The New York Islanders have largely been an absolute torture to follow for a majority of the last twenty-five years. 1993, 2002, and 2013 being the exceptions. Since July 2006, Garth Snow, the retiring backup goalie, who swooped in on Neil Smith and plucked his GM job from him, after just over a one month tenure, has been engaged in a team rebuild through the draft. Because the Islanders have had less than stellar records, this usually results in pretty high selections in the NHL Draft. Charles Wang has also cash strapped Snow by requiring him to stay around the “SALARY FLOOR”.
Among the more creative ways of accomplishing this, by having long retired player Alexei Yashin’s and recently acquired non-playing goalie Tim Thomas’ contracts counting towards the floor without either of these gentlemen playing for the team. I guess some would refer to that as “creative accounting”. Others may refer to that as circumventing the salary floor. We could get into the laundry list of issues with the New York Islanders such as the Rick Dipietro selection and fifteen year contract. Countless bad draft picks. Seemingly never ending incompetence and negligence in an effort to maintain bargain basement policies.
I don’t have a problem with building through the draft. A championship team is properly built that way. But once a team’s cupboard is as overflowing with young talent through a seven year effort (yes I said seven years), there has to come a time when a team needs to add those last few pieces to the championship puzzle. When a team such as the Islanders have as many prospects as they do, they can afford to give a few of those up and draft picks for established players. All of these great prospects will not be able to play for the team. There is a roster limit.
Let’s take a look at the moves the Islanders have made. Plus some moves they maybe should have made but didn’t. First on that list is trading away Mark Streit to Philadelphia for the since released Shane Harper(not shedding a tear about that one) and a 2014 4th round draft pick. I’m actually okay with this deal. Streit was going to become an unrestricted free agent. He got a four year $21 million contract from the Flyers. He has been a good player for this team and wore the “C” with pride and class. But he was 35 years old and seemed to be losing a step. I wouldn’t have been upset to see him here for a couple more years but four more seems to be a little too long. Plus for that much money, where he is at this stage in his career, I don’t think so. There are plenty of guys that will be up in that time period to play defense for this team. We got a 4th round pick for somebody we were going to lose anyway. I’ll take it.
Now let’s address the “Nino Situation”. This is a little more in depth a predicament than simply trading your 2010 fifth overall pick for gritty forward Cal Clutterbuck. The fact Garth drafted him where he did has always been a problem for me. Where he was ranked and if you look back on that draft some of the other guys Garth didn’t choose, to select Nino Niederreiter, will always have me shaking my head. Shall I list some of these names? Jeff Skinner, Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brett Connolly, Brendan Gallagher, and Alexander Burmistrov. That’s right now. Give it a few more years and we’ll take a look back again. Ugh. A word used after many an Islander draft.
I don’t have a problem with Cal Clutterbuck as a player. He’s a hard checking, aggresive, high energy guy the Islanders need. He was also John Tavares’ teammate in juniors. He’s only 25, so age isn’t an issue. He can also get you some points. He has some skill. So you may ask what’s the problem? The problem is that the team could have gotten Clutterbuck in another deal, that didn’t involve Nino Niederreiter. Nino and our first round pick is what LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi wanted for future NHL elite goaltender, Jonathan Bernier. Are you kidding me?! You don’t give up a guy you want to trade and your 1st round pick for a guy that would fit right into exactly what you are doing in this rebuild, for the next decade? Snow may be king of the dumpster divers, but his other GM functions have been sketchy at best. If you regularly read my blog I was ready to trade Nino, a defensive prospect, and their choice of Poulin, Nilsson, or Koskinen. Maybe even throw in the pick if they had to, but getting a 2nd rounder in return. Nino and the 15th overall pick could have brought in Bernier and you don’t pull the trigger on that? Then you trade that same guy for Cal Clutterbuck?! Sickening.
I wanted to re-sign Evgeni Nabokov to a two year contract as a super backup for Jonathan Bernier. That ship has sailed with Bernier in Toronto. I am not comfortable with Kevin Poulin as the backup. There is a reason they gave him a two way contract that allows the team to move him up and down with Bridgeport. I’d prefer a tandem with Nabokov and maybe looking into a trade for Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis. Try a 45-37 split with Halak and Nabokov. Garth should be inquiring on his availability and the price for his services.
