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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

KoC Season in Review - Shortcomings & Progress: Your 2016-17 New York Islanders, Part 1

We all know that our New York Islanders (41-29-0-12) finished 18th in the NHL and 10th in the east. They ultimately fell short (94 pts) of a playoff spot in the east by only 1 point after making it over the past two seasons and three of the last four. I asked Islanders statistician, Eric Hornick for his impression on the campaign, “This was a strange season. Many fans thought it was over by Thanksgiving but it wasn't. Too many points got away early on late goals and by mid-January Cappy was sent away. The Isles under Dougie had more points than any team in the NHL other than Washington, went 8-3-0 in their final 11 (including six straight wins) and still came up a point short. OH, what might have been?”

Looking back on the 2016-17 campaign, we saw an impressive surge at the end of the season that coincided with the departure of Jack Capuano on January 17th and the naming Doug Weight as interim Head Coach. The interim tag has now been removed and the 2017-18 squad will be his team. “You look back at seven or eight games in the beginning of the season, last two minutes, last three minutes where we lost some points, and it pains you," Weight said. “It's going to be healthier for us as a franchise and an organization to move forward as quick as we can and figure things out." When asked about the finish to the season, Weight said, "I'm very proud with how we finished. I'm disappointed that we didn't get any help when we needed it, but I'm disappointed that we needed it." John Tavares felt Weight brought a lot to the team, sparked the finish they had and motivated everyone to respond to the challenge it took to improve as much as they did. He said that Weight had the respect of the team and I would say, that’s the most important baseline you want in players to coach relationship.

I am again looking forward to some of the prospects and younger players merging with some of the talented vets and hopefully, a free agent upgrade heading into camp for next season, but the reality of the team’s future, although still promising is one of flux and frustrating uncertainty. First and foremost, the final season of John Tavares’ contract will be in effect and although things seem like they could work out, especially with the elevation of Weight as head coach, Tavares will probably want his patience to be rewarded with a little more than he had this season. Especially in the way of organizational and team stability. B.D. Gallof mentions, “Tavares recently moved from Manhasset to Garden City. Expectation really seems to be team/player (and agent) get it done this summer.” Tavares was quoted as saying, "I've always been treated really well here, I've stated that all the time. But we'll have conversations with management.” Per Brian Compton, “Tavares says he hopes to sign extension this summer. Hasn't thought about whether he'd negotiate during season if no deal.” Garth Snow stated that his aim is to re-sign Tavares by the end of June as well as a “plan for expansion draft and roster improvements." A lot of work needs to be done between now and July.” Per Shannon Hogan. John Tavares is 26 years old, last year of 6-year contract at $5.5M per.

It was widely reported that the organization is looking for an established, well respected team president to call more of the shots usually handled by GM and president, Garth Snow, to possibly help change the reputation of the team’s front office to its detractors. “Malkin and Ledecky have continued to talk to potential team president candidates over the past few weeks. Pat Brisson, John Tavares’ high-powered agent, remains a strong draw for the Isles owners despite Brisson’s denials of interest in such a job,” per Arthur Staple. The truth is that Snow has certainly made a few mistakes and questionable moves, but he has made some progress for the organization at the draft, managing the salary cap and in a few strong free agent signings. I appreciate the argument that some are sick of waiting, dealing with the nuances of his tenure and just want him gone, but I don’t see that happening, at least right now. Especially after Staple reported, “Snow has four playoff appearances in 11 seasons as GM. According to numerous sources around the league, he also has a contract with at least five more seasons on it, a parting gift of sorts from loyal former owner Charles Wang when he turned control of the team over to Malkin and Ledecky.”

The ever-resurfacing rumors of where will the Islanders be playing in the future have not gone away. Stories of the team re-upping their commitment to play in a complaint ladened and non-hockey friendly Barclays Center, a move to a new site around Citi-Field in Queens or even a possible relocation to a custom-built facility in Nassau’s Belmont Park is possible. The later has been supported by NHL insider, Bob McKenzie. “Just to clarify geography, Belmont Park, Elmont, NY. Also, should stress again nothing done officially but appears headed in that direction.” There is even an active movement by politicians and Barclays Brass to call the Islanders back to the refurbished, but much smaller and still not quite right Coliseum “home” in Nassau county. NHL Commissioner stated on WFAN that Islanders ownership is committed to keeping the team in New York, but doesn’t think a return to the Coliseum is the answer.

