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

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."

Monday, January 29, 2018

Islanders Return to Coliseum, Vegas, Injuries & All-Stars

The latest chapter for the Isles return to the Island proper unfolded today. In a much speculated press conference to announce that the Isles will split time between the Barclays Center and refurbished Nassau Coliseum while waiting for their new diggs, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo confirmed it. Johnny Boychuck, Andrew Ladd, Cal Clutterbuck and John Tavares were all on stage as the announcement was made. Tavares called the Coliseum a “special place” and sounded like he had an opinion on returning to play at the Coliseum. “For me, it’s where I started my career, it’s where so many great things have happened,” said the captain. About playing on the Island, Tavares said, “It’s where the team was born and created its identity. It’s really who it is. If that’s the case it’s going to be a great opportunity, a great experience to go back there and relive and create some more great history.”

The Islanders won’t play their first game at their new arena in Belmont until the 2021-22 season, so that gives the Islanders an opportunity to spend some time at the Old Barn. The lead up and final announcement got a mixed reaction by fans on social media. Governor Cuomo announced that the Isles have a 12-game commitment at the Coliseum for next season and 48 more over their next two NHL campaigns and the state will help with a $6M contribution for any necessary “modifications” to the 18 month, $165B, 13,900 seat, renovation already done to the arena for final NHL compliance. According to Newsday, It is not known yet what upgrades Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment agreed to make to the arena to account for the Islanders time there. Among the issues discussed have been; ice quality, dehumidification, closed luxury boxes, locker rooms, training facilities, wiring for media broadcasts, etc.

“If the team wants to play more than half their games here, we encourage it and welcome them back,” said Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which operates both Barclays Center and the county-owned Nassau Coliseum. Per Jim Baumbach, “The Islanders and BSE have until Tuesday to complete the contractually obligated opt-out process from their existing 25-year arena deal, which began in 2015.” According to Yormark, any possible Playoff games haven’t been discussed as-of-yet. Islanders co-owner, John Ledecky said that would be up to the NHL. So that’s approximately 60 games, including pre-season contests as early as next September, over the three-year waiting period.
Per Newsday, “This agreement also means BSE will — for three seasons, at least — get a reprieve from paying the $1 million penalty to Nassau County for not providing the two preseason and four regular-season Islanders games they promised in their Coliseum lease agreement.” The NHL’s Bill Daily, Kris King and Dan Craig briefed an environmental sub-committee to discuss the things that need to be done to make the facility league ready.

The Islanders had a big win in front of several fans who made the trip to see their team play against the Vegas Golden Knights last Friday, just before the All-Star break. They executed a much-improved defensive scheme, especially clogging up the middle to negate the Vegas offense. Jaro Halak played a very strong game and gave the Isles the edge in a 2-1 win and tightly contested game. Eberle: “Jaro was the star of the game and made some huge saves. You take the two points. It was huge. We found a way to do it. With how tight everything is in our division, it's a big win." Per Eric Hornick, “Ross Johnston scored his 1st NHL goal and Jaroslav Halak made 38 saves as the Islanders became the first opponent to sweep a season series from the Golden Knights, as they defeated Vegas 2-1 before a crowd of 18,184 at T-Mobile Arena.” Jordan Eberle (23rd of Ssn) added the second goal for New York. The Islanders turned the corner a bit with a win against the Blackhawks and now, Knights on the road, going 4-0-1 in their last 5 away from Brooklyn. They are 10-13-3 in their last 26 games overall.

Injuries have probably played a part in the mid-season slide for the Isles. Doug Weight is aware of it. "You can say makeshift, you can say whatever you want; the fact is we have seven, now eight guys out. Listen, no one has a violin here. I'm not looking for it. But it's tough." A few days later, Weight didn’t even want to talk about the topic of injuries with the media. “I am no longer discussing any injuries. It’s been a long time coming. I try to do the best I can to update you, I know it’s your job to ask. When they say they can play or when they’re healthy, they’re healthy. Right now we’ve got to win with whoever’s in there. I’m not going to update any more, it’s kind of tiring for me as far as stick-handling around upper body, lower body. Whoever’s in, I’ll give you the lineup and that’s that.” Ross Johnston (11pts. And 113 pins w BST) was the latest call-up (Jan. 19th) and added some much-needed physicality and a touch of scoring.

