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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Go West Young Man

Horace Greeley made this phrase popular back in the 1800's to spark the adventurous spirit in American pioneers. It was said to be an inspiration -- and boy do the Isles need inspiration as they attempt to put the brakes on their 7-game losing streak. The losing streak itself is bad enough, but when it is accompanied with uninspired play it can result in dire consequences. The rumblings about Scott Gordon's job security are already starting.

While the rumor mill starts to churn, the Isles are heading west for a 3-game, five day trip to play the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and LA Kings. West coast trips are usually a test of a team's mettle and it can also provide an opportunity for a team that is struggling to bond and to get away from the media scrutiny that accompanies home games. Maybe a few days away from the NY microscope will give the team an opportunity to break out of its slump.

While the Ducks and Sharks are only playing .500 hockey, the Kings will offer a real test since they are leading the Pacific Division with 20 points and have given up the third fewest goals in the NHL. The Sharks are 4th in the league in goals against. So they will be facing two very stingy teams -- those are not great match-ups considering the Isles offensive woes.

As I've mentioned before, the Isles need to step-up their power-play production and some of the guys they are counting on (Weight, Bailey, Comeau, Hunter & Neilsen) need to increase their goal production if the Isles are ever going to be able to compete.

Last - I don't think it makes sense to get rid of Scott Gordon at this point. It is still early in the season and remember, he is working with a team with average talent at best. Some of these guys have the ability to be better than average - but most of the guys on this team would be 3rd and 4th liners on any other team.

So - "Go West Young Men" and try to climb your way back into respectability one game at a time.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Just When You Think Things Are Going Bad...

WOW - the Isles have dropped 6 straight and didn't look good against Ottawa. They are having serious problems putting the puck in the net - especially when playing five-on-five. The last 6 games are endemic of the Isles lack of offensive firepower. They lack the go-to guy that can put a team on his shoulders and lift them out of a slump.

Hopefully - this 6-game stretch is just a slump, the kind that EVERY team goes through at some point during the season. Most teams don't string together 6 consecutive losses - and that makes this slump seem worse. To add to their offensive woes, it looks like they have not been getting consistent goaltending of late. Rollie did not look sharp against Ottawa.

Last 3 goals the team scored were by Moulson (against Ottawa) and Grabner & Parenteau (against Carolina). So at least the guys that Garth hoped would produce are producing. Moulson netted his 5th and Grabner & Parenteau each have 3. At this pace, after 12 games, Moulson is on a pace to score 30-35 goals and Grabner & Parenteau 25 each. That would probably exceed everyone's expectations and quite honestly is probably unrealistic. Where the Isles have been weak is in the secondary scoring. They need the other guys (Nielsen, Comeau, Weight, Bailey, Schremp and Hunter) to pick up their production.

It's too easy to pound on the team now. So I will give them the "slump" benefit of the doubt and hope that they figure a way out of this mess and get the team back on the road to a .500 record.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sim Placed on Waivers

The Isles website posted the following at around noon:

The New York Islanders announced today that forward Jon Sim has been placed on waivers.

Sim has not produced much this season and it looks like a move to make room for Schremp who is due back any minute from Bridgeport. I wasn't sure why the Isles brought Sim back this season since they needed scoring help and he clearly was not going to provide that.

I never like to see anyone lose their job - even Sim. I hope he either hooks on with another team or is able to help Bridgeport.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Special Teams Power Outage

It is no secret that the Isles lack firepower - particularly at even strength. For the first four games of the season they were able to make up for this deficiency by putting up some impressive numbers when they had a man advantage. During this stretch, they scored 6 goals in 22 chances (a 27% rate). They had Weight setting up Wisniewski's cannon at the point, along with Tavares, Parenteau, and Moulson sniping from down low.

In fact - 13 of the teams 31 total goals this season have come with the man advantage. That is, almost one-third of the team's goals have been on the power play. The last two games they were 0-12 on the PP, and they've had only 5 goals in their last 26 chances over the past 5 games (19% rate) --- a period in which the team lost 4 straight. It's no surprise that their dip in PP production coincides with their current losing streak. They still remain 8th in the league with an overall 22.4% success-rate, but it has slipped over the past week.

During this same stretch, the Isles have been merely average on the penalty kill. Last week they killed off 10 of 13 penalties, which is a less-than-impressive 77% rate. For the season, they have killed off 42 of 51 penalties and they are only 17th in the league with an overall 82.7% success rate. This is NOT good enough, and the 77% rate for the past week would actually put them 26th out of 30 teams.

