The 2010-11 season was like two mini seasons in one.
There was the first half where nothing looked any different.
Injuries were rampant.
Goaltending was porous.
Goals were hard to come by.
The defense was shoddy at best.
Progress of the younger players seemed to be at a standstill.
The coach was fired.
Then January came and everything seemed to turn around. No one really noticed until the Islanders decided to exact some street justice on the Penguins then the Islanders were on everyone's radar.
Call it what you want to call it I choose to call it the Islanders telling the rest of the NHL they still exist and are on their way back to prominence.
The Islanders had one of the best records in the NHL after the all star break and were consistently one of the hardest teams to play against.
Goaltending backstopped by Kevin Poulin and then Al Montoya solidified.
The defense, anchored by Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic vastly improved.
The offense, bolstered by the emergence of Calder Trophy nominee Michael Grabner and the continued development of John Tavares as well as Matt Moulson, Frans Nielsen and PA Parenteau started to gel and produce.
Every one of the Islanders top players will be back next season and the injured Mark Streit will be back also.
Nino Niederreiter and Krill Kabanov are also favorites to make the team next season because they have been dominant in their respective leagues and appear NHL ready.
What does all this mean? It means the Islanders have the ability to be a playoff team again and really take that next step in returning to prominence in the NHL.
What will the Islanders line up look like next season line by line?
The first line will consist of John Tavares, looking to shatter the 30 goal mark, Matt Moulson and PA Parenteau. If you would have told me PA would have played on the Islanders top line scoring 20 goals and getting over 50 points I would have laughed at you.
The unit gelled late in the season and will be back in tact with Parenteau signing a one year extension and Moulson getting a three year extension preventing both from going free agent.
That in of itself, that the seam was able to hold onto a two time 30 goal scorer and a 20 goal scorer who would have otherwise been unrestricted free agents is a major victory.
The second line will consist of Frans Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo. The stars of the line were Grabner and Nielsen who netted an amazing 13 short-handed goals between them finishing first and second in the NHL in that department.
Okposo showed flashes of the promise he showed last season but struggled playing only 38 games after major shoulder surgery. He will be back 100% next season and should only make Grabner and Nielsen better.
The third line is where is gets a little more questionable as to who it actually may be because of all of the players the Islanders have on their roster.
Being this is a speculative column I will take my best guess and say the third line will consist of Nino Niederrieter, Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau.
It is time for "El Nino" to be in the NHL and until he is ready to take his place in the top 6 of the Islander forwards, which may actually be next year at some point. He will debut on the team next season. There is nothing else for him to prove for the Portland Winter Hawks in the WHL.
He scored 36 goals and netted 60 points in 65 WHL games and has been carrying his team in the playoffs with eight goals and sixteen points in eight playoff games.
Its prime time for "El Nino."
Josh Bailey actually took a step back this season and was sent to Bridgeport where he regained some confidence and wound up with 28 points in 70 NHL games. It is so easy to forget that Bailey is only 21 years old as it seems as if he has been in the league for a long time.
He will look to rebound with the steady Blake Comeau who is also coming into his own after his 24 goal campaign this season.
The fourth line could be any combination of a few players, but I will go with the Islander resigning Zenon Konopka, and him playing with a rough and tumble line combination with Matt Martin and Michael Haley.
Yes I know I am leaving Trent Hunter out. He hasn't played a full season in three years and only played 17 games last season.
Hunter is a good banger and can clean up around the net but I question his durability.
I think if Hunter is healthy he could be on the 4th line in place of Haley with Haley being an injury replacement.
Another wild card could be Kirill Kabanov who is playing very well in the QMJHL right now and very well could be NHL ready for next season. If that is the case, then Haley starts in Bridgeport.
As we very well know around the Islanders there are always injuries and that is how guys like Hunter, Haley and Jesse Joensuu fit into the plans.
On defense the top tandem should be Milan Jurcina and Mark Streit providing the offense and defense one two punch.
Then we have Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald will both be back and playing together again and were the Islanders best defense tandem this season often playing against and very well against the opponents top players.
The 3rd defense tandem is totally up in the air as the Islanders have Mike Mottau, Mark Eaton, Ty Wishart, Jack Hillen, Mark Katic and Dylan Reese who could fill those two spots.
Who will it be? I'll go with Mottau and Eaton, just because they are the veterans with the most experience and could be a nice shut down tandem.
When someone gets hurt Katic and Hillen are next in like with Wishart right there also.
In goal, Al Montoya and Kevin Poulin should be the 1 and 2 goaltenders unless Rick Dipetro has some sort of career renaissance early next season or has a stellar pre season.
How can you look at the numbers Rick put up this season and say that's my number one goaltender.
Look at the numbers Poulin and Montoya put up, and there are your goaltenders for next season. Rick should be sent to Bridgeport to work on his game until he can consistently stop pucks.
What are your thoughts on what the Islander line up should be for next season?
Place your comments below.
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