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

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Isles 2016 Draft: A Left Wing Thing

Our New York Islanders went into last week’s NHL Entry Draft with a purpose.  And apparently, it was to add depth to their system.  I am sure many fans, including this one hoped the Isles would package picks with other assets for a trade to try and upgrade their roster immediately.  It’s entirely possible that those deals just weren’t there for them, so they did the draft thing and acquired the prospects that addressed their need.  That was Left Wings.

In the first round, with the 19th pick, the Isles selected 6’1, 195# Kieffer Bellows of the USA National Team Development Program.  Kieffer is the son of former NHL’er, Brian Bellows, so he grew up around professional hockey and probably gets a tip or two from Dad on his game from time to time.  The physical, 50 goal scorer (31 assists) is noted for his puck handling ability and strong skating per elite prospects.  He is also known for his fore check and his ability to control the flow of a game, which could explain why Bellows was rated 10th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.  So it’s safe to assume Bellows will have some time to develop a little more in the Isles system after his Boston University commitments.  I would imagine that fans should get to see him showcase his wares at this year’s Blue and White scrimmage. 

It’s worth mentioning that my 1st round choice for the Isles, Julien Gauthier was drafted two picks later by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Garth Snow added five more picks on day two.  He mostly stayed the left wing course with two picks in the 4th, one in the 6th and 2 in the 7th, adding a D-Man with the last pick of the draft.  Snow traded the Isles 110th pick along with a 2017 6th rounder to Chicago for the 95th to select a former WJ Russian silver medalist, 21 year old named Anatoli Golyshev.  The 5’8, 178#, Golyshev has 3 years of KHL experience (and is still under contract thru 2019) that includes a career highs of 25 and 19 for 44 points in 56 games (with most at even strength) playing for Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg.  Let’s see if he can shake the small, Russian stigma and get a chance to make an impact for New York in their system.

The Islanders traded up with Philadelphia to acquire the 120th selection for a 2017, 4th rounder to draft 6’4, 219#, 17 year old Finn, Otto Koivula.  With a career high 58 points last season and another 12 in playoff competition, Koivula must have been the choice to management.  There is hopes that he can use his on-ice vison and accurate shot to make some as he develops over-seas, while improving his mobility.

With the 170th pick, the Isles choose Collin Adams of the USHL.  As another smaller sized forward at 5.9, 172#, Adams played big and got noticed last season by being named to the USHL All-Rookie 1st Team.  He did so by scoring 27 and 34 for 61 points in 59 games.  Adams has a standing commitment to play for North Dakota next season.  He is known for his leadership qualities, both on and off the ice and one of those “heavy” shots we love to hear about.

Nick Pastujov was added to the Islanders system with pick #193.  Pastujov (6’0, 199#) tallied 21 points in 60 games for the U18, Bronze Medal US National Team and has a commitment to play for the University of Michigan next season.  He was apparently fishing when he heard the news that he was drafted by New York.

With their final pick of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Islanders went defensive and brought 5’8, 181# David Quenneville into the organizational fold.  With the Tigers of the WHL, Quenneville scored 14 and 44 for 55 points and models his game after the Kings, Drew Doughty.  He has two brothers in NHL organizations.  New Jersey Devils 2014, first-rounder John Quenneville and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Peter Quenneville.

After stockpiling prospects at the draft, we can probably assume the Islanders are shifting their focus at add the “win-now” talent they need at the start of free agency.  It should be interesting to see if any trades happen before then or if the team is content to wait and make their offers to specific targets on July 1st. If Snow can’t make a splash at that time, he may be looking for trades later in the summer and before the start of next season like the ones he orchestrated for Boychuk and Leddy.

What are your plans for Friday?


You are irreplaceable.

R.I.P. Ares

Sunday, June 19, 2016

KoC 2016 Draft and Free Agency Preview

The chances of Matt Martin, Kyle Okposo and now even Frans Nielsen getting signed are dwindling.  Recent rumors have talks with Nielsen progressing, but the money wanted by Okposo and Martin is said to be enough for the Islanders to look elsewhere to shure up what has been a talented, but lacking roster.  "It's kind of tough. We'll see what happens, but I think all of Long Island would like him back," Cizikas said on the possibility of Martin’s departure from the Islanders organization.  After Cizikas was given a higher than 4th line center’s raise ($3.35M per), it obvious changes are coming, even for what’s expected of him.  Garth Snow said of Okposo, “Kyle has been a terrific player for us, a great person off it. The salary cap is a reality. I wish Kyle nothing but the best.”  This is a business for players the same way it is for the teams.  Both sides need to protect their own interests.  And don’t discount a chance for the rights of an Okposo or Martin be traded prior to the draft in order to add to the day’s assets.  I’m sure the Wild would be high on Okposo and several teams would want to complete their agitation line with Martin.  In that way, Snow could stack the odds with who could get an early shot at signing them far, far, away.