Special teams play is an important aspect of the game and is one of the keys to a team's ability to succeed. But it is even more important to a team like the Isles who struggle scoring at even strength. The Isles are going to have to improve these numbers if they are going to compete for a playoff spot. Successful teams need to be closer to 85% on the kill, and somewhere between 25-30% on the power play.

Last, put this in perspective: Four of Tavares' six goals have come on the PP. Seven of Wisniewski's, Parenteau's, Weight's and Bailey's combined nine goals have some with the man advantage. That means these five guys have a total of 4 even-strength goals. These guys are not getting it done even strength and if the special teams continues to sputter... ... well, I think you know where this is going.

For the Isles its a new week, a new month, and hopefully, better results.

Reality Sets In

Well..... it looks like the wheels are starting to come loose and may fall off the wagon. While the Isles certainly have been bitten by the injury bug - they have also been bitten by the "we may not be as talented as we first appeared" bug. Newest casualty - Jurcina. Looks like Schremp may be back soon and Hunter returned to the line-up, but I don't think this is enough.

When the season started, I stated that I did not believe the Isles acquired enough scoring during the off-season. It looks like I may be right. Here are some not-too-impressive stats:
  • Isles have scored more than 3 goals in a game in only 3 of their 11 games.
  • They only have 8 goals in their last 4 games -- you won't win averaging 2 goals a game.
  • They have scored only 1 goal in a game 3 times this season and in 2 other games they only got 2 goals. So - in half their games, they have scored 2 goals or less.
  • They have lost 4 in a row and are now under .500.
  • Their top three point scorers actually only have 2 goals each.
  • With the exception of Moulson, Comeau & Tavares, no one on the team has more than 2 goals.
  • While he wasn't over-matched, it was obvious Niederreiter was not going to be a repeat of Tavares (or Bailey for that matter) and it was the right move to send him back to juniors.
  • Hunter, Sim, and Weight have been mostly invisible and I really don't think Parenteau and Grabner are the solution.
  • Bailey and Moulson have cooled off in the last half-dozen games.
Maybe things improve when Schremp & Okposo come back. But in reality, I don't think you can expect Schremp to make a huge impact and Okposo, when he returns, will be coming off shoulder surgery and will need some time to get his timing and legs back.

What does this all mean? I think it means Isles fans need to be prepared for more of what we've seen in the last 4 games and less of what we saw in the first 5. It's going to be a long season.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Another injury hits the Isles - this time Andrew MacDonald goes down for 4-6 weeks with a hand injury that required surgery. Going into the season the Isles had 9 defensemen on the roster and only enough playing time for 6. Since then, Streit was lost to a shoulder injury and won't be returning until sometime in January or February at best. Wisniewski had to sit a pair for his lewd gesture in the Ranger game. And now A-Mac is lost for more than a month.

It's a good thing Garth stockpiled the defense going into the season. Now Hillen and Gervais get a chance - well, at least Hillen does. Reports from Isles veteran blogger extraordinaire Dee Karl was that Gervais was seen skating in practice as a forward. He's had a few games at forward in the last few years and it just might give a chance to get out of Gordon's doghouse and onto the ice. Bruno had a rough go of it in a number of games last season and didn't seem to make the progress the team had hoped for.

Isles lost a tough one to the Panthers and wasted a nice game by Tavares who netted his first career hat trick. I saw some media-types report that they thought DP over-handled the puck and also coughed up a fat rebound for the 4th goal. Some have gone on to suggest that Roloson should be the number one goalie. I strongly disagree for a few reasons.

First - I watched the Florida game and Ricky did not cough up a rebound leading to Florida's go-ahead goal. It was a shot from the point that was deflected on its way to the net and Ricky just got a piece of it with the bottom of his pads and it took a lucky trip onto Dvorak's stick. Not Ricky's fault, in fact -- who was responsible for picking up Dvorak? Why is he sitting wide open, alone behind the defense? Second, while Rollie has certainly played well and has earned the "starting goalie" tag - let's not lose site of the fact that he is 41 years old and has a limited future. Moreover, this team is not likely to be making a run at the cup (especially with Streit & Okposo out for half the season). Like it or not, DP is only 29 and can play another 10 years ---- if course, if he stays healthy. I know he's not been spectacular - but don't lose site of the fact he's played less than a dozen games in the last 2 years. He needs some time to knock the rust off. The Isles will need DP to be their number one for the next few years until one of the guys in the system is ready to step into the crease. Until then, it is in the Isles best interest to get DP back into his old form (or as close to old form as he can get) and to help build his confidence.

