Monday, December 17, 2007

Turning the Tables on Logan

Since its inception last October, Greg Logan's Islanders blog for Newsday, "On the Islanders Beat", has become required reading for any fan of the team. Most notably, his coverage of the team around last year's trade deadline opened my eyes to the power of this medium in the world of sports. I have little doubt that the NYI Blog Box owes its very existence to the success of his efforts.

I thought it would be interesting to do a little role reversal and have Greg answer some questions for a change. He was nice enough to take some time from his schedule to do just that for Islanders 360.

360: What is your opinion of the NYI Blog Box experiment? Can you contrast your feelings from when you first were made aware of the idea vs. now that it has been "operating" for several months?

Logan: I never was worried about conflict with people in the Blog Box because Chris Botta explained that access would not be identical to what credentialed reporters receive. To a certain extent, I found it ironic that the Islanders would make room for this form of "competition" because I believe it's to some extent a reflection of the success Newsday's Islanders blog had in giving the fans an outlet that kind of energized their passion for the team. As for the practical effect of the Blog Box, I've not had a single problem. I know a couple of the bloggers, and I respect the effort everyone is making. I think it's good for them to get an idea of what actually goes on in the locker room situation after games. Since ITV is transmitting the interviews, it's not as though I can hold all the information for the morning paper, anyway. To be honest, from a competitive standpoint, the TV presentation controlled by teams in all sports is the real bugaboo for sports writers because it piggybacks on our questions. We're under deadline pressure, so I can't go off and have private interviews with various players. There isn't time. If the day comes when the bloggers are acting as their own news outlets, that's when the atmosphere will change. It already has in some sports, such as college football, where I understand recruiting stories have become a cottage industry for bloggers.

360: Have you read any of the blogs associated with the Blog Box, and if so what is your feeling on the quality and perspectives offered therein?

Logan: I've read all of the blogs at some point or another. I'm not religious about it because I have my own work to do, and I try to make time to read all the responses to my blog. So, that's pretty time-consuming as it is. The blogs are kind of like snowflakes, no two quite alike. It's interesting to see the different viewpoints. Some are more technical, concentrating on analysis of the play. And some offer a more personal fan's perspective of how they feel about the Islanders and various issues affecting the team and they give a feel for the fan's experience. There's something there for everyone. I noticed they're all very proficient technologically. I'm from an earlier generation, so I concentrate on reporting and don't do all the bells and whistles with the links and pictures. From that perspective, I'm sure I'm not as entertaining.

360: As a professional journalist, do you take any exception to the concept of bloggers given access to the team and coaches? In your experience thus far, do you feel like the organization has managed the program effectively so as to not interfere with your job and deadlines?

Logan: As I said earlier, I think the team has done a good job of managing the situation. And I completely understand why the Islanders would do it. They need to use every tool at their disposal to market the team. This is cutting edge at this point, and I'm sure it will spread like wildfire because it's obviously generated a lot of interest. The access the bloggers have had hasn't created any conflict. But I can see where it might if a blogger had a close personal relationship with a coach or player that resulted in a steady stream of breaking news.

360: Excluding people on the organization's payroll, you spend more time with and around the team than probably anyone else. If possible, can you remove your journalistic hat for a moment and provide your personal assessment of this team and it's strengths/weaknesses relative to the teams of the past couple of seasons?

Logan: I only can compare to last season because I was immersed in coverage of the Knicks and Larry Brown-Isiah Thomas-Stephon Marbury two years ago and didn't see much hockey. I'm sure my view is similar to that of the fans. Stats don't lie. They don't have enough scoring, and there's no premier sniper that has to be defended every game. I will say that I didn't think the offense would be this unproductive. I know that was the conventional wisdom in the summer, but I disagreed because there are enough players on the team who've had 20-goal seasons in the past that I didn't think it would be a problem. I was skeptical about Andy Sutton early in the season, but now that he's adjusted and figured out how to use his size within Ted Nolan's system, I feel he's been a good addition. Sean Bergenheim is exactly what people told me he was like last season, but he needs to start finding the net like most of the other forwards. Chris Campoli has made major strides since last season, and I can't help but feel that Rick DiPietro is growing into an elite goaltender. Because he has such a flair for the dramatic, there are going to be times when he makes you wonder what he's thinking. But more often than not, he makes plays most guys can't make. I think he's best when he keeps it simple, but there's no denying the difference his puckhandling makes as long as he makes good decisions and doesn't try for the home run every time. Josef Vasicek is another player who has been a real find. He's solid defensively, and he competes better than I had heard he might and obviously has a little scoring touch. I think very few realize what a big loss Jonathan Sim's injury was. He was the surprise of training camp and would have made a big difference. As for top-liners like Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie and Ruslan Fedotenko, they've obviously alternated between good moments and slumps, but there's a lot of season left and I have a feeling their consistency will improve. I know a lot of people think the Isles should trade Miroslav Satan because he's probably their most marketable asset. You can make that argument because they need to replenish the system with as many prospects as possible, but I think it's a mistake to say goodbye to another goal scorer. Ted is giving Miro a lot more time with the top power play, and that will help him. Veterans like Brendan Witt and Mike Sillinger have provided real leadership for two seasons. Sillinger's numbers might be down a bit, but again, Sim would have opened things up for him and Trent Hunter. Richard Park has been a great role player for this team, not only with his work on PK, but he always creates a scoring chance or two.

If there are some qualities I would like to see this team add, I think they clearly need more speed up front and a top-quality defenseman who is a skilled puckmover and can keep the team moving forward quickly and decisively. It often seems the Isles simply don't control the puck in the offensive end as well as the top teams do. It's always a battle to get set up. Same thing on the power play. There's too much wasted time and energy when it comes to generating offensive pressure. That's what I'd like to see addressed along with improving the farm system.

360: Can you give a brief synopsis of the waning hours of last year's trading deadline (prior to the Smyth deal)? Basically a summary of what the day was like for you and how you received the information that you did so far ahead of any other media outlet.

Logan: As much as I enjoyed last year's trade deadline, I really can't go into much detail about the reporting process. I'll just say a reporter starts thinking about the deadline well ahead of time, especially last season because Jason Blake (correctly) believed he was vulnerable. You try to get a feel ahead of time for the organization's goals at the deadline, but you understand no one can predict with great certainty what will happen. From what I understand, Edmonton waited until two days ahead of the deadline to call a few teams to sample the interest in Ryan Smyth. But I began the day more focused on Blake because I had solid information that talks with several teams were ongoing. I know it went right to the wire because I was close to putting a story on Newsday's website saying he was safe when I made a call to a source about five minutes before the deadline and was told to hold off sending it. No doubt it was exciting to see everything crystallize right at the deadline with the Islanders making the biggest deal and with Blake returning in the bargain. But I have to say fans have to be wary of all the rumors from various websites in the days leading up to the deadline. Much of it really is based on newspaper speculation in various cities, and having covered the NFL, NBA and NHL, no GM reveals his exact strategy or every detail of his negotiations. Conversations are so far-reaching among GMs that half the players on every roster probably are discussed in trades at some point. It doesn't mean anything is close to happening. It means people are feeling each other out, and they might share a tidbit here and there that gets out. But what is the real significance? Sometimes, if something gets out, it's because a GM might want to float a trial balloon to see if it stirs interest around the league or gets a negative reaction from the fans. In the end, the trade deadline is really is more of a surprise party. You just have to wait and see what actually happens when everyone stops bluffing and gets down to making the deals they really had in mind.

