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.