Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Isles

Schizophrenia, split personality, or as the title states, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Isles. This team has yet to find its identity but it has no trouble vacillating between the two extremes; one day they look like a skilled, young and upcoming team that can challenge perennial powerhouses like Pittsburgh, Detroit, Calgary, and Montreal, and then the next day they look like the under-gunned, inexperienced, gang of rookies they really are.

The previous game against the Blackhawks, and last weeks debacle against the hated Rangers are the kind of games that showcase the Isles glaring deficiencies (young defense, limited scoring, weak special teams). Then you have games like the ones against the Penguins, Flames & Red Wings where you get a glimpse into this team's future and it looks pretty bright --- Tavares, Moulson, Bailey, Poulin, and maybe Parenteau.

They just need a few more guys to develop. Here are few examples:

Andrew MacDonald: we've heard a lot about his offensive abilities yet, after almost 1/3 of the season he hasn't scored a single goal and has only 11 points - even though he is one of the mainstays on the powerplay. We need to see MORE from Andy Mac.

Jesse Joensuu: I look at him and I have nightmares of Oleg Kvasha, or worse yet, Bergenheim. He's played 1/4 of the season and only has 3 goals and 1 assist. He needs to go to the Mark Parrish school of goal scoring and park his ass in front of the net and fight for the garbage goals. Use your size Jesse.

Robbie Schremp: Mr. Razzle-Dazzle seems to be missing some of his magic because he has only 7 goals this year and just hasn't been contributing as much as I think he is capable of contributing. Sometimes it looks like he is not as connected with his line-mates as perhaps he should be. I don't know - something is just missing.

Radek Martinek: He of the glass-legs. He continues to have trouble staying healthy, and when he is healthy he hasn't been producing. In 29 games he has 1 goal and 4 assists. Isles NEED more production from the blueline.

What the Isles need is more consistency -- in every facet of the game. Hopefully that will come with maturity, experience, a few additional skilled players, time, and hard work. Let's see if some of that develops against some tough opponents during their upcoming home-heavy schedule (7 of the next 9 are at the Coliseum).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sloppy & Lazy Play Almost Dooms Isles

Tavares wins the game for the Isles in OT with a nice second effort goal. He played a pretty good game. However, the theme for tonight’s game against the Lightning --- “Lazy.” The Isles played lazy for the first 60 minutes. Out shot in the first period 16-3, beaten to almost every loose puck, and blind passes to no one. Add in a bunch of random swipes at the puck when there wasn't a Tampa player within 10 feet and drawing several lazy penalties like high sticking, hooking, and interference and that sums up the Isles night.

They looked sloppy. They had several chances for odd man rushes but either the trailing player was caught from behind or the leading players couldn’t establish enough separation to capitalize on the chance.

They had a lot of trouble clearing the puck from their own end as well. I know the Isles have had a revolving door on the clubhouse – due largely to injuries – and they have a VERY young team, but that doesn’t excuse sloppy play or getting beat to every loose puck.

Isles need to tighten up their game significantly if they are going to compete. On a positive note – the one player that was consistently visible all night was Bailey. Josh had a number of quality chances and looked like the Bailey from the first couple of weeks of the season.

One last thing of note --- the Coli was EMPTY AGAIN. Suggestion to the Isles ---- block out the top 10-15 rows in the upper bowl to force everyone down lower so it looks a little fuller.

More Changes to the Roster

Isles called up Josh Bailey and put DP and Mottau on the injured reserve. Josh put up some nice numbers at Bridgeport which hopefully was a boost to his confidence. It will be good to have him back on the ice tonight.

The DP situation -- while being portrayed as no big deal -- is troubling. He has swelling on his surgically repaired knee again. Perhaps it was from playing so many games in a row while Rollie sat on the bench. It's troubling because its another example of his inability to stay healthy and on the ice. Hopefully he will be able to play over the weekend but there is no word from the Isles on whether that is a possibility or not.

Mottau - one of Garth's pick-ups over the summer - has been just OK for the Isles so far. No goals and only 3 assists in 20 games. Yes, he plays physical and is fairly solid on defense, but he hasn't been a difference maker at all and now he is gone for the season. So chalk this up as a "push" as they say in the betting world. Not a bust, but not a win for Garth either.

Isles have 3 points in their last 2 games -- so maybe they are slowing turning a corner here. It's too early to get excited - but at least they are showing signs of improvement. No word yet on who will be in goal -- Lawson or Roloson. My guess is Rollie -- dust the cobwebs off and maybe a little showcase for an after-holiday trade.

