1. The Islanders are currently in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of the Flames in the standings, with 22 games left to play. Where does this season fit into the grand scheme things with regard to a long-term plan, if there is one?
For the long-term plan, this season isn't too big of a hiccup, given that the Islanders appear to be banking on blueline enforcements who will not make a mark at the NHL for at least another season or more. If this rebuild will ever set them up to be a contender, it wasn't going to be this season.
That being said, the reality is this season is a pretty big disappointment and a serious fallback after last spring. What's worse is it all seemed preventable, or at least some obvious moves could have been made to lessen the likelihood of this step back. It was clear goaltending was an issue, yet the Isles did nothing and had predictable results when Evgeni Nabokov (1) struggled and (2) got injured, leaving weak backups to step in. Also, their blueline was vulnerable to injury (specifically to Lubomir Visnovsky, who missed 40+ games and was essential to their revival last season), but instead of pick up cheap insurance upgrades like Ron Hainsey or Tom Gilbert, they kept Radek Martinek in their emergency chute, and used him.
So grand scheme, they should be fine (if they awaken to their weaknesses, which they always seem to do a year or two after they become obvious). But this season has been a waste.
2. After making the playoffs in the lockout-shortened season last year, what is the temperature of the Islanders fan base in the midst of what must seem like a letdown of a season? What would people most like to see change?
Definite frustration among the masses. The playoff appearance did not appear to buy them goodwill to withstand this season's disappointment. It's always hard to gauge actual percentages among the shouting and the blowhards of the Internet age, but there is a definite segment who thinks Jack Capuano should be canned, and another (sometimes overlapping) segment that blames Garth Snow. Honestly, though I don't think Capuano is the next coming of Bob Johnson, I don't see how he is the thing holding them back. The team comes to play under him and has a organized offense (defense is another matter...). Snow is the one responsible for the roster.
3. It sounds like a Thomas Vanek trade is practically inevitable at this point. What would your ideal return for the forward be?
I guess a 1st-round pick to recoup what was lost in the initial trade, plus a good young player or legit prospect. Of course, an above-average goalie would be ideal, but those are hard to evaluate and even harder to pry away once properly identified.
I will say that as much as I've enjoyed watching him play on the Islanders' top line, I'm torn as to whether it's bad news that Vanek won't be their highest-paid player for his age 31-37 seasons. On the one hand it's too rare that they land a star. On the other hand, offense isn't exactly their primary vulnerability and I fear that line needs a winger who is more responsible at both ends.
4. Ryan Strome seems to be having himself quite the season in Bridgeport with 10 goals and 40 points in 30 games so far. Do you think you'll see him in the NHL again this season?
Strome got a cup of coffee and didn't produce gaudy numbers, but played pretty well and probably fell victim to some low percentages. He was returned apparently so that he would be eligible to spend the Olympic break in the AHL. I expect he'll be back this season, maybe as soon as the Vanek trade.
5. Michael Grabner, Lubomir Visnovsky, Thomas Vanek and John Tavares will all represent their countries at the upcoming Sochi Olympics. Aside from Team USA or their respective countries, who will Isles fans be rooting for at the games?
I would think there would be general underdog and team-affiliated sympathy for Austria. Otherwise, at least among the Lighthouse readership it seems the rooting interests fall along patriotic lines. (I'm half Czech, so I'll be rooting for them while wondering why Jiri Hudler was made an unperson.) Fair to say most are rooting for an injury-free experience for the Isles players.
Thanks, Dominik! For more on the Isles, don't forget to visit Lighthouse Hockey.