Skip to main content
Original Issue

Inside The NHL

Makeover Mike
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' playmaking 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

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 scouting, who has helped turn the Devils
into the league's model organization over the last seven years.

"David brings knowledge and expertise," says general manager Lou
Lamoriello. "In my mind, his status is second to none."

An unprepossessing 52-year-old with a rumpled Columbo look,
Conte drafted last season's Calder Trophy winner, Scott Gomez,
with the 27th pick in 1998 and was responsible for selecting two
thirds of New Jersey's first line--wings Patrik Elias, 51st in
'94, and Petr Sykora, 18th in '95. In recent years Conte also
recommended that the Devils sign two rookie free agents, center
John Madden and defenseman Brian Rafalski, both of whom made
major contributions to the 2000 Stanley Cup victory.

"I don't think we're unique in anything we do," says Conte, who
last month interviewed for the general manager's job in Calgary
that went to Craig Button. "Part of [the success of the
draftees] is patience and a lot of it is coaching. I have a hard
time putting my finger on it, and frankly, I don't spend a lot
of time thinking about it."

Conte played five seasons in Europe in the 1970s, experience
that gave him a broad range of contacts and provided insights
into players from overseas. "In a nutshell, it's personality,
not nationality, that we concern ourselves with," says Conte.
"The recognition [of his stellar reputation] is nice, but the
best for me was when I went on the ice after we won the Cup and
Scott Gomez put a championship hat on my head. That made me feel

Sandis Ozolinsh Traded
Another Good Deal by Lacroix

By acquiring spectacular one-dimensional offensive defenseman
Sandis Ozolinsh from the Avalanche for backliner Nolan Pratt and
three draft choices, the Hurricanes got the power-play
quarterback they needed. For Colorado, however, the trade
accomplished considerably more.

First, by dealing Ozolinsh, who made $4 million last season, the
Avalanche pared a payroll that was approaching $48 million for
2000-01. With center Joe Sakic heading to arbitration this
summer and a contract that may reach $8 million, Colorado could
have close to $30 million tied up in four players--Sakic,
defenseman Raymond Bourque, center Peter Forsberg and goalie
Patrick Roy.

Second, trading-deadline deals for Bourque and wing Theo Fleury
the last two years cost Colorado a total of seven high draft
choices and young players from the club's well-stocked system.
By sacrificing Ozolinsh, general manager Pierre Lacroix
replenished the supply of future picks. "The timing was right,"
says Lacroix. "When you're trying to rebuild while you're
winning, you have to make that kind of decision."

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Acquiring Parrish, who had 26 goals for the Panthers last season, was a big score for the Islanders.