Isles have a tough opponent tonight - the Lightning. The season series is tied at one win a piece with the Isles besting the Bolts at the Coli back in October with a 3-2 overtime win and then Tampa returning the favor with a 4-2 win at home in November. Both games have been close so you can probably expect another close one tonight.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What Can I Say

Ok - it's been a while since I've blogged. Two reasons: first, we went away on Thanksgiving weekend to visit family and then when we got home I took the family to Harry Potter World & Disney in Florida for a week. Sorry fans (and Isles BlogBox bosses) but family ALWAYS comes first. Second, the team has been so utterly putrid that even if I was home to write - what possibly could I write about when the team has 1 win in its last 22 games.

While I've haven't blogged in a couple of weeks, I have been keeping up with the rantings, complaints, analysis, and delusions of many of my fellow bloggers and the main stream media. It's gotten ugly out there! I can't remember reading so much negative press about a team's ownership & management as I've read about the Isles over the past few weeks. Granted, the team has not been successful so some of the criticism is earned -- but some of it has just gotten ludicrous.

So this blog will be a little different. I refuse to engage in a "pile on" against management/ownership ---- so, while I certainly am not drinking the front office Koolade, let me take a different approach at this juncture in the season. A purely analytical one --- not based on some delusion that I, as a mere fan, seem to somehow possess more knowledge about hockey than Garth Snow and the rest of the Isles' front office or that trades and waiver wire acquisitions are as easy to complete as writing a blog from one's parents' basement.

At 29 games into the season (one-third of the season complete) the Isles have a mere 6 wins and 17 points. At this point last season they had almost twice the number of victories (11) and possessed a robust 29 points. They ended last season at just under .500 and right now they are the proud owners of a .200 record. So yes, it's hideous and something is wrong. But I wonder - why are we not hearing the same kind of criticism about the Devils. They have only 3 more points than the Isles, only 3 additional wins, and have one of the top 5 players in the league on their roster. I've read ridiculous suggestions like - "the NHL should take over management of the Isles because Wang is running them into the ground" - yet, I don't hear anything even remotely close to such a suggestion for the equally deplorable Devils (and they have had their share of wacky roster decisions this season). Not to mention, the Devils have not lost nearly as many games to injury as the Isles, nor have they lost such key position players like Okposo, Streit, Weight, Jurcina, etc, etc, etc.

The Isles look like a more sophisticated version of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on a nightly basis so why should fans expect an NHL quality result? The team stinks right now -- but there are some serious long-range issues I think the Isles need to focus on:

1 - at the end of the 2012 season John Tavares becomes a restricted free agent. Why would he ever want to re-sign with the Isles if they don't start showing significant improvement. Plus, he has no support. I know it is a team sport - but he has to be concerned with his own numbers - or lack thereof - and question if it is good for his career to stay with such a struggling team. So, the Isles need to make sure they don't screw up John Tavares and/or his desire to play here.

2 - Attendance is plummeting. You can't pay for better players if you aren't generating enough revenue and you can't generate more revenue without offering a better product. The Isles need a serious talent upgrade. We heard about the 18 point increase last season from the previous season -- but now it looks like not only will that gain be lost, but that it's likely they will actually take a step backward. That is not good.

3 - Franchise respectability. When Garth was first hired the Isles were laughed at and ridiculed. Then he drafted Bailey and amassed a collection of draft picks over his first 2 seasons as GM and he gained some measure of respectability. Now, that seems to be sliding backward again. I saw Garth did an interview last week and faced some tough questions. But he ducked most of the tough ones (no surprise) and did remark that he has not been held back by Wang or anyone else with regard to finances. Now, maybe its because I am a lawyer by trade - but that seems like semantics to me. Maybe he hasn't been given a cap on payroll or restricted from spending by Wang. But someone has put some kind of handcuffs on him. There HAS to be; otherwise, Garth is not very bright when it comes to building this team and/or the team is so disrespected by the rest of the league that no free agents will come. There HAS to be a reason that they are BELOW the cap floor other than "building with youth." Any franchise that has built from within has done so WITH the help of a veteran presence. You simply need a blend. Also, there is no surprise the Isles needed scoring and yet the only thing Garth did to address this is to bring in 2 re-tread cast-offs from other teams (Grabner & Parenteau).

