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.