360: Job responsibilities aside, are you a hockey fan? If so, do you find it at all difficult to separate professionalism from the emotional response of a fan?

Logan: I'm a sports fan. I have to be objective in determining the news angle for whatever story I'm covering and in asking the hard questions. But I couldn't do this job if I didn't get excited by the action in the games. Many people asked if I was a hockey fan when I was assigned to the Islanders, and in my first blog, I tried to answer that question by offering details of my background covering hockey, including my exposure to the great Islanders teams that won four straight Cups. I think I forgot to mention that I interviewed Dale Hunter after his hit on Pierre Turgeon in 1993, too. I never played hockey, so, that puts me at a bit of a disadvantage, but I first covered the Flyers in 1977-79 for the Trenton Times and have covered hundreds of games since then. It's like anything else I cover. I get caught up in the games. When you cover any team and get to know the players a little bit, it's hard not to feel a personal connection to what's going on. Most reporters say they root for the story, but keep in mind that the story for all of us is how the home team is doing. If it's doing well, that's usually a better story. One exception might be the Knicks, who seem to be a bigger story the worse they do these days.

360: Slightly off-topic, what are your feelings on the proposed Lighthouse Project? Do you believe that the team's future on Long Island is directly tied to its approval, or do you think there is hope even if the project is rejected? Is there anything fans can do to help secure the team's future on LI?

Logan: As for the Lighthouse Project, I'll leave the opinion on that to Newsday's editorial board, which has supported it as a progressive use of the parcel on which Nassau Coliseum sits. But when Charles Wang and Scott Rechler submitted their plans to the Town of Hempstead, I focused my story on the fact that survival of the Islanders long-term on Long Island really is dependent on this project. Wang didn't want to emphasize that because he's not using threats to move the team as part of his strategy. But I don't care how rich you are, no one can sustain the losses he's faced indefinitely. What does the owner have to look forward to if the Lighthouse Project is rejected or scaled down to the point where it eliminates his financial incentive? Yes, he cares about the Long Island community, which is why he bought the team in the first place. But the LI market lacks the level of corporate support available in Manhattan and other major cities throughout the NHL. So, I believe Wang has to have the Lighthouse Project succeed for the islanders to continue as a viable franchise in this market. As for what the fans can do, I guess they can start showing up in greater numbers at games, and they can lobby the Hempstead Town Board I suppose. As much as they might appreciate the "old barn" that housed the dynasty of their youth, when you travel around in any sport, you see how nearly every city's teams are playing in new arenas and stadiums. Wang can't reasonably be expected to compete without a new arena and the commercial development to sustain the Lighthouse Project. And even though the money in the contract has to be there, general manager Garth Snow can't be expected to win the recruiting battles for top players until the Islanders have a place to play that compares to those around the NHL.

Thanks again to Greg for taking the time to answer these questions, and for the all the good work he's done for Islander fans.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Resetting Expectations

The so-called "self help" industry has grown tremendously over the past few year. It's a trend I despise. People relying on the likes of Dr. Phil to tell them what to think and how to live their lives. But now I'm ready to admit it - I need help! Someone please tell me what to think about this team! Someone tell me how to resist the urge to throw my remote through the TV screen!!

I'm at a loss right now. For the last few weeks I've been an Islanders apologist. Telling people (myself primarily) that they still have a game or two in hand on most teams in the conference, that they are 5 points out of the division lead and the #3 seed in the playoff race, that they just need one great game to end the scoring drought and gather some momentum.

All of these things are still true. Yet for some reason, after last night's loss to Buffalo I can no longer find ways to defend the team. Let's be honest, we all knew coming into the season that talent alone wasn't going to get us very far. But the notion of the "Ted Nolan Type" work ethic gave us all enough hope to be, at the very least, cautiously optimistic. And the first month of the season only emboldened that optimism. But at this point, I almost wish we didn't have that early season success, because it has only made the current situation all the more maddening. How can the team we have been watching over the last few weeks be the same group we cheered for in October? It just doesn't add up.

The question now is, which represents the real Islanders? All this time I've had the notion that the team just needs to regain "early season form". The underlying assumption in that is that the early-season version of the team is who they really are. But what if that's not the case? What if October was the aberration and the last month has been the true barometer of this team? These might seem like basic concepts, but for someone like me who has tried his best to defend this team they are close to revelations.

Along with these new thoughts o' mine, I've started to realize that the culture of losing we've experienced over the last 25 years has really taken it's toll on me. At this point, my definition of success would be a single playoff series win. Actually, if I'm being honest it would probably be pushing round 1 to a seventh game. Sure, I know everyone talks a good game and winning The Cup is everyone's stated goal. But I can't help get the feeling that most of the team's personnel would define success the same way as me.

When I calculate the number of hours I've spent in my life watching, discussing, and now blogging this team it really puts things in perspective. I'm ready to reset my expectations. I want things to change. I need things to change. Or soon, even those of us that love hockey and love this team will run out of reasons to keep supporting them with our time, money, and hearts.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Free Agent Forward Update #2

Following up on my post from 10/24, here's part 2 of my periodic comparison of free agent forwards that were associated with the Islanders during this past offseason. The purpose is to evaluate the common perception that the Rangers, Avs...etc. were the most successful players in free agency, while the Isles settled for the "leftovers".

A few changes from Update #1...I added Josef Vasicek to the analysis, and I changed the financial side to show each player's cap hit rather than annual salary. While this makes the Rangers stats much more favorable, it's the more meaningful way to evaluate the situation.

The following shows goals, assists, and each player's cap hit for the '07-'08 season:

Bill Guerin = 5G, 6A, $4.5M
Mike Comrie = 8G, 11A, $3.375M
Ruslan Fedotenko = 6G, 8A, $2.9M
Josef Vasicek = 9G, 3A $0.750M
Total = 28G, 28A, $11.525M
Stats = 14 points per player; 4.9 points per million against the cap

Jason Blake = 3G, 16A, $5.0M
Ryan Smyth = 8G, 9A, $7.5M
Vistor Kozlov = 3G, 12A, $2.5M
Total = 14G, 37A, $15.0M
Stats = 17 points per player; 3.4 points per million against the cap

Opted to go to NYR:
Scott Gomez = 5G, 14A, $7.357M
Chris Drury = 6G, 11A, $7.05M
Total = 11G, 25A, $14.407M
Stats = 18 points per player; 2.5 points per million against the cap

So what does all this mean? Well, it confirms what I think most Islanders fans know. We're getting good value from our players, but not a lot of production. That may sound contradictory, but it's not. If we assume each player signed for fair market value, here's another way to say it - our players are outperforming expectations, but they're not as good as the guys that "got away".

