An independent blog on the New York Islanders, the NHL and AHL by a guy from New York.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Barzal Named Calder Memorial Trophy Finalist

When our New York Islanders selected Barzal in the first round (16th overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, I’m sure they expected to have a very good prospect in their system that would eventually pan out to be an offensive contributor and make an impact on the team someday. When he was the final cut, Barzal went back to Seattle and returned to the Thunderbirds, winning the 2017 WHL championship. Barzal was also named WHL MVP of the playoffs with a 7&18, 25 points performance in 16 games.

For the Islanders, the 20-year-old Barzal was a major contributor this season, especially when paired with long time team-mate Anthony Beauvillier (who was the player to beat him out for that final roster spot that season) and 1st year Islander, Jordan Eberle. Barzal had such a break out year in his rookie season, the NHL named him one of the three finalists for rookie of the year and should be the favorite among the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association to win the Calder Memorial Trophy. Brock Boeser (VAN) and Clayton Keller (ARI) had great years, but not like the one we saw written before our eyes. Barzal had 20 more points than Keller, 30 more than Boeser who missed 20 games due to injury. Barzal also had an impressive 1.04 pts/game average (with less shots on goal) over Keller (0.79) and Boeser (.089) and was the only one among the three non-playoff team rookies to end the season with a plus rating and 27 PP points. Mathew Barzal even led his own team in points (85) and assists (63) in an exciting 82 game rookie campaign along with an impressive 22 goal scoring tally.

The Calder Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to "the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League." Barzal wasn’t just a solid rookie, he quickly became a solid NHL player who gave the opposition problems trying to contain his swift skating, powerful and adept puck handling and alert play-making. The NHL awards will be handed out at the Hard Rock in Vegas on June 20th and the choice for Barzal securing the trophy should be an easy one.

As mentioned in Part 1 of my Season RecapBarzal was one of only five NHL rookies with 63 assists in a season with Crosby being the only active Alumni of this club. Barzal was mentioned in the same breath as Islander’s greats, Brian Trottier (63 assists), Denis Potvin (rookie to lead team in pts and assists). In total points, Barzal ranks third just behind Trottier (95 in ’75-76) and Bossy (‘77-78). His 9 game with at least 3 points and 3 five point games and scored his first NHL hat trick against the Jets in December. Don’t forget that Barzal was drafted by the Islanders after the Bruins passed on the 13th, 14th & 15th picks in his draft year. The Isles traded Griffin Reinhart to the Oilers for the 16th (Barzal) and 33rdpicks. 

We came that close. Sometimes, things happen for a reason. In this case, Isles fans everywhere are so glad this one did. The future is still bright.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

2018 KoC New York Islanders Season Review, Part 1

Family obligations have slowed me down here at Knight of Cups. My Father’s coverage and care needs have kept me away from commenting on Isles news longer than I’d like, but I’m hoping things get better for us soon. I’m working my ass off to make it happen. A sincere Thank You to everyone who supports me, and my blog.

In Part 1 of my 2017-18 Isles Season Recap, I’ll be looking at the Organization, Coaching, Special Teams and the Forwards for the past season.

Part 2 will focus on Defensemen and Goal-tending with a summary of what the summer may hold for Isles Country.

Our New York Islanders have missed the playoffs again, for the second straight season, finishing 22nd in the NHL with a 35-37-0-10 record at 80 points. At home, the once efficient Isles finished an average 20-18-4 after starting 8-0-2, then going 11-18-2 in their last 31 games at the Barclays Center. On the road, their season numbers were even worse, finishing with a suspect 16-19-4 record away from home. With a new arena coming in Belmont, the future should move closer to center if the arena drama doesn’t continue to mount.

They’ve missed the playoffs 8 out of 12 seasons with Garth Snow as the General Manager since 2006. When they made the post-season, the Isles fell to Buffalo 4 games to 1 in ‘06-07, 4-2 vs Penguins in ‘12-13 & 4-3 in a spirited series with Washington in ‘14-15. Their only playoff series win came in ‘15-16 when they beat the Florida Panthers in game 6 of the series off a pair of Tavares last minute game tying, and then game winning goals in double O.T. But they went on to lose in the second round against the Lightning, 4 games to 1. It was the team’s first win in a playoff round since the last iconic run in ’92-93.

Snow has put a lot of good pieces in place for the Islanders. His most recent success is Mathew Barzal. And like Barzal, the Isles system has some good prospect talent and even landed a few good players via trade. The latest addition of Jordan Eberle was another win for the Isles last summer and their season started strong with a 15-7-2 record. So strong, they were fighting for the top spot in the east for months, had the best and among the best offense in the NHL (finished 7th best/3.18 gpg in regular season) and were sitting pretty in what is “usually a guaranteed” playoff spot around the “coveted” Thanksgiving mark of the season.

Since the NHL All-Star game (Tavares and Bailey represented the Isles), the New York Islanders have been the worst team in the NHL, going 20-30-8 and extinguishing any hope of a playoff appearance in what could be the final year of John Tavares’ contract with New York. Injuries, horrible defense, goal-tending and several challenges seemed to derail the team and keep them from ever getting back to winning. The defense and goal-tending was so bad, the Isles were the worst in the NHL, surrendering 3.57 gpg, 35.6 spg and a league low, 73.2% PK rating. These types of obstacles are always around for NHL teams and they can affect their ability to challenge for their division and conference and a shot to make the playoffs. But several teams face those same injuries and challenges each and every year, but manage to succeed or rebound the next season to make another push, learning from the previous year’s shortcomings and galvanizing their organizational model by adapting and making strides.

Snow should be held accountable if John Tavares leaves the organization as should the ownership. The ever-visible co-owner John Ledecky has gone from fan-favorite and savior to scapegoat in the eyes of many of the faithful. I guess there is a chance Ledecky and Isles brass are waiting until Tavares is interviewed and comments on Snow, Weight and other factors before shaking up the organization. Per Arthur Staple, Ledecky: “We are committed to long term success... we will be evaluating our hockey operations and then determine the path forward... as owners, we have failed.” Seeing the Isles only add a role-playing defenseman (Davidson for ’19 3rd rounder) and agitator F (Wagner for Chimera) at the trade deadline with the team fighting for points with deficits in goal and on defense has burned the bridge for many supporters of the team. I gave the coaching staff tons of credit at the start and it seemed Doug Weight was still riding last season’s success after the firing of Jack Capuano into this season. Their offensive first system got the Isles wins and they scored in bunches, but as the season went on, the defense faltered. The once potent PK became a joke and the PP surged and crashed at the worst possible time, even though it still managed to finish 6th best in the league at 23.2%.