The Travis Hamonic, 7-year, $27 million deal, is a wise investment and locks in a big part of this defense for a long time. It’s time to bring back restricted free agents Josh Bailey, Thomas Hickey, the recently traded for Cal Clutterbuck, and the recently KHL bound David Ullstrom. Obviously not to the size of the Hamonic deal, but all fair in years and compensation to each of their unique and valuable talents.
This leaves us with the 2013 NHL Draft. I’ll admit when they first made the pick of Ryan Pulock I was upset they did not select Nikita Zadorov. I have learned more about Pulock, and his 100 mph slap shot, and I feel much better about him coming to the team. The rest of the draft, like for so many other teams, contains lots of question marks. A couple of goalies, an undersized offensive superstar, and the rest. We’ll see what happens.
Here we are post draft and free agent signing day and the Islanders are better in some ways, but may have not addressed enough needs to compete in the new NHL. Remember, realignment has the Islanders in a new eight team division with the Rangers, Devils, Flyers, Capitals, Penguins, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets. A very much improved Blue Jackets team. You also include Detroit in the Eastern Conference, the new playoff format, and a full 82 game season, I’m not sure if the Islanders can make it back to back playoff appearances. The simple truth is this team will continue their frugal salary floor ways until they move to Brooklyn. Hopefully with an arena change there will be an ownership change in the form of Mikhail Prokhorov. Then maybe, just maybe, these next twenty-five years will not be an era of torture but one of redemption.
By a vote of 4-3, the Glendale City Council agreed to the fifteen year lease that will keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Arizona. I’m sure Bettman and Daly are thrilled. I’m sure the small handful of fans are thrilled. But is this in the best interest of the NHL, and hockey as a sport in North America? This also begs the question how does this affect realignment? The Seattle rumors were rampant the last few weeks, but any return of Seattle NHL hockey will need to be put on hold for a few years.
Well, if you have followed this blog you know my assertion that it’s inevitable that the Florida Panthers will move due to their lackluster results on and off the ice, the defection of Detroit and Columbus to the Eastern Conference, and a new 32 team NHL on the horizon. They are the odd team out. Seattle will get a new team. It’s a matter of when and not “if”. Quebec also seems to be ready for a return. So if you remember my “Realignment and You. Uh oh. Now What?” post, I included a Phoenix Coyotes realignment scenario. Here it is.
PERMANENT POST FLORIDA MOVE TO KANSAS CITY, PHOENIX COYOTES REMAIN, and EXPANSION.
Brooks Orpik. Brooks Orpik was the man that scored the game winning goal in overtime to clinch Game 6 and the series win for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the upstart New York Islanders. With the “Dream Team” consisting of names like Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, Neal, Kunitz, Letang, Dupuis, journeyman tough guy Orpik eliminated the Islanders. Kind of ironic that a guy who was named after Herb Brooks, derailed a “mini-Miracle” in the making.
If you read my last post, I mentioned that I was wondering if the Islanders were (a) ready to battle or (b) just happy to be there. I will admit after the Game One 5-0 drubbing, I thought they were in option b. I never saw the team I had watched the last month and a half of the season. Apparently and thankfully I was wrong. It turned out to just be a really bad case of the nerves. This Islander team did what I hoped, outside of actually winning the series of course. They made that statement that they were back. This is not the same old Islanders and this team is about to make some noise in this league for the next decade. They played their hearts out. They actually outplayed the Penguins in four of the six games. The Penguins know it too. This team has a lot to be proud of and I thank them for bringing some pride back to all Islander fans.
With that said, where is the ownership’s head on this? Will they continue the same old salary floor circumventing strategies, or spend a little money to bring in the last few pieces to take the next step? The fans more than proved “if you build it, they will come”. They will also blow the roof off the Coliseum. The Islanders have some big decisions on what they will do for next season. First of their issues is goaltending.