The best news in all of this is that, as Greg Logan recently reported, the team has some nice room under the cap. Will that enable us to add some proven scoring later in the season? That remains to be seen, and there are too many moving parts now to even justify spending a lot of brainpower dreaming of the possibilities. But one thing's for sure - the trend of these stats from my first update in October is not what any Islanders fan wants to see, and it's 100% indicative of our struggles on the power play and (obviously) our inability to score more than 2 goals in a game. If our guys can't find a way to generate more offense, we may find ourselves sellers rather than buyers at the trade deadline.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

I'm still not convinced that I'm not hallucinating, that I'm not still in my food-induced coma from the Thanksgiving holiday. First, the much ridiculed Andy Hilbert (sorry for my current poll, Andy!) scores his first goal (and point) of the season against the Bruins on Saturday night. The only thing above that on the things-I-never-expected-to-see-happen list was a win against Ottawa. Keep in mind we've been riding an 8 game losing streak to the Sens, dating back almost 4 years (remember that great day of Jan 19, 2004 when we last beat them? either). Add to that a 4-29-9 record over our last 42 games against them, and I gave the Isles about as good a chance as seeing Sean Avery win the Lady Byng.

So needless to say I was pretty excited to see the Isles earn two points last night. It would have been sweeter to hang on for the win in regulation, but beggars can't be choosers. The cherry on top of the week will be another victory against the Evil Empire tonight in the Garden. To go 4-0 this year, and 9-1-2 over the last two seasons, against our most hated rival would surely put a smile on my face that would last until Christmas.

But still, what true hockey fan doesn't have a list of complaints even during the best of times? So even though Festivus is several weeks away, I thought now would be a good time to engage in the customary "airing of grievances". So in the true spirit of Frank Costanza, here we go...

- Why is Chris Simon playing on our top line, and getting power play time to go along with it? I understand Simon is one of Nolan's favorite guys, and I understand he is a great presence in the locker room, but neither of those things earns him a spot on the top line! The guy has as many points this season as Mr. A. Hilbert. Can you imagine the uproar if Andy was put on our #1 line? Seriously, how many other teams have a guy that jumps from the fourth line to the first line without showing any offensive prowess whatsoever? He's not a scorer, not a playmaker, and he's not clearing space for Comrie and Guerin to make things happen. I'm not saying Guerin's recent slump is directly related to Simon, but it certainly isn't helping matters.

- Where's the offense? After our 6 goal outpouring on opening night, I was all set for an explosive season. Or at least the ability to score 3 goals in a game! Last night was our tenth game in a row where we've scored two or fewer goals (excluding the goal awarded for the shoot-out win). Thanks to DP and some solid defensive play, we've managed to earn a respectable 11 points over that stretch, but you can't expect to survive like this forever. A big contributor to our scoring drought has been...

- Our anemic power play. Even though I'm a big stats guy, I'm not going to bore you with the numbers. Just watch the games! When we have a man advantage, no one is skating, no one is getting to the front of the net, and the shots they choose to take are (to put it mildly) of the low percentage variety. It's night and day from earlier in the season. What happened?!?

- Finally, everyone's favorite target...the officiating. It's becoming more and more frustrating to be a hockey fan. The inconsistency of the refs is reaching new heights of lunacy. Let's ignore the fact that I feel like the Isles generally get the short end of the stick, I just want to see a consistently called game. I understand there is always the human element at play, but things have to get better. Serenity now!

Despite all these gripes, I still love the game and I'm still proud of this team. We've made it more than a quarter of the way through the season, and we're continuing to silence the critics and play solid hockey. As always, Let's Go Islanders!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Live Blog - 11/21/07 - Isles vs. Habs

Welcome to my first foray into live blogging. After 7 straight divisional games, the Isles host Montreal, led by a resurgent Alex Kovalev. After a very successful 5-2 run over those last 7, the Isles look to keep it going against a strong divisional opponent.

A few keys to the game...

- Will the Power Play return to the level of success achieved earlier in the season?

- Can DiPietro raise his game to the same level that he did playing opposite Brodeur and Lundqvist, two of his favorite counterparts?

- Will Hilbert shock the world and put one in the net?

We're about 7 minutes from gametime...back in a few...

First observation from the night is the very disappointing crowd. Those that are here seem into it, but the numbers are not what you'd expect for the night before a holiday. Where are all the college kids home from school?? A couple minutes from the opening face-off and I'm estimating around 10,000.

Fun fact - the Isles are going for the 1200th win in franchise history tonight.

Maybe a bit premature on the crowd estimate. It's filling in nicely now as the anthem is finished...not a sell-out but looking more like 14,000.

Time for the opening face-off, with the Sillinger line starting things off.

Terrible turnover behind the net less than a minute in by the Isles costs them a 1-0 deficit. Both teams have come out skating, but a costly mistake allows Montreal to capitalize first on Steve Begin's second of the year.

Kostopoulos gets dumped into the Isles net, falling over DP in the process. Watch the head Ricky!! We've got 14 more years riding on it!

Hilbert almost did it! Of course, that is what Hilbert does...ALMOST scores. At least he set up a nice flurry of chances by the Isles with his five-hole attempt.

The whistle with 15:17 to play in the first reminds me of a recent gripe I've had. Is it me, or does it seem like days pass before we get a whistle when DiPietro is covering a puck, allowing the opposition plenty of free shots at him. Meanwhile, the whistle seems to blow a nanosecond after the opposing goalie even thinks about covering up. Maybe I'm biased, but it seems to happen game in and game out.

Witt takes the first penalty of the game, for tripping. Can we stop the #1PP in the league?? Well, one minute in and a deflection in front skims off the crossbar. A fortunate bounce for the Isles.

Chalk up another one for the Isles PK, with a successful kill of Witt's minor.

Just over halfway through the first, the fourth line of Simon, Park and Jackman generate a lot of offense and a few near misses. Unfortunately, still a 1-0 game.

Whistle with 8:24 to play and the Isles get their first PP of the night, a holding-the-stick minor on Latendresse. Time to test my #1 key to the game...getting the PP back on track.

AWFUL! After allowing Montreal a short-handed break, Comrie takes a tripping penalty to negate the team's first oddman chance of the game. The team has so far looked a little uncomfortable in their own end, and at this point I'd feel almost fortunate to escape the period down only one.

They're auctioning off game used sticks tonight. I'm tempted to buy Hilbert's so I can guarantee that I am the first to score a goal using it.

2:21 to play in the first and the Isles will get a chance to redeem themselves on the power play...

Good puck control, they were in the offensive zone for most of the 2 minutes, but no goals and the period ends with the Isles trailing 1-0.

Back at the start of the second...the Isles look like they have a little more jump to their steps, and they're cycling the puck very well. Breaking the momentum, Hunter gets called for a very questionable tripping call. Looked to me like the guy tripped over the net, but hey I'm not a ref. Another chance to boost the PK stats.

The PK is successful, but seconds later Montreal pokes one past Ricky and the lead is 2-0. While there's still over half a game to play, for some reason I have the feeling that a comeback is a longshot. This is the polar opposite of how I felt during Arbour's 15ooth game, when they fell behind 2-0 and I still felt very confident the team had a comeback in them.

And just like that it's 3-0 off a nice wrist shot from the top left circle. I'm worried this game could get out of hand, but I really hope I'm wrong. A comeback at this point would be all the more sweet. In fact, as I'm typing those words, Satan blasts a shot right off the crossbar....that close to cutting the deficit back to 2.

10:57 to go and another Isles penalty...not what the team needs. I'm going to give my fingers a rest for a bit, back when there is some good news to report.