Last - I think some people got a little delirious over the past 2 weeks with the Isles being in first place and playing well. They've played 10% of their games -- they are doing better than anyone predicted - but at some point they will come back to Earth a little. Until then, let's just hope they can get through the next game without having someone leave the ice with an injury.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Isles Continue to Look Good - Bailey Hurt

Isles dominated the Av's on Saturday night. I had predicted a 4-3 Isles win... I was close, it was 5-2 Isles. Then tonight they took on the 4-0 Leafs and played them even for 60 minutes until Tavares blasted home the game-winner in OT with a one-timer from the right circle a little over a minute into the extra session. The Isles played another good game and according to Butch Goring who was interviewed by Kris King at the morning skate - all the GM's and coaches he spoke to have declared the Isles to be the hardest working team in the league right now. That's a pretty big compliment.

Mixed into all this good news is the continuing pile-up of injuries. Josh Bailey left the game in the middle of the first period with a hip flexor. No word yet on how serious it is or if Bailey will miss any games. The good news is that the Isles are off until Thursday when they square off against the 4-1 Lightening in Tampa so Josh has a few days to recover. However, the game against the Lightening will be a big test because Tampa Bay is clearly a better team than the Leafs. They bring in big guns like Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Malone, big defensemen Hedman. It will also be our first look at ex-Isle Sean Bergenheim in a new uniform - I am sure he will be up for this game, trying to prove the Isles were wrong to let him go.

You have to worry that, despite the team's early success, the injuries will eventually catch up and take its toll on this team. It's remarkable that the 4 players that have been injured so far are probably the Isles top 4 players (Streit, Okposo, Tavares, and Bailey). and while we won't see Streit or Okposo until probably after the New Year, thankfully JT doesn't seem to have any lingering effects from the concussion as he has scored in 2 straight games and has a total of 3 points in the two games. Let's see what happens with Bailey.

But for right now, there is a lot to smile about for Islander fans.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Don't Want a Lost Weekend

Isles lost a tough one last night in Pittsburgh. Fell victim to the ole - "you skated too close to Crosby so you deserve a penalty" syndrome. How ridiculous was the penalty call in the 3rd period? Wasn't even close to an actual penalty - and even if it was close - it certainly wasn't a call you make in OT.

So, the Isles earned points in 3 of their first 4 games so far. That has to be a positive to take away - especially since they did it without Tavares, Streit, and Okposo. Tavares will play tonight against the Avalanche (matched against the guy picked right behind him - Duschene) and the Av's are coming in with a 3-1 record and an impressive win against the Rangers.

Isles caught a bad break yesterday in Pittsburgh - they need to put that behind them and put a "W" up on the board tonight to avoid having a lost weekend. I think we'll see Rollie in net - DP has played 2 straight OT games and probably can use a break and Rollie needs to play to stay sharp. I think the Isles will surprise the Av's - prediction - Isles 4, Av's 3.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rivalry Day - Isles v. NYR

Isles faced off in a matinee with cross-town arch-enemies the NY Rangers on Saturday at the Coli.

First observation: there is a VERY small crowd for a NYI/NYR game. I get it, it's a Monday at 1:00 - but so what. This is THE game for NY area hockey fans. Where is everyone? Between periods we (media) interviewed Commissioner Gary Bettman and he was asked about the sparse crowd and used the same lame excuse - its a Monday afternoon game. OK - then why schedule a game involving one of the biggest rivalries in all sports on Monday afternoon if you know there is a chance the crowd will suck. You know the Isles need help selling tickets - so the league screws them by scheduling this game as a matinee. I digress.

Second observation: Ranger fans are IDIOTS. How disrespectful -- all the moronic shout-outs during the national anthem. I get it - Potvin sucks, you hate the Isles, whatever. But it's the NATIONAL FREAKING ANTHEM. Have some respect, stand up, take your hat off and SHUT THE F**K UP. Seriously.

Third observation: Both teams skated well. Both teams came out flying and hitting. No surprise here. DP looked sharp early and came up huge on Gaborik's penalty shot. Early reports on Bailey are correct. He is skating better and looks like he is brimming with confidence. He has shown some additional maturity already this season - looks like an experienced veteran out there. Bailey displayed some SICK stick work in front of the net to tuck one past Lundquist as he was getting knocked down. As I said earlier, talk about Bailey’s elevated play are not exaggerated. Just before the goal he made pretty set-up in front to Parenteau that was denied. Isles have shown some resiliency so far -- coming from behind in 2 of their first 3 games.