Truth is, the coaching staff just didn’t get it done, with or without the help of their GM. I feel the team was better than their record and something definitely went south in the second half of the season. I remember a quote from Andre Burakovsky of the Caps in mid-March after they handed the Isles a horrible 6-3 loss. “The Islanders just gave us a lot of room to skate on from the beginning. I mean, my first three shifts, I was skating around and around and around with the puck and making plays. We didn’t really expect that out of them.” We didn’t either Andre. Per Andrew Gross, “Newsday can confirm that both GM Garth Snow and Coach Doug Weight have been led to believe they will be back in their roles for next season.” Per Chris Botta, “From the texts I’ve received today from NHL and team executives, former #Isles, agents and others, I can tell you the reaction to Jon Ledecky retaining Garth Snow runs from laughter and bewilderment to derision and anger.”

Let’s look at the Forwards and their performances over the past season.

2018 NHL All-Star, John Tavares is an elite NHL Player. He is a leader and has pushed to make the Isles the destination team we’ve always wanted. He’s given everything that he has to the organization even if the collective goals have fallen short. Some say he has hurt the team by not announcing if he will stay or go by the July 1st deadline. Tavares said his goal is to stay, but his organization has struggled to put all the blocks in place a top player in his most profitable free agent year might desire to have at his disposal. If Tavares just moves on or even agrees to a sign-and-trade, he should net top players and large pool of prospects & draft equity in return. If he stays, his talks have been ongoing and there is a plan in motion that should reveal itself in the coming months. Tavares had 37 (team leading 2 O.T. and shg) & 47 for 84 pts leading what was for periods of time, one of the top lines in the NHL with Lee and Bailey. JT’s 11 O.T. gwg are the most of any Islanders player in franchise history. Only Ovechkin (15) and Marchand (12) have more per Eric Hornick.

Anders Lee just keeps getting better. He’s an irritating, immovable object in front of an opponent’s net and is always around to help with the big play. This season in 82 games, Lee became the first Islander since Jason Blake in 2006-07 to score 40 goals. Lee had career highs in goals (40), assists (22) and points (52) - Hornick. He was instrumental in the first line’s offensive surge early on this season. Lee led the team in shooting percentage (19.2%) and PP goals, with 14. He is also riding a 114-game iron-man streak. Anders Lee was given the Sid Payne Good Guy Award this season for his valued community outreach efforts.
Per Eric Hornick, “Anders Lee has 40 goals and John Tavares has 37.  They are the first Islander teammates with at least 37 goals since Pierre Turgeon and Steve Thomas did so in 1993-94 and the first to combine for at least 77 goals since Thomas (42) and Turgeon (38) had 80 in 1993-94.”

Josh Bailey had a very good year with his 1st ever All-Star appearance along with an impressive 18 & 53 for 71 point performance in 76 games. That marks career highs in goals, assists and points. Bailey has matured, found his game and signed a 6-year extension in February to solidify his place in the Isles attack for the future. Eric Hornick points out, “Barzal and Josh Bailey are the first Islander teammates with more than 50 assists since Mike Bossy (62) and Bryan Trottier (59) did so in 1985-86.”

Mathew Barzal broke out and should be a shoe-in for the Calder Trophy this summer. Per Brian Compton, “Barzal on Calder: "When we go into a game, I'm not thinking I need to get points for the Calder Trophy. I want to help this team win. It'd be nice to win that and be rewarded, but at the end of the day, it's a career. I don't want to just be a one-season guy." Barzal led the team in points with 85 and had a myriad of multipoint games this season, including 6 with 3 points and 3 games with 5. To compare, Sidney Crosby had 11 in his rookie season. Per NHL PR, “Mathew Barzal of the @NYIslanders is the first rookie to reach the 80-point mark in a season since Evgeni Malkin in 2006-07 (33-52—85).” He scored 22 (5 on PP) & 63 with a +1 rating. Barzal is the third highest-scoring rookie in Islander history; he finished with a team-leading 63 assists and a team-leading 85 points in 82 games – Hornick. Barzal is also one of only five other NHL rookies (Juneau, Stastney, Trottier and Crosby) to reach the 63-assist plateau in NHL history. He looks like the real-deal and should become a major impact player and team leader as his squad heads into next season. As a rookie, Barzal led the Isles in assists and points. He should continue to draw penalties and make teams adjust for his dangerous cross-over speed and very silky mits. Sorry. I had to. Per Arthur Staple, “Barzal: “We have a passionate fan base and they have every right to be upset with the season we had.”

Anthony Beauvillier took a demotion to Bridgeport and came back ready to show everyone what he was capable of. He netted 21 (3 on PP) & 15 for 36 points and a +2 rating in 71 games. His totals in goals and points are career highs and his 15 assists tie his career high. Beauvillier and Barzal have a chemistry built up through juniors and international play that shows they are natural line mates. He has a dynamic, game changing energy and should only get better. Per Eric Hornick, “Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier both reached the 21-goal mark. They are the first duo in Islander history to each 21 games in the same season, prior to reaching their 21st birthday. Toronto is the only team in the NHL to have two players with 21 goals at that young of an age.” Also, Beauvillier was the first Islander since John Tavares in 2012-13 to score in five straight games.

Jordan Eberle came to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome. He made an immediate impact, added veteran presence and once he was put on a line with Barzal and Beauvillier, the new second line became another 1st line for New York. Eberle was 25 & 34 for 59 points and a +5 in 81 games. In his first season with New York, he led the team with 7 gwg. Per Brian Heyman, “Jordan Eberle 1 year left on his contract: "With the prospect of the new arena and some of the young players here, it's an exciting place to be right now."