So when you look into the draft that’s happening next week (June 24th & 25th) in Buffalo, the Islanders go in having the 19th, 110th, 170th, 193rd and 200th pick in the 7 rounds of the NHL Entry Draft.  I’d like the Isles draft Jesse Puljujarvi, but he’ll be gone in the top 3, so where does that leave New York?  I think they will add to the pipeline with the later picks or use them to sweeten possible trade offers.  They could also use the 19th pick in some kind of draft day deal as a big piece to help add a player to their stable.  If they did use the pick, or trade up, and if they were available to swing it, I’d choose between a couple of talent forwards in this year’s draft.  In an unlikely trade up scenario, my choice would be Matthew Tkachuk (LW,London) who may go as high as 4th or 5th, but his scoring touch (38g and 95pts) and hockey sense say he is worth the price. Another player I like is the more attainable, 6’4, 224# play-maker, Julien Gauthier (RW, Val-d’Or).  He’s a talented grinder who tallied 38g and 73pts in 68 regular season games, but fell from 10th to 21st in the winter rankings and is now 12th after his late post season drop-off.

I feel the real summer plans of Snow and his Islanders will be one of real change.  Some players will be shed and some added to remix their playoff formula for next season.  They will be banking on the organizational guys they feel are a necessary part of the core.  And while I think the Isles are less likely to trade up for unproven, blue chip talent, I think they will spend money on “proven” assets to compliment John Tavares and crew.  Whether that is a big money signing, a major trade with a cap strapped team or another safer bet, reclamation project, the Islanders should be busy looking to make a few bigger acquisitions than we are used to.  Could a blockbuster trade for frustrated Oilers F, Ryan Nugent Hopkins or Taylor Hall be made?  Not sure if the cost could be amiable to the Islanders.  Rostered players like Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey (I know) still need to be much better to remain long term while guys like Shane Prince and Alan Quine will probably be given a shot to compete for a bigger place with the squad.

Previously seen “untouchables” like Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Strome or Brock Nelson could see themselves packaged for a high end upgrade along with most of the talented Isles prospects not named Barzal, Beauvillier or Ho-Sang.  Even stud net minding prospects like Sorokin, Koskinen or McAdam could be a requested piece for the right trade.  The Islanders have spent $56.7M against next year’s cap so far.  Some “right-now” type, veteran acquisitions that would suit their needs are guys like Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, Jiri Hudler, David Backes or Mikkel Boedker.  A healthy Steven Stamkos would surely be a fit with JT, but his apparent $11M per, multi-year deal may be more than the Isles are comfortable committing to, even if he would sign here. And don’t count out a look into veterans like Scott Hartnell or even a Thomas Vanek if a buy-out or salary splitting trade could be negotiated. 

Whatever happens over the next several weeks, you can be sure the team will be re-fitted and reworked to try and address the shortcomings of the last few seasons.  Whether it works or not is yet to be seen.  But job number one should be locking in a primary partner for John Tavares on the first line and being sure that the mix of young guns and veterans will finally be enough to compete for a deep playoff run.  The Islanders need to find and tweak their group until the right mix and method can be employed. I doubt the new majority ownership of Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin will want to do anything less than win as soon as possible.  And I am sure they won’t be too resistant to change or struggle to rethink a system if they feel the current version isn’t working.  Remember that the Pittsburgh Penguins went from an out-of-playoff position in December and firing their head coach to Stanley Cups Champions in the same season.

No excuses.

Isles Notes:

Per Arthur Staple, “First NHL buyout window opens today (15th). Not expecting any Isles to be bought out, though window stays open until June 30.”

The Islanders annual Blue & White scrimmage happens at the Northwell Health Ice Center on June 29th.

NHL Notes:

R.I.P. Gordie Howe

NHL approves Las Vegas for expansion in 17-18.

“Teams cannot reacquire players they trade after Jan 1, 2017 prior to January 1, 2018. This is to prevent teams from entering arrangements to “hide” players from the expansion draft. There will likely be a lot more guidelines as a part of this rule.

Teams have to expose at least two forwards and one defensemen who have played either 40 games in the previous season (2016-17) or 70 games in the previous seasons (2015-17). Teams can only lose a max of one player.

The expansion team must select players that have a total value of between 60 and 100 percent of the 2016-17 salary cap.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Islanders Secure Cizikas

On June 2nd, the New York Islanders announced a 5 year, $16.75M ($3.35M per) deal with Casey Cizikas.  The RFA center was set to enter the off season as a free agent but chose to remain with the team that drafted him.  Cizikas commented on Twitter that he was “Blessed” to remain with the Islanders for the next 5 years.  After the deal, the Isles have $13.2M available in cap space (pending a $71.4M cap) with some important decisions to make on Nielsen (in talks), Martin and Okposo (no talks) set for free agency along with an interesting crop of RFA’s named Strome, Prince, Quine, Berube.  Especially with the Draft coming in a few weeks.