Something is amiss here -- whether it is Wang's anger at the failure to make progress on the Lighthouse project, or his ego - but something is preventing him from making a real investment (in terms of payroll) on this team (considering they are in the NY market) and/or turning over control of the team to a person with significant NHL experience (no offense to Garth).

The Isles have some serious soul-searching to do here. Maybe they can look to the west and see their friends the Mets and their approach to regaining respectability. Stop being a meddlesome owner and turn the reigns over to an experienced. respected league veteran who can turn the direction of the franchise around. While I think this season is a wash (high draft pick here we come) the franchise is on the precipice and needs to do something to change it from the laughingstock of the league to respectability. Firing one rookie coach and replacing him with another, signing cast-off aging average players and calling them impact veterans, and continuing to collect draft picks that are YEARS away from making an impact, will NOT resurrect this franchise.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Islander Passion - A Family Affair

I wrote a story for the Isles Digital Game Day program for Friday's game against the Devils. I am reprinting it here:

One of the privileges that come along with being a father is the opportunity to share your passion for your favorite hockey team with your children. For the past decade, I’ve been lucky enough to share my passion for the Islanders with my 3 sons (13, 11, and 9 years old). Like most kids, my sons really had no choice in the matter; I was an Islander fan, and as such, they would be the same. We spent many evenings on the couch cheering on our team (even when there wasn’t much to cheer about). When they were old enough to truly appreciate the strategy, skill, and beauty of the game (and not just Sparky, popcorn, ice cream, and the t-shirt cannon), I made the investment of purchasing season tickets. Four years ago I set us up with 4 seats in section 318, row F. It was a special bonding experience for my boys and I to put on our Islander jerseys and race to the Coliseum to catch the games. There were few things we looked forward to more than being at the Coli watching our team.

Then last year our lives changed. We had a new person living in our house - his name was Jeremy and he was a 16 year-old exchange student from Germany. Jeremy lived with us from August to June of last year and despite the fact that he was from Germany, Jeremy knew nothing about hockey. He had never even held a hockey stick or seen a game. That didn’t matter; Jeremy was my son and in our house hockey ruled. So, I got us a 5th season ticket and off we went.

Opening night was a whole new experience for us last season – and not just because we got to watch the debut of John Tavares. While this was our 4th opening night, it was Jeremy’s first, and watching his reaction as we entered the Coliseum and climbed to our seats gave my sons and me a fresh perspective on the evening. The huge American flag waving at center ice, the music, the fireworks, and the singing of our national anthem. Jeremy was in awe. They do not do things that way at sporting events back in Germany. They don’t sing their anthem, they don’t wave their flag, and they don’t have the fanfare and pageantry that accompanies American sporting events.

As they game progressed, I listened to my sons explain off-sides, icing, and penalties, and watched them teach Jeremy the art of running to the bathroom and grabbing a pretzel during a TV time-out so as not to miss a single minute of action. Within a few short games Jeremy knew the rules, he knew most of the players and their numbers, and had even declared Rob Schremp to be his favorite. He also started playing hockey. We had converted him into a hockey nut in only a few short weeks. That Christmas, the first items on his wish list was a helmet, ice hockey skates, and a new stick.

We took Jeremy to about 25 games last season, and when we were couldn’t make it to the games, he sat on the couch with us and watched and cheered. Jeremy went back to Germany last June. On the morning he left, one of the last things he packed in his bulging suitcase to bring back home to Germany was his well-worn ice hockey skates. When he came out to the car for the ride to airport I noticed he was wearing his Rob Schremp jersey. We all cried as he left us and passed through security and trudged to the gate for his flight back to Germany. We stay in touch with Jeremy via email and occasionally we talk with him on Skype. He always asks how “his Isles” are doing and talks about how much he misses going to the games. I let him know how they are doing, and that I miss taking him. But, I remind him, we have something special to look forward to if he ever comes back to visit.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rock Bottom, or Can it Get Worse?

"The Streak" has now hit 13 games. On the night of a full moon the Isles played their 13th straight winless game as they drop a 2-1 stinker to the Thrashers. It all sounds weirdly superstitious - full moon, 13th loss. But luck, good or bad has nothing to do with this streak - it is the result of bad hockey. FYI - I DON'T want to hear crap like "well, they came away with a point." You kidding me? They only scored 1 goal again and they didn't win - 1 point is meaningless.