John Tavares and Josh Bailey attended the 2018 NHL All-Star game in Tampa Florida and took part in the puck relay and fastest skater competition, respectively. Tavares finished 2nd in the relay. Tavares and Bailey had an assist in the Metro’s loss to the Atlantic division. "It was fun. That's the biggest thing. Obviously would have liked to have moved on to the final game, but it was all in good fun," 1st time All-Star, Bailey said. "It was good to get to know everyone a little better and ultimately it was just a great experience."

As expected, Islanders Captain was barraged with questions about his contract status and answered the questions as he has throughout the season. "I try not to approach anything differently because of it being in last year of my contract. I haven't really gone out of my way to talk to guys and find out how they've handled it. I try to be myself and be the best I can, be the best teammate and player I can be for the Islanders." Tavares has 26 and 31 for 57 points in 50 games this season and is set for a career year. It’s clear his approach to the game hasn't changed and Tavares believes in New York’s depth and organizations potential within the talent in the Isles system. It seems he is in no hurry and hopefully, Garth Snow has things in hand. If the unmentionable were to happen, a very unpopular, but necessary Plan B scenario would likely be set in motion.

Much like his GM, John Tavares doesn’t like to bring attention to team business. "I've always stated that I've really enjoyed being there," Tavares said. "I haven't thought about anything but mostly focusing on this season and taking my time and being patient. When the time is right, I'll make my decision. Anything that we've talked about, I prefer to keep it internally between me and the organization. Talks are always open and they've been great so far. I'm not going to get into specific details.

"The way I look at is anything that affects my daily life, whether it's at the rink or not at the rink, will go into my decision. Obviously, you want to play for a team that's doing everything it can to win, and the Islanders are certainly doing that. You can see a lot of the potential and the young talent we have, as well as guys who've been there for a while, like Josh, Anders [Lee], [defensemen] Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, the veteran guys we have. We've got a solid foundation there." I’m sure rookie standout, Mathew Barzal will help weigh in to the decision as well. Barzal (51pts) has been a huge factor in the Isles offense and is among an elite group (Crosby, Malkin & Ovechkin) for 50 points in 50 games over last 20 years of NHL play.

The Isles get back to action tomorrow against Florida in Brooklyn and then go to Toronto on Wednesday.

Isles Notes:

Per Arthur Staple, “Asked what his priority is in making a decision, Tavares said: “I want to stay on Long Island... I haven’t thought about being anywhere except with the Islanders.”

"Tavares on interim play at Coliseum, “Just when this place is full, there’s nothing really quite like it. It was always a big family atmosphere coming to the Coliseum. To get to have that again and in the transition into Belmont which I think is a big part of the identity of this team.”

“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.”

Tanner Fritz and Ross Johnston have been recalled from loan.

Per Eric Hornick, Pulock has tied #Isles record for points by a defensemen-- last done by Uwe Krupp. Potvin had 5 points 5 times and Persson once.

Per StatsCentre, “Isles are 2nd team in NHL history to have 3 or more 5+ point games from rookies in a single season- 1 shy of the 1980-81 Nordiques for the most (2 from Peter Stastny, 2 from his brother Anton).”

Aho and Sorokin make the list, with Bellows and Ho-Sang among the honorable mentions.

Per Eric Hornick, “Only Edmonton (1986-87) has gone longer than the #isles (1987-88) without finishing 1st in their division. (Current streaks only) #NHL

Ex-Islander, Canadian Olympic goaltender Kevin Poulin has signed with EHC Kloten for the remainder of the season. #NationalLeague

Sound Tigers Notes:

Congratulations to @CGibber37 & @mitchv_97 on being added to the #AHLAllStar playing roster!

Jeff Kubiak (F) has been loaned to the @RailersHC.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Isles Dominate Rangers. Barzal, Beau & Ho-Sang

Mathew Barzal has been and is currently on fire. Whenever he touches the puck, you stop eating popcorn or sipping your beverage to see what will happen next. Whether on a regular shift or in overtime, he has factored into some big moments for the New York Islanders this season. In last night’s 7-2 domination over their rival New York Rangers, our Isles saw Barzal put the league on notice yet again. His 2 goals and 3 assists (and +5 rating) galvanized the Isles’ attack at MSG and the Rangers could do nothing about it. Per Eric Hornick, “Barzal also regained the lead in rookie points from Brock Boeser (44-40).  It was his 4th multi-assist game and 9th multi-point game. In the last 21 years, only one Islander rookie (John Tavares -30 in 2009/10) has had more assists than Barzal.” Barzal is the first Islander, ever, to score 5 points at MSG. Is this thing on?

