Islanders general manager Mike Milbury revamped his team in spectacular fashion
Islanders general manager Mike Milbury is many things—impatient, impetuous, bombastic among them. He's also a realist, and after stealing the show at last Saturday's draft with a history-making No. 1 pick and three major trades, Milbury knows that if his deals backfire, he'll be looking for work elsewhere, and soon. "It's squarely on the line," Milbury says of his job. "If we're not a better team immediately and not a very good team over the long haul, off with [my] head."
Milbury began by making Boston University's Rick DiPietro the first goaltender chosen No. 1 in the 31-year history of the draft. To make room for DiPietro, Milbury sent touted netminder Roberto Luongo, 21, who had been the highest drafted goalie when the Islanders took him with the fourth pick in 1997, to the Panthers for a pair of well-regarded forwards: Mark Parrish, 23, and Oleg Kvasha, 21. Milbury dealt another goalie, Kevin Weekes, plus a number of young players and draft choices, to acquire Tampa Bay's pick at No. 5 (which turned out to be left wing Raffi Torres) and the Oilers' play-making defenseman Roman Hamrlik, 26, who will anchor the New York power play. Then, on Sunday, Milbury acquired veteran John Vanbiesbrouck to be the team's backup netminder.
Was there a method to Milbury's madness, or was it simply madness? From here, it appears Milbury had a fine day. If the 18-year-old DiPietro turns out to be as good or better than Luongo, the Islanders should have no glaring weakness once their stockpile of young players develops over the next couple of years.
This is the second consecutive solid draft for Milbury. Last year New York got three players (forwards Tim Connolly and Taylor Pyatt and defenseman Branislav Mezei) who look as if they will become impact players. Add Parrish, Kvasha and Torres, and scoring should come considerably easier for the Islanders, who had only 194 goals last season (second fewest in the league). New York, which was 24-49-9-1 in 1999-2000 and has not earned a playoff berth since '93-94, will be competitive next season and good within two seasons, with a chance to grow into a power.
"I've been here five years, and I'm tired of losing," says Milbury. "I know going the young route in goal is dangerous, but I'm willing to take that risk."
Risk is something that the team's new owners, Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang, are also not averse to. Kumar says he and Wang are prepared to spend money to turn around a franchise that was the NHL's best in the early 1980s. Dwindling attendance and a series of disastrous owners have turned the Islanders into a laughingstock. Milbury hopes that an injection of capital—and the prospect of better times—has changed that.
"Speaking with Mike and the owners, you can only be excited about what they have planned," says DiPietro. "To be a part of that is going to be wonderful."
Draft Guru David Conte
Midas Touch For the Devils
One of the league's best-kept secrets strode to the microphone on Saturday to announce that the Devils had selected defenseman David Hale with the 22nd pick in the draft. The NHL's Central Scouting bureau rated Hale as only the 25th-best North American prospect (Europeans are ranked separately), but we predict a bright future for the 6'1", 204-pounder from Colorado Springs. The reason? The man doing the selecting was David Conte, New Jersey's director of scouring, who has helped turn the Devils into the league's model organization over the last seven years.