As each game passes I wonder: have they finally hit rock bottom or can it get worse? That's hard to answer at this point. The team has 12 goals in its last 11 games - so to say the offense is struggling is like saying Lindsay Lohan may have a substance abuse problem. How can it get worse? Well, one thing that can happen is the core of young players will get used to losing. They say its bad for young players to be around so much losing because it can effect the way they play and leads to more losing. I am no psychiatrist so I haven't a clue if this is true or not, but I suspect there has to be some measure of truth to it. I have NEVER seen a team struggle so much for such an extended period of time. At least if they were losing 8-6 the game would be fun to watch. It's just tough to root for them when they score 1 or 2 goals a week. They are officially the worst team in the NHL. I guess this is rock bottom since there is no one behind them.

The only good thing you can say about the Atlanta game is that DP looked pretty good. Oh yeah, and we get to play the Devils in a few days so if the streak is going to be broken, that appears to be as good a game as any.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Chicken or the Egg

The age old question -- "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Contemplation of this mysterious riddle can often leave one craving McNuggets or an Egg McMuffin.

The morass that is the Islander organization is faced (and has been faced for a long time now) with a dilemma of similar proportions. Which comes first: improving the franchise, or improving attendance & the facilities? Last night, when the Isles faced off against Tampa, they had a paid crowd of just slightly over 8,000 (and there was less than that actually IN the arena). That is the smallest attendance in more than 5 years and is an alarming sign of things to come. How can the Isles expect to: (1) get support for a new arena if they draw less than half the capacity of the current one; (2) collect the revenue necessary to pay free agents & salaries of skilled players if they are selling so few tickets; and (3) attract skilled players if they continue to lose money, play in a bad building, and play in front of pathetic crowds?

All of these problems are woven together and there is no easy solution. Many media "experts" say the problem is ownership - that Wang is too involved. Others say its the inexperience of Snow as GM. Others say the franchise is snake-bitten with bad luck and the development of the Lighthouse project is the key to solving the other problems.

Well, Wang looked like the golden boy after Picketts and Spano and was hailed as a savior when he first bought the franchise. Does he meddle or have too much input. I think that's hard to say for sure and if it was my millions (many millions) at stake I would probably meddle a little too. Initially he injected lots of money into the franchise (Yashin deal, among others) and he quickly learned that there are no quick fixes. I think perhaps Wang needs to remember way back when he first bought the team and he confessed to his lack of knowledge about the sport and he should consider taking a step back & hiring a true hockey professional to run the team. Maybe he should devote 100% of his energies to the Lighthouse project or a smaller scale redevelopment of the Coliseum property. What is the priority here - a new arena for the Isles, or a mammoth real estate project? If he really cares about the team first, then put the team first and not the personal gains to be made from a larger scale site redevelopment. You ask players to put team first -- Wang should do the same.

As for Garth's inexperience. Everyone said he did a good job getting Ryan Smyth. That the Streit deal was a steal. He robbed the Ducks in the Wisniewski trade. He "found" Matt Moulson and may have done the same with Parenteau & Schremp. I think he's done a pretty good job in light of the budget restraints, management interference, and his limited experience. Of course not everything he's done has been great (i.e, DP's lifetime contract, Fedotenko, & the signings of some other free agents that didn't pan out). I like Garth and I think he's smart and has done a decent job. That said, I wonder what this team would look like had a real experienced hockey guy (a/k/a Neil Smith) stayed longer than 30 days. Maybe the Isles need to re-think the front office personal and get some more experience. Right now they have Garth and his new inexperienced "advisor" Scott Gordon and a rookie coach in Capuano. They need someone with experience, a solid track record, and a successful resume to run the team.

As for ticket sales & the dump they play in. The Isles have been very creative & flexible with their ticket plans & pricing. Granted, their initial decision to walk away from the sweet deal they offered season ticket holders the last 4 seasons (free parking, 25% discount, extras, and no-interest payments over 16 months) was tough for most season ticket holders to take - particularly in this economy. I know - I had season tickets the last 3 years & I did not renew this season for all of the reasons mentioned above.

The main problem is -- the product is still not very good. Its a catch-22. But rehabilitating the franchise starts at the top. I think bigger changes need to occur. Replacing Gordon (who had no prior experience) with someone else with no experience makes little sense.

Maybe I should join the front office - I do have a law degree & management experience after-all. The first thing I'd do -- is hire someone like Neil Smith to make the hockey decisions. In the meantime, this Shakespearean tragedy will continue to play itself out in front of our eyes.