Brock Nelson had his struggles, but made a difference for the Isles this season. Nelson had 19 & 16 for 35 points in 82 games, 3 game winners and was near the top in shooting percentage at 13.8%. Only Lee, Beauvillier and JT had higher over the 70-game mark for the Isles.

Andrew Ladd had his struggles, especially while getting 2nd line ice time. The six-time 20 goal scorer rode a 25-game scoring drought and struggled to play up to his ability at times. Ladd finished with 12 (1 sh & 2 gw goals) & 17 for 29 points in 73 games with a +11 rating. He’s in a 7-year contract signed before the 2016 season.

Defensive forwards, Cal Clutterbuck (18 pts) and Casey Cizikas (17 pts) brought their energy again this season, but had their struggles in the new-look, O-First system. Injuries are a little more prevalent with Clutterbuck missing 6 games and Cizikas 18. Both contributed 1 shg and Clutterbuck, a game winner. Cizikas led the Islanders in face-off wins at 53.1% (min. 300 attempts) – Hornick. Casey Cizikas was honored with winning the Bob Nystrom Award.

Enforcer and energy player call up, Ross Johnston may have secured a serious look for himself in camp this summer. Johnston made a physical impact from day 1 and even added a touch of offensive flair with 6 points in 24 games. Johnston answered the lack of toughness for the team this season and racked up 62 pims. Chris Wagner was added at the deadline and did help with team grit, but had only 1 goal in 15 games. Once injured, Nikolay Kulemin was severely missed on the PK. He along with Shane Price and Alan Quine played a disappointing 38 games combined in the lineup this season due to injury.

I just wish the Josh Ho-Sang tenure was a little longer this season. He could have been a spark in the last couple of weeks the Isles could have used in their attempt to pull back into the playoff race instead of free-falling out of it. I also wish he did what Beauvillier did. Took the time with the BST as a souring, but valuable learning experience and earned a trip back up to show the team it can’t win without him. He did turn the puck over, but the whole team was guilty of that this season. I guess the summer might reveal more of the team’s plans for him. Despite all of his skill, he still has a dicey reputation. Ho-Sang had 2 & 10 for 12 points in 22 games with a -17 rating while playing for the Islanders.

Isles Notes:

4/14, Per Cory Wright, “Kieffer Bellows and Portland were eliminated last night in the second round of the WHL playoffs. Bellows finished his first WHL season with 74 points (41G, 33A) in 56 games and 13 points (3G, 10A) in 12 playoff games. #Isles

4/8, Per Arthur Staple, “Boychuk having surgery tomorrow. Injury that nagged him all year and kept him out in January. Should be fully healed by June.”

Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Pulock will play for Canada at the World Championships.

Per Peter Botte, “Make no mistake, this season goes down as an unmitigated disaster for Snow/Islanders. Just because it might not match some of their other laughably disastrous seasons, doesn't change that. Leave those Silver Linings playbooks at home.”

Per Brian Compton, “Tavares: "We got off to a pretty good start this season; the second half of the season really hasn't been very good. We put ourselves in this position."
"I'm not trying to look at it as it's the end, because obviously that hasn't been determined. I've always wanted it to work out and stay, so that's still what I hope transpires."

Per Arthur Staple, “#Isles announce they've signed Swiss D Yannick Rathgeb to a two-year, two-way deal. 22-year-old had 8-20-28 in 38 GP with Fribourg in the Swiss League this season. Spent two seasons with Plymouth of the OHL 2013-15.”
“Isles have signed David Quenneville to a three-year ELC.”

Koivula Agrees To Entry-Level Deal

Chris Botta: There's no way Ledecky is this out-of-touch. The owner must be working behind the scenes. Change must be coming soon.

A big arena in Suffolk County makes no sense for Long Island

Sound Tigers Notes:

Holmstrom, Cullity Recalled by Bridgeport

Sound Tigers Agree To Terms with MacKinnon

Eansor AgreesTo Terms with Islanders

NHL Notes:

Rule change approved regarding goaltender interference

# # #

“I don’t know about you guys, but losing the personality and spirit of Stan Fischler on #Isles won’t be an easy change to accept. Like the legendary Jiggs, the Maven is part of the historical tapestry of this franchise. It just wont be the same without him. Best of luck Stan.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Christopher Gibson: A Minor Threat, Isles Goalie Prospects

Our New York Islanders are in serious trouble. They are 11th in the eastern conference with 70 points, 8 behind the Devils for the final wild card spot. They managed to creep over an NHL .500 (30-29-10 in 69 games) with their win against Calgary on Sunday. Since December 1st, the Isles are 15-22-8 and are an abysmal -23 in goal differential. Andy Grazziano Tweeted a few more details, “45 games, 9 regulation wins, 42% of possible points (full season pace of 69 points) - 17 games allowing over 40 shots, 6 of which were over 50. - 27 games allowing 4 goals or more (60%) - Losing streaks of 3, 5 and 8 games.” We can all see that the problem has been behind the blue line and most recently, a wavering offense which was once one of the best in the NHL, now down to 8th (3.17/game) in the league. But the glaring weakness has been between the pipes. The Isles have battled for reliability in net with Jaroslav Halak (18-22-6 with a 3.23gaa and .908Sv% in 47 games) and Thomas Greiss (11-7-2 with a 3.84gaa and .891Sv% in 24 games) struggling to find consistency in their games. Greiss was injured (lower body) on 2/16 and placed on IR. That meant there was an opportunity for a goaltending prospect to get a chance in net with the Islanders.

BST goaltender, Christopher Gibson (a component of the Michael Grabner trade) was recalled on 2/19 and has given fans a small sample size to this point, but has done well. In the AHL, the 25-year-old Fin has an 18-11-3 record, a 2.31gaa and .909Sv% with 4 shut outs in 33 games. Last season, Gibson was riding a 6-0-0 record before suffering a season ending injury during a drill, causing him to miss the rest of the 2016-17 campaign. "Mentally it was really tough," Gibson said. "The first few months to cope with the fact that I'm not playing anymore last year, but once I got the chance to work out my mind went right to coming back and I wanted to come back right away. I had a lot of time to think about things and prepare for this year." Per Cory Wright, this season Gibson had “a dominant stretch where he won eight of nine starts from late October to early December. He was named to the AHL All-Star Classic and at the time of his call-up, he had recorded back-to-back shutouts for the Sound Tigers.”