In this installment of my recap, I’ll be looking back on the O-Zone of the team, their contributions and milestones of the past season. I’ll also be mentioning a few details of their inappropriately named, power play. On the plus side, The Islanders finished 2016-17 with five players reaching the 20-goal mark. Lee, Tavares, Nelson, Ladd & Chimera all hit the mark.

Let’s start with John Tavares, Captain of the New York Islanders since the 2013-14 season.  He was first on the team in points with 66 (28 & 38) in 77 games. Per Eric Hornick, “John Tavares has 235 career goals, tying him with Bobby Nystrom for eighth place on the club's all-time list.” JT’s season was cut short by a strange hamstring injury after stumbling and trying to make a play behind the Devils net on 3/31. If the Isles made the playoffs, Tavares had hoped to be back by game 3 or 4 of 1st round. Per Kevin Maher, “Did Barclays ice cause Tavares' hamstring injury? Tavares, "I don’t think you'll ever really know. But once I dug my heel in is when I felt the pop." His first goal now is to get healthy, decompress and then consider the possibility of a contract extension with New York. Tavares said resigning is a “more complicated process than people realize,” and re-affirmed how much he likes it with the Islanders and living in the community. Tavares showed even more flexibility defensively as a player this year with his strong presence on the PK towards the end of the season. He was disappointed they let playoff chances for season “slip away,” although he was proud of team’s effort, especially in the last 6 games of the season and joked that he should have gotten hurt earlier in the stretch run. On JT’s hamstring injury, "You see a guy’s heel dig in like that, it doesn’t happen other places," Clutterbuck said, referring to the conditions at Barclays Center.”

Line mates with JT for much of this year, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey had great seasons. Lee finished 1st on the team and 10th in the NHL in goals with 34 (career high). With his 18 assists, Lee posted a career high 52 points in 81 games and showed he is a bonafide NHL power forward and a nightmare to opposing goaltenders in front of the net. Per Hornick, “Anders Lee scored 33 goals in his last 63 games (since November 23rd).  Only Auston Matthews (34) scored more in that span.” Josh Bailey was a set up machine, leading the Islanders with 43 assists (career high). When you add in his 13 goals in 82 games, Bailey finished the year with 56 points (career high). Bailey scored his 200th assist and recorded his 100th goal and 300th point earlier this season per Hornick. Not bad for a player who rarely gets a break from some fans.

Brock Nelson was 20 & 25 (career high) for 45 points (career high) in 81 games. Those are good numbers and Nelson had some strong games, but also seemed to struggle for much of the season to me, especially on the defensive side of things, evident by his -6 rating. Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd were the high-end profile signings for the Islanders in the off season, but started the year very slowly. They looked like horrible fits and made fans wonder if they would even come close to what was expected of them. As the season went on and as the coaching change happened, both Chimera and Ladd caught fire. They made a difference in several big games, with Jason Chimera netting 20 (career high) & 13 for 33 in 82 games and Andrew Ladd tallying 23 (at least 23 goals for 4th straight Ssn) & 8 for 31 in 78 games.

Ryan Strome showed some flashes of his A game, but finished with 13 & 17 for 30 points. Numbers that were lower than are expected from him. That coupled with the fact that he found himself on the negative side of the comments section of Newsday a few times with quotes like this. “He had a chance to shoot there and he didn’t. That’s human error; you can live with that," Weight said. "I was more upset with the track [defensively]. It’s a play you’ve got to make, get to the middle, protect that good ice. Stromie knows. He sat a couple shifts and went out for the power play, and we should’ve had one there.” Under Weight, Strome had 7 goals and 16 points in 30 games until a wrist injury that took him out of the mix for the end of the season.

