Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don't Mess This Up, Garth

Anyone who knows me has a pretty decent idea of where I stand on the whole Tavares/Hedman issue. Tavares may be a highly skilled sniper who will be a "quick fix" in putting people back in the seats at the Coliseum, but the bottom line is that a winning product on the ice is a time proven way to sell tickets, and to do that, the team needs to focus on defense, an issue which has plagued them all year. In adressing this need, I am going against the other 95% of Islander fans and claiming that with the 1st overall pick, the New York Islanders should pick Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman.

Fans hear the comparison of Tavares to the likes of the great Islander, Mike Bossy, and immediately think that he will do the same thing that Bossy did in the 80's. People see how the likes of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin have saved their respective franchises, and that Tavares could potentially do the same. This all may be true, but think of it in this aspect...

The Islanders draft Tavares, so they try to make up for the lack of a big defenseman via free agency. Jay Bouwmeester is out of their reach, and Mike Komisarek signs a huge deal elsewhere. The Islanders may make some minor moves, such as bringing in someone like a Francois Beauchemin or trading up in the first round to grab someone like Oliver Ekmann-Larsen (notice there is NO mention of Matt Gilroy). This leaves the Islanders with a SLIGHTLY improved defense and a talented, yet extrememly young offensive core. Let's not even bring up the fact that Rick DiPietro is or isn't going to be healthy next year (the jury's still out on that one).

The Islanders have a lot which they can build upon on offense in the likes of Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen, Sean Bergenheim, Blake Comeau, and Trent Hunter. On defense, however, you have quite possibly the best signing in the NHL last year in Mark Streit, Bruno Gervais, and for arguments sake, Brendan Witt as three guys you absolutely know you can count on. Do Islander fans really want to take a chance on Jack Hillen or another year of the chalk-for-bones play of Radek Martinek?

If the Islanders draft John Tavares, he may live up to the hype of his reputation, being the player that saves the franchise. However, if Garth Snow really wants to put the best team available on the ice five years from now, he won't listen to the fans in section 330 chanting "John Tavares, John Tavares". Instead, he will look to the Islanders teams of the past, teams with the defensive dominance of players like Denis Potvin and Ken Morrow, and maybe then he will realize that the right pick in this years draft is Victor Hedman.

Or than again, maybe he'll just trade down twice again...

Monday, April 13, 2009

DiPietro Spotted on Crutches. Time for a Backup Plan!

As per Greg Logan, Islanders 2000 first overall draft pick and franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro has been spotted at the team's rehab facility under the use of crutches. This comes only a day removed from hearing coach Scott Gordon say of DiPietro after yesterday's season finale "He's upbeat. I don't know the specifics of his timetable, but he's been encouraged with the way things are going and he fully expects to be on the ice mid-summer and ready to go."

What does this mean for the franchise? The absence of the 6'1", 210 lb. goaltender was what many feel led to the Islanders finishing 30 out of 30 in the final NHL standings in 2009. DiPietro's chronic "lower body injuries" (knee and hip injuries) have caused him to miss virtually the entire 2008-09 season, as well as the conclusion to the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. Clearly, a healthy DiPietro is the key to a return to success for hockey on Long Island, and the question of his health is by far the biggest concern among Islander fans this offseason.

Should DiPietro have yet another setback this year, the Islanders do have a few choices at potential backup plans. The mostly solid play of backups Yann Danis and Joey MacDonald have warranted them credit by Islander fans, however, should DiPietro not return next year, don't expect to see either of them as the Isles' #1 in net in 2009-10. More likely, however, is the possibility of seeing the Islanders solve their need at a starting goaltender through this years free agency period. Below is a small list of potential suitors for the Islanders starting goaltender position should the need arise.

Craig Anderson. Florida's backup to Tomas Vokoun posted a solid 15-7-5 over 31 games with a .924 save percentage (3rd best in the league) and a 2.71 goals against average. He won four of his last five games of the 2008-09 season and has played consistent all year. Islanders fans will remember his solid play from last years "core of the four" game, when he shut out the Islanders on 53 shots (Anderson's 53 saves were an NHL record for amount of saves during a shutout). Anderson made $575,000 last season and is expected to get quite a raise through free agency, as many feel that Florida will up their price to keep Anderson. Overall, Anderson in an Isles jersey is wishful thinking, however his potential high price may drive the Isles away.

Scott Clemmensen. The Devils backup for Martin Broduer has been a major story of the NHL this year, and his play off the bench may lead to a connection with the NFL's Matt Cassell. The 31 year old Clemmensen played in 40 games this year, posting a record of 25-13-1 with 2 shutout victories, as well as finishing in the top 10 in save percentage (.917%, 9th) and goals against average (2.39, 7th). Clemmensen made a modest $500,000 this season, and, like Cassell, likely will make more durin the offseason. Temas may look at his wonderful run as Devils starting goaltender and see a slam dunk signing. Personally, I wouldn't touch Clemmensen, as I feel that he was purely in the right place at the right time. I can see, however, the Islanders possibly offering Clemmensen a contract, as he can be seen as a low risk, high reward type of signing.

Ty Conklin. Personally, the most intriguing of all potential free agent goaltenders the Islanders could land is Detroit's Ty Conklin. The 33 year old journeyman goaltender has played for five teams since the 2001-02 season. He finished 25-11-2 this season in 40 games played and posted 6 shutouts this season, the sixth best in the league. His solid play during the regular season is something that can really boost the Islanders into a possible playoff position next year. Conklin earned $750,000 this past season, and barring him leading the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup victory this year, Conklin likely will get a 1 year contract worth about the same as what he makes now. Of all potential suitors for Rick DiPietro's possible "replacement", I see Conklin as the most likely candidate.