While Christopher Gibson now has 7 career NHL games to his credit, he is 1-0-2 in starts so far this season with a 1.90gaa and a .957Sv% in 3 games. Gibson lost a 2-1 decision to the Penguins in OT on 3/3 and to the Canucks by a 4-3 score in OT just 2 days later. On 3/8, Gibson lost in a 2-1 shoot out to the Oilers before finally got rewarded against Calgary, where he made 50 saves and helped his squad to a 5-2 win. Per Eric Hornick, “Gibson has established #NHL records for shots faced and saves by a rookie goalie from #Finland.” Pekke Rinne was the other. How does that sound Isles fans? NHL Public Relations added, “Christopher Gibson is the second rookie goaltender in @NYIslanders history to make 50+ saves in a game, joining Billy Smith on Nov. 22, 1972 at PHI (55).” See what goal support and defense can do for a hungry goalie and his team? Prior to that, the Islanders had dropped eight straight games. If they had gone at least .500 during that span, they would be in the hunt at the 7th or 8th spot in the east. In the plus column, Eric Hornick points out the Isles have killed 22/24 (91.7%) in their last 11 games.

To me, Christopher Gibson has earned the starters job for the rest of the season until he shows he isn’t giving New York enough to help them win. So far, he has made big saves, sees the puck well, been good with rebounds and looked calm and cool in the cage for the Isles. Stan Fischler agrees with new Isles Newsday beat writer, Andrew Gross, “play Gibson in goal plenty. Kid has got the goods.” Fischler added, “The Gibson agility and calm under fire are assets that stand out so far. He will only get better.” Eric Hornick points out unless he is signed by 7/1, Gibson will become a (group 6) Unrestricted FA. "I think it's the mental preparation that I've gone through over the years and wanting to be in this spot," Gibson said. "You can't get too overwhelmed. Yes, of course, before games I'm a little more nervous, but once I get in there my nerves seem to calm down and I feel a lot more comfortable." He continued, "I've wanted to play in the NHL for my entire life and now knowing that I can do that even after the year I had last year, I'm grateful for every moment that I'm here."

No one can know who will be retained, re-signed and who won’t be, but I would think the Islanders have hope for their current prospect pool to make a difference when called upon. BST G, Kristers Gudlevskis has gotten an even bigger shot since Gibson has been called up to the NHL. Over 29 AHL games, the 25-year-old Latvian has a 11-11-7 record with a 2.59gaa, a .901Sv% and 3 shut outs, but the 2016 AHL All-Star (SYR) has been hot lately. Gudlevskis had his 4-game winning streak snapped on Saturday in a 4-1 loss to the LV Phantoms. The Sound Tigers have won 6 of their last 7 before this Thursday's game against Rochester and are pushing for the final playoff spot for the Calder Cup chase. Gudļevskis is the only player to have played in the ECHL, AHL, NHL, Olympic Games, and IIHF World Championships in the same season. Eamon McAdam (1-1-0) is now backing up in Bridgeport.

22-year-old Islanders prospect, Ilya Sorokin had a 25-8-4 record with CSKA this season with a 1.59gaa and a .931 Sv% with 8 shutouts. Sorokin has played 4 playoff games (4-0, 0.25gaa and a .998Sv%) in the KHL with CSKA Moscow, allowed 1 goal and recorded 3 shutouts (games 1,3 and 4) stopping 81 of 82 shots so far. Per Cory Wright, “CSKA, the second seed in the KHL's Western Conference will play third-seeded Jokerit in the semifinals starting on Friday. Jokerit beat HC Sochi 4-1 in the quarterfinals. CSKA went 1-1-0 against Jokerit during the regular season.” There are a few rumors making the rounds on the KHL playoffs this season. Twitter’s official Russian sports writer, Slava Malamud wrote a 21-part tweet on the Russian scandal with the KHL this season. “So, here is what's happening in the KHL, for those who still can't quite grasp the banality of evil, Russian style... The entire league has been set up this year to allow SKA to win. It's Putin's team, this is Putin's election year, it's chock full of OAR Olympians … For those of you who wonder how the SKA-Severstal story ends, SKA has just swept its opponent, winning 2-0 in Game 4. The PIM count was SKA 31, Severstal 57. This is Russia, folks.” Sorokin is a strong prospect, but may not be too anxious to come to the NHL and play in North America after signing a 2-year extension with an additional year remaining on his KHL contract. If the above information is true, I wonder why. <Sarcasm> To reiterate, Sorokin won a gold medal with OAR (Russia) at 2018 Winter Olympics.

Isles 21-year-old Swedish goal-tending prospect, Linus Soderstrom missed most of the season recovering from abdominal surgery, but returned last week for HV71. It was his first game since 11/17, going 1-1-0. I asked “Swedish Islander,” Magnus Larsson if he heard any specific details on Soderstrom’s injury. “All I really know is he had multiple surgeries back in December due to problems in the abdomen area. The surgeries were made in the US and were supervised by the Islanders. After his comeback the other week he is unfortunately sidelined again. "Old problems" is the only comment about it. SHL playoffs is starting in a few days and he could miss the rest of the season. But his team, HV71, are very quiet about the details.” Larsson mentioned he found some additional information on Soderstrom from The abdominal surgery Soderstrom had hernia surgery. He (Soderstrom) says it was uncertain for two or three weeks whether the season was over or not, but he feels he will make a comeback. In addition, Soderstrom has a specially designed skate to help with a heel problem he is battling. 

On that, Larsson added, “He did follow the Islanders on their trip to Montreal, mainly because Bauer's head office is located there and there he tested different skates to prevent him having further heel problems. He says he has only great things to say about the way the Islanders have helped him and it's up to the organization where he will play next season." Soderstrom has an 8-6-0 record with a 2.79gaa and .894Sv% with 2 shutouts this season with HV71, currently playing against Linkoping in a best-of-three game playoff series. Linkoping leads the series 1-0 and Soderstrom’s future for this season could be in doubt at this time. Let’s hope next season is better for him in a lot of ways.