Final observation: Commissioner Bettman was asked between periods about the Isles and/or Phoenix moving to one of the cities allegedly begging for a team (Winnipeg, Kansas City, etc). He stated - the league has NO plans to expand and currently has no interest in moving one of its existing teams to either city. He continued by agreeing that the Isles NEED and DESERVE a new facility and that the clock is ticking. The Isles are still a few years away from having to make a critical decision about the arena. He said maybe Nassau Cty needs to step in and cut the Town of Hempstead out of the process to get things moving in a positive direction.

Commissioner had all god things to say. Hopefully the local politicians were listening.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Isles Help Open a New Rink

Over the past few years that I've been a blogger for the Isles, there have been a few consistent themes running through most of my posts, such as: Isles need more scoring, my boys & I are huge fans of the team, the Isles are one of the most generous sports franchises with regard to community service; and I can't understand why Jon Sim still plays for this team.
Well.... this post is going to be a little about item 3 - the Isles giving back to the Long Island community. Say what you want about the product on the ice or how the team is run - but no one can criticize how much community service the Islander organization engages in each year. Many of the efforts are visible - Isles support for literacy; the school visits by Sparky and the Ice Girls; the incredible charitable giving seen at most games; and the visits to hospitals at Christmas and in the off-season; just to name a few. But the Isles do so much more.

Just last week the Islanders helped a local roller hockey league achieve its dream when they were present at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new St. John of God roller hockey rink in Central Islip. The St. John of God roller hockey league (SJOG) has been around for over 30 years and is a tremendous organization that enables almost 1000 kids each year to play organized roller hockey. The league started in a old parking lot behind SJOG church on Carleton avenue in Central Islip. They used old timbers for an edge to keep the puck from disappearing down the street. Over the past several decades, as the league grew in popularity, the rink morphed into an imitation hockey rink with painted plywood boards, chain link fencing, wooden benches, and a well-worn but playable blacktop surface. Last year the league reached a critical stage - continue to spend money attempting to maintain the old rink, or, take advantage of a unique but costly opportunity staring them right in the face. For years the league had dreamed of installing a more professional rink for the kids to use - but the cost of making that dream come true seemed insurmountable. Then the NY Islanders contacted the league and made them aware of an old ice rink that was being torn down and replaced in Brooklyn. With the Isles help, the league was able was able to obtain the old rink (which was still very good condition) and have it transported to Central Islip where one of the league coaches volunteered to store it for the season until enough money could be raised to replace the old rink.

The Islanders stepped in a second time and gave the league more than 1000 discounted tickets to sell to help it raise money. The kids in the league jumped in and sold almost 1500 tickets to one of last season's Isles/Devils game. It was SJOG night at the Coli and the money raised in the 50/50 raffle was also donated back to the league. Because of the Isles incredible giving spirit, the league raised more than $50,000 that night toward construction of the new rink. As a reward offered to the players from SJOG who sold the most tickets, the Isles invited the 3 top ticket selling kids and a parent to accompany the team to an away game in Pittsburgh. These young hockey players (who each sold over 100 tickets) got to ride on the Isles chartered jet, stay in the team hotel, attend the morning skate, and were the Isles guests at the game that night. Other top sellers won a ride on the Zamboni between periods, could high-five the team as they headed to ice each period, sat on the bench & was stick boy during warm-ups, and other meet & greet opportunities with Isles players. This was a night these young boys would NEVER forget. All made possible by the generosity of the NY Islanders.

Last week, on a beautiful late September evening, the officials from SJOG, the Islanders, and several hundred of the roller hockey league players and parents all gathered together to celebrate the grand opening of the new rink. It was truly a special night.

The new season is underway at SJOG. The kids are flying around the rink delivering clean checks, crisp passes, and congratulatory handshakes after the games. The tremendous smiles on the players faces can be seen through their caged helmets as they marvel at this beautiful new rink they get to play on each week. It is truly a sight to see.

One last note -- a little more than a year ago the Pastor of SJOG passed away from cancer at the too young age of 45 years old. Father Jim Kissane was a terrific priest, a good friend, and a tremendous supporter of youth hockey. He will be missed, but never forgotten --- the new rink was dedicated to his memory.