Evgeni Nabokov has been a stabilizing force for the Islanders goaltending situation. He only came to the team because Garth Snow put in a waiver claim for him, when he tried to sign with the Detroit Red Wings after his short stint in the KHL. Nabokov realized Long Island wasn’t really the Siberia of the NHL that it was portrayed to be. I am thankful for what Evgeni Nabokov has brought to this team. But to take that next step, due to age concerns and his consistent career playoff performance, the Islanders need to find a new top goaltending option. I wouldn’t mind him as a backup, but I don’t think he or the team wants to explore that option. The in house options of Kevin Poulin, Mikko Koskinen, Anders Nilsson, and Rick Dipietro (ha!) are not viable options right now. Then who you might ask? There are two top possibilities that should be on the team’s radar. Los Angeles Kings backup, 24 year old Jonathan Bernier or 31 year old Phoenix Coyotes unrestricted free agent Mike Smith.
Jonathan Bernier is one of the most talented backup goaltenders in the NHL. The only reason he is a backup is because Jonathan Quick is the starter. He was drafted by the Kings in 2006, 11th overall. This past season he had a sub 2.00 GAA and a plus .920 save percentage in fourteen games played. The Islanders would need to make a trade for him. If I could be so bold, may I suggest a possible trade scenario? Don’t worry, it’s not ridiculous. The trade requesting Nino Niederreiter, blue chip defensive prospect Scott Mayfield, and their 2013 1st round pick (15th overall) for Jonathan Bernier. The Islanders have stockpiled prospects over the last five years so, two prospects and a first round draft pick will not cripple this very young franchise. In return they get a top goaltending option who is only 24 years old. He is also a restricted free agent so the trade is a better option rather than giving up four or five first round draft picks. I’m sure something could be arranged that will allow the teams to follow the rules but still get this deal done.
I suggest upon completion of this trade signing Bernier to a seven year contract extension. His youth also fits right in with the rest of the team. To solidify goaltending I also suggest re-signing Evgeni Nabokov to a two year deal. Look at it realistically. Nabokov is 38 years old. Chances are outside of a team losing an established starter, he will be a backup wherever he lands. His best option backing up a top goalie on a top spending cup contender and maybe playing twenty to twenty-five games if he’s lucky. With the Islanders you could establish the first year, a 45 to 50 game work load for Bernier. Let Nabokov play the remaining 32-37 games. He would be a mentor to Bernier, still get a lot more games played than anywhere else in the NHL, and set up a possible post playing career with a selfless move like that.
Mike Smith is an unrestricted free agent once the Stanley Cup Finals end. There are pluses for Mike Smith as an option. Well, he is an unrestricted free agent and it will only take money to bring him to the team without giving up any players in return. He is seven years older than Bernier. He has some big game experience and is accustomed to being the number one netminder. This could also work as a stop gap for the goalie prospects the Isles do have and allow them to develop fully. The team could talk shorter terms of years in any contract. He is a goalie and his last name is Smith. Minuses? Last year was a step back for the Coyotes and Smith personally. That’s a possible black mark against him. He is likely to be courted heavily by many other teams, such as the Philadelphia Flyers. Maybe the Islanders run will be taken lightly by possible free agents such as Smith. They may want to take a wait and see approach to make sure the team was not a one year wonder. The biggest black mark as always? Charles Wang is the owner and demands the team be run around the salary floor. Please don’t short change goaltending.
When I was first starting this post I also had some dreams about making trades for Thomas Vanek and Bobby Ryan. Hey both guys are probably going to be traded, the Islanders have all that cap room, this little taste of success will push the team to spend a little more because they saw the huge reaction from the fans, and they have a cupboard overflowing with prospects. Then I read an article from Newsday‘s Arthur Staple, about how they plan on sticking to the prospects and not to expect any huge offseason moves. Reality check. This is the New York Islanders under Charles Wang. Salary Floor Circumvention City. Population: New York Islanders. Just a reminder, Alexei Yashin (retired), Tim Thomas (traded for his salary because they knew he wasn’t playing this year), and all time draft bust Rick Dipietro (now AHL goalie) all currently count against the salary floor.