The Islanders have thirteen games remaining, six out of their next seven games at home including a home-at-home series against Washington on Thursday and Friday. The playoffs look like an impossibility and the summer will be interesting. Here’s hoping the present and future finally pays off. Here’s to Christopher Gibson and his will to win. "That's why I'm excited to come to the rink every day and I have a smile on my face sometimes even when I shouldn't when we're having a tough stretch, but I'm really excited and grateful to be here."

Isles Notes:

“For all the #Isles fans turning on JT because he’s had slump at worst possible time of a career year, coming towards his biggest UFA summer of his career while trying to plan wedding and decide on long-term future tempered by his loyalty to our team need to chill the F out.”

On 3/11 per Arthur Staple, “Two points tonight gives Nick Leddy three consecutive seasons of 40+ points. Only two other #Isles D-men to do that: Denis Potvin and Tomas Jonsson. Mark Streit had three straight seasons of 40+ points but missed 2010-11 season in between.”

Sound Tigers Notes:

Per Alan Fuehring, “#Isles Wotherspoon has 4G in last 4GP & now sits 5th among #AHL rookie d-men (7). Aho is 2nd.”

@RiverHawkHockey product Tyler Mueller (D) has agreed to terms on an ATO.

Mike Cornell (D) has been loaned to the @RailersHC.

The #SoundTigers have signed Yale's Ryan Hitchcock to an ATO.


Monday, February 26, 2018

Islanders 2018 Trade Deadline: Safe or Sorry & Yormark Alienates Isles Organization, Fans

As the 3 pm trade deadline came and went today, Isles fans everywhere watched as their struggling team and UFA Captain waited to see what changes, if any, would come. Around noon, Greg Joyce tweeted, “Doug Weight said it seems as though the #Isles will have the group they have now after 3pm, but expressed confidence that management would do what’s best for the team.” So without adding a "necessary" piece by the close of the trading deadline, what might that be?

Looking back to Sunday, our New York Islanders acquired D Brandon Davidson from EDM for a 2019 3rd round pick. According to Arthur Staple, “Davidson makes $1.425M this year. Even with arb, won't go up much next season. Could be a lower-cost replacement for Hickey next year.” The Islanders need NHL-ready depth on defense, especially the stay-at-home type. Davidson is a bottom pair NHL D that comes to the Isles with the chance to prove himself. While it’s not a name fans wanted to hear as an Isles trade acquisition, it’s probably a decent pick up for Garth Snow. Per Brennan Klak, “Brandon Davidson is the perfect low maintenance 3rd pairing D. All of his metrics are solid, great team guy, solid defensively.” Brian Compton adds, “Guys, Jordan Eberle and Brandon Davidson for Ryan Strome and a 3rd-round pick. Feel better?”

Brandon Davidson has been traded twice and picked up by EDM on waivers on December 3rd. While a member of the Candiens organization, Davidson was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2012 and is now in a 6-year remission. So the guy is clearly a fighter and deserves a lot of credit for his courage off the ice. As far as his on-ice credentials, Davidson has 20 points (8 &12) in 137 NHL games with Edmonton and Montreal. He’s a shot blocker and isn’t afraid to play a physical, defensive first style. So far this season, Davidson has 5 points (3 & 2) and should help the Isles make up some ground defensively.

Per Cory Wright, “Davidson and Jordan Eberle were teammates in Regina during the 2009-10 season, in Oklahoma City for the early part of the 2012-13 season and in Edmonton from 2014-15 to 2016-17. The Islanders will be their fourth stop together.” I’m assuming Eberle was asked about Davidson and got the nod. Eberle,"Brandon is big & strong & I think he'll help us with some net-front presence as far as keeping guys away from our goalies & helping them see pucks. He does a mix of everything well. He can put the puck in the net & he can defend so he should add an element back there." Whatever the case, he will get his shot. Davidson will wear #88 for the Islanders.

Today, the Islanders acquire C, Chris Wagner from Anaheim for Jason Chimera. Wagner (6 & 9 for 15 pts) is a pending UFA that can bring some more shut-down to Isles, add to PK, bring more snarl (2nd in NHL with 212 hits) and be an addition by subtraction, replacing the slumping Chimera.  Per Islanders PR, “Wagner has already established NHL career highs in games, assists and points, while tying his career-best six goal output from last season.” Arthur Staple, “Chimera had been a healthy scratch the past several games after a lost season. Had 20 goals in 16-17 after signing a two-year, $4.5-million deal.” Chimera has been a scratch for the Isles since 2/13. Eric Hornick tweeted, “Wagner is 26 yrs old— 122nd pick in 2010- played collegiately at Colgate. Regular for Ducks this ssn— only F to play every gm. 6-9-15 in 64 gms.” Now that the Isles have Johnston and veteran, Wagner, they may have a nice physical presence to go along with the grit of Cizikas and Clutterbuck’s (185 hits) game. Wagner has 28 points (16 and 12) in 159 career NHL games with the Anaheim Ducks and Colorado Avalanche.

The Islanders were rumored to have kicked tires on trades involving other notable players, but nothing was within the range that GM, Garth Snow was interested in. Like others, I understand the costs involved for impactful defenders is high, but wanted a little more from the organization as time runs out. Especially in a crucial season for a team that, based on the last couple of months, has lost any real threat of doing anything in the post season if they could even make it. I understand the current ideology of most teams is to build through the draft and hold on to assets, but teams also add when the right player comes along. Its all speculation anyway, but I see teams in the division and around the league make moves and improve today while the Isles add bottom pair D and swap under-performing grit with younger, UFA grit.

The Isles addressed D, PK and team toughness. Barring a bigger deal, I would have still liked to see them take a Johnny Oduya off waivers from Ottawa to add some experience and depth to help offset the major struggles of the team’s defensive scheme. The Flyers claimed Odyua. This is epecifically true in the twilight of John Tavares’ final contract year.

