A work trip to Germany mercifully kept me insulated from hockey for much of the last week. And as much as I love watching hockey, I don't have what it takes to watch a loss on the DVR if I already know the unfortunate outcome. So last night's loss in Philly is the first game I've seen since we beat the Sens on home ice back on November 25.
The thing that struck me watching last night's game was the renaissance of Andy Hilbert. For the previous 2 seasons, Hilbert was the target of many a fan's ire. I may have been known to make a joke or two at the expense of the man who on many occasions appeared allergic to the back of the net. I questioned the validity of his claim to a roster spot, and even now I stand by my feelings at the time.
But the organization showed patience towards his development. His game evolved, and over the course of last year he greatly improved the defensive aspects of his game. He became an essential cog in the PK. The goals still weren't coming, but at least he was creating an identity, reinforcing his belonging in the NHL.
This year, he's developing into a more well-rounded forward. He continues to be one of our best penalty killers. He up to 7 goals through 28 games, one fewer than his Islanders season high. And his minus 3 is the best among all forwards playing at least 15 games. He's the poster child for an organization's patience paying off. And to the handful of fans at the Coliseum each game screaming for Hilbert to "go to the bench"...this ain't 2006, have you actually watched this guy lately?
On the flip-side, today brought the news of the Isles placing Jon Sim on waivers after just 29 1/2 games as an Islander. So much for the analysts who liked to say thing like "People don't realize how much the loss of Sim hurt the Islanders last season." Apparently, not so much. At least not in Scott Gordon's system. I can't say I disagree with the move, and if it opens a spot for Comeau or Jackman full-time then it's all good. But it's funny, just hours after mulling over the patience shown to Hilbert, the team exhibits the exact opposite with Sim.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A work trip to Germany mercifully kept me insulated from hockey for much of the last week. And as much as I love watching hockey, I don't have what it takes to watch a loss on the DVR if I already know the unfortunate outcome. So last night's loss in Philly is the first game I've seen since we beat the Sens on home ice back on November 25.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Back on Nov 1, the Islanders gift-wrapped a win for the Canadiens, a nice early Christmas present. They put a pretty bow on it and placed it under the tree with a note reading "Do not open until 3rd period". For most of last night's rematch in Montreal, it appeared as if our hosts were going to be ungracious and not return the gesture.
Thankfully, there is at least one man in Montreal with good manners. There'll be an extra slice of yule log on the table this year for Ryan O'Byrne, who with just under 5 minutes to play scored an own goal on a delayed Isles penalty. You can watch the glorious replay here!
Now, I do feel bad for the kid. Those 2 seconds of watching the puck slide towards the net must have felt like an eternity. And no doubt the fans in Montreal will be tough on him. But I'll make no apologies for the win. It's nice to finally be on the receiving end of some good karma.
Lost in the mix of the craziness from the game are a few great stories. The continued resurgence of Doug Weight, Josh Bailey playing like he belongs, Mark Streit proving he's more than just a PP quarterback, and the makings of a goaltending controversy. But we'll save those for another day.
Tomorrow the Isles look to overspeed their way to the .500 mark. Less than 2 weeks ago, that seemed unfathomable. It's a testament to the quality of hockey we've been witnessing of late. I'll be the first to admit, I became disgruntled too early in the season. Now, I'm starting to believe.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Thanks to Arthur Staple, who gets Mr. Campbell to speak up here.
Quoting from the article,
"It was a tough one and we beat ourselves up about it all night," Campbell told Newsday on Monday morning. "We had 8-to-10 guys look at it, and after the hearing [Saturday morning], we took a couple extra hours to talk about it." It just wasn't a flagrant elbow to the head, the way the Pock one was."
This is the biggest load of BS I've heard in a while.
Watch the hit here.
Mottau literally has to jump into the air to lay the head shot onto Nielsen. I'm sorry, but his explanation is weak and a slap in the face to hockey fans everywhere. Reverse the jersey colors on this hit and tell me what you think happens?
Shame on you Colin Campbell. NHL discipline has become a joke. At a time when head shots have become front page news, this decision, or lack thereof, is pitiful.
One can only hope the Isles dish out their own justice the next time the teams meet.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Only briefly, because it's eloquated better elsewhere, but Mike Mottau of the Devils gets only two games for the hit on Frans Nielsen last night.
I know we Isles fans can sometimes find conspiracy where there's none, but explain to me how Thomas Pock is sitting five games? Because Pock received a major penalty?? You tell me that Mottau's hit only deserved a 2 minute minor? Please...
The NHL appears to have no rhyme or reason to their discipline policy. If they want fans to stop crying conspiracy then they need to start enforcing suspensions with some consistency.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Intangibles are very important in sports. Those qualities that you can't quite quantify or define. None is more important than momentum. A close second is confidence. No doubt, the Islanders left the Coliseum on Monday night with an abundance of both. Unfortunately, they were walking right into the biggest momentum killer of all - time off. While it's not as extreme as the 8-day break between games they'll experience from Jan 21 to Jan 29, 4 days off is a long stretch in the NHL. Relate it to your own jobs - when you come back to work on Monday after your 4-day Thanksgiving break (assuming you're lucky enough to have Friday off), won't it take you a little time to get back into "work mode"?
There are a few factors working to their advantage. Their game on Friday will mark the return of Brendan Witt, which will help both on the ice and in the locker room. It will also be the first time since roughly 2004 when we've had a fully healthy D corps. Plus, there won't be a fatigue factor from the short hop to Newark. And facing a Brodeur-less Devils is akin to the Jets facing a Brady-less Patriots. If you can't beat 'em now, then when?
As after any break, the first period will be key. How will the rested-yet-rusty Isles keep up with a Devils team playing its second game in two nights? I'll go out on a limb and predict that whoever leads after one wins the game.
It'll be nice to pick up a win at the Rock and regain some of that confidence and momentum as we head up to Buffalo. Personally, I'm hoping for a little payback for the 7-1 beatdown I witnessed back on Columbus Day. As far as individual game performances go, that was the low-point of our season. What better way to make a statement that this team is for real than to make amends for that performance?
Shake off the cobwebs, boys, it's time to get back to work.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Ask any Islander fan which is the one team that has given this organization fits over the past decade, and it wouldn't take long to figure it out. The Ottawa Senators have owned the Isles, posting a 35-12-11-1 record entering this season.
I have never agreed with taking an all-time series record to make a prediction of future results. Each season is different for every team, with new faces in the rotation and old faces gone. There's no denying though the confidence, or lack thereof, one organization can have playing another when the history is so lopsided. Such has been this series. New players, new coaches, same results.
Thus entering the back to back series with a record of 4-9-2, one had to believe that a bad situation was about to get worse. Granted, the Sens had been going through their own struggles this season and weren't the powerhouse they used to be... but again, look at the history. This was the two games to turn the Sens season around and send the Isles further into the cellar.
Right? Well, the Isles put together two back to back 60 minute efforts, something we haven't seen all year, and improved to 6-9-2. Suddenly this throw away season has some new life. Players and coaches are focusing on a return to .500 play. There appears to be a new sense of focus and energy.
That being said, is it possible that with their back to back wins, that the monkey is off the back of the Islanders? That somehow the failure of an organization over another that had crept into the psyche of the team is no more? Can the Isles use the two wins to turn the corner on a disappointing start to the season?
Something certainly feels different anyway.
The Canucks come to town tonight with their impressive start and reckon to be a force for the Isles to deal with. Can the Isles continue the momentum towards .500 with another win?
Thursday, November 13, 2008
I have to give credit where credit is due. The Rangers are one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. At the moment, I'd probably give a slight edge to Montreal. It's still early, and a lot can (and hopefully will) still change. But over the past few seasons, regardless of their record or place in the standings, I never considered them to be a true threat to even advance to the Cup Finals. Too many missing pieces. This year, things appear to be wide open.