Mathew Barzal is the only player in the NHL, rookie or otherwise, to have 2-5 point games under his belt so far this season. Per Mike Morreale, “NYR coach Alain Vigneault: "Barzal’s line just dominated Mika’s [Mika Zibanejad] line the whole game. I had three of my top players there and they were dominated the whole game." Anthony Beauvillier (+5 in the game) had 2 goals and an assist in last night’s win. After a 3-game stint in the AHL, Beauvillier once again made a statement to stick around with the big club. And Barzal likes his friend’s game, “He's bringing his effort every night, that's the biggest thing," said Barzal. "He's playing exactly how he's supposed to play, winning battles, burying his chances which is great and doing a great job playing 200 feet. He's been really easy to adjustment there with Ladd being out." Beauvillier seems to be feeling it as well. Here’s what he had to say about the Isles first game back in action, “It’s always fun to play the Rangers, especially here, and it’s been a good game for us. Coming back from the break and just build off that last game against New Jersey. We played a great game." Line mate Jordan Eberle had a career high 4 assists (Hornick) in the game. Prince (1st goal since 12/16), Hickey (2nd of Ssn) and Clutterbuck (4 goals in last 4 games) also scored goals in the game.

The Isles huge second period rush added 3 goals to the scoresheet in the first seven minutes and broke the confidence of the Rangers, eventually getting Ondrej Pavelec pulled from the home net after goal number five. 9 different Islanders got at least a point and Scott Mayfield had 2 points (career high) on the night. It was the Isles 3rd straight win vs the Rangers at MSG and 5th straight overall. Jaroslav Halak was huge (now 16-7-0 vs Rangers) for the Islanders and stopped mounting pressure by the Rangers after they forced the tie early in the game. Halak is 13-12-0 on the season.

Injuries have affected the Isles a few times this season. Several key players have gone down and that meant prospects were given an opportunity to fill their roles. The Isles recalled Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle on an emergency basis from BPT. Along with D, Sebastian Aho to face the New York Rangers. Dal Colle looked comfortable and Aho continues to do what’s asked of him in relief on the Isles blue line. With Casey Cizikas leaving last night’s game after an un-penalized slash to the wrist, Sound Tigers’ scoring leader, Tanner Fritz (37 pts) was recalled again from Bridgeport.

On the other side of the prospect coin, Josh Ho-Sang seems to be souring on his most recent time back down with the Sound Tigers. Ho-Sang always plays hard and has all the talent in the world, but his maturity and attitude have been called into question by critics. This was the main reason the Islanders were able to get a player of his considerable talent level with the 28th overall pick in 2014. Ho-Sang is now getting scratched in the AHL. A place where he has been sent down to learn a lesson, re-ignite his fire and ply his play-making craft like so many who came before him.

“When you start the year in the NHL and then get scratched in the AHL in the same year, it’s kind of … it’s kind of mentally tough,” Ho-Sang told The New York PostHo-Sang may not be meshing with Sound Tigers coach, Brent Thompson. “I don’t think anybody can break my confidence,” he said. “But it’s definitely put in a place where it’s not very good. There’s certain things I can do on the ice to remind myself of what I am and who I am. But it’s just tough when you have people getting on you and sometimes when everyone’s talking to you about the negative, you may look at yourself negatively.”

On Ho-Sang, Thompson had this to say, “He’s a baby, he’s immature and he’s got a lot of growing to do. I’m excited. The upside of him is outstanding. He worked hard today, he’s been working really hard. We all make mistakes, we all have bad games. It’s how do we respond from those and what do we learn from them? Every piece of this season for Josh, with us, is a development piece. It’s just going to be a longer process with some people.” In this writer’s opinion, “He’s a baby” may not be the best quote or sound bite to put out there with a major NY paper. Isles fans certainly remember the rift that started to form between the Islanders organization and Nino Neidereitter. It engineered the talented prospect to be traded to the Minnesota Wild for Cal Clutterbuck. No one knows what will happen with Ho-Sang and when his next NHL call-up will be, but the work will need to be there along with the message sent by the organization.

Per Josh Ho-Sang, “Yeah, I’m only young, but I’m burning years off my NHL career. It sucks,” he said. “You want to be up top. For me, I didn’t look at it this way until this year. I was looking forward to hopefully my first [full] NHL season.”

He added, “I enjoy playing up there and I find that when I’m up there, I’ve had quite a bit of success,” Ho-Sang said. “I think I’ve had more success up there than hardship. But they want what they want.”

I love the prospect of Ho-Sang rejoining the Islanders but dues have to be paid when asked by management and the quickest way back up is to prove your doubters wrong without speaking out or losing your cool to a reporter.