Like many fans, I appreciate John Tavares. He’s an elite player and a necessary component for the Isles to continue providing credibility to their locker room and as a destination for future free agents. Belmont and probable Calder winner, Mathew Barzal aside, Tavares has been a major reason for the team’s successes this year and on pace for a career year. Even with a slump at the worst possible time, Tavares is, and should be, a priority to bring back. Heading into the summer without a deal is a stress er I’m sure many in and out of the organization are not happy with. Even though it wasn’t supposed to be a factor for JT, perhaps not having a new deal has made an impact. Maybe the pressure of what happens if a deal can’t be done, has worn on him a little. If Tavares doesn’t sign, Snow has lost a little cache for a franchise player that would need to be moved before July 1.

I don’t even want to speculate, but the time may have come to start considering the worst-case scenario, especially if this borderline team falls short off playoffs or doesn’t make it a few rounds deep once again.

# # #

Neil best wrote an article for Newsday based on an interview with Barclay’s CEO, Brett Yormark had with Sports Xtra. Yormark’s comments in the article made fans of the New York Islanders hate the Barclays Center even more. Yormark said the Islanders were a “a rent-a-team’ that never fully embraced Brooklyn — and vice versa — while also casting doubt on the team’s planned move to a new arena near belmont park.” Yormark commented how the move to Brooklyn didn’t work and never lived up to the hopes of Barclays management. “Their fan base resides in Long Island. They have a great, avid fan base in Long Island. Brooklyn just didn’t gravitate to the team as I had hoped they would. But I think the move next year, where they’re playing 12 games back in Long Island — and after next year we’ll probably play half the schedule, if not more [there] — is a step in the right direction.” Yormark continued the blood boiling when he decided to comment on the future of the organization at Belmont park site. If it ever happens.

“Obviously, they’re looking to build their own venue. Not sure that ever happens, but if it does, I wish them well. But in the interim our goal was to bring them back to Long Island, have them play as many games as they can at NYCB Live, and that’s happening, so I’m excited about it.”

It’s well known that the Belmont arena project will take three years or so to complete, making the inaugural opener somewhere around the start of the 2021-22 season. Until then, we can look forward to more uncomfortable attendance numbers and lowering expectations in Brooklyn. The #SnowMustGo Billboards should be up this week. Don’t be surprised if fan crowdfunding doesn’t become a thing to express rage and disappointment by the Isles loyal fan base. The remaining time for the Islanders and their fans in Brooklyn should be interesting.

Isles fan and Brooklyn resident, Stephen Helldorfer tweeted this to Randi Marshall on the Yormark news. “I’ve lived within walking distance of the @barclayscenter for the entire time the #Isles have been there. I know firsthand that @brettyormark did zero to market the team here (or, and possibly more plausibly, he’s terrible at his job.)”

Yormark has burned the last bridge in Brooklyn and showed the fans for this season and next, they have been and always will be considered second class at the Barclays Center.

Isles Notes:

Per Michael Fornabaio, “Aho, Fritz and Gibson are on AHL transactions, making them eligible to come down any time rest of the year. No Ross Johnston, though.” Johnston is now an NHL’er for the Islanders.

Per Brendan Burke, “Isles would have to send Aho, Gibson, Fritz and/or Johnston down (at least on paper) for 3pm tomorrow in order to make them eligible to return to the AHL at any point this season.”

Per Eric Hornick, “Complete list of players with more #NHL goals than #JT91 over last 6 seasons: 1. Ovechkin (257) 2. P Kane (182) Tavares has 181.”

2/23     Transaction: Alan Quine has been placed on IR (lower body).

Per Cory Wright, “Bailey now has the potential to pass Bryan Trottier and be the franchise leader in games played by the end of his next contract. 16 seasons would be second in franchise history trailing only Billy Smith (17).”

Olympics/Mens Hockey:

Isles prospect, Illya Sorokin wins gold medal with OAR (Russia) at 2018 Winter Olympics. OAR defeated an inspired Team Germany by a 4-3, O.T. score. Germany's Silver finish is highest in history of their Olympic hockey program. Canada wins Bronze over Czechs.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Islanders Extend Josh Bailey

Bob McKenzie mentioned the Isles and Josh Bailey were close to an extension. Today, the 6 year, $5M AAV deal was made official. Prior to that, McKenzie added, “This obviously, assuming it’s concluded and made official, could be a potentially critical positive element in the efforts to re-sign pending UFA C John Tavares once the season is over and Tavares turns his attention towards his long-term future.” Say that Josh Bailey’s performance is indicative of playing on a line with John Tavares. Say that Tavares makes everyone around him better. OK. Anders Lee has also become a much better player, but all of it makes the Islanders a better team heading into next season. IMO, a $5M AAV for Bailey would probably be a discount as to what he might expect if he entered free agency this summer. Per Matt Larkin, “Bailey contract, Barzal breakout, Belmont…three B's that I believe will lead to John Tavares re-signing with Isles.”

The fact is that the Islander’s 2008, 9th overall pick has come into his own and has been a solid player for them over the last two years, making his first All-Star game this season along with his veteran All-Star line mate, Tavares. Bailey’s desire to remain in New York has been evident for some time. Per Brian Compton, Bailey: “I thought right from the beginning, I wanted to give it every opportunity to stay. It was something that going into the year was kind of my focus. I said that from the beginning and meant it … There’s lots of things that go into make those decisions, now especially having a family. It’s a great place to raise your kids, it’s a great place to live, so that side of it was easy. The hockey side was easy too; this is obviously all I know."

So the 28 year-old forward will remain an Islander until the 2013-24 season. Per Isles PR, “Now, in his 10th season with the Islanders, Bailey has totaled 368 points (121 goals, 247 assists) in 697 career regular-season games. He's added 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games.”

Josh Bailey has career highs in points (62) & assists (47) in 58 games this season, good enough for 3rd on the team in points. His 47 assists puts him 2nd on the Isles and tied for 7th in the NHL for assists this season. Per Isles PR, “Josh has become one of the core members of the New York Islanders," Islanders President and General Manager Garth Snow said. "He has developed within our system for several years and it's exciting to see him mature into the player we always had confidence he would become. To come into the past few seasons and see Josh set new career highs each year, has been impressive and we're excited to see him continue to do that with the organization as we move forward." 
Per Tony Stabile, “The fact that Josh Bailey signed this extension in the mist of his best offensive season is a tribute to the kind of Islander he is. We saw favorites like Martin, Nielsen and Okposo leave for bigger $$ and term, Bailey took less to stay. Respect.”