Cizikas, 25, was 8 and 21 for a career high 29 points with 1 SH and 4 GWG’s to his credit in 80 GP and added 3 playoff assists for New York.  But the contributions of Cizikas go beyond the stat sheet.  While not the biggest or the fastest of the team’s forward core, Cizikas has one of the strongest work ethics on the team and refuses to surrender.  Along with line mates Matt Martin & Cal Clutterbuck, the Isles 4th line were able to change to flow of games and agitate the opposition’s top players without remorse.  The Islanders must decide if that 4th line will remain intact with the future of Matt Martin uncertain at this point with the July 1st free agency period looming.

His ability on special teams (especially on the PK) and talents to disrupt the flow of an opponent’s game in either zone probably helped Garth Snow pull the trigger on a new deal to keep “Zeeker” in Brooklyn.  “Casey has developed into a highly dependable two-way center and we’re pleased to sign him through 2021,” General Manager Garth Snow said. “His energy and passion both on the ice and in the community, make him an invaluable piece of our lineup.”  I’ve always liked the snarl and punch Cizikas brings to a game.  I said as much to Garth Snow at a booster club gathering in 2013 when I mentioned that Cizikas would turn into one of the most important parts of the rebuild moving forward.  That was also the interview when I broke the news of the Isles then, officially unrevealed Winter Classic jerseys. (shameless self promotion)

The Isles 4th round, 92nd overall pick in 2009 has bought into the future plan by New York and is ready to do what he can to contribute to the cause.  “I’m excited to continue to be a part of this group as we build towards the ultimate goal, the Stanley Cup.”

Isles Notes:

Bracken Kearns and Ben Holmstrom have agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way contract with the Islanders.

Sound Tigers Notes:

The Sound Tigers have sign defenseman Ryan Obuchowski (Yale University) and forward Travis St. Denis (Quinnipiac University) to one-year, AHL contracts.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Isle Be There: The Orange and Blue with Jiggs McDonald

In a series of articles, called Isle Be There, my intention is to focus on the different social groups that support your New York Islanders team & its players.  This will also include current events or situations in and around the team as it relates to its fan base and community.

When one of my favorite Islanders’ legends agreed to do an interview with me, I was kind of excited.  John Kenneth McDonald has called hockey his professional career for almost 50 years.  From his fabled calls as an Isles play-by-play announcer to his red carpet work in some of the organization’s biggest ceremonies at the NVMC, Jiggs is a part of New York sports history that even younger fans should take the time to learn about.  Most fans understand the comradery and the feelings of a family type atmosphere with each other when attending games.  An experience that is strengthened by being around others who love this team and cheer for them year in and year out, win or lose.  It’s no different for most team employees or members of the broadcast family.  When I asked about a favorite experience with Islanders fans, Jiggs wasn't able to give just one.  “As a family, met so many wonderful people.  People who we stay in contact with and enjoy spending time with.”

But as the voice of the New York Islanders for so long, Jiggs has a unique insight that spans the dynasty years through the trials of the Milbury era and back again, to what could be another special time in team history.  A few days ago, I wrote about the possibility of Mr. McDonald returning to the booth to replace Howie Rose as a regular for next season, but then I got the opportunity to ask a few more questions, and I jumped at the chance.

Knight of Cups:  Who do you see as a potential candidate for Howie’s long-term replacement?  DP is a good choice, but he is more of a color guy. I asked Jiggs about his feelings on Isles radio host Chris King or former BST radio host Rich Bocchini.

Jiggs:  “At this time I don't know who MSG might have in mind to replace Howie.  Certainly someone with NHL experience will be a factor.  No doubt they'll conduct a full scale search for a successor. I'm familiar with Chris' work and of course he will be at the top of the list.”

Chris King or “Kinger” as he is known in Isles circles has been with the Islanders radio network since 1998 and has numerous voice-over and radio talents to his credit.  King was quoted as saying Arbour’s 1,500th game as Islanders head coach was the most memorable moment of his career.  King should be one of the first guys considered for the job.  In my opinion, Rich Bocchini should be the second.  Or at least the first guy considered to replace King on the radio.  Bocchini did play-by-play in Knoxville during the 2000-01season.  He became the voice of the top New York Islanders affiliate, BST in 2001-02 and did color for Worcester with some play-by-play from 02-05. RGV 05-10 PBP. He also did arena football there. Bocchini toured as a sports anchor for radio and TV in Houston before his time as an on-air talent for the WWE.  Jiggs was quick to point out that, “There are some very good people working in the AHL and ECHL that might have a shot as well.”  

Jiggs added, “Selfishly, I wish I was 30 years younger because whoever is chosen to replace Howie Rose is going to be calling games for a very talented team.  A team that is headed in the right direction and will be a contender for some time.”