For nothing else but an attempt to draw a parallel, please indulge me.

Coach, Doug Weight on Beau’s attitude and game, "Anthony has been a different person," Weight said of Beauvillier since his return. "Just his face, his confidence and just in hindsight, speaking with him this morning he said you were right, this was the greatest thing for me."

Here’s what Anthony Beauvillier himself had to say on being sent down to the AHL, "It happened to Bails [Josh Bailey] and a lot of Hall of Famers played in the American League as well," Beauvillier said. "It's helped me a lot just finding my game a little bit more, how to have success. No one wants to hear that, but it was good for me to go down there."

Back to the main point of all of this.

The Metro remains super tight. The Isles have a shootout win vs NJ and a big, tight defensive and road scoring win vs the NYR in their last 2 opportunities. A point separates 5 teams (Rangers through Carolina) with little relief in sight. It’s all about the coming head-to-head match-ups and which team will rise above the others as the playoff push into spring approaches. It’s going to take a full team effort without any nights off. And that includes everyone on and off the ice.

Challenge accepted.

Isles Notes:

Per Arthur Staple, “Isles announce Tanner Fritz has been recalled and Andrew Ladd (upper) is on IR.”

Josh Bailey and Johnny Boychuk still out. No update on Casey Cizikas after being slashed on the wrist in last names game vs. the Rangers. Per Andy Graziano, “Weight not optimistic at all about Cizikas, said doesn't look good and won't make trip Monday, opportunity there for guys to step up.”

Per NHL PR, “THIS DATE IN 1988: Denis Potvin of the @NYIslanders became the first defenseman in NHL history to score 300 career goals.”

Sound Tigers Notes:

The #SoundTigers have recalled Kellen Jones (F) & Mike Cornell (D) from the @RailersHC.

Christopher Gibson is now 14-7-2 on the season with 2 shutouts.

Toews Undergoes Successful Surgery.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Tavares & Bailey are All-Stars, Bellows & Sorokyn Impress

John Tavares and Josh Bailey are heading to Tampa Florida and will be representing the New York Islanders January 27-28 on All-Star Weekend at Amalie Arena. Tavares will be making his 5th appearance and Josh Bailey will be making his well-deserved, 1st career appearance as an NHL All-Star.

Per Release, “Tavares, 27, scored four goals for Team Toews during 2015 All-Star weekend in Columbus, OH, tying an NHL All-Star Game record as the sixth player ever to score four. In 2016 in Nashville, TN, Tavares won the Accuracy Shooting contest during the Skills Competition while serving as the Metropolitan Division team captain. Last year, he helped the Metropolitan Division team win the 2017 All-Star Game in Los Angeles.”

John Tavares leads the Islanders at the break with team leading 51 points (22 & 29 in 43 games) and good enough for 2nd in goals and assists on the team. Per release,
“He's averaging over a point per game (1.19) and currently is tied for sixth in the NHL in scoring. In 630 career NHL games, spanning nine seasons with the Islanders, Tavares has 588 points (257 goals, 331 assists).”

Josh Bailey, 28, was recently named 2nd star in the month of December. He has certainly made a huge splash over the course of this season. With 50 points (12 & 38) in 43 games, Bailey is tied for 2nd in the NHL for assists and 8th in total points. Per release, “Bailey has totaled 356 points (118 goals and 238 assists) in 681 career games. Bailey was quoted as saying, "This was my first real time having a shot at it, so I'm honored." He added, "I'm looking forward to the experience and going down there and sharing it with my family."

Both nominations are well earned.

But since we’re on the subject, where was the nod for Anders Lee? Anders Lee is part of the Isles 1st line that has helped them rank among the tops in the NHL team scoring totals. At the time of this article and being idle for 3 days on their mandatory NHL break, the Isles rank 3rd overall with 143 goals for (TBL,WPG).

Lee has contributed 40 points (25 & 15) and has been instrumental in New York’s goal scoring. His contributions include, but are hardly limited to, physical play, screening opposing goaltenders and contributing to numerous scoring opportunities. Anders Lee is 3rd in NHL goals behind Kucherov and Ovechkin and is in the top 25 in the league for points, 1st on the Isles in goals, has been a leader and top contributor for his team, doing all the types of things that are not counted on the score sheet. Per The Hockey News, Anders Lee has the most goals in the NHL per 60 minutes played. Oddly enough though, that doesn’t seem to qualify him for an All-Star appearance. The Isles are slumping, I get it. But you cant downplay the kind of game brought by Anders lee this season. It's just not right.