For whatever reason I woke up this morning pondering what things would be like if, gasp, the Rangers win the Cup this year. And yes, I am knocking on wood as I write all of this.
It took me back to the summer of 1994. I was returning home after my freshman year of college. Through May and early June, I was dealing with some major damage to my knee which kept me distracted from most things - including, mercifully, the Rangers march towards the Eastern Conference Championship. I was certainly aware of it, it just wasn't as big a priority as it normally would have been. In early June I had knee surgery which essentially had me on modified bed rest for most of the summer. Which meant a lot of time planted in front of the TV. Just in time to watch 54 years of futility come to a gut wrenching end.
June 14, 1994 - a day that will live in infamy. Literally the second the clock hit triple-zeroes, I turned off the TV. I couldn't watch. I was depressed enough being laid up for the whole summer, I needed this like a proverbial hole-in-the-head. Try as I did, it was impossible to avoid coverage of the win. It took all I had not to jump out the window every time I saw the cackling Messiah Messier hoisting the Cup.
As guilty as I feel saying this...thank goodness for OJ. Three days after the Evil Empire proved you can buy the Stanley Cup, a former NFL star led the LAPD on a low-speed chase down I-405. From that moment, all you could find on TV was coverage of all things Simpson. No more media time for the NHL's new darlings. Like any victim in denial, I was able to pretend like it all never happened.
Should the unthinkable happen again this season, I actually think I'd be able to handle it a bit better. Maybe it's the natural maturity that comes with age, but realistically I haven't matured much over the years. I think what it boils down to is, as much as I despise the Rangers, I don't have a lot of hate for the current players on the roster. Sure, I hate Queen Henrik, but I respect his skills. And of course I loathe Colton Orr, but isn't that what he's there for? Beyond those clowns, the Rangers have put together a pretty good team. Sure, a lot of it was bought, but in this new salary cap era their moves are far less detestable than they were in the early 2000s. I think they've put themselves in a tough position for the future with some inflated contracts, but as far as the team today, it's pretty solid. If I'm being honest, I wouldn't mind having some of those pieces on our roster.
But still, it would hurt. A lot.
Between now and June, I'll continue to stick pins in my Drury voodoo doll. But should worse come to worst, I'll just move back to my state from 1994 - denial. I'll draw the curtains, plug my ears, and wait for October to come around and wipe the slate clean.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
We at Islanders 360 have received a copy of an official petition submitted by Charles Wang to the NHL's corporate headquarters in NYC. The one-page memo seeks the implementation of proposed rules changes "immediately and unilaterally". Our confidential source confirmed that this is an unprecedented move by a team's owner, yet those in power at the NHL are highly intrigued by his suggestions. The following italicized text contains the full contents of Wang's submission.
To Commissioner Bettman:
On behalf of the New York Islanders organization and General Manager Garth Snow, let me first commend you on the fantastic job you have done over the past 15 years as commissioner of the NHL. Our franchise is grateful for the dedication you've shown to the sport and, importantly, it's success on Long Island.
The purpose of this correspondence is to formally request the implementation of some changes to the official rulebook. We are requesting that these measures be enacted immediately and unilaterally.
In short, we propose that the league discontinue the archaic practice of recording wins and losses. Do you realize that the NHL maintained "standings" throughout the Bush Administration? Look it up, it's true. Aren't we all ready for change? I believe the country has answered that question with a resounding YES!
Consider the savings to the league. You no doubt employ a veritable army of accountants to maintain these win-loss ledgers. And how much more manpower have you required since the advent of the "Overtime Loss"? Imagine being able to cut all those bean counters from the payroll! There's also the benefit of increased employee satisfaction. Have you ever seen a player after a loss? He's bummed out. Now, what if you could promise every player he'd never experience the pain from a loss ever again! Imagine the satisfaction!! Besides, what ever happened to playing for the love of the game?
An obvious question is raised - how will we determine who earns the Stanley Cup? We have a solution for that important issue. Ever hear of a little show called American Idol? The American people love to vote on meaningless contests. They eat it up. After each game, you will open a toll-free line (reminding the people these are 888 numbers, not 800 numbers) and allow the country to vote for the team that demonstrated the most grit and character. At the end of the season, the team with the most votes hoists the Cup. No longer will teams that employ skill players be unfairly rewarded.
Should you deem this proposal too controversial, we have an alternative recommendation. End all games after 40 minutes. Earlier finishes will make the game more attractive to the youth of America whose bed-time prevents them from enjoying a full three periods. Growing the young fan-base will ensure the health of the sport for generations to come. It's called good sense.
If that doesn't sell you, here's plan C. The game ends once one team scores 3 goals. Because, um, 3's a magic number.
Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to the implementation of these suggestions post haste.
We at I360 applaud these visionary ideas. The ball's in your court, Commissioner. Do the right thing.
MC, clearly frustrated (and joking, in case it's not blatantly obvious)
Friday, November 7, 2008
Fom now on, I'm only going to be comfortable if the Islanders enter the third period either tied or losing, because playing with the lead is something this team cannot seem to handle, losing 4-3 to the Thrashers after holding a 3-1 lead early in the 3rd. Two quick early 3rd period goals by Atlanta put a damper on what was turning out to be a nice effort by the Isles.
Quoting from Logan's article, if Gordon thinks "it's more of a failure to do our system than anything else", one has to ask the question, is this just a team struggling with a new system, evidence of a failure of the coaching staff, or the players just taking leads for granted?
As I mentioned in a previous post, this team has mastered the art of the 40 minute game. If they show speed, puck movement and a scoring touch during 2 periods, then they clearly understand the system. What is it that causes this basic breakdown for the remaining 20 minutes? Does Gordon need to take a page out of the Ted Nolan motivational guide? I guess this is why there is a sports psychology profession.
As a fan, you're left shaking your head because one minute you think the team is ready to make the turn, to take the next step and throw together a few wins in a row. Then comes that cold hard slap.
So the Pens come to town tomorrow night. Let's hope the Isles figure this out. I know the playoffs area long shot, but giving up these critical points early in the year make the playoffs an even longer shot.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Answer honestly. When the Isles started the third period tonight up 3 goals, you thought right back to Saturday night. But wait, this is Columbus. We couldn't possibly squander this lead, right?
You could almost feel that the slighest bit of adversity would throw the Isles into a free fall. Such is the fragile psyche of this group right now. The Jackets first goal seem to instantly deflate the Isles confidence and you could hear the groans of even the most grisled fan.
Against the Canadiens, a clearly superior and more experienced team, you could make an excuse. However, the Jackets are a team the Isles should be capable of beating, which makes their 3rd period performance all the more frustrating. You have to think the Isles are fighting the mental game right now. They've mastered the 40 minute game but can't quite put together a full 60 minute effort. Yes, some of this is attributed to the skill level and experience of this group, but again, I suspect the most of the Isles issues reside above the shoulder pads.
Now, who knew that it would take 2 goals by Chris Campoli in overtime to seal the win?
One can only hope the OT redemption gives the Isles a boost in confidence going into the game tomorrow against the Rangers. I get the feeling that this team is capable of getting on a roll if they believe in themselves. A win against our rivals would go a long way.
Other Notes: Since when did "Chili" become 3 goals? Hopefully I'm only slightly dating myself by saying that I remember when 6 goals was "Chili". I understand reduced expectations but come on! 4 goals at least, please.
When the Isles announced a new (old) third jersey, I though, oh boy, here we go again. I must admit that I really like the new jersey. Am I ready for it to be our #1 jersey... hmm, maybe not quite yet but it's a classic look.
Speaking of jerseys.. when will the white return as the home standard?
Final thought... is Tambellini the new Hilbert?
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The start of a new NHL season is like starting in a new school. A fresh start. What happened last year doesn't matter. Nobody knows you. You can be who you want to be and you can start the year with all the optimism in the world.