Anthony Beauvillier on the other hand seemed bound for Bridgeport, but made the team out of camp. Then he made quite an impression to everyone else. John Tavares credited him with significant growth as a player and person this season. Beauvillier was 9 & 15 for 24 points and looked good on some important shifts for New York. And while we are at it, let’s talk about the exciting prospect named Josh Ho-Sang. Once a former disciplinary question mark, Ho-Sang was called up on March 2nd and never looked back. The 21 year old was 4 & 6 for 10 points in 21 games and made entering the offensive zone look effortless at times. His vision on the ice and play-making chops should make fans optimistic that he indeed was a risk worth taking. “Ho-Sang tallied 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 48 games with Bridgeport. Overall, Ho-Sang ranked second among AHL rookies in assists and tied for sixth in points at the time of his recall in late February. The 6’0, 172-pound winger notched 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in his last six games in the AHL.” Ho-Sang said on the call-up, "It was a lot of fun to be a part of this. There are parts I need to work on, I'm going to focus on getting stronger & winning."

Casey Cizikas (8 & 17 for 25 pts in 59 games), Cal Clutterbuck (5 & 15 for 20 pts in 66 games) and Nikolay Kulemin (12 & 11 for 23 pts in 72 games) anchored the revamped 4th line. The Isles missed Martin more than I thought they would, but the line did its job without him. Cizikas and Clutterbuck battled injury and Kulemin (shoulder injury) just played his game. As a line, their individual efforts made a difference, even when another was struggling and each player had an impact on the team game regularly. Clutterbuck was quoted as saying he had nagging groin strain on the season, but doesn't feel he will need surgery this summer. Cizikas missed time most recently, with a finger injury.

Alan Quine (5 & 13 for 18 pts, -2 in 61 games) and Shane Prince (5 & 13 for 18 pts and a -9 in just 50 games) fell short of expectations for me this year. Quine was an AHL favorite of mine and had some good games, but seemed to struggle more than expected. Shane Price looked like the diamond in the rough to many after being acquired in the waning moments of a dead-line day trade last year, especially after scoring 5 pts in 20 games and 4 pts in 11 playoff games. But his lack luster play this season coupled with mounting injuries prevented him from making the impact fans and media may have expected. With the Likes of Barzal & Dal Colle or even Connor Jones, the bottom 6 could get very tight next season. Stephen Gionta (1 & 5 for 6 pts in 26 games at a +9) signed on as a two-way contracted player and spent much of the season with Bridgeport. When Gionta was called up, he played his ass off and was gritty and fun to watch. He may have made a case for another contract this summer with New York for reliable team depth.

The greatest bane of the Islanders season was certainly Coach Weight’s unreliable power play. At 14.9%, the Isles ranked last in the east on the season, and 28th in the league. Only Vancouver and Colorado were worse. Two teams who finished among the bottom 3 (along with the Devils) in wins on the season. It was a limiting factor in maintaining leads and coming back in key games that could have made the difference in a very tight playoff race that New York ultimately failed to make. Per Eric Hornick, The Isles went 15-10-12 in one-goal games, winning only 14 of the 36 (.405).  That .405 percentage in 1-goal games won is the second lowest in the NHL – the Leafs are 14-8-15 (.378) in 1-goal games.  (The Isles were 21-6-10 in one-goal games last season.) Hornick also mentions, “The Isles are 18-7-6 when they score at least one power play goal and 23-22-6 when they do not.” Those are telling stats and the reason for who knows of how many lost points. In my opinion, the organization must focus on hiring an assistant PP specialist to help this team fix one of its most glaring deficiencies. The question is who?

It’s not going to be possible to pry Kevin Dineen form a stable and successful Blackhawks’ gig, but how about former Islander, Travis Green? Green is currently the head coach of the AHL Utica Comets and one of the most talked about minor-league coaches mentioned for an NHL role. Darren Dreger mentioned that the Vancouver Canucks have a short list of coaching candidates, but sense is Travis Green remains the front runner.

Todd Reirden is the associate coach of the Capitals and a noted PP specialist. If the Caps disappoint again this year, who knows what could happen. And it kills me to say this because I genuinely hate him, but Kirk Muller is an associate coach for Montreal and is known for his defensive and PP vision. Would he even take the job? I feel dirty for even mentioning it.

Who do you think would fit the bill?


Isles Notes:

"Calvin de Haan will play for Team Canada at the World Championships in Cologne and Paris. Congrats @cal_dehaan! #IIHFWorlds #Isles"

The @NYIslanders recalled forward Connor Jones after John Tavares was injured.