Next Up: A New Season Begins

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Few Words With Calvin de Haan

Earlier in the week I, along with fellow Blogger Ken Dick, had the opportunity to talk with Isles 19-year old prospect defencemen Calvin de Haan.  Calvin, a first round pick in 2009 (12th overall) is attending his second Isles rookie camp.  First, before I get into the details of my interview, let me start by saying that Calvin was very comfortable in front of the microphone (OK, it was a MP3 recorder) and he was a complete natural talking to the media.  He was personable, considerate, didn't give short, clipped, one-word answers, and was smiling during the whole interview. Then again, who wouldn't smile after coming off the ice playing defense for an NHL club at 19 years of age.

How is his shoulder?
Calvin put to rest any concerns over his health by remarking that his shoulder "was 100%, he felt great, and he was ready to play hockey."  His season in the juniors was cut short last year when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery.  Calvin didn't look like he was having any problems physically during practice.  This is good news for the Islanders.

What are his chances to play on LI this season?
I asked Calvin about his chances to play with the big club this season seeing how the Isles already have 8 defencemen under contract.  He said having depth is a good thing and that it presents a challenge to him - that he "will just have to work that much harder" to make them consider him over one of the veterans.  "Besides," he told me, "the worst case scenario is I goes back to juniors for another season and get lots of ice time to get ready if the call comes."  He seemed very comfortable with the reality of the Isles logjam at defense.  He was realistic about his chances, yet remained positive that another year at juniors could be good for him and that he would focus on improving his game.  Speaking of improving his game, my colleague Ken Dick asked Calvin:

What areas are you focusing on improving?
Calvin said he was working on his size & strength, noting that these are 2 of the major differences between juniors, the AHL, and the NHL.  He joked, "besides, we're just 18 and 19 year old kids trying to skate with grown men."  He also obviously has a good sense of humor.  I commented on the Isles lack of size in my earlier blog about rookie camp (something noted subsequently by other bloggers in their post-game analysis of the Isles prospects game against the Bruins) and Calvin acknowledged the size issue.  But he did remark that size isn't everything (ladies - you're used to guys saying that about other things) and that things like center of gravity, quickness, speed, balance, and how you use your body can all compensate for size to some degree.

Do you think your puck-handling skills give you an edge over other prospect?
We all know that over the last 5-10 years the Isles have struggled putting the puck in the net from the blue line (Streit is the exception), so I asked Calvin if he thought that the scouting book on him as being a puck moving and offensive defencemen gives him an edge should the Isles need to fill a slot on the blue line.  He said possibly, it all depends on what the team needed at the time - he also said guys like Hamonic and Katic also can move the puck.  He just wants a shot and that he "plans to do his best to be ready when the time comes."

It looked like de Haan and Hamonic were the top defensive pair in the practice?
I asked Calvin if Coach Gordon had given any indication that there was a "pecking order" or "leaders" on the rookie team.  He said the Coach hadn't come right out and said anything, but that he felt like the guys who have been here before possess a different comfort level than some of the newcomers.  He thought the coach might pick captains for the Boston games but that nothing had been said so far.  He said he liked being paired with Hamonic and thought they both played well in the practice.

During the entire interview you could sense a level of maturity and poise in Calvin that you don't find in most 19 year old athletes, or 19 year olds in general.  As I said he was affable, at ease, comfortable with his answers, and very accommodating.  I think with the current contract situation on the defense (all 8 guys having one-way contracts) that Calvin is likely to start the year in the juniors, and that's OK with Calvin.  It will give him the chance to make up some of the time he lost last year as a result of his shoulder injury.  But when the call comes, I have no doubt that he will be mentally ready and that he has a bright future in the NHL.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

That's Why They Call Them Rookies...

I spent this morning at Iceworks in Syosset watching the Isles rookies practice.  You could tell the difference right away between the guys who have been there before and the new guys.  Return players like Hamonic, Katic, de Haan, DiBenedetto, Rakhshani, and a few others seemed to have less difficulty with the drills while newcomers Niederreiter, Kabanov, Nelson, and Dehart all showed occasional signs of confusion or were out of position.   Coach Gordon's whistle got as much of a workout as the players.  This wasn't a run-of-the-mill practice with skating & passing drills and the usual stuff you see in camp.  They spent the bulk of their time on the ice running 5 on 5 drills in preparation for the 2 scrimmages against the Bruin rookies later this week.  Here are some observations from the practice:
There were only 6 defensemen on the ice.  The defensive pairings were: de Haan and Hamonic (looked like the number one pairing); followed by Klementyev and Katic; and then Syvret and Dehart.  All looked steady but de Haan, Hamonic and Katic looked a step or 2 ahead of the other 3. Their having been here before is largely the reason.