Team USA was disappointed to fall short of defending their Gold medal title at the 2018 WJC in Buffalo. However, Isles prospect, Kieffer Bellows (1st round, 19th overall, 2016 NHL Entry Draft) and Team USA dug in and bested the Czech Republic by a 9-3 score to capture a bronze medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship last week. Bellows also led the tournament in scoring and set a Team USA record formerly held by Jeremy Roenick, with nine goals. It was also the most goals scored by any player in the tournament.

Per Jeremy Roenick, “Congrats to @BellowsKieffer on tying my record for most goals in a single WJC tournament with 8 goals. Pretty awesome! #USA #WorldJuniors” Even Kieffer’s Dad, Brian had something to add to his son’s performance in the 2018 Juniors. Per Eric Hornick, “Brian Bellows on his son Kieffer: "There is no way I could shoot the puck like that".
With his 2018 Bronze and the Gold medal from last year with team USA, it makes 2 career medals at the WJHC for Bellows. It also marks the first-time team USA has medals in its 3 consecutive appearances.

On more from the prospect front, Top Isles goaltending prospect, Ilya Sorokin recorded back-to-back shutouts last week (ties KHL lead) and extended his winning streak to 5 straight.

Ilya Sorokin has roared into 2018. The Russian goalie recorded back-to-back shutouts last week, surrendering one goal in his last 3 games, extending his win streak to five straight games in the process.

“The Islanders' 2014 fourth-round pick is tied for the KHL lead in shutouts with eight on the season, and is second in goals-against average with a 1.39. Sorokin is 22-6-4 this season with a 1.39 GAA and a .935 save percentage.”

The Isles other top goaltending prospect, Linus Soderstrom has had shoulder surgery, but is expected to return to HV71 and not miss remainder of the season in the Swedish Elite League as first reported.

Isles notes:

Islanders return to action at the Rangers on Saturday, January 13th @ 1pm. 

Aho, Fritz and Beauvillier were returned to the BST for the NHL break. Anthony Beauvillier (F) has been emergency recalled from Bridgeport. It is expected that Aho & Fritz may recalled by the Islanders when play resumes.

Per Arthur Staple, “Devon Toews out for the year is a big blow. Org sees him as a top-4 D-man next season and this is a big setback for his development.”

Gary Bettman visits Nassau Coliseum to assess its suitability for Islanders as temporary home.

Per Jim Baumbach, “Wondering why Isles were 'conditionally' designated as Belmont RFP winner? Here's explanation given at ESD board meeting: "Formal designation does not happen until after all of the environmental review has been completed and we have a general project plan to bring to the board. Little has been revealed thus far about timeline for Islanders' Belmont arena. But know this. Environmental review process goes first, and ESD said at its board meeting last month that is expected to take "probably a year plus," with traffic and transportation study a main issue.

ESD officials also said at the board meeting they've already been in touch with @MTA and @LIRR "to start conversations" about upgrading the train station. ESD's Holly Leicht at board meeting: "We will have the formal environmental process, we look to do the scoping hearing for that to start that process in March.

What we know re Islanders/Belmont: - Isles/Barclays discussing interim arena plans. NHL open to Coliseum. Decision likely in matter of weeks. - At Belmont, environmental review process to start in March, expected to last "year-plus," after which Isles are "formally" designated. ESD expects to be ready to do an official lease with Islanders group at Belmont in spring 2019 after an environmental review process that should last "12 to 16 months."

Per Arthur Staple, “Isles reached the halfway mark last night. 44 points — four more than they had halfway through last season. And that first half cost Jack Capuano his job.” Isles remain at 46 points right now.

Per Dimitri Filipovic, “The Islanders have a window here where their top two centers and wingers and wingers are making just $13M combined which is both ridiculous and about to end. With each passing day it becomes more and more indefensible that they’re sitting tight and not doing anything.”

Scatchard fuses hockey and film into documentary.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Islanders Extend Mayfield, Team Needs Change

The Islanders have a few big things to be thankful for so far this season. Their new Arena deal at Belmont, strong play at home in Brooklyn, a blistering offensive output supported by their 1st and 2nd lines while Mathew Barzal continues to improve, impressing everyone in the NHL.