Well the Isles started their new school with the persona of "overspeed". They survived the first few days before the bullies tracked us down for our daily after school beat down. Our lunch money has been stolen and we're a little bloodied.
A 2-6 start is not what any of us expected. Isles continue to make the same bad turnovers which lead to goals and our defense is shaken and badly wounded. The frustrating part is that this team has shown signs of figuring out this system. When they play it right, it works great. We limit opposition shots, take few bad penalties, and generate quality offensive chances. But boy, when it's not working, it's brutal to watch.
I mean, take away DP and Meyer's turnovers against Carolina and we win. A bad early goal against the Rangers and perhaps a different game. Shakey defense against Dallas and DP has no chance.
The question is now... what do we do about it? Do we accept the after school beatings or do we start fighting back? The other teams around the league are looking to see if we will tuck tail and run or stand up for ourselves.
The first positive sign was the team captains seeking coach Gordon out for a meeting yesterday. What comes out of that meeting remains to be seen but it's nice to see the veterans stepping up and not throwing in the towel. We're getting Sutton back on D this week which should help tremendously. Now, if we can only get a healthly, confident DP back in goal.
We start our new season tomorrow night in Philly. Another chance to right the ship and start showing the rest of the league that we won't lay down, that there's some fight left in us.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Five games into the season seems like a good time to take our first look into the numbers of the '08-'09 campaign. Sure it's early, but what can we tell so far about this year's Islanders versus last year's team?
They're pretty much the same. Or as the great Denny Green likes to say, they are who we thought they were.
Looking at 6 major metrics, we'll see that the team hasn't moved by more than four spots (in terms of ranking within the league) in any of them. For a team that by all accounts had a disappointing season last year, this is not what you want to see.
There are X-factors aplenty - learning the new system, the early injuries to our D-line, the fact that DP has only played one game so far...etc. But over the course of any season, issues will arise. You can only hang your hat on these for so long before they become the norm and define your entire year. So let's take a look at how we stack up year-over-year:
2007-2008 ; 2008-2009
Goals for 2.3/gm (30th) ; 2.2/gm (26th)
Goals against 2.9/gm (23rd) ; 3.2/gm (21st)
PP% 14.5% (29th) ; 11.1% (25th)
PK% 81.8% (19th) ; 80.0% (21st)
Shots/gm 29.7 (10th) ; 30.2 (10th)
Shots allw'd/gm 30.3 (21st) ; 32.4 (25th)
Beyond this, last year we averaged earning 0.96 points per game, and so far this year we are at 0.80 points per game.
Sure, at this point in the year a 3-game hot streak can completely change this picture. Just as a 3-game cold streak will, in the other direction. The point is, as I watch this team I can't shake that feeling of deja vu. That is what prompted me to look into these numbers in the first place...I keep feeling like I am watching last year's team with some new faces.
We'll check back into things in a few weeks, and see how the team is shaping up as we head deeper into the fall.
Friday, October 10, 2008
A couple quick-hit follow-ups to some recent I360 posts...
First, it seems my concerns from A Season on the Brink regarding the importance of the Lighthouse developments are shared by Forbes magazine. In their ominously titled The 10 Sports Franchises Most Likely to Move, they've identified the Isles as one of the top candidates across all the major sports. They cite the drop in franchise value from $160 million to $149 million (dropping them from 12th to 25th in terms of value in the NHL) and the poor per game attendance. They conclude by saying "The team desperately needs the amenity-filled new arena it's pushing for to draw the casual fans who aren't coming to plain old Nassau Coliseum. If it doesn't happen, a franchise that was once among the greatest ever (four straight Stanley Cups Cups from 1980 to 1983) could bite the dust".
Luckily, Greg Wyshinski from Yahoo! Sports Puck Daddy did his best to debunk the Forbes article. Still, an article like that on the eve of our season opener is not what any of us were hoping for.
I was happy to see Chris Botta validate my theory from Media Bashing, that a lot of the Isles bad press is a result of off-ice matters. He relates a nice story from two years ago of an NHL broadcaster admitting his predictions for the team were directly influenced by the GM debacle. Hopefully someday these "experts" will start to focus on the team itself...and hopefully when that day comes the team will answer the call and open some eyes.
Enjoy the opener tonight, and see you all at the Coliseum tomorrow.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I read the preseason predictions along with everyone else. If nothing else, I find them mildly entertaining, an exercise in futility. We all know where most folks feel the Isles will finish (scroll down). Am I worried what they think? Please.
I'm certain that most folks, even the "experts" don't know any more than I do, so I'm not worrying what they think. Here is my stab at a predicted order of finish for the East.
Like all Islander fans, I always have optimism on the eve of the season. Whether that's warranted or just blind faith can be debated. I know we will be better than most so called analysts believe. We return a similar team from last year and are mostly healthy going in. We remained far more competitive last season than anyone thought and had the team remained healthy, who knows? Would I be happier if we had Sillinger and Sutton to start the year. You bet. Can Gordon get the same effort out of this group that Nolan did? Let's see.
While I believe we can remain competitive, our success relies on DPs ability to return to form quickly and the team's ability to score consistently, especially on the power play. I also recognize the challenges that this team faces, and with that comes the realization that it will take a lot of factors for us to squeeze into the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference is such that I think my top 5 teams are virtual locks. From 6-12, it's wide open and anything can happen.
I'll be tuned to Center Ice Friday and Saturday rooting from afar. Let's Go Isles.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
In these days leading up to the presidential election, you'll often hear claims from the GOP of bias in the "liberal" media. Whether those claims are founded or not, they have nothing to complain about compared to Islanders fans. We are the sportswriters' red-headed stepchildren. We've grown accustomed to getting no respect, no respect at all. Any Islanders fan who peruses any site's power rankings, for example, will instinctively scroll directly to the bottom of the page. We know where we'll be.
Still, it was a bit of a punch in the gut reading Johnette Howard's recent column in Newsday, The Islanders can't seem to do anything right. It's an article that exists for the sole purpose of trashing the Islanders, and more directly it's fans. There's no broader context to it, just an apparent attempt to stir the pot with some good old fashioned trash talkin'. Maybe new Newsday Czar Dolan offered a bounty to the first "journalist" to make an Islanders fan cry.
Aside from it being a seemingly random attack, my main problem with the column is that it is just plain lazy writing. It's essentially predicated on the notion that the Islanders lack any redeeming qualities. Ms. Howard is not alone in promoting this ideal. It's become the consensus in the hockey community where it's almost a writer's obligation to take pot shots at the Isles. But here's the real deal folks, in as plain English as I can muster:
The Islanders aren't as bad as everyone thinks.
Yes, I know how that sounds. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for my team. But it's the truth. There's plenty of negatives to write about this team, but these sweeping characterizations of the Islanders as the dregs of hockey society are the byproduct of a flawed mob mentality.
The media (to generalize) seem to be unable to separate the team from the organization. In my opinion, it's the often dysfunctional machinations of the organization that lead many writers to dismiss the on-ice product. Ownership debacles, Sumo goalies, backup goalie to GM transformations...etc. Writers, those topics are fair game. Feel free to tear us apart all you'd like. But understand that once the puck drops, those issues are irrelevant. Which brings us back to Ms. Howard's article...
Aside from the objectionable snarky tone, the handful of specifics she addressed were oversimplified or just plain misleading. I'll address a few of them:
Remember the playoffs? Actually, yes, I do. Considering we are just one season removed from the playoffs, it shouldn't be that hard. And by the way, we've been there 4 of the past 6 seasons. How exactly does that make us the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NHL?
Ryan Smyth...couldn't get out fast enough. Really? Where did you hear that one? Publicly, Smyth and his handlers have always said it was a tough decision and that the Islanders were in the running until the very end. Maybe this is just PR spin, but what do you know to the contrary? Per Garth Snow, "Don (Meehan, Ryan's agent) said we were right in it for Ryan's services until the very end and it was one of the hardest decisions he'd ever been a part of."