Kabanov seemed lost at times and several drills were stopped because of him being out of position.  Coach Gordon would give him a pep talk (rather loudly) and then the drill would resume.  His being lost might have something to do with his showing up late for his physical yesterday and as punishment for his lateness I heard Gordon wouldn't let him take the ice.  So while today was day 2 for everyone else, the big Russian was only on day 1.  When practice ended, all the players except Kabanov went to the dressing room.  Kabanov was left behind to be tortured by Coach Scott Allen who made him do skating drills.  I had flashbacks to Herb Brooks in the movie Miracle --- "Blow the whistle Craig."  He eventually came off the ice sucking wind and dry heaving a little -- I am pretty sure he'll be on time the rest of camp.

First round pick Nino Niederreiter looked good (meaning, he didn't embarrass himself) and worked well with line mates Rhett Rakhshani and Robin Figren.  Goalie Mikko Koskinen looked like Lerch in net (although he did move a lot quicker).  He is enormous.  He doesn't look as smooth as other goalies - which I think is a function of his size (he stands at 6'-5").  They looked a little rusty, made plenty of mistakes, seemed confused at times, and they were all exhausted by the end of the 2+ hour practice.  But then again, its understandable -- they are rookies.  Putting it in perspective, all-in-all, they looked fine.

One last observation -- these guys all looked pretty small to me (except Koskinen).  Now I am 6'-3", so lots of people look small to me; however, some of these guys will be playing in the NHL this year and they looked like kids.   Calvin de Haan said it best when I interviewed him: "Most of us are 18-19 years old out here trying to skate with grown men."  He is right, most of these guys are not even 20 years old, haven't finished growing, and are just kids.  Speaking of Calvin de Haan, I had the privilege of speaking with him briefly after the practice.  My next blog will contain my interview with this very likable young man.

Anyway, as I sat there contemplating the team's youth and lack of size, there was this sudden but brief period of almost total darkness.  I thought perhaps there was a power surge, or they were dimming the lights to send a message to Coach Gordon that practice was over.  Then I looked up and noticed it was Trevor Gillies standing in front of me.  Holey Moley is he huge.  The Isles website says he is 6'-3" and 215.  I think that's a mistake.  He looks like he is 6'-5" or 6'-6" and pushing 225.  Or maybe some of that is just the mustache.

We'll have a better idea of where the rookies stand after their 2-game scrimmage against Tyler Seguin and the Bruins rookies on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Finally, even though it was rookie camp there some very familiar faces walking around Iceworks.  I saw: Hunter, Schremp, Moulson, Okposo, D.P., Bailey, Hilbert, Martinek, Gillies, Gervais, Jurcina, Parenteau, and a few others.  

Seeing these guys in the orange & blue made me think of one thing --- the season is just around the corner.
Next up: My interview with Isles prospect Calvin de Haan.

Devils Fined & Lose Picks

Gary Bettman has settled on a punishment for the Devils attempt to circumvent the CBA rules with regard to their original efforts to sign Kovalchuk.  According to ESPN, the Devils were fined $3 million (does not count toward the salary cap) along with losing a 3rd round pick next year and a 1st round pick in one of the next four years (Devil's choice of which year).

While this may seem a little harsh on first blush - it does send a big message to the rest of the GM's and teams that the league will not stand by while teams make creative attempts to avoid the cap.  Let's face it - the original contract was sketchy (paying him $550,000 in the last 6 years until he was 44 yrs old).  This is especially tough considering GM Lou Lamoriello was part of the team negotiating the new CBA.  Some reporters feel the Devils got a break here and that it could have been worse --- they could have counted the fine toward the cap, took away more picks, increased the fine, etc.

One last note -- DP's contract always gets lumped into the conversation about these long-term contracts.  It's important to remember that DP is getting significantly less money than the others mentioned (Kovalchuk, Luongo, Hossa, and Ovechkin).  I think the league reached a fair penalty here.  Lou can squawk all he wants about not doing anything wrong here.... but as they say, sometimes the mere appearance that something is up is as bad as if something was actually up.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Park Moves to Europe

Katie Strang of Newsday reports that Richard Park, age 34, has left the Isles and signed a 3-yr deal to play for Swiss team Geneva-Servette. Apparently the Isles had only offered Park a two-way deal.  The Isles will miss his penalty-killing and faceoff prowess.  He averaged between 12 and 13 minutes of ice time last season and won a little more than 50% of his face-offs. He has always been one of their best on the PK.