This offseason is that critical point in time of what is the future for the New York Islanders. Even if the team is “staying the course”, they have to realize goaltending cannot be messed around with. Jonathan Bernier or Mike Smith are your two best options. Bring back unrestricted free agents Keith Aucoin and Evgeni Nabokov for two year deals. Brad Boyes played fine but everyone knew he was here for the year to give some of those prospects more time to season. Mark Streit is the captain and has been a good player for this team. It also seems to be his last few days with the team. Matt Donovan may finally be ready to make the jump to the NHL. John Tavares has arrived as an NHL superstar and the defacto captain of this team. Players like Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee, will be fighting for a roster spot when training camp starts. Don’t mess around with restricted free agents like Travis Hamonic, Josh Bailey, David Ullstrom, and Thomas Hickey. Get them signed and ready to go long before September. Building through the draft has given this team the future they have been waiting for. The future is now.
The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are here! Cue up the Andy Williams for “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. The ultimate in heart and dedication, battling for “Hockey’s Holy Grail”. Where as we saw last year an eight seeded underdog can shock the world and raise Lord Stanley’s Cup. The odds on favorites this year are the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. Both chock full of talent. But the thing is, the games need to be played before a champion is crowned. So called experts give their predictions because they supposedly know X, Y, and/or Z. It’s nice to watch and fill time on their shows, but all that we can do as fans is sit back, watch, and enjoy the greatest time of the year for a hockey fan.
For your humble author, this is a very different year. Why? Because my team is usually trying to figure out who they are going to pick in the upcoming draft. I have mentioned in passing my allegiance is with the New York Islanders. I am waiting for the laughter. Go ahead. Get it out. They deserve it after the way they have been run for a good majority of the last twenty-five years. You will never find a bigger critic of the team than me. But now something is very different. The New York Islanders have made the playoffs. That was very odd to say. I remember a time when making the playoffs was a given. I first fell in love with the great game of hockey in 1980 as an 8 year old kid with the legendary Miracle on Ice team. My Dad never followed hockey so this was very new for me. I stumbled upon a game towards the end of the season between the Rangers (a team I heard of) and this New York Islander team. I recognized Ken Morrow from the Miracle team. I became entranced by guys like Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Bobby Nystrom, and Billy Smith. I always contend this makes me a “pure” fan. Because unlike many fans, I was not “brainwashed” or influenced by someone else to like a team. I don’t know. Like I’ve said before, I am a little “unique”.
I admit I was very spoiled the first few years of my hockey experience. The last twenty-five years have been heartbreakingly torturous to witness. So much so, I have been e-mailing the team for years, well before this social media phenomenon. I used to interact with Customer Service Manager, Kerry Cornills. It would drive me nuts watching Milbury make horrible mistake after horrible mistake. I felt a need to let them know we as Islander fans that we were not happy. Figuring they were in their own world not realizing how bad they were performing. I came to the harsh realization, they knew, but really didn’t care. They were just there to try and make some money and winning was a secondary benefit. I understand winning helps make money, but spending money is also required , so this was something they were not very keen on doing. I am currently blocked on the New York Islanders Facebook page because I would say things like, “Maybe if you put as much effort into the on-ice product, as you did with your promotions, the team might have a chance to compete for the Cup”. Apparently the truth isn’t very much appreciated in that neck of the woods. Just ask Chris Botta.
Yes they made the playoffs in 2007, but the New York Islanders have not won a playoff series since 1993. That’s exactly twenty years! Players such as Pierre Turgeon, Benoit Hogue, Glen Healy, Ray Ferarro, Marty McInnis, Derek King, and David Volek were on that team. That was the last thing Islander fans had something to cheer for. They advanced all the way to the Wales Conference finals against the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Montreal Canadiens. Al Arbour was actually the Head Coach of that team! It was a long time ago
Now Garth Snow’s rebuild may have finally turned something around. The King of the Dumpster Divers has picked up some recent castoffs and turned them into gold. Players like Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, Thomas Hickey, Colin McDonald, Keith Aucoin, and Brian Strait. Most of those guys are not household superstars, but all have shown tremendous talent in playing their roles to build a competitive team. I still question some of his draft picks, and he seems limited by the salary floor neighborhood the team is required to live in, but he has the Midas Touch when it comes to finding the proverbial “diamond in the rough”. They have a few more moves to make. Pick up a couple of offensive wingers, re-signing a couple of impending free agents, and a solid backup goalie. They are much closer now and this team really seems to have finally turned the corner. Don’t “Milbury” this up.