Islanders fans streamed out of the draft-day party. Sure, that's true. But also selective. The draft party covered only one pick, and I'd estimate that the majority of those fans that left unhappy from the party were at least largely soothed as the rest of the draft unfolded. You ignore the fact that Grant McCagg of McKeen's Hockey Draft Guide gave the Islanders a grade of B+ and called it one of the top 5 drafts. Or that the Isles grabbed 5 of the top 30 ranked prospects from International Scouting Services.
Islanders fans have thick skins. We wouldn't have survived this long without the ability to brush off bad press. But please, in the future focus on facts. We can take it. And maybe, just maybe, when you start to look at the facts you'll see the team in a more positive light.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Second period started out awful. Two quick penalties to Guerin and Gervais set up a 5 on 3 for the Bruins. While the Bruins did eventually score on the PP, the stellar goaltending of MacDonald kept the team in the game for most of the period.
Isles really came out of the gate in the 3rd, taking it to them Bruins and forcing them into numerous penalties.
Impressions: I was very impressed with the play of Streit and Hillen on the defense. Good puck movement on the blue line. Sim continues to impress me with his play as well. His ability to park himself in front of the opposing goaltender paid off again with a sweet deflection of a Thomas Pock point shot.
While the Isles only went 1 for 7 of the PP, I thought the puck movment was solid and the play in front of the net was stellar. Both these things were missing last season and should encourage fans of the team.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Since when did the Islanders defense corps become akin to the drummer from Spinal Tap? Short of a gardening accident, choking on vomit or an on-ice explosion of some sort, the Isles blue-liners have been prone to injury after injury. Extending on the theory that you can never have enough d-men, the Isles waiver claim to Thomas Pock yesterday clearly sends the message that either Campoli or Sutton, perhaps both, will be out for an extended period of time. According to Logan, at least the season opener.
Here we go again...
Anybody holding their breath on the over/under to when Martinek goes down this year?
It's times like this I wish the Isles had taken a nice good long look at returning Schneider to LI.
There's still no official word on the injuries to either Campoli or Sutton, nor their severity, and short of sending a team of commandos into Snow's office, we may never find out until they are back in the line up.
Add all of this to the fact that we haven't seen DP in a game situation yet and that eternal optimism of September slowly churns into the "please pass the Pepto" moments of October.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The puck has officially dropped.
The Islanders first exhibition game is in the books with the Islanders coming out on top in overtime on a goal by Trevor Smith 2-1.
It's only the first pre-season game, but in my opinion, it already underscores three key factors to the upcoming season. First, Jon Sim is back and wreaking havoc on opponents. I think losing him for the season so early last year really cost the Islanders much more than anybody really appreciates. I'm not saying he'll score 30 or have 60 points, but his physical style of play and presence in front of the net should pay big dividends for the team. For a team that seemed to be allergic to the top of the crease last year, his return is more than welcomed. He was rewarded with his first goal last night on the power play.
The other issue is that we outshot the Bruins 38-19. Great, right? Statistically we dominated but here we go again. Scoring. Where is it? I know, I know, it's pre-season with a patchwork lineup but this is exactly the type of problem that needs to be corrected. High volume of shots, few goals. It's early, and coach Gordon and the team have another 2 weeks to work on this. Let's hope they learn to find the back of the net.
Last, we've heard it before and seen it written about. Our lack of an enforcer and overall team size. According to Logan, the Isles puck control dominated the first two periods. Then the Buins got physical and really slowed the Isles down. Will this be another achilles heel for us this year? If teams learn that pounding our guys hard really slows our attack down... and if we have no one to pound back... well, we'll see.
In any case, great to see the team back in action. Let's go Rays.. er, I mean Isles!!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I don't want to be accused of being one of those bloggers who uses his Internet real estate to merely complain and dampen the mood of his readers. That said, and understanding that my last entry had a bit of a depressing tilt to it, I want to balance things out. This posting is all about providing hope! For those who will appreciate the reference, consider me the Andy Dufresne to your "Red" Redding. I'm all about providing a glimmer of light in the otherwise dark tunnel of Islanders fandom.
In order to restore that "Barton Fink Feeling" in all of you (I'm in a movie-referencing mood today), we're going to look at our brothers-in-arms in Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays. You'll see that there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the Islanders and the Rays, and that their historic 2008 season should inspire us all to dream big for the 2008-2009 season.
Over the past 10 years...
-The Rays finished in last place in the AL East nine times. In the one instance they escaped the cellar they were still 21 games under .500. They have gone through 4 managers. They play in a bad ballpark and have trouble generating attendance. They were universally considered the least successful franchise in baseball.
- The Islanders finished 4th or 5th in the division seven times, and have not won a playoff series. They have gone through 9 head coaches. They play in an old arena and have trouble generating attendance. They have been largely considered one of the most poorly run franchises in hockey.
Within their division...
- The Rays compete with high-powered, large market teams in the Yankees and Red Sox. These markets have more money to spend and have a much easier time attracting free agents. These teams are built to be successful year-in and year-out, and it was considered virtually impossible for a smaller market team to compete against them.
- The Islanders compete with high-powered, successful teams in the Penguins, Rangers, Flyers, and Devils. These markets have historically spent more money and have a much easier time attracting free agents. The Islanders are generally an afterthought within the division.
From 2007 to 2008...
- The Rays only added two significant pieces to their roster. One, a young stud (Evan Longoria) predicted by scouts to be very successful at the professional level. The other, an aging closer (Troy Percival) that most felt was well past his prime.
- The Islanders added only a couple significant pieces to their roster. One, a young stud (Kyle Okposo, set to play his first full season) predicted by scouts to be very successful at the professional level. The other, an aging center (Doug Weight) that most feel is past his prime.
- The Rays completed one of the most improbable runs from worst-to-first, and currently lead their division and own the second-best record in the AL.
- The Islanders...to be continued.
The Isles have some pieces in place to enable us to believe. We have a blue-chip goalie who, when healthy, is one of the best in the league. We have an above-average defensive unit that can certainly stand toe-to-toe with most in the NHL. We have a number of young prospects that can hopefully prove their mettle this year. The bottom line is, it will take an awful lot of things to fall just right for the Islanders to have a Rays-type year, but stranger things have happened.
September is the time to dream big. It'll be October soon enough, and that's when reality - good or bad - sets in. Let's go Islanders.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Standing in my backyard this morning, waiting for my pug to finish her morning constitutional, there was a noticeable chill in the air for the first time since the early Spring. It was a tangible reminder of the changing of seasons...not of summer to fall, but of "offseason" to "hockey season". Regardless of universally low expectations for this year's Islanders, I'm still excited for that first puck to drop. What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment and love the game even when my hometown team struggles.
The big news in 360 land this summer was the birth of my first child, a boy, in July. It's a cliche, but having a child really does make you look at life with new eyes. All my life I'd always hoped to have a son to share my love of hockey with. I imagined bringing him to games, buying him a snack at each intermission just like my dad did for me. I'd tell him stories of the "old days" watching Bossy, Trottier, Lafontaine, Turgeon, and DiPietro...wait, DP will still be on the team as my boy is a teenager, nevermind.
Now that all these dreams are close to becoming reality, I'm unfortunately forced to temper them at the risk that they never come to be. I'm referring to the tenuous future of hockey on Long Island. While there have been no definitive statements from Charles Wang confirming matters, it's become the consensus view that hockey will leave Long Island if the Lighthouse project is not approved. I follow the developments of the project just as many of you undoubtedly do, but I can't cut through all the red-tape to figure out - in plain English - where things really stand. Oh, you just presented the project to Lynbrook residents! What does that mean to me? I want to know exactly what the real hurdles are, when decisions are being made, and how these impact the future of my team.