Well... at least maybe we can hope for a high draft pick.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A New Day and We Play Tampa Bay

Tonight is the coaching debut of Jack Capuano. Before I talk about his debut -- just a few tidbits of info I picked up hanging around the press box. First, Roloson is in net again & I heard DP has a minor hand injury. So he isn't sitting on the bench solely based on his play (although the injury is convenient and avoids having to outright sit him). Second, despite what you read in the news, I heard a few people say that the veterans on the team were not unhappy to see Gordon replaced. I guess things were not as peachy in the locker room as originally thought. Last - Schremp is a healthy scratch. Word is his defensive play is a problem. It seems that the charm of last year has fallen off and Schremp is having problems getting on the ice.

So end of one and things do not look that much different - Isles don't score, they get out shot 18-11, and bad luck strikes as they give up a goal with 0.3 seconds left. I guess it's unreasonable to expect a dramatic change in the first game. I've been reading some other media/blogs/articles and the general consensus is that the Isles lack talent. While I agree in part - that they do have a talent issue - I think there are things you can do to get the most out of the talent you do have. They have some guys that can score - Tavares, Parenteau, Moulson, Bailey --- so they need to utilize a system (like the Devils teams of the 80's) that focuses on defense while waiting for a mistake to capitalize on. I know its not sexy or terribly interesting to watch - but it does work. The run & gun style that Gordon tried is just not effective with this team as presently constructed.

It's too easy to jump on the criticize the Isles bandwagon right now -- so I will try to remain positive. I think things will improve under Capuano --- not right away, but they should get better. And in the end, if they don't -- well, then hello great draft pick.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gordon Replaced as Head Coach

This was taken from the Isles website -- it was just announced a little after 10:00 this morning:

Jack Capuano Named Interim Head Coach of the New York Islanders. Scott Gordon will remain with organization as adviser to the General Manager

UNIONDALE, NY, November 15, 2010 – The New York Islanders announced today that Jack Capuano has been named interim head coach, replacing Scott Gordon. Gordon will remain with the organization as an adviser to General Manager, Garth Snow.

Capuano has served as the head coach of the Islanders’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers the past four seasons. He will make his National Hockey League head coaching debut on Wednesday, Nov. 17 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum

“We believe we need a change in direction and, with the majority of the regular season still ahead of us, our goal remains to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Snow said. “Scott has made tremendous strides with our team the past three seasons and I look forward to continuing our relationship in an advisory capacity.”


Can't say this was a surprise - but I feel bad for Gordon - he's a good guy and a good coach. As I said in earlier posts, his system would be more effective if they had more talent.

Well Isles fans.... a change has been made - so let's hope Jack Capuano is able to get more from these guys than Gordon could. Sometimes you just need to hear a different voice.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

WOW is this UGLY

"The streak" as it has now become known - has been extended to 10 games. Ten long games without a win. It has been almost a month since the Isles won a game. But it is even worse than 10 games without a win. During those 10 games the Isles have scored a measly 14 goals -- for a 1.4 goals per game average. In 6 of the 10 games the Isles scored only 1 goal and in another they were shout out. In the 8th game they managed only 2 goals. The offense is anemic.

During that same 10 game stretch they have given up 38 goals - for an almost 4 goals per game average. So not only are they not scoring, they aren't playing defense either. Probably the only guy that can keep his head up at this point is Roloson.

While it is usually unfair to blame the coach for losses since they can't go out and play, and it seems unfair to get rid of one guy for the failures of the 20+ guys on the roster - you have to start questioning Gordon's approach. His "fast-paced" system has obviously not yielded results and while it may in theory be a great system, any system you employ is only as effective as the talent level will permit. Maybe this team just isn't talented enough to play this style of game. Not only that - but if the team is having trouble scoring, why is Schremp on the bench? I know he can be a "head case" and sometimes losses focus - but he also has more talent than half the guys they Isles are trotting out. I get it - you earn your ice time during practice, etc, etc, etc. However, when you are faced with a horrendous losing streak - and this is a horrendous streak -- then you have to put "normal" aside and take steps to try to improve the offensive output. Sure enough, Schremp returns to the line-up against LA and gets a goal.

I think it's fairly safe to assume that the clock has started ticking for Gordon. He doesn't have a contract beyond this season and Garth Snow was quoted as saying he'd have to earn an extension. If this trend continues, not only will that be unlikely, but he may be looking for a new job sooner rather than later.