Friday, March 21, 2008

Which Cards to Keep & Which do you Discard?

If, after the first twenty minutes, you don't know who the sucker at the table is, it's you. ~Author Unknown.

The question for all Isles fans is - will Garth Snow & the Isles be suckers at this summer's draft & free agent tables, or will they be sharks?

In a 12 month span we have seen Garth Snow look like a risk-taker & shark with bold moves; such as last year's trading deadine when he threw caution to the wind by dealing 3 first round picks (2 already picked and the 2007 pick) to Edmonton and scooped up top-liner Ryan Smyth. It was a risky move that after Smyth's summer defection seems to not have paid off. Then last summer we saw Garth shift to a more conservative position -- bringing in steady but not flashy veterans like Guerin, Sutton, and Comrie to fill some holes. But these moves certainly didn't scare anyone in the East. Then Garth took an even greater leap into the world of GM restraint at this year's trading deadline - the team essentially stood still.

Which version of Garth Snow will we see this summer. Gun-slinging risk-taker or Pat Robertsonlike conservative?? There is not a tremendous amount of talent to be had as free agents in 2008 - particularly if teams keep locking up their players with long-term contracts.

Players like Satan, Fedotenko, Vasicek, Dubie, and Meyer will all be unrestricted free agents. Do you let some or all of these guys walk and maybe open the door for a permanent slot for Okposo, Tambellini, Nielsen, and others? These last handful of games should give a little bit of a peak into what these young guys can bring to the table at the NHL level which will either make Garth's life easier or more difficult.

Balance this situation with Nolan's apparent preference for the veterans -- how else can you explain the amount of ice time given to Hilbert & Park (even on the PP for goodness sake) when you have guys who have greater scoring potential sitting on the bench. Alas - that is the defense - it is just potential, nothing proven.

One thing is for sure - the Isles will have a lot of tough decisions to make this summer. All to be impacted by where the team lands in the draft lottery. At this point all we can hope for is some quality play for the young guys and a high draft pick.

Gotta have something positive to root for.
He will have some major to make. While some criticized his inaction -- either lock up certain players or deal them -- none of us can say we sat next to Garth & were privy to what his options were. We can only hypothicize, theorize, and outright guess.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NY Isles: A Team in Transition - Some Real - Some Imagined

Another game - another loss. I take small comfort in the fact that Blake was kept off the scoreboard.

After watching the last 2 weeks of games and reading the papers & blogs it has become painfully obvious that the season is over and that the Isles are now officially a team in transition. In the spirit of keeping things positive - let's keep in mind that transition is not always a bad thing. But what transition am I talking about - is it the "real" transition from this being a team of veterans to one of free-wheeling young guys; or the "imagined" transition I read about in the paper - the one involving the alleged rift between DP and Nolan that may result in the transition to new leadership behind the bench?

Let's address the rumored transition before dealing with the obvious one. I don't think Nolan is going anywhere - and quite frankly, he shouldn't go anywhere. I think most experts (and realistic fans) would agree that Nolan got more out of this year's squad than what was expected when this team broke camp. Yeah... we could all dream that certain guys would return to their productivity from past seasons and put in 30+ goals, while other players would magically "find themselves" here on LI and become the players they had the potential to be. But the stark reality is - that was a lot to ask to come true all at once. This team was never more than a playoff "possibility" from the get-go.

Considering the talent pool he had to work with, along with the overwhelming number of injuries to the blueline, Sillinger's injury, Simon's lunacy, the anemic scoring, and DP's midseason hip problems, it is a wonder the team was able to remain competitive and in the playoff hunt for three-quarters of the season. That says something for Nolan and his ability to inspire, keep things positive, and get the most from his players. While some may lament all those free agents that got away last summer - let's remember that with those guys this team sqeaked into the playoffs last season as a result of Dubie's now famous poke-check in a last game shoot-out. They then proceeded to make a quick and painful playoff exit. Let's not look upon last season's team with rose-colored glasses.

I think Nolan has done a great job. Yet the media seems to believe a rift has been created between Nolan and DP because Nolan criticized DP's puckhandling in a few recent games. Quite frankly I am glad Nolan said something --- for many a game I've sat in the stands and cringed as DP wandered from his net in pursuit of the puck only to have it take a weird carom off the boards or he makes a bad pass that results in a scoring chance for the opposition. Don't get me wrong - its great to have DP as that "third defensemen" and his puckhanding makes the game more interesting - but no one can rebut the claim that he sometimes makes mistakes. Just because the guy has a 15 yr contract and is the face of the team it should not make him immune from criticism from the head coach. I've met DP at some fan-friendly events and he seems like a nice guy. He is committed and thrilled to be an Islander and is a good citizen on and off the ice. I think he'd be one of the first guys to say he has no problem with the coach critiquing his game. He is still only 25 yrs old and his game & decisionmaking will continue to mature. But that maturation will not take place if he is not occasionally reminded to be more prudent in his puckhandling decisions. In the end - I think this alleged rift is a lot of nothing. At least I hope it is.

Now on to the real transition. I should stop here & admit that I am a 21-game plan ticket holder. Those games I don't go to - I watch or listen to. I don't claim to be smarter than Nolan or Snow when it comes to hockey decisions -- but I think it doesn't take a genius to know that the organization needs to take a good hard look at what its got as far as young talent goes. I've lived through the agony of watching up & coming talent leave the Island through bad trades (thanks Mad Mike) and flourish elsewhere (e.g.; Jokinen, Chara, Redden, Luongo, Dumont, McCabe, etc - even Nilsson is starting to produce with 10 goals & 27 assists for Edm) and I think we need to see what we've got at Bridgeport that is NHL-quality before going into the off-season. It was great to see Okposo and Tambelli, Regier and Comeau, and Colliton and Spiller all get some real ice time last night. Most of those guys got around 13 minutes of ice time and they were flying. Did they make mistakes - sure; did they score - no; did they get chances - yes. And it made the game more interesting than watching some of the older guys who just don't have it anymore going through the motions. Who are those guys? -- ah, that is the subject of my next blog. The "Who do we keep and who do we discard" blog.

Let's embrace that this is a team in transisiton - heading toward an even bigger transistion over the summer. Between the draft & free agency - we can only hope to see a better product on the ice next fall - with Nolan behind the bench. Even though the team is headed down in the standings, I do think they are headed in the right direction as an organization.

More to come...........