As I think about my son, I have no choice but to envision two possible hockey-related futures...one where hockey and the Islanders are an important part of his childhood, and one where, realistically, he'll have no interest in the sport or worse yet find himself drawn to the Evil Empire at MSG. If the worst happens and the team does leave, I wonder what my reaction would be? Frankly, I've thought it over and I truly believe I would abandon the game completely. I just don't see how I could continue to enjoy hockey under those circumstances. For all the time and energy I've devoted to the team over the years, it seems almost unfathomable to say that, but I think I'd quit cold-turkey and become one of the Sportscenter crowd who couldn't even tell you who won the Cup last year. Being in this position really generates empathy for the dedicated fans in Winnipeg, Quebec, Hartford and all the other cities that have lost franchises over the years. In each of those places, I'm sure there were thousands of fans as passionate for their team as I am for mine.
We may all be looking at this season with modest expectations. But to me, this year is arguably the most crucial in the history of the franchise. It just so happens that the important events will be happening off the ice. For all of our sakes, I hope I have the opportunity to buy my son overpriced popcorn and soda for the foreseeable future, as we cheer and curse OUR hockey team.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
On an administrative note, I'd like to welcome my brother, Brian Carey, as a regular contributor to Islanders 360. He's written several posts over the last year, and he'll be doing a lot more going forward as co-owner of the blog. This will allow for more (and more diverse) posts this season. Of course, as the founder of this blog I reserve the right to fire him at a moment's notice. Consider him the Ted Nolan to my Garth Snow. Hope you all enjoy the blog this year.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Guest blogger Brian Carey
The Islanders have made a huge annoucement. They have entered an affiliation with Odessa Jackalopes of the Central Hockey League (be sure to vote for Cheese Curds in the online fan poll).
The Islanders have ended their search for a new head coach, settling on reigning AHL coach of the year, Scott Gordon. This hiring may not send waves through the hockey world in terms of name recognition, but his resume with the Providence Bruins speaks for itself. He took the baby B's to a 55-18-3 record last season, finishing in the top 10 in both goals for and against. Granted, he's not inheriting an offensive juggernaut in this Isles team, but his committment to defense should produce immediate dividends for DiPietro. And if DP is on the same page with his head coach... well ... maybe we wouldn't have had to look for a new coach.
If for no other reason to be optimistic, just look at Providence Bruins 2004-2005 season. Playing under coach Gordon, one Mr. Andy Hilbert had 37 goals. Seriously... Click the link....
Will Islander fans be patient through what could be a long season? I hope so. For the first time in many, many years, the Islanders seem to be on the right path. A group of young, talented players, a head coach with a track record of developing and molding such players, and a GM who appears seriously committed to building a winner from within. Unfortunately, the right path means probably a long season ahead, with many bumps along the way.
Now, there is no one other than Garth Snow to blame or to congratulate. This is his team, his players, his coach. On paper, this looks like a team that can develop into something great. Of course, they don't play in a vacuum. Let's see if what we've been promised comes to fruition.
Anyway, it's August, and everybody seems to be on the same page, so why not be optimistic...
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Guest blogger Brian Carey
Thanks to Greg Logan, a sneak peek at the Isles preseason schedule can be found here. Of note are no games against the Rangers. I for one, am not too upset. Granted the brawls last year were entertaining, but this year's team needs to focus on hockey from the start.
Mark Parrish has been bought out by the Wild. Mark was always one of my favorites when he played for the Isles, and his presence in front of opposing goaltenders was sorely missed. Hope he finds a new team (not in the Atlantic) that he can thrive with.
Check out this
I watched the Isles new DVD, Dinner and a Dynasty the other day. The film features a round table discussion of sorts with past Islander greats and includes some great footage of the "glory years". A good watch for any Islanders fan. I would have liked some more game clips and many of the stories seemed more like inside jokes between the guys. Not a must have but great for the die hard Islander fan in your life. Anybody else out there like to see a release of the entire finals series from the Cup years?
On a related note, I appreciate what the Isles are doing with this DVD release, but there has simply been too much focus on those teams in recent years. I love remembering those teams but I guess the current crop of Islanders need to make a splash before the world stops focusing on the 80s.
Caoching interviews continue this week. Expect an annoucement in about 7-10 days if I had to guess. Vote in the poll for your favorite candidate.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Guest blogger Brian Carey
When the Isles season schedule was released last week, my initial reaction was the Charles Wang and the Isles sales and marketing teams must be dancing in their offices. For a team that has struggled with attendance, the sight of 15 Saturday homes games, 3 weekday home Ranger games, 2 weekday games at the Christmas holiday and 5 more holiday matinee games must have elated them beyond belief. That's 25 games that one would expect to draw very good, if not sellout crowds. Isles have always been decent weekend draws and have struggled during the week. So that's almost 60% of your home games covered. Granted, we could sell out every game and still rank in the bottom of attendance but one step at a time.
Let's look at some highlights...
Fri Oct 10, 2008 at Devils - season opener
Sat Oct 11, 2008 vs. Blues - home opener (I hate home openers against Western teams)
Mon Oct 27, 2008 vs. Rangers - first game of the season against the Rangers.
Sat Nov 8, 2008 vs. Penguins - Satan and Fedotenko return to NY
Fri Dec 26, 2008 vs Maple Leafs - Christmas game against Blake and the Leafs.
Sun Apr 12, 2009 vs. Bruins - season ender at home against the B's.
See the full schedule here.
With 7 of their first 11 games at home, this team is set up to come out of the gate quickly. If they can generate some buzz in the community, especially with the young guys, we could have a chance to fill the building more so than in the past. With the Lighthouse project looming, some positive energy in the old barn would be welcomed, especially for those of us who know what it's like to watch a weekday game against the Coyotes with 6,000 of your fellow fans.
A season long six game road trip in March could make or break a team that will be struggling to stay in the hunt all year.
After the Mets blew a 3 run 9th inning lead last night against the Phils, I'm ready for the puck to drop!!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Guest blogger Brian Carey
It's July and what should be a time of mini camps and free agent leftovers has turned into another circus of sorts for the Islanders. With the departure of Ted Nolan, the Isles began their search for a new head coach yesterday, with Paul Maurice getting the first crack. The list of other candidates (Quenville, Tortorella, Hartley, Gallant, Sullivan) is a mix of proven winners and other less successful coaches. Snow has a tough decision ahead of him.
I will always have the greatest respect for Ted Nolan, who got more out of this team than anyone ever expected, with less to work with than most teams. The rift between coach and GM, well documented across the internet, just proved too much. As much as this hurts, Snow made the right move here. He accomplished two things. First, he established himself as the clear leader in the front office, the man to answer to. The "committee" model just wasn't working. Too many people to answer to, and nobody to answer to. Second, he gets to hire his first head coach, someone who shares a vision for this team. Nolan wasn't that guy.
In order to get a rocket into space, an enormous amount of energy is required, with various pieces on the ship discarded to fall back to earth leaving the remaining rocket to push the limits of space and to reach it's ultimate goal.
It may be tough to recognize, but guys like Yashin, Peca brought us a good measure of respect around the league a few years back, and when that respect started to fade, and when we had to discard those pieces of the rocket, a guy like Ted Nolan helped push us further into space.
Well, another big piece of the Islanders rocket is now falling back to earth and the team's goal is clear - build a consistent winner with developed youth and some proven veteran leadership. When this team does finally take the next step, we'll all have to remember to tip our caps to guys like Ted Nolan (and to a lesser degree Yashin and Peca).
The Isles are finally getting this right, and much to Snow's credit, they are realizing that they cannot build a winner through free agents and trades. I, for one, am happy that we will actually see our drafted prospects play for us, and not thrive elsewhere as the result off an ill-conceived trade.