Today, our New York Islanders announced a five-year extension for improving D, Scott Mayfield ($1.45M average per year – Staple) that will run through the 2023-24 season. The 25-year-old Mayfield (34th overall selection in 2011 NHL Entry Draft) has 2 & 8 for 10 points in 29 games and a -1 rating with the Isles this season. Mayfield obviously made an impression in his 65 NHL appearances and 2 playoff games, earning a spot with the big club to start the season based on his gritty, puck-moving style of play. Mayfield has obviously shown enough to Garth Snow to join fellow BST, D-Man, Adam Pelech to seemingly be in the future plan on Isles blue line for the foreseeable future. Both are talented, physical and driven players that should help add depth to the back end with more experience.

Per release, “Mayfield has also played 223 American Hockey League games with the Sound Tigers, totaling 12 goals, 38 assists and 411 penalty minutes.

Prior to his professional career, Mayfield attended the University of Denver, where he scored 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) and collected 192 penalty minutes in 81 games over two seasons. Mayfield also played two seasons with the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League. In 111 career USHL games, Mayfield totaled 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) and 304 penalty minutes.”

While it’s not a popular move with some, I like it. Like Pelech does from the back-end, I feel Mayfield has some value to add in transitional play on defense to the team moving forward. I also feel, like Pelech, it’s a steep learning curve to ask a pair of young, inexperienced defensemen to bear on a team struggling to keep the puck out of the net.

Since that big Arena news, the Isles have managed to all but fall apart as a squad and now find themselves just out of playoff contention (CAR game-at-hand) for the 2nd wild card spot in the east. After a 4-3 OT win against the Kings in a December they would rather forget, the Isles continued their slide, going 1 & 6 that started off with a loss to Detroit on 12/19. Other than a 5-2 win (and 1st career hatty by Barzal), the Isles lost to the Ducks, Sabres, Jets, Avalanche and Bruins getting outscored by a dismal 34-18 margin in that span coming off a strong 15-7-2 mark at the end of November. As a team, they are 2nd worst in the NHL with 143 goals against in 40 games (ARI 145) and 2nd worst on the PK with a 74.6% rate of success. Only Edmonton is worse with 70.8%. And that’s even after the Islanders rank 3rd offensively with a 3.38 goals per game average.

Sebastian Aho was added to the Isles in the absence of experienced blue liners like Boychuk (Lower, week to week) & de Haan (indefinitely). With the recent struggles, it’s hard to expect any of these guys to make a significant impact with the team so off the mark. New York’s net minder tandem of Halak and Greiss have been streaky and have just not played well enough game in and game out. Especially when you consider how the defense has left them alone regularly to face adversity in odd man or shorthanded situations.

Even their potent offense has sputtered recently. The 3rd and 4th lines are struggling to contribute and effectively negate the top lines of the opposition and spark offensively. Garth Snow has only responded with internal shake-up attempts. To restart the offense, Josh Ho-Sang was sent down on the 12/15, Shane Prince recalled on the 20th and Tanner Fritz on 1/1 with Anthony Beauvillier being sent down and Steve Bernier returning to the BST recently. It seems their organizational depth is just not enough to pull them out of their current nose dive.

After the 6-1 loss to COL and seeing his head coach ejected, John Tavares was quoted as saying, “It’s embarrassing to be losing like that. Can’t take for granted playing in this league every night.” It seems Doug Weight has found himself in his first real series of challenges since taking over head coaching duties in the later part of last season. “Adversity is hitting us between the eyes right now as a group. We have three really big games and we have to figure it out. We have to get back our mojo, our fierceness that we seem to have let drift.” In my opinion, Mojo = Accountability. If Weight doesn’t have the horses, its once again incumbent on management to make the moves to keep the team in the thick of the playoff race.

The Isles are now 20-16-0, 6th in their division and 9th in the east. To me, it seems this team has lost their focus, direction and confidence in their overall game. I am finally sad to say they may be losing their captain in the process. BST recalls won’t fix game or glaring defensive weakness. I say again, change is needed and Garth Snow is on the clock.

The season is almost halfway over and the Isles must overcome this “Bomb Cyclone” hitting the north east, win on the road and start their comeback against the Metro Flyers (4 points back) tonight in Philadelphia, then Pittsburg (1 point back) and Devils (2nd in division) before their 5 day NHL break.

Anders lee isn’t worried. “I think for sure our attitude could be a little bit more strong. Guys are unhappy with what’s gone on . . . so we’re going to change it.”

Give em’ hell Anders.

Isles Notes:

1/1 Per Arthur Staple, “Isles send Anthony Beauvillier and Steve Bernier to BPT … Recall Tanner Fritz from BPT.”