Park only made $800,000 last season - so it surely wasn't a decision based on economics.  As mentioned in my previous post, the Isles have a lot of guys for only a few open slots.  Maybe this gives one of the younger guys a chance to show what he can do.

Good luck Park, we'll miss seeing number 10 out there when we are down a man.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just Around the Corner

The dog days of summer are behind us.  Earlier today the cool ocean breezes were bumping the early autumn leaves off the trees.  The kids are all back at school.

These are all signs of one thing... the 2010-2011 NHL season is just around the corner!  

A new NHL season means the players are getting prepared to endure their annual right of passage... Training Camp.  In only a few days we will get our first look at the 2010-2011 Islanders. Like most other teams, the Isles will open camp with some familiar faces (Okposo, Bailey, Tavares, Streit); some new faces (Wisniewski, Eaton, Jurcina, Konopka and Parenteau); some old faces (i.e., Weight & Sim); and lots of young faces.  Many of these "faces" will be trying to prove they belong on the top 2 lines or as one of the top 4 D-men; while many others will be fighting just to make the roster.

There will be lots of excitement as camp opens.  We'll get our first look at 2010 draft picks Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson, and Kirill Kabanov, along with returning prospects Calvin de Haan, Casey Cizikas, Travis Hamonic, Dustin Kohn, Dylan Reese, and others.  All of the above will not only be fighting to make an impression on Scott Gordon and the staff -- but to hopefully make the big club.

But do they even have a shot?  According the Isles website, they already have 14 forwards, 8 defensemen, and 2 goalies on the roster.  That's 24 players... and NHL rosters are limited to 23.  So, somethings gotta give.  It's obvious that some guys are guaranteed a spot -- Bailey, Hunter, Moulson, Okposo, Tavares, Weight, Streit, Martinek, Hillen, Wisniewski, Eaton, Roloson and DP (that's 13).  A few of the guys listed on the roster are likely to have only a little to worry about -- Neilsen, Schremp, Comeau, Jurcina, and MacDonald (that's another 5).  I think it's fairly obvious that the remaining guys are going to be fighting for their very lives (Sim, Gilles, Konopka,  Martin, Parenteau, and Gervais).  So... in reality, there is probably only 6 slots that are clearly open for competition.

When camp opens we'll have a clearer picture of where guys stand.  But for now... it looks like there are enough unconfirmed roster spots to make pre-season interesting.

Next Up:  Blog Box Update.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Isles Drop Some "E" at the Draft

It seemed a little bizarre to me to watch the 2010 NHL Draft on the scoreboard at the Coli and see the Isles "Entourage" approach the dais to announce their pick and walking next to Garth is a short guy in a suit that doesn't look like he works for the team.  He reaches the top step, turns around, and its....... Kevin Connolly from HBO's Entourage!!  That's a little weird.  I mean, I know he is a huge fan of the team and all --- it just seems odd to think he was sitting at the table while the brain trust discussed their selection and then accompanies Garth, Charles, and Ryan, to the podium for the pick.  Just odd... all I'm saying.

Now on to the pick -- Nino Niederreiter, a Swiss winger who played in Portland in the WHL.  I was at the Coli for the draft and listened to mostly groans from the fans because Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley were still on the board and a lot of fans were pulling for the Isles to pick a defensemen.  I DISAGREE.  I think Garth made a wise and bold choice.  Here's why:

First -- the Isles were 20th in the league in scoring last season and too often suffered from a lack of scoring from their 2d and 3d liners.  They NEED wingers who can put the puck in the net and Nino certainly can help fill that need.

Second -- the Isles have a decent collection of young defensemen in the system -- many of them proved themselves capable of playing in the NHL last season; i.e.; MacDonald, Kohn, and Reese.  Plus, Hillen has developed nicely and they have DeHaan and Hamonic in the wings.  They still have Streit, Martinek, Witt, and Gervais -- granted Witt and Gervais don't give you much.  Surely between all of the above --- and don't forget free agency --- the Isles can find 6 guys to steady the blueline.

Last --- Nino is a pretty good player who is likely to be NHL ready (or very close to ready) when the season opens.  Defensemen are notorious for taking longer to develop and both Fowler and Gormley have weaknesses.  Fowler isn't very physical and Gormley lacks size and is known to be a little weaker skater.  They probably would have started the season in Bridgeport and we wouldn't see either of them for a few years anyway. 