The Isles have signed our young core to contracts that will give them 2-3 years to develop together and create a chemistry that should breed success at the NHL level. Now it's time for Okposo, Bergenheim, Comeau, Neilsen and Tambellini to prove they belong in the NHL. It's time for Guerin and Weight (a vastly underrated signing in my opinion) to assert their leadership to help these guys develop. It's now time for the Isles to hire the right coach to mold this team into a consistent playoff contender for years to come.
The new coach must be a proven molder of talent, someone who is willing to take the ups and downs a young team is likely to go through. I have seen some calls that the Isles hire a coach with some name recognition, just to offset some of the PR damage to the team. I disagree, and by this point in time, Isles fans should have enough scar tissue built up to easily deflect the constant ridicule. A guy like Maurice or Quenville seems like the best fit to me, and satisfies both the name recognition and the development molds.
It's July, the time of the year when Isle's fans are at their most optimistic. We have to taper our expectations with what this team is most likely to achieve this year. A playoff berth would be the pie in the sky but the #1 pick next year is just as unlikely. Can our new coach squeeze as much out of this group as Ted Nolan did? Only time will prove that, something Islanders fans know all too well.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Guest Blogger Brian Carey
As Mike begins the process of raising the newest Islander fan (get some sleep Mike), I've offered to keep the site updated with my own thoughts on the most recent developments in Islander country. Any time the manager hands the ball to the bullpen, I hope to strike out the side as opposed to giving up a three run homer. We'll see....
First pitch coming soon.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Long Island's own "Braveheart", Brendan Witt, gets a 2-year extension worth $6M to keep him an Islander through the 2010-2011 season. The most remarkable aspect of this announcement is that it is literally the first piece of Islanders news in years that has been met with unanimous fan approval. If you don't believe me, feel free to peruse the notoriously prickly commenters over at Logan's blog here and here.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Let me start by offering major kudos to Chris Botta, former VP of Media Relations and mastermind of (NYI) Point Blank. What started as an "insider's" blog has only grown more interesting since he severed ties with the organ-eye-zation. The Blogfather, as we inaugural Blog Box members anointed him, never showed this kind of punch in any of the in-person encounters I had with him. When it comes to the written word, however, few can match his honesty and insight.
His latest entry focuses on an issue touched upon briefly in my own blog in the past - the Ted Nolan situation. Ultimately, this entire discussion boils down to one basic question - is Ted the right coach for this team for the upcoming season and beyond?
Of course, this is impossible to answer without a lot more information. As much as fans like to offer opinion-as-fact, none of us know what goes on behind closed doors. None of us really know who-said-what-to-whom or what anyone really thinks deep-deep down in their souls. But why should we let that stop us from adding our two cents?
First, you need to examine the relationship between coach and GM. In my eyes, the relationship between Ted and Garth is damaged. I'm basing that on three things:
1) The increasing lack of humor I saw from Ted Nolan over the course of the season. One of the perks of being a Blog Boxer is the post game access we are granted. Over the course of the year, I saw Ted evolve from a smiling, positive figure into a let's-get-this-over-with kinda guy. Maybe my judgment is off and I'm simply wrong, and even if I'm not there's no saying that his demeanor was a result of his relationship with Isles management. But from my perspective, I felt like I was watching a guy growing more dissatisfied by the day.
2) The interaction between Ted and Garth at the Stakeholders Meeting on April 16th. In short, there was no interaction. Both men knew at the time that their relationship was being scrutinized, and neither made any attempt to quiet the rumblings...even if only for appearances.
3) Things I've read, particularly from Greg Logan and now Chris Botta.
So if we take for granted that things are strained between the two, we need to ask ourselves if it really matters? Does it translate to the on-ice product? My answer is an unequivocal YES.
Let's say Garth is the best GM is the league (stay with me, people) and Ted is a perennial coach of the year candidate. Individually they are at the top of their respective fields. But if they cannot work well together - with respect - towards a common goal, it will never work. It's true of any organization. Garth needs to provide the players and resources for Ted to execute his vision, and Ted need to execute consistent with the organization's goals. Most importantly, both sides to need to understand what is expected from the other. The incentive for most coaches is to "win now" in order to provide a little job security. The Islanders are in a position where the decisions Ted might make to "win now" are counter productive to the long-run health of the team. Garth and Ted need to work together to map out goals and the roadmap to get there. If they can't get on the same page, a change needs to be made.
Next, you need to look at the relationship between Ted and the players. It gets dangerous in sports when you let the players dictate who should be the coach. There's a reason you don't let the inmates run the asylum. But in hockey, and in the Islanders case specifically, there are some things you need to be mindful of. Free agency is such a factor nowadays that you can't afford to allow your players to grow too dissatisfied. They can and will be gone as soon as their contracts allow. In fact, remembering back to when we hired Ted, one of the big advantages was that he was a "player's coach" and the kind of guy that could attract talent that our facility and recent history would otherwise not enable us to get. If he's having the opposite effect, that is a problem. And if there are issues with DP, the blue-chip face of our franchise for the next decade-plus, that is something that needs to be addressed immediately. In my experience, it all starts from the top. If Ted and management can get on the same page, it will be easier for Ted to communicate and execute a consistent message to the team. It won't guarantee unity, but it will certainly help.
As a fan, I feel that Ted has gotten more out of this team than I expected over the past two seasons (factoring in injuries). I've questioned his tactical Xs-and-Os coaching at times, especially relating to the powerplay. But as far as squeezing as much as he could out of our limited talent, I think he did a good job. So from that perspective, I'd like to see things work out. I'd like to see him surrounded by stronger assistants who can help in areas like the PP. But for this to happen, Ted, Garth and the rest of the management team need to do more than talk-the-talk. They need to run the organization as a team. United, respectful, and on the same page. Anything less will keep the Islanders on the bottom looking up for many more years to come.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
These past few weeks have been all about preparing for the arrival of the newest member of the Islanders 360 family...my first child, due any day now. But in between washing baby clothes, sterilizing bottles, and setting up furniture I've been able to keep one eye on the hockey scene. So this post is all about playing catch-up.
Actually, I had something written immediately after Day 1 of the Draft. It had a decidedly un-family-friendly tone, and I thought it best to sleep on it before I unleashed my anger on you, faithful reader. In hindsight that was a good decision, as my feelings have changed somewhat since that initial knee-jerk reaction.
When the the trade-down from 5 to 7 was announced, I assumed Garth knew Toronto was going to pick Schenn and Columbus wasn't sold on Filatov. At the moment, it seemed like a stroke of genius...two extra picks AND we still get Filatov with the 7th pick. Of course, Filatov went at 6 to the Jackets and then the next trade-down to 9 was called. No problem, I thought, Garth must know Colin Wilson will still be around at 9. Shrewd move, GM! Moments later, Nashville calls Wilson's name and I'm left slack-jawed on the couch, wondering how we ended up here. When our pick finally came around, I tool small solace in the fact that Cody Hodgson was still on the board. Worst case, loose-cannon Kyle Beach could look good wreaking havoc in the orange-and-blue. I'll be honest, of all the top 15 picks, Josh Bailey is the only one I hadn't heard of. Thus my reaction when Garth called his name.
Clearly Day 2 of the Draft proved more successful, at least as far as gut reactions go. If you've been to the Official Islanders Site recently, you've read all the press about being "winners of the draft" and all that mumbo jumbo. Hey, it's nice to be respected (if only for a day). But in examining the Draft as a whole, how do I now feel about what happened on that Friday night?
I still think we should have grabbed Filatov. I understand the need to restock the organization, but we already had extra picks thanks to earlier deals. We were in a position to get an exciting young player, one who could be the face of a franchise that desperately needs one. You don't draft a player for his PR appeal, but he seems to have the talent to back it up. Sure, nothing's for certain, but just once it would have been nice to see this team follow conventional wisdom. If third-round steal Petrov ends up playing for the Islanders and lives up to his potential, I'll change my mind. That just seems like a big roll of the dice right now.