Keel in mind that all this is speculation. It is very likely that DiPietro will be healthy for next season and could possibly be back to his usual form. However, should there be even one more minor setback, the Islanders need to jump at a backup plan to ensure they do not finish last again next year

Sunday, April 12, 2009

At Seasons End

With the end f Easter Sunday, so too will end the 2008-09 NHL regular season, and what a memorable one it has been. We have seen records fall, such as Washington's Mike Green setting the NHL goal record for a defenseman, and superstars playing in their prime, such as Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgenni Malkin and Washington's Alexander Ovechkin. However, if you live out here in Islander Country, this season has been one to forget. 

With the conclusion of Saturday's matinee against the Flyers, the Islanders, already guaranteed a last place finish, looked like a team which had been through hell and back. The tone in the locker room was somber and melancholy, with both players and coaches not looking relieved to have this nightmare of a season over, but appearing as if the season took years of everyone's lives. When asked to explain his experience this year, rookie coach Scott Gordon elaborated that "the last few weeks of the season seemed like it lasted for a day, but the first few months lasted for years". 

There is no question that the season has worn on the players. When interviewed downstairs at the Coliseum, the common theme was "frustration". Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit, and Sean Bergenheim all expressed their feelings of frustration at the injuries which have plagued the season, and each of them indicated in some way that the future is bright for this young organization. 

Now we can all put this catastrophe of a season behind us. We can focus on things like draft lotteries, the AHL playoffs, making smart offseason pickups via the draft and free agency, and f course, rooting AGAINST the Rangers. The season may be over for the Islanders, but the organization will likely be very busy in the upcoming months. All I will say, on behalf of Islander fans everywhere, don't mess this one up!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Islanders Clinch Last Place

With last night's embarrassing 6-1 loss to Pittsburgh, the New York Islanders have secured last place. Why, you may ask, is everyone so excited in Islanders Country then? This loss secures the Islanders either the first or second overall pick in this years NHL Entry Draft.

This means that regardless of what happens in the remaining 2 games this season, the Isles will get the chance to draft the highly regarded prospects, John Tavares and Victor Hedman.

There's no question that one, if not both, of those talented young men is needed here on the Island. In the month of April, the Islanders are 1-4, giving up 24 goals and scoring only 10. The offensive upside of Tavares or the rock solid play of Hedman would be a warm welcome to the Coliseum, and some feel that with a smart offseason signing a few key free agents, plus a healthy Rick DiPietro, the Islanders MAY be a force to be reckoned with in 2009-10.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Different Team

With the 2008-09 season coming to a close, the New York Islanders can soon put this nightmare of a season behind them. They are currently last in the NHL in overall points, and are likely to secure a top two draft pick this year. This season has been one of slight ups and extreme downs, frustrating losses, and injuries galore. It seems that nobody is off limits when it comes to being bitten by the injury bug, including rookie phenom Kyle Okposo and defenseman Mark Streit. The duo, clearly the Isles best two players, recently went down with "lower body injuries", and are likely to miss the rest of the season, leaving the rest of the team in disarray and struggling for the identity they need.

The injuries to Streit and Okposo has led to a few open spots on the team. For the game Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Islanders called up youngsters Jesse Joensuu, Mike Iggulden, and Mitch Fritz. The Islanders, with 10 players from Saturday's game playing some time in Bridgeport this year, looked and played like an AHL team. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are missing their star center Vincent Lecavalier, played even worse. The end result was probably the ugliest Islanders win of the season, a two one victory, which for the most part, put the crowd to sleep.

A gme like this can be looked at as something good for the Isles' future. Okposo, who got off to a slow start, but since January has been stellar, was sorely missed out on the ice. His strong skating was clearly absent. The lack of skill from the point on the power play was apparent in his absence. The team looked as if they had no identity.

This is what Okposo bring to the table every game; grit, determination, skill, and power. In short, Okposo is the face of the franchise.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I Smell A Rat

At about 1:30 this morning, I was woken by a familiar noise. The cell phone sitting next to my bed flashed, vibrated, and sounded the familiar tune which signified a text message. Still half asleep, I opened up the phone and couldn't believe what I read:

Murray Gives Lighthouse Thumbs Down.

Was this a bad April Fools joke? The Lighthouse meeting held last week was such a success, how could it be shot down so fast? Convinced I was the victim of a bad prank, I responded to the text with two words: says who? What I read next put me into a full panic and led me to believe that this was no April Fools joke.


I immediately ran to my computer and went to, where I saw the article. "This is bad," I kept saying, "this is really bad."

To summarize what has transpired, Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray has decided to officially declare her opposition of the Lighthouse Project. Her alternative: a fully renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, which she says will create thousands of jobs for the struggling economy. The money to get this project going Murray states, will be federal stimulus dollars.

Wait, federal stimulus dollars?!?!

Renovating an old building, home to a struggling hockey franchise which struggles to bring in ten thousand people per game isn't exactly what I had in mind when I think about stimulus relief.

Murray says that the renovation will create thousands of jobs, thus saving Nassau. However, if she were to look at the center of the map of the Lighthouse, found here, she would see that on top of renovating the Coliseum, other PERMANENT jobs would be created. The apartments would need doormen, the convention center would need security. Are those TEMPORARY construction jobs more important than the proposed PERMANENT jobs? Shame on you Kate Murray.

Finally, one more thing, as an Islander fan, really bothered me. In a public statement, Murray stated that the county should "score the Coliseum's greatest victory since the Islanders 1984 Stanley Cup". For photos of that Stanley Cup victory, click here.

1984? Are you kidding me? If Kate Murray wants to appeal to Islander fans (a moot point by now), she should at least realize that the Isles LOST in five games to the Oilers. So thank you, Ms. Murray, not only for busting Islander fans' bubbles regarding the Lighthouse, but also pouring salt on our wounds.