“Jones, 26, played 56 games with the Sound Tigers this season, recording 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) and a plus-8 rating. The third-year pro also made his NHL debut on Apr. 2 at Buffalo and posted a plus-1 rating and two penalty minutes in four games with the Islanders. He notched 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 51 games with Bridgeport last year. In addition, he appeared in three Calder Cup Playoff games with the Sound Tigers in 2015-16.”

Isles Prospects, Mathew Barzal advances to third round, Linus Soderstrom in SHL Final.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

New York Islanders Miss The Point

Our New York Islanders finished with a 41-29-0-12 record this season. The accumulated 94 pts accounted to just 3 wins away from last year, but still missed playoffs by 1 point, just behind Toronto. It’s a tribute to the team when you think how far they came from since the middle of January. They were last in the east and looked to be without hope of any kind. A coaching change and some renewed enthusiasm sparked them to make a strong, though ultimately unsuccessful post-season push.

I wrote about how important it was for the Isles to beat the Rangers and Penguins towards the end of March. I felt it would show how they could rise to the challenge of a playoff push. Well, they beat the Rangers and Penguins and things were looking up. The Boston Bruins were next. A team they were tied with in the standings and if they could win, it would be one of those “4 point” games and a huge boost to reach their initial goal. Unfortunately, they lost that game, and the next two games, against Nashville 3-1 and to Philadelphia in an ugly 6-3 blowout. I wanted Ryan Pulock called up to add a spark to defense and help their horribly unreliable power play. I wanted Jaroslav Halak recalled from Bridgeport. Halak was 17-7-3 with the Sound Tigers at the time and looked refocused and ready to help the Isles waffling defense keep and maintain leads. JF Berube had struggled in the backup role and Thomas Greiss was playing too many games as a result. I also wanted a much better offensive effort, especially on special teams. Josh Ho-Sang was making a difference since his call up, but they needed more.

Things were looking hopeless and the team looked as if they couldn’t get out of their own way. The loses, failures, shortcomings on the ice had fans pulling their hair out and demanding that things change in a hurry. The injuries were mounting. Strome (broken wrist), Cizikas (finger), Hamonic (thumb), Tavares (hamstring) and Prince (leg) were all out at the worst possible time, and that time was running out. It was clearly necessary for guys to step up, and they did. Some of the standouts include Anders Lee (52 pts), Josh Bailey (56), Josh Ho-Sang (10 in 21 games), Anthony Beauvillier (24) were difference-makers along with major contributions from Andrew Ladd (31) and Jason Chimera (33). Dennis Seidenberg (22 & +25), Scott Mayfield (9) and Adam Pelech (10) made a mostly unexpected difference on the blue line for some (not me, ;). It was a great effort, that was fun to watch, but ultimately just wasn’t enough.

The Islanders saw the Maple Leafs eliminate them after game 81 with a last-minute win over the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s a shame that this Isles team won’t be able to ride that season-long 6 game winning streak into the post season. Guys would start coming off injured reserve and once he was called back up, Jaroslav Halak looked to be entering his top 10 goaltender groove along with the strong play offered by Thomas Greiss. Just imagine Josh Ho-Sang on the play off stage. Well, we will have to imagine, because despite all the near heroics and getting bounced by 1 point, they still got bounced. They fell short and they didn’t get the job done. Several players and the now interim head coach have spoken about how that bad taste will stay with them all summer. Hopefully, they truly are close to taking that elusive next step I keep talking about. Ownership has a lot to think about. A new president of hockey operations, the status of Snow, who the head coach will be and who should get a shot at making the roster and who should go, along with the entry draft and expansion draft. These are all good questions that I will attempt to address in my season recap, coming soon.

UPDATE: 4/12 Per Arthur Staple, "#Isles have named Doug Weight head coach." Interim tag has been removed. This may be the first step in keeping JT happy. He was mentored by Weight & has publicly stated that he would like Weight to remain as head coach.

And to add a little more craziness to the mix, expect a lot more of things like this to go down in the coming weeks …

Chris Botta, “I understand all replies. Of course, Snow should go. But I doubt it. At worst, owners will give him a pseudo-demotion. 11 years.”