I really could talk about the Draft all day, but it's already old news. We'll re-evaluate things in 3 or 4 years. With these things, only time will tell.
Moving on to a smaller piece of news, I was happy to see the Islanders buy-out the contract of Shawn Bates. I loved Bates a few years back, and he'll always be an Islanders mini-legend for his penalty shot goal in the Toronto series. But this is the right move now, and I'm glad there won't even be the question of him taking time away from our prospects.
Moving on to free-agency, I have to say I am feeling pretty good about what has happened so far (and if you listen to Greg Logan, there's no more moves to come). Sure, we didn't make a huge splash...but any realist knew we weren't going to be in the mix for Hossa, Campbell, Sundin...etc. For me, free agency has been a success because we signed Mark Streit. Bear in mind, my expectations were that we would not do anything in free agency to improve our team. With this signing, we did.
I don't think he'll be able to replicate his numbers from last season, where his crisp passes were feeding a much more potent offense. But the guy should improve our powerplay substantially (though not solve it as Garth said). If you really analyze last season and project how many more games we would have won if we had a respectable powerplay, it's hard to not be excited by this signing. I'm choosing to ignore the rumors of his defensive weaknesses. That's my right as a fan.
I'm ambivalent about the addition of Doug Weight. Clearly, the only real benefit to this deal is the impact he can have on the development of the young guys. Also, I have a gut feeling that the team knows Sillinger might not be ready to go, at least for the start of the year. I saw him after the season finale last year, and he did not look like a guy that would possibly be ready to lace up the skates in September. I don't know anything one way or another, I'm just basing that on what I saw and my zero years of medical training. But the signing does raise one interesting question - can a team get both younger and older simultaneously? I think the Isles managed to pull off that seemingly impossible feat.
I'll leave you with the possible line combinations for next season, courtesy of Greg Logan..
Jeff Tambellini – Doug Weight – Bill Guerin
Blake Comeau – Mike Comrie – Kyle Okposo
Jonathan Sim – Mike Sillinger – Trent Hunter
Sean Bergenheim – Frans Nielsen – Richard Park
Brendan Witt – Radek Martinek
Andy Sutton – Freddy Meyer
Chris Campoli – Mark Streit
F Andy Hilbert
F Ben Walter
F Jeremy Colliton
D Bruno Gervais
Quick thought - how does Tambellini go from a guy the coaching staff has no confidence in to a first-line winger? Only on the Islanders...
Monday, June 2, 2008
Thanks to Greg Logan over at Newsday, we have a little pre-draft Islanders news to counter the summer doldrums. Word on the street is that the team will be parting ways with four of its UFAs - Dubie, Satan, Tank, and JoVas.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
I'm a little late posting my thoughts and reactions to last night's event at the Coliseum. Rather than rehash everything already reported by Newsday's Greg Logan in his article and blog, I'll just add my two cents on a few items.
First, a request for the Lighthouse developers. If we're lucky enough to ever see this project happen, can you do something about the acoustics in the Coliseum? I was sitting about 15 feet from Garth and Ted as they spoke, and literally could hardly understand what they were saying. It's as if the arena was built to funnel all sound out to Hempstead Turnpike. But enough griping.
After the dog and pony portion of the evening was done, Charles Wang addressed the Lighthouse Project and updated us on the latest status. Nothing new, but a nice update for those that aren't turned on by Town of Hempstead bureaucracy. He still hopes to break ground by July 2009, which to me seems unrealistic. The highlight of his presentation came when he introduced Garth, and acknowledged that most people thought he lost his mind to appoint our back-up goalie to the GM position. He made a "Garth slept at a Holiday Inn Express the night before" joke, which I'll admit was at least a little bit funny (would have been more funny if I was 100% sure he was actually kidding).
I thought Garth's presentation was pretty run-of-the-mill, and his three-point plan for success - draft wisely, develop prospects, sprinkle in UFAs - wasn't exactly a revelation (although, in fairness, what else could he have said?). He understandably didn't give any inkling to his thoughts on the upcoming draft. During the Q&A portion, Garth seemed inclined to say as little as possible. The only "news" in a sense is that he seems very keen on bringing in a true "enforcer" before next season.
Ted was more verbose than Garth, and I thought the portion of the evening devoted to him was more useful. It's very clear that he is very high on both Bergenheim and Comeau, as he should be. Hopefully Bergenheim will be signed soon, an issue which Snow was asked about but danced around quite well. In fact, over the course of the evening there were several instances where the "kids" were discussed. Both Nolan and Snow spoke about Bergy, Comeau, and Okposo. Not one mention of Tambellini until a question was asked specifically about him. To me, that said a lot. The one topic that annoys me a bit...the powerplay woes. Nolan indicated he studied a lot of tape and concluded it was too stationary. I could have told him that in November! Why didn't he address and CHANGE this before it was too late? No good answer to that, unfortunately.
Monday, April 14, 2008
This Wednesday evening the Islanders are hosting an "Open House and Chalk Talk", the highlight of which (for me, at least) will be a presentation / Q&A on the direction of the team. I'm hoping there will be some real substance to the event, as promised by Chris Botta, but wouldn't be shocked if it's more of a dog-and-pony show to try to lure some new season ticket holders.
Regardless, I have to say this is one of the great benefits of being a hockey fan and, specifically, an Islanders fan. You just don't get this kind of access in other sports. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but could you imagine the Yankees sending Cashman and Girardi out to interact with the fans like this, especially after an unsuccessful season?
There are a few questions I'm hoping are addressed/discussed during this session:
- Do you think your ability to attract free agents would be different if the Lighthouse project was approved before the FA period begins?
- Is your approach with the draft to go for the best player available, or to draft based on needs?
- Do you think you were proactive enough in addressing the struggling powerplay this past season? What adjustments do you think you made over the course of the year?
- Do you think your effectiveness as a coach would be different on a "veteran" team vs. a "young" team? Do you think you need to adapt your style based on the experience of your players?
It'll also be interesting to see the interaction between Garth and Ted, in their first "public" interaction since the rumors of a strain in their relationship. Body language may say more than their words in this case.
Hope to see a lot of you on Wednesday night.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
In what turned out to be a pretty anticlimactic lottery ceremony, the Islanders retained their fifth spot in the 2008 Entry Draft. So say goodbye to those dreams of Steven Stamkos. Luckily, this is a pretty deep draft class. And it may or may not help that 4 of the top 7 rated prospects are defensemen. Not having done my homework yet on the needs of the teams that pick second through fourth -LA, Atlanta, and St. Louis - I can only hope that these teams are looking for some help on the blue line. If so, we can hopefully land the best forward whose name isn't Stamkos.
For those that watched the ceremony, how much were you hoping to see St. Louis' logo come out of the #1 envelope, ensuring Stamkos would help build a new powerhouse in the Western Conference rather than in our own backyard? A team with Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Stamkos won't be bad for long.
If anyone is curious about the picks we have in this year's draft, check out this site. You can see the picks we have in each round for this year's draft as well as the 2009 draft, including information on how we acquired each pick.
The 2008 Entry Draft begins on Friday, June 20.
Monday, April 7, 2008
I want to encourage everyone reading this to click HERE to read Chris Botta's blog entry from Sunday, April 6. Here's the story in a nutshell...
Despite being tied for first place in the Hummer Metro Ice Challenge, the Rangers are apparently being awarded the full $50k charitable donation while the Islanders are getting nothing. As Chris notes, if you were to look at the two logical tie-breakers (wins within the Challenge & head-to-head wins), the Islanders would win both. Evidently, the decision was made to award the full donation to the Rangers based on their superior regular season record (an element not taken into account at all in the Metro Ice Challenge standings).