Back sooner than expected...not a goal, but a good scrum in front of Huet, with Witt dropping the gloves and ultimately scoring a takedown against Komisarek. Hopefully that'll get the team re-energized and back into the game.

Not likely as the hit Simon with 4 minutes for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct, on top of Witt's 5 minute matching major for fighting.

I think this blogging night is almost over. Montreal is now up 4-0 and they still have 2 minutes on Simon's penalty. Call me unprofessional, but hey this isn't my profession! Unless things start to turn around, I am going to bury my head in my keyboard and watch highlights from our win over the Rangers on Monday night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Live In-Game Blog 11-21-07!

Technology permitting, I will be doing a live in-game blog for Wednesday's game vs. Montreal. Check back here during the game for regular updates.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Battle for New York, Part II

At the first Islanders/Rangers game back on 10/10, the energy in the Coliseum was lacking, despite the full house. The often the case with this rivalry, where the early games tend to lack the sense of urgency that builds later in the season. In fact when the schedule was released, I was disappointed that the first two games between the teams were being played at home, where a raucous crowd can give the team an edge.

Tonight's game had a very different feel to it. Before the puck was dropped, I commented to Tom from Tiger Track that we should set an over/under on crowd fights. The night just had that type of feel to it. The teams gave the fans no reason to settle down, playing fast-paced hockey uninterrupted by a whistle for almost 9 minutes to open the game.

But before that, one of the night's big questions was answered when, about 6 minutes in, DP flashed his right pad to make a great save, easing the minds of many who were concerned about the condition of his injured eye.

Most of the first period continued with a lot of end-to-end action but few quality scoring chances. Things started to get a little chippy late, with Sutton laying a strong open-ice check on Prucha, followed by Prucha taking a retaliatory penalty on Richard Park with 1:26 to go. The Isles could get the PP going and the period ended scoreless.

The second period started all Islanders. New faces Ben Walter and Tim Jackman made their presence known early. In his little ice time so far, Walter has shown a good nose for the puck, and Jackman introduced himself with a big hit, followed immediately by charging to the net for a great scoring chance.

Shortly after the Chicken Dance (yes, the Rangers DO suck), the Isles took their first penalty of the game. The PK looked great, limiting the Rangers to just one late shot on goal. Unfortunately, that one (a point shot from Drury), found its way through DPs pads. I'm sure it's one he would like to have back.

That's how the period ended. Normally a 1-0 deficit would be little reason for concern. But the Rangers have started to build a reputation as a team that wins this type of game.

Early in the third, as I was watching a rowdy Rangers fan get escorted out by security, the Isles tied it up with a nice goal by Hunter (his 4th). Unfortunately, a few minutes later Mara was left alone near the right post, and he put an easy one away to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead. Not helping the momentum swing, Jackman took a bad penalty behind the play to give the Rangers PP #2. Unlike the first power play, the Rangers had a lot of great chances but weren't able to capitalize.

The next PP chance went to the Isles who took advantage to even the game up at 2, on Fedotenko's 5th of the year. With 10 minutes to go, the tension was really starting to build.

Now the Isles are buzzing, and before I know it Satan scores the go-ahead goal, his third in the last two games. The crowd is starting to take a more active role, and I count crowd fight #4. The pace of the game grows more and more frantic. DP makes a series of PHENOMENAL saves, and we finally get a whistle with 3:05 to go in the game.

With 2:05 to play, Rozsival takes a penalty for holding the stick. Kill this penalty and the 2 points are ours...0:36 to go..."YOU CAN'T BEAT US!" chants everywhere...maybe premature and Lundvist heads for the bench and Hunter takes a penalty with 0:18 to go...Rangers will have a 5-on-4 skater advantage with an offensive zone draw...finally time expires and DP stabs his stick into the air in victory.

Another great game in this heated rivalry. Let's hope the "Rangers hangover" doesn't affect us on Saturday against the Devils. After the 10/10 game, I predicted the days of experiencing this let-down were behind us, and we proceeded to lose to Toronto 8-1 the next night. Hopefully that's an experience they learned from, and they'll continue winning these all important divisional games.

Thanks to Tim Jackman for taking time to answer our questions after the game. Unfortunately most of our questions focused on what happened in the locker room between the second and third period...he missed everything since he was in the training room getting stitched up.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


The Islanders are often criticized as an organization that holds on to the past with too firm a grip, relying too heavily on promoting its "Dynasty Years" at the expense of the here and now. So I understood when some categorized the decision to invite Al Arbour back to coach his 1500th game with the team as a mere publicity move, another attempt to capitalize on the rich history of the Islanders. Personally, I took no exception to the decision, but honestly figured it would just be another game with a nice little post-game ceremony to remind us all of greater times.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Within the 60 minutes of the game, the team played with greater intensity than I've seen in a while. Everyone was skating (even ignoring of his two goals, when is the last time we saw Satan hustle like that?), finishing their checks, and playing with what can only be defined using the greatest of sports cliches - heart. I heard several people sitting near me echo my own thoughts, that the game had a playoff-like feeling to it. Even when the Isles were trailing 2-0, I felt like the team was playing great hockey. I felt like they were going to win the game. After Satan scored the go ahead goal and the final 2:41 ticked off the clock, it felt like the perfect ending to a fantastic game. Who knew that the real excitement hadn't even begun.

The post game ceremony was executed perfectly. I've been in attendance for many similar tributes over the years, but none came close to the feeling in the Coliseum on Saturday night. In speaking to a few people who watched it on TV, I'm glad to hear that it translated well even for those who weren't there for the live experience. It was also great to see the vast majority of the sell-out crowd stay for the ceremony. I doubt that many, if any, regretted staying.

At the conclusion of the ceremony we made our way down the tunnel to the press conference room. The atmosphere around the locker room was one I've never experienced before. Certainly part of that was due to the number of all time greats and fan favorites around every corner - Bossy, Lafontaine, Trottier, Gillies, Cairns, Webb, and Torrey to name a few. But more than that, it was the reaction of all of these men to the night. To a man, they all had huge smiles and could be heard sharing stories about Arbour and their feelings on the night.

If there was still any doubt as to what the night meant to these guys, Clark Gillies, Jean Potvin, and Ted Nolan erased it. As I walking to the press conference room, Gillies walked up next to me and announced to no one in particular that he absolutely needed to go watch Arbour's conference. He was smiling like a kid on Christmas morning standing amidst the media watching Al talk about the night. Not to be outdone, Jean Potvin (who entered the room a bit later) started climbing across folding chairs, ultimately settling with one leg on a chair and one on a locker bench to ensure he had a great view of his old coach. When Nolan entered the room, he was smiling wider than I've seen after a game. Normally extremely quiet during his post game comments, after this particular game he could be heard even by those standing in the back of the room.

When I finally left, over an hour after the game had ended, there were still dozens of hockey legends in the hallways sharing stories and talking about Al Arbour. Let the critics say what they will, THIS is how you honor tradition.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Free Agent Forward Update #1

I thought it would be fun to periodically track the performance of the key free agent forwards that were associated with the Islanders during this past offseason. The list isn't comprehensive (e.g. no Vasicek), but represents the key names discussed by fans and the media prior to the start of the season.

We'll see if the common perception is correct - that the Rangers, Avs...etc. were the most successful players in free agency, while the Isles had to settle for the "leftovers".