The New York Islanders have earned the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference against the seemingly unstoppable Pittsburgh Penguins. Crosby, Malkin, Iginla, Morrow, Fleury, Letang, Kunitz, Dupuis. Practically as close to a “Dream Team” as one could get in this new NHL world. But this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. These are not your same old New York Islanders. I was watching this team in April and was amazed at what I was watching. Actual crisp passing. Fast skating. Grinding. Not the same old boring dump and chase. They were actually outplaying some top notch teams. I wanted to cry. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a team with so much gidddyap in their step. I am a realist and know this is just a first step in what could be a great journey.
Remember, my first exposure to hockey was the Miracle on Ice team. The talent gap between the Soviet team and Team USA was far greater than what the Islanders have to face in Round 1 against the almighty Penguins. I’m thrilled to feel that excitement again of making the playoffs. Hopefully the Islanders aren’t. It’s time to make some noise. To let the NHL know, that they will not just go quietly into the night. This is the New York Islanders coming out party. Let’s hope some of the “Miracle Magic” keeps the party going for a very long time.
“Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into”. If you have an appreciation for very old school comedic, film you’ll recognize that quote from the old Laurel and Hardy films. This is how I can best express the current NHL realignment situation. Everything was resolved, not to my liking or that of many others, but it was resolved. Now there are media reports that have a Canadian based ownership group ready to buy the Phoenix Coyotes and relocating them to Quebec. Okay that’s not a problem. But how does this affect the realignment plan? Are they going to just have the Phoenix turned Quebec team just play in the “Pacific Division”? We just finally had the whole Winnipeg in the Southeast Division problem figured out. Now we have this before this season is up?
You can’t tell me Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, and the rest of the NHL power brokers didn’t know anything about this possibility. The Phoenix Coyotes are currently owned by the NHL! I get not being able to divulge everything for business reasons, but don’t put out realignment plans, required for approval by several parties out there, without having certain backup plans for possible events that may arise. By the way, is it just me or could Bettman and Daly really pass for Laurel and Hardy? Well at least if they decided to go to a Halloween party together, they’d probably win if they went as the duo. I find that very strange indeed.
I thought I was done with this whole NHL realignment thing with the final installment of my NHL realignment trilogy: “The Return of the Nordique”. To quote another movie, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in”. So here’s where we stand as of right now. The NHL realignment plan is as follows. Just click on the picture for a clear view.
If indeed the Phoenix Coyotes are sold to a Canadian based ownership group, and the plan is to move them to Quebec for the 2013-14 NHL season, a temporary alternate realignment plan must be adopted. Somebody will be upset, but I think the league, if they do adopt a new plan, will make it a very minor change until they expand to the thirty-two team NHL. The path of least resistance in this specific scenario to “not upset the apple cart” would simply be to swap the Colorado Avalanche out of “Division B” to “Division A” and put a new Quebec team into “Division B”.
Yes I am aware of where Quebec City is located. Of course I’d rather have them in “Division C” with Montreal, Toronto, Boston, “and the rest”, but this seems to be the easiest transition. I cannot see the NHL and and NHLPA adopting a whole brand new massive realignment before they even start with the already agreed upon plan. It took quite a while to agree on the last plan. Do you honestly think, all parties involved would welcome a whole new reboot after the last couple of years? Quebec is out of place in that more midwestern division, but it’s better than in a west coast arrangement. Colorado being in the mountain time zone, has the most flexibility to being in either division. That franchise still owes something to Quebec City for leaving, following the 1995 season. They could also allow the new Quebec franchise to adopt the the Nordiques name and uniforms. Their debt would then be paid back in full.
So this leaves the NHL realignment plan for the next couple of years. How will the Phoenix Coyotes move to Quebec work within that plan, and an inevitable post expansion thirty-two team NHL? Going by everything that has actually occurred, here are both scenarios that could work out in their alignment.