Here is the scoop on Nino ---

Niederreiter boasts good size, and all ready knows how to use it to protect the puck etc.. His balance is impeccable leaving him dominant against the wall. Moreover, like many WHL players, Niederreiter plays with some serious grit and never stops competing or bringing the intensity. This is evidenced by his great play in big games. Finally, and this is what really sets Nino apart from many other prospects is how creative he is with the puck for a big guy. He has good hands, and is a proven goal scorer at every level. All his skills, coupled with his character makeup will make Nino an attractive winger for any NHL GM come draft day.

This is exactly what the Isles need -- a proven goal scorer on the wing and someone who plays with grit.  I say this was a good selection.  Now let's see what Garth and the boys do with the rest of their picks and in the free agent pool.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Am I a Prophet?

Back in November I declared that I was dumbfounded or mystified by several things the Isles were doing.  They were as follows:
1) Why Gordon separated Tavares, Moulson & Okposo when they had been so productive for the first 2 weeks.
2) Why Jon Sim was playing over Tambelli and Schremp.
3) That the team was repeatedly blowing leads in the 3rd period.
4) That Gervais was underwhelming - along with the rest of the defense.

Turns out -- I was right about most of this.

Item 1: We saw Tavares go through an extended slump as Gordon rotated the guys on his wing.  In the second half of the season he played with more guys than a whore in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.  How can someone become "consistent" and "comfortable" if they have different line mates every night.  Then finally in the last few weeks he was reunited with Moulson and they both started finding the back of the net again.  Sometimes Gordon just over-coaches.

Item 2: OK, I said some crappy things about Sim on more than one occasion.  Mostly because I saw him playing on a top line or getting PP time.  That is just asinine.  Anyone whose seen Sim play knows that he plays hard, he is a scrappy guy, a pesky troublemaker and a garbage goal-scorer.  Now a goal is a goal is a goal.  However, when you have a guy with the talent of Schremp sitting on the bench for a team that is struggling offensively and someone like Sim is getting line 2 or 3 playing time it just doesn't make sense.  I've heard Schremp has focus issues and/or trouble keeping his game at a consistent level at both ends of the ice.  But when given some consistent ice time -- like we saw in the middle 3rd of the season -- we saw Schremp emerge as a real play-maker and someone probably capable of scoring 20-25 goals if given a real chance.  If Sim stays as a 4th line agitator, then that's fine -- but Schremp needs to see the ice more.  As for Tambellini -- I just have no answer for what is wrong with him.  He has brief (very brief) moments of brilliance - like when he scored a hat trick or during the shoot out - but then he'll go a week or two being completely invisible.  I think we all might need to finally accept that he would benefit from change of scenery.  Only problem - he played so little & Gordon has criticized his play enough that he probably has little to no trade value.

Item 3:  Late game collapses.  Once the Isles young guys got some experience under their belts we saw them play a little more consistently late in games.  I think having Roloson emerge as a solid net minder also allowed the team to relax a little and not be so worried that a mistake would cost them the game.

Item 4: No production from Gervais specifically and from the defense as a whole.  With the exception of Streit (whose production dipped from 16 goals last year to 11 this year) the defensemen scored a total of 17 goals for the season!!!!  That is putrid.  That is also the exact output from the defense the year before.  There are teams with a single defensemen with 17 or more goals -- and the entire defensive unit for the Isles had only 17 - again, taking Streit out of the equation.  Now for Bruno.  He had 3 goals and 16 assists last year for 19 points.  This season - 3 goals again and only 14 assists for a mere 17 points.  That is ANEMIC and he actually played 2 more games this year.  He was a -15 last season and a -15 this season.  So, essentially there has been no improvement in his game statistics-wise.  I know stats don't tell the whole story -- but I have season tickets and I watched Bruno make mistake after mistake with the puck this year.  Meanwhile Hillen went from 1 goal, 5 assists and a -9 in 40 games last season to 3 goals, 18 assists and a -5 in 69 games this season.  He showed some improvement and his stats may have been a little better if he didn't get his jaw broken so violently.  I am sure that has to have an impact on his play.

Lessons learned from above --- don't monkey with lines that are working; Schremp has earned the right to more ice time and, yes, Sim has value - just as a 4th line guy, and the Isles need to SERIOUSLY upgrade their defense.

In about 2 months from now is the draft.  The Isles have the 5th overall pick.  This is a draft allegedly rich in quality defensemen - so Garth should have his pick of a handful of qualified candidates.  Plus, with only 11 players under contract and the team more than $15 million under the minimum payroll, we should see some free agent spending this summer.

Next up:  I play swami for the Isles pick and free agents.