The following shows goals, assists, and each player's salary for the '07-'08 season:

Bill Guerin = 4G, 6A, $4.5M
Mike Comrie = 5G, 5A, $3.375M
Ruslan Fedotenko = 2G, 5A, $2.9M
Total = 11G, 16A, $10.775M
Stats = 9 points per player; 2.5 points per million spent

Jason Blake = 2G, 9A, $5.0M
Ryan Smyth = 3G, 3A, $7.5M
Victor Kozlov = 2G, 1A, $2.5M
Total = 7G, 13A, $15.0M
Stats = 7 points per player; 1.3 points per million spent

Opted to go to NYR:
Scott Gomez = 2G, 1A, $10.0M
Chris Drury = 1G, 5A, $7.1M
Total = 3G, 6A, $17.1M
Stats = 4.5 points per player; 0.5 points per million spent

Three weeks into the season, and so far it's looking like Garth Snow's patience is paying off. I will update this as we progress through the season - whether the results are good or bad.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Impact of Special Teams Play

It was great to see the Isles get a win on the road vs. the Caps, considering the relatively long layoff since their previous game in Philly. After getting off to a very slow start, they began to get their legs back under them midway through the first period and dominated the majority of play from that point forward. With only two games in the next 13 days, the team's ability to get going early is going to be particularly important.

The aspect of last night's game (and really the whole season thus far) that took precedence for me was the special teams play. I know it's still early, but the team's success on the PP and PK is what is giving me the greatest confidence that we can sustain success for the season.

As of today, our penalty kill is ranked fourth in the league. We've killed off 90% of our penalties overall - 18 of 19 at home (95%) and 18 of 21 on the road (86%). Whether fairly or not, the Isles seem to get called for a disproportionate number of penalties - we are currently seventh is the league in terms of times shorthanded - so dominance on the PK becomes even more critical. Beyond the numbers, I've been very impressed thus far with the aggressiveness and positioning of our PK'ers. Beyond the usual suspects (Witt, Sutton) we have a lot of guys that are willing to sacrifice their body to keep the puck from reaching the net. And speaking of the net, your goaltender always has to be your best penalty killer, and DP has been great so far.

On the flip side, our power play is now ranked third in the league at 25.8%. Unlike the PK, at this point the team is doing a far better job on the road (7 of 17) than at home (1 of 14). Berard has clearly had an impact on the PP, and so far he's not been a liability in 5-on-5 situations (unlike "healthy scratch" MAB). Under the direction of Coach Gallant, the team worked extensively on the PP during camp. Honestly, I can't define exactly what is different from last year, but the results have been impressive so far.

I hate to trend out early season performance (did anyone else have them at 82-0 after they swept Buffalo in the home-and-home to start the year?) but continued success on special teams will certainly go a long way to ensuring a return to the post-season.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sports Business Journal Covers the Blog Box

Following's coverage of the Blog Box, here is the Sports Business Journal's take on things...

Click here to read all about it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Good, The Bad, and The Bruno

There's just something about beating the Rangers that makes all seem right in the world. Particularly these '07-'08 Rangers, the team that - according to hockey "experts" - has been predetermined to win the Cup ever since Drury and Gomez put pen to paper and joined hockey's version of "The Evil Empire". Ted Nolan did a great job last year erasing the term "Rangers Hangover" from the team's vocabulary, so hopefully they can keep the good times rolling on Thursday in Toronto. In the meantime, here are my thoughts from the 2-1 victory...

The Good

- Let's start with a big Welcome Back to Bryan Berard. In a previous post, I talked about being skeptical about the decision to bring him back to the Island. Those feelings haven't changed (yet), but regardless of my personal opinions it's impossible not to feel good to see #4 back where he started, after all he's been through.

- DP was outstanding. You can tell that he savors the rivalry with the Rangers, and it's no coincidence that he's played some of his best games against them. It wouldn't be fair to say he stole the game - that would do a disservice to the 18 guys playing in front of him - but he was rock solid from start to finish and did all the team could ask for and more.

- The penalty kill was very effective. The team was short-handed for just over 9 minutes, and for almost all of that time they were well-positioned, aggressive, and responsible. Just thinking about the intra-divisional games we play against high powered offenses (PITT, NYR), a strong PK is going to be a key ingredient in our success this season.

The Bad

- Indications are the Jon Sim may well be out for the entire season. This is certainly a disappointment, as I felt his style of play was a great complement to the Sillinger-Hunter line. The silver-lining is that this will give Tambellini the opportunity to prove what he can do at the NHL level.

- Nolan essentially only rolled 3 lines last night. Bergenheim played a total of 2:35 for the entire game, despite the fact that (according to Nolan himself) Bergy has been playing a strong game thus far this year. I don't have a problem with this in and of itself, I just worry that relying on three lines can take its toll over the course of the season and we risk having a group of very tired players come April.

After the game we had an opportunity to speak with Bruno Gervais before the team left for the airport to make the trip to Toronto. As a brief aside, let me say that he seems to genuinely be one of the nicest people I've ever met in professional sports. Now, on to his responses...

- Speaking about how the addition of Berard and playing 7 defensemen impacts his ability to time his shifts: "You don't really notice a difference. When [Coach Nolan] says your name, you just jump out there and do a good job. Bryan played a great game tonight. You just go out there and do whatever it takes to get a win."

- On how all the new players have come together as a team - "It's been tremendous, it's been unreal. All the guys we brought in are just great guys, so much fun to be around. First thing we noticed during training camp in the first week is that we felt like we've been together for 10 years. Guys clicked right away and we have so much fun in the locker room, so much fun at every team event, you just love to be on the ice together. That's the best way to work."

- On whether he feels added pressure with 7 defensmen currently on the team - "Not really, because you have a lot of different types of defensemen. Witter and Martinek are really good defensively, they block shots. The you've got Bergeron and Berard and Campoli who are good with the puck and try to get some chances. So we each have a different personality, things we do on the ice."

- On focusing on containing Jagr - paraphrasing...All we focus on is our game. Every team we play we focus on playing our game. You need to make sure you're aware of where he is on the ice, but our guys played a great game tonight.

- If the high number of back-to-back games this season affects his preparation - "To be honest, I didn't even notice that. We've got a great strength coach right now, he's doing a great job...the schedule is something I don't control."

Thanks again to Bruno for spending some time with us.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sports Illustrated Coverage of NYI Blog Box

Please click here to read Richard Deitsch's piece from on the NYI Blog Box.

Somehow, this grand experiment seems all the more real now. I'm proud to be able to go along for the ride...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Opening Weekend / Benefits of Blogging

On Friday night, the team posted a great win with more offense than I ever would have imagined for a season opener. We enjoyed a tighter but equally exhilarating win at home on Saturday to open the season 2-0 for the first time since Peca and Yashin were fresh faces on the Island.

Just when I thought opening weekend couldn't get any better, it did.

Immediately after the game, those of of lucky enough to be contributing to the NYI Blog Box were escorted from our seats above Section 201 down to the Isles tunnel. That feeling in and of itself was surreal. I'd been in there once before, but never with the buzz of a just concluded game still in the air. For a hockey fan, it was a great experience. In the short walk to Ted Nolan's press conference room, we got see DP riding the stationary bike while enjoying some playoff baseball on the TV, Bergenheim and Sutton chatting to some friends and family, and equipment being shuttled out for the Sabres.