12/28, Per Arthur Staple, “Isles have placed Johnny Boychuk (lower body) on IR and recalled Sebastian Aho from Bridgeport. Boychuk considered week to week as of now.”

Per Eric Hornick, “Sebastian Aho will become first #Isles to make NHL debut this season and only 2nd in 2017 (JHS). Aho is first #Isles to debut in his draft year since Nino in 2011.”

On 12/24, Mathew Barzal named 2nd Star of the Week, scored his first career hat-trick agains thte Sabres on 12/27 and was named 2nd Star of the Month

Per Brain Compton, “John Tavares has not ruled out re-signing with #Isles before end of season.”

Per @garik16, “Score Adjusted Corsi over each NHL team's last 15 games: The #Isles come in at 31st Place. Yeah, they've been the league's worst team.”

The Isles Bellows (USA), Salo and Koivula (Finland) are participating in 2018 WJC.

Per Randi Marshall, “On finances: New York Arena Partners - group includes #isles, Sterling and Oak View - will finance the entire project - $1 billion total. They'll get a 49 yr lease and will pay $40 mil in rent.”

“And finally, be patient. Building in NYS takes time. There are environmental reviews to do, infrastructure work that's going to need to happen, and plenty of steps between now and a season opener at Belmont. Be patient, stay involved, but watch what happens...”
“Cuomo mentions #isles and Belmont in State of State - Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin get round of applause "for believing in NY." Nikolay Kulemin one other player (de Haan)and in suits and ties there too. "Welcome back to Long Island" Cuomo says.”

NHL open to Islanders playing games at Nassau Coliseum.

Per Arthur Staple, “Charles Wang's name came up often at today's press conference. "Nobody should take anything away from Charles, because frankly, the Islanders wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Charles.’ -- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.”

Sound Tiger Notes:

Tanner Fritz & Sebastian Aho named to the 2018 #AHL All-Star Classic.

Team USA Olympic News:

Rosters announced.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Islanders and Belmont: Done Deal

The rumors of the Isles and Belmont have heated up a lot lately. According to Jim Baumbach yesterday, “The Islanders’ proposal to build a new arena at Belmont Park was selected as the winning bid, according to people familiar with the situation.” Isles social media exploded in a bevy of excitement, “what ifs” and “finallys.” After a news conference was scheduled, an announcement was set at the race track around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, it definitely got the attention of Islanders Country. Even N.Y Governor, Andrew Cuomo was slated to be in attendance. The hard work and commitment of John Ledecky, Scott Malkin continued the efforts of Charles Wang and the Isles are finally on the road to stability and true free agent lure. Even more so than their then, life preserving move to Brooklyn. Billy Joel, John Tavares and Cal Clutterbuck are expected to attend as well.

It’s now official with the official press conference scheduled for 11 am today. So Jim Baumbach tweeted the letter of approval from the Empire State Development to ‘NYAP’ or the New York Arena Partners to redevelop the 43 acres detailed in the proposal. “NYAP proposes to build a mixed-use entertainment complex that will include an approximately 60,000-square foot, 18,000-seat multi-use arena that will be home to the New York Islanders; a 435,000-square foot retail, dining and entertainment village; a 193,000-square foot hotel; and 10,000 square feet of offices and parking (see Proposed Site Plan attached). The proposed project and any contractual documentation remain subject to all public approval processes as required by law, including but not limited to review by the ESD Directors.” It should also be noted that there is a group of residents trying to file a lawsuit to challenge the project.

Per Jim Baumbach, “State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who co-hosted a hearing on the dueling proposals last week, said the development would benefit Elmont, Floral Park and the communities surrounding Belmont Park … Governor Cuomo, my colleagues in government, and I have worked very hard to make the best use out of Belmont,” Kaminsky said in a statement. “I believe that tomorrow’s announcement will benefit Long Island and the surrounding communities.”

“Nassau County Executive-elect Laura Curran, a Democrat who takes office Jan. 1, said she was “excited to finally welcome the Islanders home to Nassau County, and I’d like to thank Governor Cuomo for helping make that possible.”

We Know John Ledecky has said the Isles will finish their obligation at the Barclays Center next season, but with the time crunch necessary to build a new facility, would that be enough time? Probably not. Per Baumbach, “The team is currently negotiating with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which operates Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum, on amending their lease. The window for those negotiations, according to their lease, closes on Jan. 1 and both sides have until Jan. 30 to formally deliver “opt-out” notices, a formality at this point.” But wait, that’s not all. Russ Cohen (@sportsology) told NHL radio the Islanders would be allowed to play at the 13,900 seat, $160M renovated NVMC as a bridge deal for a year while the new arena is constructed. What are your thoughts?

