Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Random Thoughts

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

2008 - 2009 Schedule

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

The Young and the Coachless

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

Call to the Bullpen

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

Brevity is the Soul of Witt

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.

You can certainly count me in with the masses. As far as defensive defensmen go, Witt's near the top of the class. And he adds a lot of the intangibles that this team needs - leadership, toughness, hockey intelligence. His ratio of effectiveness-to-flashiness is probably the highest in the league. If you're not really watching, you might never notice the guy. But for fans of good defensive fundamentals and the occasional blocked-shot-with-your-face, he's the man.
It was nice to see how complimentary he was towards the organization, and hopefully as one of the team leaders that sentiment can infect the locker room.
Bonus points for anyone geeky enough to get the reference in the title of this post.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Top-Down Management

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

Playing Catch-Up

These past few weeks have been all about preparing for the arrival of the newest member of the Islanders 360 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..

Forward lines
Jeff Tambellini – Doug Weight – Bill Guerin

Blake Comeau – Mike Comrie – Kyle Okposo
Jonathan Sim – Mike Sillinger – Trent Hunter
Sean Bergenheim – Frans Nielsen – Richard Park

Defense pairings
Brendan Witt – Radek Martinek

Andy Sutton – Freddy Meyer
Chris Campoli – Mark Streit


Rick DiPietro

Joey MacDonald

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...