Knight of Cups: What did you think of the Isles first season at the Barclays Center?

Jiggs:  “To have a 100 point season while making all kinds of adjustments in both the work place and daily routine speaks volumes.  Really it's a tribute to the dedication and accountability of the 2015-16 Islanders.   Fans are familiar with the changes they had to make from the Coliseum to Barclays -- the players, trainers, coaches, broadcasters, writers etc.   were beyond those.  It was a learning experience for those who handle building operations as well.  From ice conditions to concessions, from fan friendly ushering and game night presentation, overall it turned out much better than it might have.”

I regret to say that I wasn’t able to attend a single game last season.  It was the first time in several years that I didn’t get to at least one Isles game despite already having tickets to a few.  Unexpected changes to my work schedule and obligations to my Father prevented me from going, but I was encouraged by the stories of friends and family about how the atmosphere improved as the season went on.  I hope to catch up with a few games next season and see some of you around the concourse.  Count on it!

Knight of Cups:  What did you think of the 2015-16 team/season?

Jiggs:  “It's difficult enough to make the playoffs in the NHL and to accomplish that in back to back seasons is enough to say it was a good season for the NY Islanders.  However, when you break it down over the 82 game stretch, there were stretches when things should have or could have been much better.  Dry spells in scoring, defensive lapses and so on.  Protecting a late lead or not protecting it, and the season could have been a whole lot better in total points.  Some of that carried over into the playoffs as well.”

In my opinion, the Islanders will have a partial make-over after falling shorter than expected this season.  After the NHL Draft, evaluating home free agents and the rest of the talent pool on July 1st will certainly give the new ownership a chance to change some things about the team for next season.  I’ll have a free agent feature as well as what we may be able to expect for the Islanders at the NHL draft in a few weeks.

Knight of Cups:  Who is your Isles team MVP?

Jiggs:  “The team MVP for 2015-16 is a tie in my opinion.   3 way at that.  John Tavares is an automatic!  The other two are Kyle Okposo and Travis Hamonic.  Travis for playing as well as he did with so much non hockey related things on his mind (especially after his personal matter became public knowledge) and Kyle without a long term deal in place as well as being shunted on and off the top line with regularity.”

Knight of Cups:  What Islander surprised you the most?

Jiggs:  “The biggest surprise came late in the season with the addition of Shane Prince and the speed he brought to the team.  The season long surprise was the lack of progression by Ryan Strome.  I felt Ryan was on the cusp of a breakout year when it became anything but and his regression was so evident.”

Knight of Cups:  Who has the best team in hockey?

Jiggs:  “The best team in the NHL today, obviously, is the Washington Capitals.  From goal to the guys who vie to get into the lineup as the 12th forward, they are deep.   But, remember it's not always the best team who wins, rather the team that is playing the best.  St. Louis is in that category out west and Tampa in the east at the moment.”

Knight of Cups:  Who is the best player in the NHL?

Jiggs:  “The best forward in the league right now has to be Jamie Benn with Brent Burns as the best D man.”

Knight of Cups:  What free agent would you like to see on the Islanders next season?

Jiggs:  “It wouldn't shock me if the Islanders made a huge play from Steven Stamkos as free agency looms.  A top 4 or 5 forward should be a priority in my opinion.  A talented winger to play alongside J.T. (either side) Perhaps a Teddy Purcell could be that guy.  A trade for someone like Taylor Hall would be huge as well.”

Stamkos would be high on everyone’s list.  At least if the uncertainty of his health concerns could be pinned down and reliably evaluated.  My top available guys at this time would be Backes, Hudler, Lucic or Eriksson for “O” considerations and probably Russel on D.

Knight of Cups:  Who was/is your favorite Islander?

Jiggs:  “I've never had just one favorite NY Islander.  That said, I've never been around a NY Islander player that I didn't enjoy spending time with either.  If put up against the wall, it would have to be Clark Gillies.  "Jethro" just had that level of personality to augment his undisputed talent that set him apart.  Just a bit ahead of all the others including today's squad.”

The next few questions are ones that only a guy like Jiggs could answer.  I hope you enjoy reading his insight as much as I did bringing it to you.

Knight of Cups:  What was your favorite team moment?

Jiggs:  “My favorite team moment has to be the trip from Vancouver to New York with the Stanley Cup onboard the flight.  The charter flight didn't land till after 7am following the victory in Vancouver and during the trip every player and team personnel got to sit with the Cup.  In some cases tears were flowing.  It was that emotional.  And it lasted for nearly 6 hours of cross country travel.”

Knight of Cups:  What was your favorite moment is the Islanders broadcast booth?