In the room, Chris Botta of the Islanders was nice enough to arrange for Chris Campoli to come in and answer questions exclusively for the bloggers. Among the highlights:

  • On the prospect of Berard's signing looming over his head - "Just go play the game". Chris was clear that he worries about only the things in his control. He said he prepares every night to do his job, which is to play the game. If for any reason he doesn't play, it means he needs to work harder to get back into the lineup.
  • On being paired with Gervais - "We know each other well, on and off the ice". He indicated they've developed good communication with each other and have been moving the puck well so far this year. He said that as a couple of young players, they don't always get respect from other teams, especially their best players.
  • On the questionable officiating - "I think no matter where you play or who you play for, you always think the referees are against you". Basically he said that they understand that not every call will go their way, so they need to do what they can by playing smart. He referenced last season's questionable video reviews and concluded the only solution is to "put it in so everyone can see it".
  • On his early season offensive contributions - "Shooting the puck...I got away from that last year a little bit". He indicated that contributing offensively is a big part of his game, and his confidence in his shot is high at this point in the season.

After our time with Chris, we were able to stay and watch Coach Nolan's press conference in the midst of all the "legitimate" press on hand. From there, we took a quick trip to the locker room. All the while, players (MAB, Dubie), coaches (Nolan, Ruff), and staff were all in our midst. Like I said before, an amazing experience for a hockey fan.

On the way out, Deb Kaufman was nice enough to stop and chat for a bit. She clued us in on where to get the best snacks next time we are "behind the scenes". Thanks to Deb for being so gracious and giving us some of her time.

As a final note, thanks to Chris Botta and Corey Witt for organizing everything for us. The treatment was great and I look forward to doing it again soon! Also, it was a pleasure meeting all my fellow bloggers and hope to see you all again at future games.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Roster Backlash

The most controversial aspect of yesterday's roster announcement for most Islanders fans was the inclusion of Andy Hilbert over Jeff Tambellini. I'll admit that I too was hoping to get a better taste of Tambellini's offensive potential on our second line this season. And I'm not convinced we still won't see that at some point this year. But for now, let's get down from the ledge and put everything into perspective.

Everyone is quick to point to the numbers and say that it took 25 games for Hilbert to score his first goal last year, and that he finished the full NHL season with only 28 points. What people are quick to forget is that he was a key member of what was our consistently best line. Granted, Hunter and Sillinger played more integral roles towards that success, but Hilbert was a big part of it. He's a solid two-way player and was often matched up against the opposition's top line. His perceived lack of offense should not overshadow these less tangible contributions. This year his defensive skills will come into play even more, now that he's on as line with the offensive-minded Satan and Vasicek.

On the other end, you have Tambellini and his 30 goals in 50 games for Bridgeport. Obviously these are good numbers, but AHL success doesn't always translate to the big show. If you were to trend out his stats from his 23 NHL games last year into a full season, he would end up with 32 points. Let's keep that in mind before we all get too crazy with the decisions that were made. It's not like we sent down a guy that was averaging a point-per-game at the NHL level.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Tambellini and from a goal-scoring perspective I have little doubt he can produce more than Hilbert. But there's more to the game than just scoring, and Hilbert brings more of those intangibles. At this point, before the first puck is dropped on the 2007-2008 season, I trust Nolan and Snow to make the right decision for the team. Hopefully as we get into the season, I won't have reason to question their judgment. Hope to see everyone out at the Coliseum on Saturday. Let's go Islanders!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Next One's For Real

From guest blogger Brian Carey...

The Islanders took on the Bruins yesterday afternoon in their final exhibition game before they kick off the season in Buffalo on Friday. The lineup was just about what we can expect for the regular season. One surprise though was the absence of Sean Bergenheim and the presence of Darryl Bootland. I won't speculate too much but it's possible that Tambellini was getting one last shot to crack the lineup. I would have expected both Tambellini and Bergenheim to get roster sports until Chris Simon is back from suspension but it may be possible that Nolan wants some added toughness to start the season, hence, Bootland. It will be interesting to see when the final roster is announced.

Defensively, the pairings were pretty much what I expected, but Gervais got the nod over Campoli, Meyer and Johnson for the last spot. Will this hold up when the team arrives in Buffalo? Will they carry an extra defenseman or risk losing Campoli or Meyers to waivers?

Isles won the game 4-2 on two goals from Satan, one from Comrie and the last from Sim. The game displayed both the strengths and weaknesses of the Islanders.

Isles had a tough time containing the speed of the Bruin's forwards at times but simply outworked Boston to create scoring chances, especially the Isles first line. The Isles played a physical game which cost them a few penalties but which they'll have to keep up to slow down fast teams.

I don't see any reason why the Isles can't compete for a playoff spot this year. Criticism of this team is fair, and team speed could make or break them. If they can limit their penalties and maintain their physical style, they should have a shot.

Side Note: In my blog from Lowell, I mentioned that Ted Nolan did not make the trip. As we have all learned, this is due to the death of his brother. My condolences to Ted and his family. Looking forward to seeing him behind the bench soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bad Night in Lowell

From guest blogger Brian Carey...

Perhaps it was the all too familiar post-Rangers hangover or the sparse Lowell crowd, but right from the drop of the puck, you had that feeling it was going to be a long night, ultimately leading to a 6-1 defeat. The Islanders left most of their veterans home, leaving the job of facing the Devils to those players mostly destined for Bridgeport. In fact, Ted Nolan didn't even make the trip, leaving the coaching duties to his assistants. That should have been a clear indication that the Isles attention was focused elsewhere (MSG anyone?).

Not surprisingly. the Isles came out sluggish in the opening 5 minutes and it was 3-0 before I was halfway through my first beer. Because you had very few players that were really playing for jobs with the big club, no one seemed intent on making a real run at a comeback. Tim Jackman did his best by dropping the gloves twice, but couldn't spark his teammates to any action.

There was some solid play by veterans Park and Sim, and Hunter stood out as well. As you might expect given the score, there were no particular defensive standouts, and I'd be hard pressed to make a choice between Berard, Campoli and Gervais. Hopefully there will be some more inspired play the last few exhibition games and someone will stand out.

On a personal note, had a chance to meet Garth Snow, as well as Chris King and Steve Mears. All were very friendly and took a few minutes out for some hockey conversation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fight Night in the Old Barn

Wow. Without a doubt the best preseason game I've ever been to. Granted, if you're only interested in crisp passing, pretty goals, and stellar goaltending, perhaps you were less than satisfied. But for pure entertainment value, it's hard to beat our first and only home preseason game of the year.

For those that missed it - a comeback from a 4-1 deficit, a win in OT, 45 penalties totaling 165 minutes, 6 game misconducts, and the return of the chicken dance. Yes, I did just say 165 penalty minutes in a "meaningless" game. Plus we all became more familiar with our new faces, with goals being scored by Comrie (2), Guerin, Fedotenko, and Vasicek (plus three assists from Berard).

