003, 10:35 PM
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Islanders- Inhibited by budget, questions

An interesting article by Rob Parent of ESPN about finance restrictions, players and a realistic outlook for the season -

After a period of oasis for Islanders fans -- back-to-back playoff seasons, that is -- their team once again appears to be stranded in Atlantic Division limbo.

While contenders look at 2003-04 as one more championship chance before a long period of economic reconstruction sets in, Islanders owner Charles Wang can only look at the contractual ties that not only bind Mike Milbury's wondrous powers of management creativity ... but also put the Isles a reported $23 million into the red last season.

For the Islanders and their fans, then, the depression before the labor war is at hand. Having learned that Alexei Yashin ($8.4 million this season and just seven more ludicrously overpaid seasons beyond that) and Michael Peca (nearly half a million for each of his 13 goals last season) couldn't buy anything more than a preliminary-level playoff pass, Milbury would like to pad his roster, but the budget won't allow such luxuries.

So the Isles are left to hope that standout performances by Jason Blake (25 goals) and Dave Scatchard (27 goals) were signs of seasons to come rather than one-year anomalies. They'll also count heavily on a defense charged with the mission of protecting kid goaltender Rick DiPietro, as he finally has the chance to live up to his hype.

Another year, another coach: Yes, the Milbury merry-go-round continues. Gone is Peter Laviolette and staff. So hello Steve Stirling, who's been a faithful friend of Milbury's.
Maybe that means Stirling will be allowed to last the season. But it doesn't mean the 53-year-old coach will know how to avoid the confluence of locker room dissentions that resulted in sending Laviolette to the scapegoat's box.

It also doesn't offer a clue about how a coach whose long resume is mostly comprised of college and minor-league duties is expected to get inside the heads of Yashin and Peca.

The savior in crease: No, not DiPietro. Not yet. First, the long-awaited former No. 1 overall pick has to prove he's worthy of the No. 1 goaltending job that will be offered him.
For now, the savior is Sudarshan Maharaj, and of course you've never heard of him. Just know that in the NHL, a guy with a name like that is known as "Sudsie" and he's 39, was born in Trinidad, and his appointment as a "goaltending consultant" indicates the Isles don't have complete faith in legendary coach Billy Smith's ability to turn DiPietro into the miracle worker this team needs him to be.

One man is an Island: In this locker room, that would be none other than Yashin, the $90 million star now two largely unsuccessful years into searching for some competent linemates on this Island.
He's put up some impressive numbers, and came back from a subpar regular season to be enough of a force to make the Senators blink before eliminating the Isles last spring. But Yashin knows he'd be much better served by having a sniper by his side to create scoring chances for. Having one of those might even motivate Yashin into staying awake through an entire season.

But even the Islanders are suspecting by now that Oleg Kvasha might not be the answer to this sniper search.

As long as Milbury has to count on such question-mark players, the fans never need to concern themselves with Stanley Cup speculations.

Rob Parent of the Delaware County (Pa.) Times is a regular contributor to


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