But in order for this whole endeavor to be a true success, the complete destination package needs to exist around the new $1 Billion dollar Islanders-centric complex. More infrastructure around roadways and railways will need to be tweaked to make the transition more seamless. A new rail station was said to be in the plans, but the costs could cause a problem. In a Newsday editorial, the possibilities for profit are there, but it won’t be easy.

“…Belmont’s little-used LIRR station is on a short spur off the Main Line — one track in each direction. The station got an upgrade two years ago, after it couldn’t handle the prior year’s crowds, but it likely will need work, too. And it’s at a congested spot between Queens Village and Bellerose. Although there are four Main Line tracks, the spur only feeds into the southernmost, eastbound track. For trains to head west, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will have to find slots between existing Main Line train traffic and likely build new track infrastructure. Even then, managing the train traffic will be complicated.

A full-time station is on the state’s radar screen and the MTA is willing to try, but it likely will be expensive. Public improvements such as these can be paid for through future property tax revenue from the development. And it’s possible that Genting New York LLC, which operates Aqueduct’s Resorts World and wants to use the expanse of land there to expand its casino and amenities, could play a role in funding Belmont’s needs.”

Failure at the new “Stable” (Thanks Brian Nystrom of Real Islanders Fans) is not an option and there is more at stake than just a new building for the Islanders. The extension of John Tavares was said to partly based on the move and we all know what a key piece of the future Tavares is to the Islanders. Will it be enough for Tavares? Andy Graziano sums it up well. “Pretty simple as it stands currently re: Tavares. Organizational ownership secure, practice rink five minutes away, new building approved 15 miles away, cap space no issue, contract length no issue...becomes all about how he feels about team's chances to win.”

New York State and the Empire State Development group needed to buy into this process and despite politics and lobbying, the success of the project is something many in local and state government are counting on. “It’s a chance to add economic vitality to what’s now asphalt, and to boost that entire Queens-Nassau border area with a new Long Island Rail Road station that can become a public transit hub.” That hub should bring business to the race track, shopping, restaurants and public facilities for a long time to come. And best of all, it means the Islanders are officially back on the Island and their hard work and results in the win column are sure to help them gain status on the ice. Now all we need is for the defense and especially the goaltending (Greiss, 2nd to last in 5v5 sv%) to get back on line. Last night’s let down against Detroit is proof positive of that. The Isles are now last in gaa with dismal 3.50 goals per game surrendered, last on the normally solid PK at 72.3% and have gone 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. I am pretty confident in Weight’s leadership and the staff will have to figure out what components need changing and what systems need reorganizing.

Per Chris Botta, “Congrats to #Isles and their fans. Biggest day for the team in a generation. Ledecky and Malkin’s wisest step was knowing they couldn’t do it alone. A collaboration with Wilpon, Dolan, Leiweke, Azoff, Luukko and others - and deep connections to Cuomo - got it done.” John Ledecky has been an approachable and visible man of the people since taking over his part of the majority team ownership. Carol Schram of Forbes magazine recalls when the shot was fired across the bow. “Islanders owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky called Belmont their “singular focus” at a media luncheon in October, signaling their strong commitment to bring their team back to a location less than 15 miles from its old home at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale.” 

He has made the rounds on the political side, the organizational side, made the trips to the newest state-of-the-art arenas in the hockey world as part of his homework and made himself available to Islanders fans on the train and around the concourse to hear what they had to say and share his own story as a fan. I am sure all of Isles Country feel as I do when I feel so fortunate to have a champion of the cause push this organization to the next level and give it a serious chance to become an elite franchise in the NHL. The pieces are almost all in place. Let’s hope the organization can honor Al Arbour in the naming of the new Arena.

John Tavares had this to say on the Belmont news “Great for organization, players, our families but mostly our fans and fan-base. Much deserved, where identity is. Won't determine or change anything at this point regarding my personal situation.” Tavares is having a huge year with Lee and Bailey and the team looks good, but do they look good enough for Tavares?

With Arena future in hand, the all-important John Tavares watch continues, but one thing is certain. We as fans once again deserve to celebrate the long enduring and hard fought coming of age. The Islanders have a legitimate and permanent place to build in their image and call home.

Thank you for being among the faithful and keep that snarl. We are going to need it.

Isles Notes:

Per NHL Player Safety, “Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader fined $5,000, the maximum allowable under the CBA, for spearing NY Islanders’ Scott Mayfield.”