Jiggs:  “In the booth there were many memorable moments.  From Mike Bossy's 50 in 50, to the win over Colorado to establish a new NHL record for games without a loss.  The Easter Epic in Washington, the overtime win in the opening round versus Pittsburgh to eliminate the Penguins in 1982 --and Pittsburgh comes into play with the 1993 team and that David Volek overtime goal to win the series in the Igloo.  I could on and on and on.”

Knight of Cups:  What was the most interesting behind the scenes conversation or revelation?

Jiggs:  “I'll never forget the travel day to Pittsburgh for that 1993 series.  It came on the heels of Dale Hunter's vicious attack of Pierre Turgeon.  Pierre was lost for the balance of the playoffs.  The team is traveling from LaGuardia and Coach Al Arbour is sitting by himself in the boarding area.  I sat down beside him and offered this:  'if the NHL were to offer -- hypothetically-- the opportunity replace Pierre with any player of your choosing from the Caps, who would you want?'  Without hesitation, Al responded, Dale Hunter.  I was stunned...and said, Al, for C___sake he just put out your best player ... what the hey??   and Al said yah, but he wants to win, will do anything to win.”

Knight of Cups:  What do you think Al Arbour really meant to the Islanders organization and to the game of hockey?

Jiggs:  “Al Arbour, and I've said this many many times, was a sports psychologist long before we'd ever heard the term.  He could read his players like a book, knew what buttons to push.  Had a nickname for everyone etc.  His foresight in putting together 3 players that would click as a forward line or two defensemen was a gift.  His uncanny ability to motivate was one thing.  The fact he never blew up on the bench just underscored how the player is an extension of the coach.”

Knight of Cups:  Is there anything you would like to see changed in the game?

Jiggs:  “Respect has to change.  The player has to have more respect for the opponent and you can't make a rule for that. This hitting from behind is total lack of respect.  That's it for playing rules... except for the red line.  Get that back into the game and we eliminate most of the injuries that are speed related.  I recognize that speed of the game attracts many fans.  However, it was a better game when players could dictate the speed with a little hook or hold and the red line dictating offside helped control things.”

Knight of Cups:  What was the proudest moment of your HHOF career?

Jiggs:  “Probably being asked to work the 1988 Olympics on ABC as well as 1992 and 1994 for TNT.   Sportschannel America gave me the chance to do the Stanley Cup playoffs for another 4 years beyond the Islanders Cup years.  SC America also put me in the booth the night that Wayne Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's scoring record as well.”

Knight of Cups:  When did you know you wanted to be a broadcaster and who gave you your first break in the field?

Jiggs:  “I was probably 8 or 9 when the fascination with radio made it evident I wanted to try my hand.   Graham Gordon hired me right out of high school, to work at a radio station about 130 miles from my home.  So I could jump right in without facing anyone I knew and learn from mistakes etc.  That was 60 years ago this July.   Then the opportunity to do pxp at the NHL level goes to Jack Kent Cooke when he hired me as the LA Kings broadcaster in 1967.”

Knight of Cups:  Who has supported you most over the course of your career?

Jiggs:  “My wife has been my biggest supporter.  She didn't hesitate when the opportunity to move from a community of about 20,000 to Los Angeles came about.  We left family and friends behind for a whole new world.  We've moved a lot over the years and she has been by my side throughout along with our two daughters.”

I’d like to thank Mr. John Kenneth McDonald for lending me his stories and insights from a storied HHOF career so that I might share them with all who support me at Knight of Cups.

Thanks Jiggs.

Isles Notes:

Brock Nelson (1 assist) and Team USA fell 7-2 to Russia in the IIHF worlds bronze-medal game.

Thomas Greiss (33 saves) and Team Germany fell to Russia 4-1 in the IIHF worlds quarterfinals.

Howie Rose speaks fondly on his 21 years with the Islanders.  "The Islanders are a part of me forever.” 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Would Jiggs McDonald Rejoin Broadcast Team?

Over his illustrious career, Foster Hewitt Memorial Award winner and HHOF broadcaster, Jiggs McDonald has returned to his familiar place behind the mike and in front of the camera for many NHL appearances.  Most notably, coming back home to fill in and do special events for his very own, New York Islanders.  While Jiggs had the call for Los Angeles, Atlanta, Toronto, Florida and several other nationally televised appearances for numerous networks, including NBC over his storied career, his transition to the booth in New York was his true calling.  His initial tenure coincided with the dynasty years, calling games alongside “18” himself, Eddie Westfall for some of the greatest moments in team history.

To me, McDonald will always be the voice of the franchise, dating back to calls on 3 of the 4 championship seasons, for great teams of the 80’s and through the magical run with the 1993 squad.  In some return engagements, he was even there to host the team’s 25th anniversary ceremony and as retirement MC for many ceremonies and celebrations throughout their history.  McDonald has been a regular replacement in the broadcast booth for lead Islanders play-by-play man, Howie Rose, over the years.  Rose has held the official job since 1995, but Informed MSG officials yesterday that he would be stepping down from that post immediately, citing a desire to reduce his workload.  Rose will remain as the play-by-play voice of the Mets on WOR.  “It’s the textbook definition of mixed emotions. That’s exactly what it is. I don’t know that I’ve ever been more conflicted about a decision I have had to make in my life,” said Rose. “But I’m confident I made really the only one I could make at this point in time in my career and life.”

