Though the Islanders have spent the better part of the season in the Eastern Conference basement, this glass-full guy is convinced his club can hit .500 and contend for the playoffs. Sure, it's a best-case scenario, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility.
Why so confident? Well I'll tell you.
With a respectable 4-2-1 record in their last seven games, including back-to-back victories against nemesis Ottawa, the Isles appear to be overcoming their fear of the ever-dreaded third-period lead (oh no, not that!). What's more, six of their nine regulation losses this season -- along with most of their wins -- have been decided by just one goal. So clearly they've been competitive.
And they've had this modest success with a rash of defensive injuries and without Rick DiPietro. Thankfully, they recently welcomed back their best defenseman -- and pound-for-pound their best player, in my opinion -- Radek Martinek. His skill and calm demeanor will go a long way toward calming nerves when opponents mount late-game comebacks. Now if he can only stay healthy.
Some other positives: Chris Campoli and Sean Bergenheim appear to be making progress, and talented youngsters like Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey -- cornerstones for years to come -- are receiving invaluable on-the-job training. (I'm also high on Frans Nielsen, but lukewarm on Jeff Tambellini, in case you were wondering.)
But this brings me to an even more important point. Besides the desperate need for a new arena (don't get me started), the success of the franchise down the road relies heavily on the decision-making skills of its GM, Garth Snow. And so far, the early returns on many of his offseason moves are looking pretty good.
Mark Streit, who signed a five-year contract before the season, is second on the team in assists and appears to have brought his skills from Montreal. Also, his minus-one rating isn't shabby for a power-play specialist on an under-.500 team, though admittedly it's in a small sample of games.
Doug Weight is also proving to be a smart pick-up. He leads the team in points and assists, and is the right type of veteran to blend with all the youngsters. Of course, Weight won't be around when/if the team ever makes a serious run, but kudos to Snow for making this deal. And hey, Weight will likely have value at the trade deadline, making this short-term rental a smart investment.
It also appears that showing faith in and re-signing Trent Hunter was the right move. At $2 million per year for five years, it could prove a bargain if he keeps up his current output. Plus, he hits and block shots (see below).
But don't let me to go too far overboard. The Isles lack talent and are desperate for a top-line center (sorry Mike Comrie). They also have a lousy record within their division, and given the level of the Atlantic this year, it will be hard to stay above water against the clubs they play most often.
As for the big picture, it's no secret how desperate the Islanders and owner Charles Wang are when it comes to a new arena, and let's be honest, this isn't exactly the greatest economy to be taking on major construction projects. So really, who knows if the team will even be playing in Nassau by the time they really turn things around.
But these are discussions for another day. In the meantime, here are some quick hits.
Block heads: The Islanders currently lead the NHL in block shots. It's obvious Scott Gordon has the team hustling, and it's been fun to watch despite the lack of scoring punch. They're also almost at the top in takeaways -- another hustle stat that teams without scoring touch must have.
What the Pock? Tell me how Thomas Pock, a journeyman defenseman who has a golden opportunity to finally get consistent playing time , gets himself suspended? Not only that, he does it with a cheap hit to the head (which everyone knows the league is cracking down on), and in the third period -- with the shaky Isles clinging to another tenuous lead.
Bring back Blake? As Jason Blake's relationship with the Leafs continues to unravel, the opportunity to bring him back to the Island could easily arise. I imagine most fans would love to have the chance to root for him again, but the club likely will resist any temptation.
The Isles need a top center more than a hard-skating winger, though Blake did flourish in his time here and the Isles do have the salary-cap space. He signed a five-year, $20-million pact with Toronto in 2007, but after being a healthy scratch more than once recently, he was quoted as saying, "Maybe it's not meant for me to be here."
Now if the Leafs decide to buy him out, it would make a whole lot more sense to bring him back -- especially if the Isles are in striking distance of the playoffs. But these are a lot of ifs.
Speaking of former Islanders... just when it looked like Mark Parrish might skate with the Sound Tigers on a tryout contract, the Dallas Stars smartly picked him up for a measly $500,000. It's real tough not to get frustrated when the Isles don't make a little extra effort to pick up a hard-working player and potential goal scorer at a minimal cost, isn't it?
Big Mac: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the solid goaltending of Joey McDonald. Nothing flashy here, but this dude is getting the job done and seems to be gaining confidence as games go on. Keep it up.