# # #

Our New York Islanders followed up a horrible 4-1 loss to Columbus with an impressive pair of shutouts against the Rangers & Hurricanes. It was the first time the Isles had back-to-back shutouts on consecutive nights in franchise history per Erick Hornick. Halak had a 50 save performance against NYR (2nd best in team history-Healy 51) and Greiss stopped 45 shots against Carolina. It also marks the first time in NHL history a team had consecutive 45+ shot shut outs. Greiss was injured and placed on IR after the game, necessitating a call up for BST goaltender, Christopher Gibson on 2/19 to back up pending UFA G, Jaroslav Halak for the immediate future.

Following the win vs CAR Stan Fischler commented, “For the second straight game #TannerFritz replaced #JasonChimera and proved that he belongs. Smart, solid game for TF.” Chimera’s (2 & 9 for 11pts, -11 rating in 58 GP) apparent decline, along with Seidenberg’s (0 & 5 for 5 pts, -6 rating in 22 GP) have shown the Isles play better without them in the line-up. The Isles had another disappointing let down against the Minnesota Wild, losing 5-3 and followed it up with a hard fought, but 4-3 O.T. losing effort in Toronto. As previously stated, they are still more than just a few call-ups away from being a serious threat IMO. Their defensive scheme has been better, but has also been compromised in recent games. That’s still a product of having young D-Men on a veteran team pushing to make the jump into playoff legitimacy. I think a trade needs to happen, just don’t know if it’s a realistic expectation with the way Garth Snow does things. Isles have just 1 game remaining until the trading deadline.

The Isles face forward, Michael Grabner with his New Jersey Devils tomorrow.

Isles Notes:

Per Mark Hermann, “Despite the recent drought (no 5-on-5 goals in 7 games, no assists in 6 games), JT still is `the best leader in the NHL,' says Mathew Barzal.”

Per Cory Wright, “Barzal now tied with Tavares for #Isles scoring lead with 64 points. Pulock in sole possession of second in goals for rookie defensemen (6) in the NHL.”

Per Arthur Staple, “Barzal's 60th point on that goal, third-most for an #Isles rookie. Might have trouble catching the top two: Bossy (91) in 1977-78 and Trottier (95) in 1975-76.”

"John Tavares joined a select group of #isles who have scored 30 goals in a season at least 4 times: 1Bryan Trottier*11 2Mike Bossy*10 3Clark Gillies*6 4Pat LaFontaine* 6 5John Tavares4 The other four are all in the HHOF, as their @hockey_ref "*" denote."

2/15 KoC Poll:

Who's at fault for the current state of the #Isles in your opinion?

Garth Snow: 65%
Ownership: 17%
Doug Weight: 11%
Players: 7%

Per @BrodskyRobert, “Exclusive: deal to move @NYIslanders temporarily back to Coliseum dependent on county lease amendment removing clauses penalizing operator $1 million for lack of games … myself and @jimbaumbach.”    

Per Arthur Staple, “Weight clarified his comment postgame about the atmosphere was directed at his team, not the fans. “There was no atmosphere in the building and there didn’t deserve to be. We didn’t create any.”

“Doug Weight: "It wasn't a good atmosphere, but we didn't deserve it to be a good atmosphere. That's not calling the fans out, that's calling our team out. We didn't play well enough to create an atmosphere. Our fans are great. That's my fault for wording it improperly." This was following the 4-1 loss to CBJ.

@TwoTurtleDuffs started a #SnowMustGo campaign to fund two billboards in Brooklyn. The goal was met and any additional funds were meant to go to Anders lee’s Kancer Jam.

“Our goal is to submit our design tomorrow, and the board will be up starting on Feb 26. We exceeded every expectation I had. Stay tuned for more, friends.”

Anders Lee denounced the movement, but the extra money would be well spent.

"Major notes include that in light of Anders Lee's decision, we will be donating overflow to the American Cancer Society. We encourage any fans with leftover money to donate to Anders' foundation, or a similar charitable cause.

Sound Tigers Notes:

First-year ECHL team, Sound Tigers affiliate, succeeding in Worcester.

2/13 TRANSACTION: Two-time Calder Cup Champion Andre Benoit (D) has been loaned to Bridgeport by @BlueJacketsNHL.

Team USA:

Women’s squad wins the 2018 gold medal against Canada. Men’s team lost 3-2 to Czech’s in quarter finals. Yannic Seidenberg, brother of Isles Dennis Seidenberg of Team Germany will play Team Russia in the gold medal game. Germany was awarded a bronze in 1932 and (West Germany) 1976, but even a silver medal would be the nation’s strongest finish in their nation’s hockey program history.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Islanders Have Much to Prove

Our New York Islanders are still 1 point out of a playoff spot in the east at 27-24-6 with 60 points after 57 games, despite a turnover ladened, defensively challenged style of play. Their goaltenders are struggling and even when they are on, they face 40+ shots per game behind a mostly lethargic defensive effort. Per Eric Hornick, “Since December 1st, Halak has faced 915 shots. This is 85 more than any other goaltender (Lundqvist 830) in that span.” Any mistake they make seems to have a good chance to blow a lead, a game and possibly, the season. Thomas Greiss (10-7-0-2, 4.03gaa & .885Sv%) has had his own challenges keeping the puck out of the net.

Yet, at times, I still see the flashes of dominance they showed in the first part of the season. They have so much skill and heart. Their top offensive players are so dangerous and at times, no opponent’s lead seems too great for them to overcome. I love all the positives to their game, but I can never relax because they have seemingly become an inconsistent, ineffectual mess at the worst possible point in the playoff race. Eric Hornick mentioned a few stats that should be a concern to everyone who follows the team. The Isles are 12-17-4 in their last 33 games and allowed 210 goals (highest since 1995-96, when they allowed 220). The Islanders have allowed at least 35 shots in thirteen straight home games and have allowed at least five goals eight times at home (1-5-2) and sixteen times overall (1-13-2).

