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Islanders ready to compete?

John Tavares scored a career-high 31 goals and 81 points last season. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

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John Tavares scored a career-high 31 goals and 81 points last season. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hello again. As I mentioned in last week’s mailbag, I’m on vacation for the next two weeks. But that shouldn’t stop you from submitting your hockey-related questions and/or concerns to the usual location. My THN colleagues will be answering them to the best of their ability. See y’all in the second week of August.

Adam, are the Islanders finally done with their rebuilding process and ready to make a big leap in the standings? It has been too long of a wait and I would love to hear your opinion on where they are heading. Thanks.
John Bock, Garden City, N.Y.

John,

I wish I could tell you I’m ready to say this is the year the Isles make a jump over their Atlantic Division rivals and make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. But one of the main questions I ask myself when looking at any non-playoff team’s chances of making a competitive jump: who are they going to leap over in the standings? Which team is going to falter and give them an opening to exploit?

So, when it comes to the Islanders, are they going to be better than the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils? With the loss of Zach Parise and other ownership-based financial constraints, there’s an outside shot they completely implode, but given Lou Lamoriello’s record of success, that’s not likely.

Neither is it likely the New York Rangers, the Eastern Conference’s top regular-season team, suddenly fall apart and give the Isles an opening to exploit. Then there are the perennial Pennsylvania threats (a.k.a. the Penguins and Flyers), both of which are upper-tier Cup threats as currently constructed.

See where I’m going with this? I’m not saying the Islanders are absolutely unable to exceed expectations. Stranger things happen often in this league and Garth Snow has acquired a number of solid young components worth watching for years to come. But you have to look at the bigger picture. And when you do in this case, you quickly arrive at the conclusion it’s too big a leap of faith to state confidently the Isles are on the verge of big things. We’ve heard that for a while now, with less-than-satisfactory results.

Hey Adam, the Carolina Hurricanes already have three of the four Staals. Any chance they might aim to grab Marc Staal in a deal? Thanks.
Nolan Brown, Vaughan, Ont
.

Hey Nolan,

Marc Staal is an above-average NHL defenseman, meaning the entire league would be interested in his services if the Rangers made him available. But that presumes the Blueshirts would in the first place – and there’s no indication Rangers GM Glen Sather has ever been willing to do that.

Even if they did, what price do you imagine Canes GM Jim Rutherford would have to pay to acquire a fourth Staal in a trade? I’d imagine it would be a high one and thus deplete a talent base in Carolina that isn’t exactly the deepest in the league.

The best chance for Marc Staal to join his brothers in Carolina likely will come at the end of the 2014-15 campaign, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. That is, if the Rangers haven’t signed him to an extension before then.

Adam, what do you think we can expect from the upcoming season in terms of parity? To me it seems like there are very few teams you can count out. It appears several teams that did not make the post-season have greatly increased the talent on their rosters, such as Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Dallas, and even teams like the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche and possibly the Edmonton Oilers have shown they're done with waiting to make the post-season. Could we see the most competitive season of the post-lockout era thus far?
Jordan Balok, Austin, Texas

Jordan,

First of all, we may need to revise the term post-lockout era if the league does to players what it has done twice before since 1994. Call it the post-third-lockout era, or something like that.

In any case, I do expect playoff races to become even tighter whenever next season begins. My initial thoughts as a whole on the off-season are the Southeast and Northwest divisions will be much stronger than they were last year, while the Northeast and Central got weaker. So yes, you count out almost every franchise at your own peril.

Indeed, when the THN editorial department recently met to hash out our pre-season predictions for the 2012-13 Yearbook, there were a number of teams our staffers vehemently disagreed on, which shows you there’s an argument to be made for just about every team as a playoff possibility.

Hi Adam. What's the deal with Alexander Semin still being unsigned? I have him in my keeper-league, points-only fantasy pool and we need to submit our protected 10 by Aug. 1. Do you think he'll go to the Kontinental League? Do you think I should protect some other bum like Brad Boyes, Ville Leino, Wojtek Wolski or Brooks Laich instead? Thanks for your insight.
Kent Zalaski, Golden, B.C.

Hi Kent.

As we’re seeing, Semin is not a highly valued individual – at least, in combination with his contract demands – right now. I’ve said for a while now I think he winds up in the Kontinental League, which has bundles of money just waiting to be thrown at any Russian star willing to come home and assure himself a spot representing his country at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The possibility remains Semin will swallow his pride and accept a smaller payday with a shorter term (one or two years) to stick around the NHL. (In addition, an altered and more restrictive collective bargaining agreement might make him more attractive to teams.) But I’m still going to guess he goes home.

But I wouldn’t say all the players you listed as alternatives are “dogs.” Boyes (who signed a low-risk, one-term deal with the Islanders) may not have much left and Wolski doesn’t appear able to build on his early-career success, but Leino and Laich could be significant components on their respective teams.

Ask Adam appears Fridays on THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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