I'm used to the Islanders being treated as second class citizens, but this is ridiculous. Sure, the money is going to charity either way, but in the interest of fairness this just stinks.
I hope that by the time many of you read this, a fair resolution will have been reached and Chris will have the opportunity to report the happy news. If not, please feel free to share any ideas to voice our displeasure in the Comments section below.
Update - looks like the issue has been resolved. Better late than never, I suppose.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
The Islanders finish off their season this Friday at the World's Most Infamous Arena, and it's very tempting to look for a nice, quiet hockey-free space to settle into starting on Saturday morning. Other than hoping for an early playoff exit from our blue-shirted friends in Manhattan, there's little joy in watching hockey's "second season" ramp up without the Islanders. It usually takes at least one round before I can get past the sting of another unsuccessful season.
But this year's a bit different from the last several. Mark your calendars for this coming Monday, April 7. Both Versus and the NHL Network will be televising the 2008 Scotiabank NHL Draft Lottery at 8PM EST. This holds the potential to be a historic day for the franchise. Specifically, we likely have a 8.1% chance of this being a great day for the Islanders.
Here's how it all works. Each of the 14 non-playoff team is entered into the lottery. Your odds of winning the lottery are weighted, based on your point total from the regular season. So the team with the lowest point total (30th place team) has a 25% chance of winning the lottery, the 29th place team has a 18.8% chance...etc. It all goes down to the 17th place team with a 0.5% chance of winning. You can see all of the odds here. The team that wins the lottery will move up 4 spots in the draft.
So what does this mean for the Islanders? At this point, it's very likely that the Islanders will finish in either 26th or 27th place in the league, based on regular season points. For the moment let's assume 26th, since that is where they stand today. In this spot, the Islanders hold the aforementioned 8.1% chance of winning the lottery. If that happens, they would move up from the 5th overall pick to the 1st overall pick. Hello, Steven Stamkos! If they fail to win the lottery, they would either draft fifth or sixth, depending on which team wins it.
So how excited should we allow ourselves to get? Well, the last time a team jumped from the #5 pick to the top spot happened all the way back in 2007 when the Blackhawks literally hit the lottery and snagged Patrick Kane. So why not two years in a row? Oh, and the time before that where a team jumped from fifth to first? 2000, when the little ol' NY Islanders drafted Rick DiPietro.
Unlike in the NFL, where top picks frequently fail at the professional level, holding the #1 pick in the NHL is as close to a sure thing as you can get. In the last 11 years, here are a sampling of the top picks - Crosby, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Thornton, Nash, DiPietro, Kane, Lecavalier. So on Monday night, I'll climb out of my hockey-free cocoon in the hopes that the hockey gods are smiling on Long Island.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Success is a very relative term. As an Islanders fan, it's fair to characterize the "Charles Wang" era as successful. We've reached the playoffs 4 of 6 seasons (including this one) after failing to make the playoffs in, based on my latest calculations, the previous 47 years. Sure, each trip to the big dance has been one-and-done, but again we are stressing success as a relative ideal. It's not like this is a Devils or Red Wings blog.
As modest as our achievements have been, it's been fun to feel that we have a team that is at least capable of making some noise come April. And believe me, being a die-hard fan throughout the truly dark days of the late 1990s, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
But as with anything in life, there are trade-offs. For me, it has been my experience as a fan. With success comes expectations, and with expectations comes a whole new way to watch the game. Over the past few years, my personal fan experience has (d)evolved. Lately it's become more about strictly measuring wins-and-losses. It's about monitoring the standings with intense focus, and scoreboard watching to gauge the success of those teams within striking distance. It's about hoping that other intra-conference games don't go into OT, turning into 3-point games. It's about calculating playoff scenarios based on "games in hand" and remaining schedule.
What it's not about is enjoying the game for the love of it. And I have to say, that's exactly why I am enjoying this final stretch of games. It's the same feeling I experienced back in 2006 when we were playing "meaningless" games in late March / early April. I go to the Coliseum now and enjoy the game like I did when I was younger. Sure, wins always mattered, but I could still have a great time at a game regardless of the outcome. The pressure of wins, points, and standings all go out the window. It's all about having fun watching the sport I love.
This may all sound a little touchy-feely, but there really is a palpable difference for me now. Granted, I still need to see the team put forth a solid effort to be happy. And last night versus the Penguins, the team delivered. The fact that they won was a complete afterthought - to be honest, I was hoping for a loss. Yes, I'm one of those who is hoping we tank to maximize our chances for the #1 pick in this year's draft.
These are the same feelings that kept me watching and cheering throughout the late 90's, when we were typically mathematically eliminated from playoff contention before Christmas. As much as I'd love to still be in the playoff hunt, it's a nice consolation to be reminded of why I love this game in the first place.
Monday, March 17, 2008
The biggest issue I've had with Ted Nolan during his tenure as Islanders coach is his clear favoritism towards certain players over others. We've seen it in terms of overall ice time, power play time, and in his choice of healthy scratches. But more so we've seen it in his bias towards his veteran players over the young guys. So the only bright spot in our current situation (9 points out with 9 games to play, countless injuries) is that he has no choice but to showcase some of our prospects at the NHL level.
Looking at the box score of our most recent game in Montreal, you'll find a veritable "who's who" of Islanders prospects - Ben Walter, Jeff Tambellini, Steve Regier, Blake Comeau, Matthew Spiller, and Tim Jackman. Seeing as we have only 13 players (excluding goaltenders and Shawn "Gimpy" Bates) under contract for next season, these players must be looking at this home stretch as their best opportunity to prove themselves, before the wheeling and dealing of the off-season begins.
As excited as I am to see more from these players, it also puts a spotlight on this team's biggest problem - scoring goals. Aside from Kyle Okposo (more on him in a minute), these are clearly our top prospects. And as you go down the list, you won't find many (any?) pure goal scorers. Sure, Tambellini has potential, but the guy has simply not stepped up at the NHL level. Say what you want to about his limited ice time, but it didn't prevent Comeau from making an immediate impact in essentially the same role. From there, does anyone project Ben Walter or Steve Regier much above third-line action? Is Tim Jackman more than a fourth-line role player?
Without question both Sean Bergenheim and Blake Comeau have been pleasant surprises this year, and both are prototypical "Ted Nolan Type" players. But despite their hard work and (overused cliche alert!) grit, neither are likely to be much more than 20+ goal scorers throughout their careers. We need prospects that can finish, not just work hard. Over this past offseason, every free agent we signed and every player we drafted was commended by the Isles press machine for their (choose 3 of the following 5):
Character, Grit, Work Ethic, Passion, Heart
Please, can the next player we bring into the fold be known for SCORING? I can see the press release now:
"XXXX is a somewhat dedicated player. He's not known as a 'team first' kind of guy, and will take a shift or two off here and there. But the guy scored 45 goals last year and is projected as our top-line center within 2 years. So we'll leave the grit to our third and fourth line players".
I know, I know...sounds like Yashin and we all know how that worked out. But one thing I promise, if Alexei continued his level of production from Ottawa we would not have soured on him nearly as quickly, if at all. Especially now that we as Islanders fans understand the premium on scoring, I think we'd all be willing to forgive an occasional lapse in effort for a guy that can net 35+ each year.
All of which brings us to tomorrow night, and the NHL debut of Kyle Okposo. Is he the real deal? We'll find out soon enough. But the fact that his reputation is already evolving from a "goal scorer" to a "playmaker" doesn't give me the warm-and-fuzzies. OK so I'm (mostly) kidding...I really am excited to see what this kid can bring to the table, even over the course of a brief 9-game stint.
Worst case, the season continues to spiral out of control and we find ourselves in the running for Steven Stamkos, one of the more heralded offensive prospects to come along in recent years.
Of course, even if we get the #1 pick we'll probably draft a goalie...