So, with the news of Rose stepping down, the speculation on who would replace him on Islanders’ broadcasts started to make waves throughout the media.  Last night, I asked Jigg’s if he would consider taking a more active role by sitting in with Islanders legend, longtime friend and Isles color man, Butch Goring, and be a regular play-by-play commentator for the 2016-17 season and beyond if he was asked to do so.  “I've been thinking of that since getting Howie's email earlier today--so much to consider. Would MSG and the team be comfortable with that? Health wise, I think I could give them a year. From a purely selfish standpoint- it would be a storybook ending to fifty NHL seasons in the booth. Hmmmm I have to sleep on this.”

So this morning, I rushed to my phone to see what a good night’s rest would mean for this monumental decision.

“If asked I would run...if elected I would serve. We'd get ‘er done somehow!!!”

And while I’d like to see Rick DiPietro take more of a role in the booth for the future, the choice for next season is very clear to me.  It’s the @RealJiggsMcD.  Your Move MSG.

McDonald and Goring 2016!

I'll have more in a full interview with Jiggs in the coming days.

Isles Notes:

Brock Nelson and Team USA will take on Czech Republic in the quarterfinal round of IIHFWorlds.

Thomas Greiss and Team Germany will take on Russia in the quarterfinal round of IIHFWorlds.

Per Arthur Staple, “Got word last night that Jaro Halak needs surgery to repair a sports hernia. Not sure if he's had it yet. 6-8 week recovery.”

Monday, May 16, 2016

KoC Season in Review – Change And Consequence: Our 2015 New York Islanders, Part 2

The goaltending depth showed it was the best New York has had in years.  Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss, JF Berube and Christopher Gibson combined for 2.40gaa and a .920Sv%.  Halak was 18-13-4 with a 2.30gaa and a .919Sv% in 26 games, who was injured for a total of 9 games (upper body) and (reoccurring groin) on March 8th. After reluctantly relinquishing the starter’s role to Greiss, he has said the Isles rotating 3-goalie carousel isn’t good.  He claims to have spoken with Snow and Capuano about the resolution. “It’s not in my control,” said Halak.  When asked about the goaltending scenario for next year, Snow said, “We will have some decisions to make, for sure."  If Halak, who still has 2 years remaining on his deal at $4.5M per is really unhappy, could the one-time savior be among the assets for the Islanders summer plans at the draft or to acquire offensive help for JT?

Thomas Greiss is often praised on his personality, technical skill and work ethic.  He became an important piece in the Isles net and returned the favor with a career best .925Sv%. In a notable career high 41 games, and a 23-11-4 record with 1 shutout, he finished 3rd among NHL net minders in Sv%.  Greiss was 5-6 (2 O.T. losses) in the post season with a 2.46gaa and a .923Sv% and was a huge reason that they were able to advance to round 2.  J-F Berube was 3-2-1 with a 2.71gaa and a .914Sv% last season.  The October waiver pickup was the Islanders 3rd rostered goalie last season and would need to clear waivers before being sent down.  Despite being a restricted free agent (1 of the 11 Snow needs to evaluate) this summer, Berube is said to be in the plans moving forward for New York.  He is part of a deep Isles prospect pool that also includes Christopher Gibson (Grabner trade w Toronto), Stephon Williams, Eamon McAdam, Linus Soderstrom and Ilya Sorokin (among the KHL’s best goaltenders).  Both Soderstrom and Sorokin will probably remain in Europe next season.

The prospects now have a chance to properly develop in the organization.  Those that may be knocking on the Islanders roster door soon are; Michael Dal Colle, Matthew Barzal, Anthony Beauvilier, Joshua Ho-Sang and Alan Quine.  Quine had a big end of season call up for the Islanders, which included a goal in 2 regular season games and a game winning OT goal (G5 vs Panthers) and 4 assists in 10 playoff games.  Guys like Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, Bracken Kearns, Justin Florek should have another chance soon as well.

Our New York Islanders had quite a few misfires this season, but they benefited from strong goalkeeping, offensive flourishes and an epic PK.  The team will have new majority ownership assuming control at the start of NHL free agency on July 1 with Scott Malkin and Jonathan Ledecky. Charles Wang will remain in the picture with a minority stake in the team.  Malkin and Ledecky will not have the chance to put their stamp on this year’s draft, (June 24-25 in Buffalo) but I am sure they have already made suggestions to upper management, at least in the way of direction for the future organizational recipe.  That stamp will most likely be the plan of Garth Snow and Charles Wang.  Snow recently commented on the team’s exit meetings.  “There’s a great respect from our players to the coaches and vice versa,” Snow told Newsday last Tuesday.  “Sitting through these meetings with the players, there’s a respect that’s impressive to me. Our team is prepared, they’re in great condition, for me I’m very thankful to have the coaching staff we have.”

