Monday, December 7, 2009

Arizona's Lighthouse

Last week, I was able to leverage a business trip to Phoenix into an opportunity to catch the Coyotes host the Flames at arena in Glendale. It was nice to be able to cross another arena off my list and catch a Western Conference game in person for the first time. Thanks to Stub Hub I managed to grab great seats 11 rows off the ice, on the blue line, for less than $40 per ticket. A few quick impressions from the game:

- The arena is new and clean, but as a venue for hockey I was not particularly impressed. There are only 2 seating levels, and while the 100s offer great views, the 200s start so high above the ice I can't imagine it being a great fan experience.

- Speaking of fan experience, there isn't much of one. I know some hockey purists criticize the game day operations at the Coliseum for being too heavily geared towards the kiddies or non-hockey extracurriculars, but at least they keep the fans engaged. During the tv timeouts at the Coyotes game, there wasn't much to do but wait for the puck to drop.

- Perhaps due to the items above, coupled with the fact that they play...ya the middle of the desert, the crowd was Weak (with a capital W). A half-full arena, with half of those there cheering loudly for the Flames (a lot of Candian snowbirds in Arizona for the winter). The Coyotes contingent was largely passive and silent.

Frankly, everything about my experience (save the fact that the Aramark concessions were all about $1 cheaper than at the Coliseum) made me appreciate the way we have it even more. I always felt that the Isles offer a better in-game experience than the other arenas I've visited (Boston, Buffalo, MSG, NJ, Tampa) but thought maybe I was just being a homer. Now I think I'm right. As much as I understand we have a terrible facility from a players perspective, I can't imagine any NHLer feeling more fulfilled playing in the shiny new arena.

But all of that is prelude to the real attraction in Glendale. The Westgate City Center, aka Arizona's version of the Lighthouse. In short, Westgate encompasses the arena, the U. of Phoenix football stadium (home of the Cardinals), restaurants, shops, hotels, a park, and nice open plazas. It's a fantastic environment. After being there for 5 minutes, I was having a blast enjoying the sights and sounds. But after another 5 minutes, my enjoyment turned to anger. Anger at the progress-killer we call Long Island.

Without getting myself all wound-up rehashing the LH development process up to this point, I'll keep it simple. A destination like Westgate would absolutely work on Long Island. Yes, of course there are real logistical and enviromental concerns but, at the risk of being overly simplistic, where there's a will there's a way. It can get done. It would be arrogance to think Long Island is so different from other parts of this country where mixed-use destinations have been developed successfully.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Three's a Crowd

The Islanders goaltending situation is about to reach critical mass, and I don't see nearly enough being written about the realities that will bring. If recent reports are correct (and certainly any news regarding DiPietro's return should be taken with a fistful of salt), Ricky will begin full practices with the team this week. That will be followed by a conditioning stint / AHL action in Bridgeport, clearing the way for his return to NHL action in a few weeks.

If we take for granted he is healthy (albeit rusty), there are two big questions that need to be resolved.

First, what will his role be for the remainder of this season? Roloson has established himself as the clear #1, and it's hard to ignore the fact that he's earned points in 12 of his 14 starts. And a 58 save performance ain't too shabby either. So does DP return as the clear back-up to Rollie? Do we platoon the two? Or does DiPietro get the opportunity to win back the #1 role after he shakes off the rust?

Second, what does this all mean for Biron? It's an odd balancing act because, barring an injury to some team's #1, Marty's trade value won't peak for a few months. And no question that value won't increase if he's not seeing any NHL action leading up to the trade deadline.

We're going to have three 1A/1B options and not enough room for all of them.

Complicating matters, there is the issue of team chemistry. This group, at least by all appearances, seems to have a cohesiveness that has been clearly lacking in recent years. If there's a bad apple in the bunch, he's tough to spot. And Biron by all accounts is one of the best-liked guys in the league. If Ricky returns with a sense of entitlement, the boat may begin to rock.

My feeling is that DiPietro should return as the clear #2 behind Roloson. Long-term, there is zero doubt that Ricky is the guy that gives us the best chance to win. But he hasn't played much meaningful hockey over the last 2 years, and that will unquestionably show. As with any team, he should have the opportunity to play into the #1 role, but it will need to be earned. His history with the team, contract...etc., should have no bearing on things. His ego will just need to accept this new short-term reality. As for Biron, unfortunately he hasn't showed enough this year to justify keeping the spot ahead of a presumably healthy DP. And let's be real, he was a bargain and any return we can get for him will be gravy. Of course I want to maximize that return, but I won't lose sleep if all we can get is a mid- to late-round pick.