This is the kind of game that can really bring a team together. With so many new faces, the ability of our guys to gel as a "team" was a big question mark entering the season. Time will tell, but this one game may have done more for team chemistry than any training camp team-building exercise ever could. It was great seeing our guys stick up for each other, and battle to get back into the game. It was the kind of game, meaningless or not, that makes you proud to be an Islanders fan.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Camp Opens Tomorrow!

The team will be arriving in Moncton later today, with camp officially starting tomorrow. It was an eventful summer and we had a lot of Isles news to hold us over, but nothing can match the start of camp and, in less than a month, the season. Here are some of the key questions that will finally be answered over the coming weeks...

Will Berard make the team? Or will Gervais and Campoli have a solid camp and prove they deserve to be on the roster? Maybe there will be a surprise and we'll see a new face (Johnson, Fata, McDonald) step up and make the decision even tougher for Snow and Nolan. I have a top 6 in mind at this point, but a lot can happen during camp to change opinions.

Which young forwards will we will see in orange and blue? Ok, so Bridgeport is wearing orange and blue too this year, but you know what I mean. Anyone who's been following this team or who's read the "Countdown to Camp" series on the Isles official site knows that we have a lot of forwards competing in camp. And there's simply not enough room for everyone. The "locks" to make the team are - Guerin, Comrie, Satan, Hunter, Sillinger, Fedotenko, Vasicek, Sim, and Bergenheim. I would assume Simon is close to a lock as well, once his suspension is complete. That leaves two spots to be filled, with a lot of familiar and new faces in the mix - Bates, Park, Hilbert, Tambellini, Nielsen, Comeau, Regier, Walter...etc. Frankly, I have no idea at this point how it is all going to shake out. For me, this is the biggest story I'll be following during camp.

Will DP stay healthy and continue his rise towards being an elite NHL goalie? I was hugely impressed by DPs development last year, and continue to think he is the key to our success in '07-'08. I love Dubie, but our success clearly rides on Ricky's shoulders.

Will Ted Nolan once again defy ALL prognosticators and lead this team back to the playoffs? I only get angry looking at so-called "expert" predictions for the coming season, but I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. We continue to get no respect throughout the hockey world. Lucky for us, they still play the games. I believe we will have a better team than we did last year. Not dramatically, but enough to be in the mix come playoff time once again. From there, anything can happen.

The last question is for us - can hockey once again thrive on Long Island? Sure, winning cures all, and will bring back all the fair weather fans. But in the meantime, can we as fans help to build support for our team? The team has done a lot to help connect fans with the team - ITV, the Blog Box, the marketing campaigns - but no one can help build support better than the fans. Go to the games and demand better coverage from our local media. It's a start. Like I've said to many people, I love being able to get in and out of the Coliseum lot on game nights, but nothing is better than a game with 16,234 loud fans supporting our team. Let's go Islanders!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Berard to Tryout

There are reports out of Canada that Bryan Berard has accepted an invitation to Islanders camp to win a job through an open tryout. With a handful of notable names around the league still unsigned, I would expect to hear about more cases of this happening with other teams. But for this team and this particular player, I really don't understand the motivation.

The only logic that makes any sense is that his veteran presence will provide good motivation for the young guys (Gervais and Campoli) to step up during camp. It always helps to have someone ready to earn your spot to provide that extra little spark. Beyond that, the benefits are unclear.

Taking for granted that Witt, Sutton, Bergeron and Martinek have already earned spots (and that Nolan will not keep more than 6 D-men on the team) we now have 4 guys - Gervais, Campoli, Meyer, and Berard - competing for two spots. I've mentioned in previous posts that I don't see Meyer being more than a depth defenseman waiting in the wings in Bridgeport. Given Martinek's penchant for injury and Witt/Sutton's aggressive natures, depth is something this team needs and likely will rely on at some point during the year. So that leaves three players for two spots, and I'm assuming Berard wouldn't accept a contract if he was going to be in the minors.

So that leaves the question - who's the best duo for the team? And if Berard makes the team, will the development of the player sent down be hindered in the minors? To me the answer is simple - we've seen enough from Gervais and Campoli to justify their continued development at the NHL level. Campoli had a rock-solid rookie year, and I believe that a contributing factor to his slow start last year was a lack of confidence. Remember, going into the year he was a lock for a starting job. Then he got hurt, and when he was ready to rejoin the team they kept him in the minors for quite some time, until a spot opened for him. Gervais is a guy that I think improved little-by-little over the course of last season, and was one of our better defenseman during our brief playoff run. Both guys are young and have a lot of upside. Despite my highest hopes for the team this year, we're not favorites for the Cup right now. Let's continue to let these guys develop and see if they can become fixtures on our blue line for many years to come.

The alternative to is to give a spot to a guy that has one bad eye and two back surgeries on his resume. Over the least three seasons, he's only been healthy enough to play in 113 games. And over that period he offers a plus/minus of -57. For a stat like that, I would have preferred to pay for Souray and gotten all of his offensive upside. This team already has too many "spare parts" in their roster of forwards, no need to muddy things with one more on the defensive end.

Friday, August 17, 2007

In With the New

Mid-August is not usually a hot time for hockey news, but we've had a few items to satisfy our appetites over the last couple of weeks.

First came the signing of big 6'6" defender Andy Sutton to a 3 year deal, seemingly ending Snow's quest for blue-line help for the upcoming season. While a 3-year, $9M deal seems a bit steep to me (although who came at a bargain during this wild off-season?) he fills a need for a big, strong defensive-minded defenseman. I view him as a significant upgrade to what Hill brought to the team last year. He is +19 over his last two seasons with Atlanta, and adds a little offensive punch with over 20 points in 3 of his last 4 seasons. With someone of his size, speed is always a concern. But it may help to know that he was a forward most of his life, until he made the switch to D during college.

Next, Snow addressed the need for additional help at center by signing Josef Vasicek to a 1-year deal. Not a big name signing, but given what was available I think it was a smart move. He's been to the Cup Finals twice in his short career, including one win. You can't underestimate the value in the locker room of having players with good playoff experience. He's got good size and has shown real offensive potential. Here's hoping that Nolan is able to get the most of him and get him back to the 40+ point level.

My primary concern with the roster at this point is that we have a number of guys signed to short-term deals. This is great in that it gives us flexibility to be major players in future FA markets, but it begs an important question. If we achieve the kind of success we are all hoping for, what are the odds we'll be able to keep this team together beyond this year? Comrie, Vasicek, Bergenheim, Hunter, Satan...none of these guys are locked beyond this season. It's an interesting position to be in, and time will tell what our roster will look like next season and beyond.

This brings us to the last news item, the new jerseys debuting this season. Accepting that a change was mandatory, I like the jerseys, particularly the home blue style. I'm glad they kept it relatively traditional. I would have been fine keeping the jerseys the same, but they didn't do much for fans to hate. After the fisherman debacle, that is saying a lot. For fans looking to buy a new jersey, the only question is - whose name and number can you get and feel comfortable it won't be outdated in the next season or two? Aside from DP, that's a tough one to answer.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Asham to NJ

There are reports today indicating that Aaron Asham has signed with the Devils. At this point, terms of the deal haven't been disclosed. Certainly, the fact that he's no longer an Islander isn't a big surprise. It's become clear over the past month that he wasn't in Snow's plans, especially after Chris Simon was re-signed. But in today's NHL, where the Isles roster seems to go through major turnover every year, it's worth noting that Asham has been a mainstay on the team for 4 good seasons.

