Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Lineup set: The Hilbert/Tambellini debate; 2008 projections

Well, the roster is set. I'm guessing everyone has seen it, but if you haven't, see the bottom of this post.

For the second season in a row, Andy Hilbert finds himself on a scoring line ahead of the much more deserving Jeff Tambellini. Last year, Hilbert started the season on the top line, ate up a lot of minutes playing with Alexei Yashin, Miroslav Satan, Mike Sillinger, Viktor Kozlov, etc. (the top scorers on the team), and took 22 games to notch his first point--an assist.

Granted, Hilbert is a hard-working player (though he sometimes misses his check), but he just doesn't have the talent to warrant second-line minutes, especially when the team is looking for offensive production from all four lines.

According to Ted Nolan, this is about putting a defensive guy on a line with two offensive-types in Satan and Josef Vasicek. If this is so, why not put Bergenheim or Park up there? True, Park is not a second line player, and he doesn't pretend to be, but he's certainly a better defensive player than Hilbert. Bergenheim has some offensive upside and hits everything in site. He's also terrific in his own end. If defense is what the Isles are going for, that's the kind of guy to put with two soft/offensive types.

But Tambellini is the man for the job. He can forecheck with the best of them and in his 23 games last year, he created chances on just about every one of his rare shifts. That's no small feat considering he averaged just over seven minutes a game on a line with Aaron Asham and Richard Park.

The guy has paid his dues in the minors, has done all he can do down there (30 goals and 29 assists in 50 games last season), and has had nothing negative to say about playing a fourth line/press box role. Now he finds himself back in the minors in favor of Andy Hilbert... again. Something is wrong here.

If they want to put Hilbert on the fourth line, that's fine. But they can’t get carried away with rewarding "Nolan players." You have to draw a line somewhere between hard work and consistent production. Tambellini provides both, while Hilbert provides fourth line energy and, at best, decent two-way play.

When the decision to demote Tambellini was made, it may have been the product of a maxed out lineup. Darryl Bootland is holding the enforcer's role until Chris Simon returns from suspension. Simon, meanwhile, takes up a spot. The team is carrying eight defensemen while Garth Snow presumably attempts to work out a deal in order to make room for the still-unsigned Bryan Berard. It all adds up to 23 players on the roster.

Speaking of Berard, his future with the team is a growing concern with each passing hour. There are other teams that want him and he is still an unrestricted free agent, but he has emphasized that he would like to sign on with the Isles. Regardless of his desire, it comes down to wanting to play and if the Isles can't provide that before the season starts, there's no reason for him to stick it out.

Perhaps when Simon replaces Bootland in the lineup and Bootland is demoted, Tambellini will be recalled, but don't hold your breath. If he's back, based on his history on Long Island, he likely won't be put in any position to succeed. Hell, he'll end up on a line with Andy Hilbert.

On a positive note, the top line of Fedotenko-Comrie-Guerin has shown a lot throughout camp and preseason and will only get better in time.

The Slovakian combo of Vasicek-Satan also looks solid. Both players have much to prove and are in the final years of their contracts. Satan should have a productive season and his country mate will only help him. Vasicek looked strong throughout the preseason, oftentimes out muscling defensemen to create his own opportunities.

Adding Jon Sim to the Sillinger-Hunter combo will make that line a more dangerous threat in the offensive zone, not to mention a stronger checking unit.

And although Bergenheim is beginning the season on the fourth line, he will likely move up through the lineup as he proves himself to the coaching staff. He won't (or shouldn't) be stuck on the fourth line for long.

The Isles decision to fill Simon's spot with fellow enforcer Darryl Bootland is a bold move and shows the team’s desire to stand up to the toughest of them--starting with Andrew Peters in Buffalo, Donald Brashear in Washington, and the numerous participants in the Blueshirt circus. But don't count on Ryan Hollweg to engage in an honorable battle. Mr. Snow has assembled a nice crop of tough guys at Bridgeport as he continues to make his top-to-bottom mark on the team.

On the blueline, the Isles have some familiar pairings. Brendan Witt and Radek Martinek played well together last season. The combo provides a good balance as Witt brings toughness and shot-blocking while Martinek hones a good transition game/breakout pass combined with solid defensive play. Andy Sutton will provide his share of booming body checks and protection for Rick DiPietro, while partner M.A. Bergeron will supply a few booms of his own with his 100 MPH shot. The youngsters, Chris Campoli and Bruno Gervais, played together much of last season and will look to continue their development at the NHL level, barring the imminent Bryan Berard signing and a possible trade. More on this as it develops...

Alas, here are my projections for the season:

Mike Comrie 34-43=77
Bill Guerin 29-45=74
Miroslav Satan 30-30=60
Mike Sillinger 21-25=46
Josef Vasicek 20-23=43
Trent Hunter 16-15=31
Ruslan Fedotenko 17-14=31
Jon Sim 16-14=30
*Chris Simon 11-18=29
Richard Park 9-14=23
*Jeff Tambellini 12-10=22
Sean Bergenheim 11-10=21
Andy Hilbert 4-16=20

*Bryan Berard 7-40=47
M.A. Bergeron 16-23=39
Radek Martinek 3-22=25
Andy Sutton 3-16=19
Bruno Gervais 3-14=17
Chris Campoli 4-12=16
Brendan Witt 0-11=11

Team total =266 goals

* Currently not in the lineup

Off topic, but here are my predictions for the NHL season:

Tampa Bay
New Jersey
NY Rangers
NY Islanders

San Jose
St. Louis
Los Angeles

Eastern Champs: Pittsburgh
Western Champs: Colorado
Stanley Cup Champs: Colorado

Hart: Roberto Luongo
Vezina: Roberto Luongo
Art Ross: Sidney Crosby
Richard: Sidney Crosby
Norris: Wade Redden
Calder: Jonathan Toews
Jack Adams: Ted Nolan

NYI current roster and line combinations
Extras: Simon (suspended), Bates (IR)

Extras: Meyer, Johnson (healthy scratches), Berard is expected to sign.


Comment away—debates welcome. Email me at for fantasy advice or just to talk Islanders hockey. Don’t forget to vote on the polls.

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