What is the plan for the off season?  Most notably, the question of free agency with the fans.  Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin, Steve Bernier, Marek Zidlicky, Brian Strait and Eric Boulton are among the teams UFAs.  Casey Cizikas, Ryan Strome, Shane Prince, Alan Quine & J.F. Berube are RFAs.  In my opinion, the Islanders chances of bringing back a still reliable Nielsen (20 & 30 for 52pts) and improving Martin are high.  I respect the tenaciousness, compete level and leadership of Okposo greatly, but I don’t know if he will get the price he will be asking.  He did contribute a 22 & 42 for 64 pts on the season.  From the RFA side, Cizikas, Prince and Berube could be resigned early, but I think Strome may have to wait until later in the season or even next summer to get more than a bridge deal.  That belief is based on the complaints of attitude and recent key scratches that have played out.  Shane Prince had 3 goals in 42 games with Ottawa before the trade, 3 goals in 20 games with the Isles in regular eason and 3 goals and an assist in the playoffs this year, including a big 2 goal game in game 1 against the Lightning.  Boulton will probably get hired on again for a year to sit and wait or get brought into the staff based on his reputation in the room and with the coaches.  I could see him taking on a role like Eric Cairns did after his playing days were over.  Bernier, Zidlicky and Strait are expendable to me, but what the hell do I know. Strait will probably be offered a 3 yr extension. (Kidding. I hope).

The fate of Jack Capuano and his staff (Doug Weight, Greg Cronin and Bob Corkum) will also be based on what the brass wants of the new age in Brooklyn.  I have said many negative things about Capuano throughout his tenure and I stick by those shortcomings, but he did show me a lot this season, at least with a chance earned to take the team into the next one.  His team shows resiliency and comradery.  They also blow leads and display a stubborn inconsistency.  Jack Capuano now sits firmly behind the great Al Arbour and is now the 4th longest tenured coach in a difficult to survive NHL landscape.  Capuano is number 2 in games coached (441), Wins (210), O.T. Wins/Record (4, 4-3), Playoff games coached (21), playoff wins (10), Series Wins (1).  Is there any chance that the rumor of George McPhee (TSN Shawn Simpson) replacing Snow true?  Would that alter the team’s stand on coaching into next season?

When you look at the overall picture, how can you not be excited?  I never said they are the team of the 80’s, but I do see some similarities to the ‘93 team that was torn apart by expansion and bad choices.  There is a likeable group of guys who play with an Islanders’ chip on their shoulder.  They bring it hard and fast and ‘usually’ make an impression, even with a loss.  There are plenty of things a hater or detractor can move to the new-look Islanders’ main stage, but I don’t give those guys much credit.  The Kool-Aid/Hater-Aid factors always balance each other out.  For the rest of us, it’s always better to hold the guys accountable, but rally behind the ones who leave it all on the ice each and every game.  We should support the character guys and the journeymen who are proud to wear the Blue and Orange.  Let’s stay focused on what the summer will hold and be excited for next season.  Garth Snow thinks so.  He was quoted as saying, “Whether a winger for John (Tavares), the addition of a goalie, upgrading our defense, we leave no stone unturned to improve our club. We’re always on the lookout for ways to improve our club. I’m not going to get into specific positions… those opportunities will unfold here, especially leading up to the draft.”

I am working on an article to be shared with all of you in the coming weeks that should include more of my own Isles insight and a personal interview with Islanders’ legend, Jiggs McDonald on the state of the Orange and Blue.

See you all soon and thanks for the support.

Friday, May 13, 2016

KoC Season in Review – Change And Consequence: Our 2015-16 New York Islanders, Part 1

Our New York Islanders did a few good things this year.  They opened the season at the Barclays Center and really gave their new and existing fans something to cheer about. Amidst the growing number of sellouts and 25-11-5 home record, the Islanders compiled the most points (55) since the 03’ season.  Everyone even seemed to look past the off-center scoreboard, amended seating chart, bad ice conditions, awkward commute and on and off site Brooklyn practice schedules.  I asked a few fans about their experiences at the Barc.  Stuart Oppenheimer felt the team started feeling at home and fans started to fill the arena with some of the same passions from the old barn.  329, now 229, Paul Cartier and Sparky are back and some of the little things made it seem familiar again.  But the atmosphere and community is always about the fans.  “I have nothing but the utmost respect & applause for the way our fans supported us this year. It was a magical environment." -Garth Snow

The Barclays center and the Isles faithful had some growing pains at the start, but soon learned how to exist together.  The venue needed to understand the ins and outs of a hockey fan and the Isles fans learned to adjust to their new home.  A few of my friends at Real Islander Fans had some things to say.  Rob Meagher noticed, “The ushers went from "What is this noise" to "Let’s go Islanders!"  A few concerns still remain and without the ability to return to Nassau and the NVMC, thanks to political B.S., many say it’s starting to feel like home.  And finally, George Davies thinks the modern day Isles reminds him of 75-76 team, ”getting there but still needs some fine tuning.”