I know they have had injury problems, especially on D and their offensive first system has finally begin to challenge the team’s ability to win games. I heralded Doug Weight since he took over last season, but he is obviously having trouble righting the game plan with his coaching staff. According to Eric Hornick, “Doug Weight is now 51-36-10 as an NHL coach. On February 3rd vs. the Blue Jackets, he reached 50 wins faster than any coach in Islander history.” But since their win against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Isles have gone 3 & 4. They have looked horrible, blown leads and lost to some of the worst teams in the league, playing to the level of their opponent. They have also managed to come up big, pulling off huge comebacks like the dramatic finish against Detroit. But as great as that 4 ppg performance was late in the third to set the stage for a Brock Nelson hat-trick to win the game in O.T., the team needed a miracle to pull it off. And to their credit, they got one. That time. The 3-0 lead surrendered to the last place Buffalo Sabres though, cost them a 4-3 loss a day earlier.

Per Chris Botta, “It’s difficult to build a contending NHL team. People far smarter than Garth Snow have failed at it. But Snow has been around since 2006. No matter what Snow’s contract is, how can #Isles ownership continue to pat him on the back and accept this?” I know the knock on Garth Snow’s yearly refusal to make big trades and act the way other, more successful GM’s have to actually make significant gains for their clubs at the deadline. In my opinion, the drop off hastened after the Isles lost the services of Calvin de Haan and Nikolay Kulemin. Two players that were relied upon to play key defensive rolls on the blueline and on the once galvanized penalty kill. But they are hardly the reason for the Isles latest downward season spiral.

Snow said he won’t use the Isles high picks in next year’s draft for rentals and I don’t blame him. Plus, most cache’ players are commanding a 1st, top prospect and additional player thrown in for consideration per NHL sources. Isles have their own picks in 1st and 2nd round along with Calgary’s (Hamonic Deal), so those are prime assets. I would, however trade them for impact players with at least a year remaining. And it’s OK to trade a few key and 2nd tier rostered players or prospects to make this year’s team better, especially on defense or in goal. Anything to help a team led by John Tavares make more noise is fine with me. Especially with the numbers guys like Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and Jordan Eberle have been putting up. With Tavares on the cusp of his UFA summer, the Islanders need a real reason for JT to commit to them. We know he likes it here and we know he’s loyal, but the team needs to break free of the 12-year rebuild and truly take the next step for a player like John Tavares to re-sign.

The NHL trade deadline is 2 weeks away. I thought for sure Snow would have tried to woo D, Mark Streit out of retirement to finish the season ala F, Mike Fisher with Nashville. The Islanders could use a boost on defense or in net at this point. Any of the trade-block blueliners are pending UFA’s. That means Garth Snow isn’t likely to get an Erik Gundbranson, Darnel Nurse, Jack Johnson or even an older, but capable Mike Green. He would have to search for an expendable, affordable younger, top tier defender with term remaining. Because those are available (dripping sarcasm). Winnipeg’s UFA, Jacob Trouba would be a worthwhile gamble in my book, but would likely be too expensive. Nashville’s 25-year-old prospect, Dante Fabro is appealing, but he might not be ready for the role that the Isles are looking for in a deadline acquisition. And probably far too expensive anyway. To me, G, Robin Lehner is the only goalie I’d take a shot with at this point. Lehner has a 2.90gaa and a .910Sv% on the last place Sabers, but it’s still a gamble and at what price. FYI: Bridgeport goaltender, Christopher Gibson is 17-11-2 with 2 shutouts. And for those of you asking, the Isles on spirited enforcer Matt Martin has got to be no. I love what he did for the organization while an Islander, but much like popular players like Matt Moulson or Frans Nielsen, Martin is too expensive and on the decline. The Isles can utilize Ross Johnston in the meantime to fill similar role.

The Islanders had another early lead against Calgary on Sunday, but succumbed to some miscues and defensive blunders, losing yet another game they should have won. Mathew Barzal was singled out and benched by Doug Weight late in the game for Jordan Eberle. Per @bheymann99, “Here's what Mathew Barzal told me re Doug Weight sitting him with the goalie pulled & #Isles down 3-2 last night: ‘I’ll own up to it. I didn’t have a great game. I didn’t deserve to be out there late in the game. He made a good coaching move. I’ve got to hold myself accountable." Weight on Eberle over Barzal: "Ebs arguably to me in the last month has been our absolute best player, smart, reliable, makes plays but gets it in when he knows (he should), makes the right play. He’s cerebral. ... And he’s battling. That’s what my choice is.”

The Islanders need to find a way to refocus their game and get back to the way they played earlier in the year. They need accountability, especially on the defensive side of things. Everyone from the coaches down to the 4th line needs to contribute. And if they aren’t, its Garth Snow’s job to make the moves to get the guys who will. The Islanders have divisional games against Columbus on Tuesday, Rangers on Thursday and Carolina of Friday.

Enough excuses. If that doesn’t fire you up, I’m not sure what will.

Isles Notes:

Per Eric Hornick on Mathew Barzal, “Ridiculous-- only centers in #NHL history w more 5-assist gms in any season wore 99 and 66.”

“Mathew Barzal now needs only 1 point to become the third highest-scoring rookie in Islander history.”

Per NHL PR, “Mathew Barzal of the @NYIslanders collected five assists to record his third five-point game of the season (0-5—5 on Nov. 5 vs. COL and 2-3—5 on Jan. 13 at NYR).”
Per Elias: “Barzy became the first rookie since the 1917-18 season to record three 5-point nights in a single season.” Only 2nd ever (Joe Malone, MTL, 1917-18) to do so.

John Tavares, “It’s going to be exciting with the long term development of Belmont. In the short term basis being able to come back somewhere where really the heart of the franchise is.”

Per Jim Baumbach, “Yormark says Isles will take back business operations control after the upcoming season, as per their original license agreement.”

Per Brian Compton, “Jon Ledecky tells me future retired numbers and #Isles HOF inductions will be decided by the alumni. "I think it's much better if it comes from the group itself. It's much more meaningful to the guy if it's coming from his peers."

Per @islesblogger, An Open Letter to Jon Ledecky.

Per Brian Compton, “Hamonic: "I'll be an old guy one day and I'll back on my time as an Islander and be extremely proud of wearing that jersey because of what it means and how passionate people are here."