To me, he's always been a guy that is this close to having a breakout year. He has one of the better slapshots I've seen, he's arguably the best middle-weight fighter in the league, and he plays with a good edge to his game. But it never quite all came together well enough for him to post a 20-goal season, or physically dominate night in and night out. All that said, I'm not too happy to see that he'll be staying in the division, where we'll have to face him 8 times next year. With our luck, now that he's moved on he'll finally put it all together and have the break-out season we all were hoping for while he was on the Island.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Captain Question

When I first heard that Bill Guerin was named captain, I assumed it was something that was negotiated and agreed to before he chose to sign here. Basically a prerequisite for coming to the Island. Later that day, I read that he was completely shocked by the move. I was skeptical at first, assuming that it was just a PR move and he really knew all along it was going to happen. But then I watched the video from the press conference, and I believe he was genuinely surprised. While I think Guerin will be a good captain and provide solid leadership, it does pose a few interesting questions.

First, does it make sense to give the "C" to a guy who hasn't spent any time, let alone met, most of the team? He's a veteran player that seems to be well respected, but there's no guarantee how he'll fit in with the team or if he's our best option for leadership in a locker room with other veteran leaders. How does it affect guys like Witt or Sillinger, who have an established presence with the team, to not be given the opportunity to earn the captaincy in camp? If the team doesn't feel Guerin's earned it, will it make it harder for him to command the respect he needs as captain?

Second, being a captain is an honor that most players take seriously. We've seen situations where players have turned down the "C" because they either felt unworthy or unwilling to take on the responsibility (see Jagr, Jonsson). Shouldn't the idea have been discussed with Guerin before the introductory press conference? Maybe he would have felt more comfortable earning it at the end of camp. Either way, he would have had input into how it was done.

My feeling is, there's no real benefit to handing out the "C" the way the Isles did. If you believe Guerin is your guy, give it to him during or after camp. That way, there is a sense that it is earned. Plus, if you learn during camp that he is not the right leader for this team, you have other candidates to choose from. I'm confident it will all work out. Let's hope it does, because after the last few years of Yashin's mismatched leadership we need a new face for the franchise.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

State of the Roster

So here we are in late July. The frenzy from the free agency period has quieted, and we have a few months to go before camp opens. Let's evaluate the state of the team as it stands now.
Ted Nolan's philosophy is that you build a championship team from the back-end forward. So that's how I'll look at the roster...

Our goaltending situation is straighforward...if DP stays healthy, we are in great shape. Last season, he established himself as a top 10 goalie in the league. With better defensive help, he can enter the top 5. Think back to all of the games last year where he single-handedly stole 1 or 2 points for this team (56 saves vs. the Rangers, anyone?). The logic of a 15 year deal notwithstanding, goaltending is the least of our concerns entering the 2007-2008 season. Behind Ricky, I am so happy to see Dubie get his shot in the NHL. I've been a fan since his first call-up back in the 2003-2004 season. I love his passion and attitude, not to mention the guy's got solid numbers (2.34 GAA, .921 save % in 17 regular season NHL games). I won't lose any confidence when Dipietro needs a rest and we see Yoda between the pipes.

Given the importance of defense to this coaching staff (and to any successful team), I'm a bit surprised we haven't done more to solidify the D unit. Of course, it's only July so it's premature to assume the D corps we have now will be the same that we see on the ice on October 5. There are still some attractive free agents available (Markov, Sutton, Tanabe), with various rumors potentially tying any and all of them to the Isles. Then again, one thing I've learned since the July 1 free agency kick-off is that 95% of rumors turn out to be false (I'm looking at you, hockeybuzz). So looking at our current roster, Witt (toughness/grit) and Bergeron (scoring) fill much needed prototypical roles. I love Martinek and think he is a well rounded defensemen, but I question his ability to stay healthy for a full season. Campoli was great two years back but regressed a bit last year. I think he needs to add size and will develop into a strong NHL player, but for the purposes of our season I hope that development happens sooner rather than later. As for Gervais, I watched his play evolve over the course of last season, and am confident he will be a solid D-man for years to come. Unlike many fans, I want to see both of these young players continue to perform at the NHL level rather than Bridgeport. There might be some growing pains, but it's in the best long-term interest of the team. As for Meyer, I personally don't see how he fits in well with this team. He is a good depth defenseman, but I don't love him as a starter. I'd like to see us bring in one of the top remaining FAs to fill that spot. Poti will be missed, but I think adding a FA, coupled with the development of Campoli/Gervais, will sufficiently offset his production.

Obviously, next year's team will have a very different look to it. Rather than go player-by-player, let's focus on some of the changes for next year. First the departures. The buyout of Yashin is definite addition by subtraction. He has an amazing shot, but his lack of effort clearly had a negative impact on the team. Just look at the team's record of success without him in the lineup. He always seemed like a nice guy and I wish him luck wherever he plays next. As for Blake, clearly his loss will be felt. I agree with the decision to not resign him given the terms he ultimately got from Toronto (although I'd like a refund for the Blake jersey I bought my wife last year), but you don't easily replace 40 goals. Despite what some called "selfish play", I'll miss Blake and the hustle he showed every game. I was a fan of Kozlov but see his departure as a chance to redefine the type of team the Islanders are. Finally, Smyth. I was and continue to be in favor of the move to bring him to the Island. Snow made a bold move to "win today", which we have rarely seen in our recent history. Unfortunately he opted to go to Colorado. I would have like to see him in orange and blue next year, but relative to last year's team (and his limited time/impact with us) I don't think we are worse off without him. Now, the additions. I like what Snow did, bringing in some quality players under good terms (aka short-term deals). This will give us flexibility to allow our young players to develop and crack the roster, and be active in the free agent market in subsequent years. Guerin is a great leader, gritty player, and quality goal scorer. A great signing. I became a fan of Comrie's play last year, watching him with Ottawa. More accurately, I was a Comrie hater...but now that he's on my side I am loving it. I think Fedotenko will have a breakout year and could net around 25 goals given the extra ice time, although I do think we overpaid a bit for him. If those guys form our top line, I think we can be successful. I know little about Jon Sim and don't recall having noticed his play, so I'll hold off on judgment until the season starts. As for other "new" faces, I'm excited about the return of Bergenheim to the team. He showed flashes of greatness in his previous stint with the team, and I think he has the potential to become the rare Isles prospect to develop into a premier forward in the league. Add to these guys the returning players (Sillinger, Hunter, Satan...etc.), I think we have the potential to have 7 or 8 20+ goals scorers. If this is the case and we can roll 4 solid lines, we will win a lot of hockey games.

I'm a big Ted Nolan fan. I know it's become cliche, but I think he can bring the best out of our players and have the team continue to perform beyond the expectations of the so-called "experts" in the hockey media.

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading through my first (lengthy) blog. Future entries will be shorter, I promise. I'm looking forward to reading your comments and hope that you'll come back to this page for Isles talk throughout the season. Let's go Islanders!!


Thanks for visiting my blog. I am a lifelong Islanders fan and look forward to discussing the team throughout the season. I'll do my best to make this a great source for Islanders information and hope we can have some great discussions throughout the year. Let's go Islanders!!