They made the playoffs for the second consecutive year (1st time since ’04), won a series to reach the second round, a feat not accomplished since 1993 as a member of the final 8.  They attained the 100 point mark (45-27-10) for the second consecutive year (1st time since ’82) and finished 5th in a competitive eastern conference.  They swept the New York Rangers, driving Henrik Lundqvist nuts, while seeing what Thomas Greiss - their backup goaltender - could offer when it mattered most, and were reminded yet again of what kind of player they have in John Tavares.  But most importantly, the Islanders looked as if they started to believe they could win.  Most of the time, anyway.

I had some observations and also noted a few stats provided by the mighty Eric Hornick.  There were similarities from the last two seasons. Offensively, The Islanders were close in scoring at a +22 to a +16 differential.  They showed some strengths in coming from behind, but found themselves there far too often for my liking.  And their third period misfires played a role in their end of season positioning.

John Tavares had a slow start, but found his groove later in the season (33 & 37 for 70pts) to lead New York to the playoff pool once again.  His leadership and chippiness was infectious and helped the Isles elevate their game behind his example.  Tavares had the memorable game 6, series O.T. winner, against Florida and scored 6 big goals in the post season.  Anders Lee struggled a bit on the score sheet (15 & 21 for 36 pts), but the value of his net-front presence and the impact of his contributions on ice was evident after a broken leg into the post season.  Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas & Cal Clutterbuck (71pts) were big, yet again, this year.  They do anything and everything for this team and can change the complexion of a game with a big hit or timely goal.

Ryan Strome was 8 & 29 for 28pts and a -9 rating on the season and seemed to find the dog house a couple of times with a drop in his productivity.  Last year, he was 17 & 33 for 50pts in 14-15 with a +23 rating.  Brock Nelson struggled at times and was also questioned on his work ethic.  The curious performance of Josh Bailey (12 & 20 for 32pts) has taken him in and out of the Isles top lines. And although he has been a decent two-way player, he’s fallen short of his 1st round, 9th overall expectations to many fans.  Mikhail Grabovski showed flashes of rebounding from last year’s concussion set back. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. And then there was Nikolay Kulemin (31pts in 14-15 and 22pts this season) who struggled to play his consistent two-way game at times.

The defense and goaltending helped the team rank 13th in goals against (211).  Nick Leddy finished strong and has game changing potential with his puck control and speed.  The Travis Hamonic distraction has come to an end.  Even within the threat of an impending trade, Hamonic delivered for the Islanders defensively while scoring a career high 5 goals (& 16 for 21pts).  Johnny Boychuk went from 9 & 16 for 25pts and a team leading +17 rating in the regular season, to no points and a -7 in 11 playoff games.  Some speculated that he might be hurt towards the end of the playoff run, but Boychuk denied it.  I’m not worried.  Calvin de Haan had a good year with just a few mistakes in the playoffs.  I think he is turning into a good defensemen.

Thomas Hickey has been good for several years now.  The undersized Isles D has made some serious contributions to the team since being claimed on waivers from the Kings in ‘13.  The 2007, 4th overall, first round pick has developed in the Isles system and become a reliable blue liner who chips in on big moments. Most notably the game 3, round 1 GWG against the Panthers.  Brian Strait had a few good games again, but seems to really be on the decline.  The frustrations of seeing him in the lineup over Pulock or Mayfield can get to even the most patient fan.

Special teams were a wild ride for the Islanders this year.  Their up and down PP finished 14th (18.3%) in the regular season, but stalled out in the playoffs leaving the team with several missed opportunities and was probably a contributing factor (4 of 18) to the series loss in round 2.  Their PK was an asset and one of the best in the NHL, finishing 4th (84.5%) in the regular season.

Part 2 will focus on goaltending, prospects, free agency and the organization.  Coming soon.

KoC Notes:

It looks like my 6th year as an Isles blogger has come and gone.  I love writing about this team despite the challenges I face to do it.  I could not have done it without the support of my family, friends and the key supporters on social media.  Facebook, Twitter, Google and Isles Reddit help me reach a much wider audience and for that, I thank you all.

You know who you are and you have my sincere thanks.

Isles Notes:

Per Arthur Staple, “Isles have placed Sebastian Collberg on uncondtional waivers. Forward acquired in Vanek-MTL deal didn't pan out. Off to Europe.”