What do you think is the right answer to this goaltending surplus?


Thursday, November 5, 2009

On the Road

Isles stand at 15 points through 15 games (5-5-5), on pace for 82 points at the end of the year. The last three seasons, the point cutoff for the playoffs was 93, 94 and 92 points.

If the Isles hope to take that next step, there is only one statistic to look at. Road victories, or lack of them. The Isles current sit at 1-3-3 on the road. You need only look at last season when the Isles finished with a road record of 9-29-3 to see their recent history of road failure.

The Isles start a stretch tomorrow of 8 of the next 9 on the road. 13 of the next 16. This is a critical stretch for a team that has shown some promise early in the season. Can this team string together a few wins on the road? There are some winnable games on the schedule, starting tomorrow against New Jersey, who have not had much home success this season.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To Win or Not To Win?

As of this posting, the Isles find themselves sitting in 7th place in the East after a recent stretch of 5-1-2 hockey. An unlikely scenario just 2 weeks ago. Now there's no telling whether this good play will continue and whether or not we'll be sitting in a playoff position come Thanksgiving or Christmas. Islander fans are no doubt enjoying the team's play. However, I think it's appropriate to ask an important question... is this winning good for the Islanders?

At it's surface, it a strange question. Of course you want to win. Of course you want to make the playoffs. Charles Wang has reiterated the goal every year is the Stanley Cup. But what's better for the long term success of this team? A 6th, 7th or 8th place finish or another top 5 draft pick?

I'd argue it all hinges on the results of any potential playoff series. The organization is in flux on two fronts, the Lighthouse and the team. You've got a young team that still lacks size and scoring. You've also got an arena deal waiting with the future of the franchise on LI in doubt.

The Isles right now are very close to the salary cap floor, so they certainly have room to make a run at big time (and big money) free agents. Of course, we all know our recent success at landing that prized free agent. So, given this is still a young team, another top 5 draft pick is as perfect a fit as can be. You'd be looking at someone who would probably crack the lineup immediately and for entry level money.

You have an owner trying to drum up support for an organization that has had an awfully bad run. Would a successful season and a playoff round win permanently put fans back in the seats for a long time to come? Tough to say. Is a renovated arena enough to get people interested again on it's own even if the team struggles continue another season or two?

I'd argue that a winning team now trumps another top 5 prospect, but barely. Why? Two reasons. The first is selfish. I'd like to see at least a playoff series victory in my adult life, and most certainly while I know the team will be on LI. Second, I think players just want to win. Yes, some just play for money but if you have an organization that is winning, you're more likely to attract a free agent piece of the puzzle, new building or not.

Perhaps some crazy thoughts only 15 games into a season.. and perhaps the future will prove this all to be a moot point.

What do you think, what's better for the team? Vote in the poll.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Paralysis by Analysis

My day job keeps me knee-deep in numbers and spreadsheets all day (yes, despite my prowess with the written word, I only moonlight as an Isles Blogger). So statistics and analysis are in my blood, for better or worse. I'm inclined to dig into the numbers to try to tell a story - even when there might not be one to tell. 13 games is a relatively small subset, but it's what we have to work with. So without further ado, here's some stats (with snarky commentary at no extra charge) for your reading pleasure...

Through 13 games this year, the Isles are 4-4-5 for 13 points. At this same point last season, they were 4-8-1 for 9 points. Same number of wins, 4 additional points. So there's one reason to not be miserable about all the OT losses.

Goals per game is 2.54 (22nd in league), up from 2.42 (29th) for the entire '08-'09 season. In other words, (Tavares + Moulson) > (Comrie + Guerin).

Goals against per game is 3.00 (20th), much improved from our 3.34 (28th) from last year. Again, despite early struggles, (Roloson + Biron) > (McDonald + Danis).

Our PP% is 21.3% (15th), up from 16.9% (23rd), and our PK is a strong 82.4% (8th) versus 79.8% (22nd) last year. Last year we just called it "Teams", this year we can actually refer to it as "Special Teams".

Last year we ranked 28th in the league with a sad .700 winning percentage when leading after 2 periods. We've actually slipped one spot to 29th, but are sporting a pathetic .500 percentage thus far. Think about that - when we step onto the ice in the 3rd period leading, it's a coin flip as far as whether we will win or lose. We are the Brad Lidge of the NHL.

Next up for the Islanders, Dwayne Roloson faces his former team while Mike Comrie's flu bug forces him to practice his toe-drag from home.