Per E.J. Hradek, “Great run by Lombardi/Sutter in LA. Two Cups. Time for a change? Probably. Both could be major upgrades for several other franchises.”

Per James Mirtle, “The next organization to keep an eye on is the Islanders. Could be big changes there.”

Keep the faith Isles fans. Seriously.

Isles Notes:

4/9 Anders Lee was named the 2016-17 winner of the Bob Nystrom Award, given to the Islanders who best embodies leadership, hustle and dedication. 

4/5 Former Islander, Kyle Okposo was hospitalized and in intensive care (4/5) for an undisclosed ailment and was released a couple of days after (4/7). Okposo’s return is “hopeful.”

4/3 Mangano can see path for “Isles return to Colisieum.” 

Ho-Sang on Lemieux’s “blessing” to wear 66, “Josh Ho-Sang on Mario's comments: "I’m very grateful that he [said what he said]. It definitely takes a lot of heat off of me."

Per Eric hornick, “Isles won 7 of last 8 from #NYR, matching their BEST- EVER REGULAR SEASON STREAK against the Blueshirts (1977-78).”

Sound Tigers – Prospect Notes:

4/10, “Josh Ho-Sang, Adam Pelech and Connor Jones have been reassigned by the @NYIslanders to Bridgeport.” 

4/5 “Congratulations to @DevonToews6 on being named to @TheAHL All-Rookie Team!”

4/3 “Parker Wotherspoon (D) has been reassigned to Bridgeport from @TCAmericans."

3/29 “Tanner Fritz has agreed to a two-way deal w/ the @NYIslanders that begins in 2017-18." 

3/24 “Brant Harris (RW) has been released from his PTO. He will rejoin the @FL_Everblades.”

The #SoundTigers have signed John Stevens & Matt Gaudreau to ATOs. 

3/23  BST's Trio of Moves.

3/23 Per WHL, “Congrats to @SeattleTbirds @Barzal_97, 2016-17 Western Conference Player of the Year! #WHLAwards

Per Arthur Staple, “Barzal finished the reg. season 10-69-79 in 41 games. Wotherspoon was 10-56-66 in 69 games, 4th among WHL defensemen.”

“As for G Linus Soderstrom, who just finished a standout year in the SHL, #Isles may sign him and allow him to remain in Sweden next year.”

“For those who have asked: Sounds like #Isles G prospect Ilya Sorokin will remain in KHL next season. Has one year left on deal.”

NHL Notes:

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on 2018 Olympics: "Assume we're not going."

Rumors have mentioned players like Ovechkin, Scheifele, McKinnon and Duchene intend to play at the upcoming World Championship.

@NHLCentralScout will release final rankings for the 2017 #NHLDraft on Tues., April 11, at 10 a.m. ET on  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Three Keys To An Islanders' Playoff

The Islanders lost at home against the Blue Jackets on Saturday. They fell 3-2 in O.T., but secured a valuable play-off push point. Currently, the Isles sit 1 point out (33-26-12 in 71 games) of a post season spot, just behind Toronto with 78 points and 1 less game to play. They are set to play a nationally televised game against the Rangers for the last time this season, Wednesday on NBCSN followed by a game against the ever dangerous Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday. These match-ups will most likely indicate if the Islanders will reach the playoffs and certainly give an idea of how they might expect to perform against the better teams in the east. They are currently 19-18-8 against eastern opponents and only 10-9-5 in key division games. Not exactly a promising indicator, but that’s why they play the game, right?

The Islanders ended their franchise-record (Hornick) 9-game road trip with a 5-3-1 record, but Doug Weight had a few things to say on the schedule. “I don’t feel like getting fined but to have five days off and then to fly to Dallas, and then to fly to Chicago, and then you have a 2 o’clock game in Calgary when their building was empty for the next four days . . . and then you come home and you play one home game and go back, it’s ludicrous for me,” he said. “I yelled and screamed (at the team after the loss Monday) anyway because they deserved it. Weight said. “You have to be better this time of year, but fatigue is a factor.”

To add to the uncertainty, the Isles have just one win (O.T. vs Carolina) in their 4 games following that road trip.

I’ve settled on three keys the Islanders need to address if they have any hope of making and getting through the playoffs:

1: Call up Ryan Pulock

The Isles PP is ranked 26th in the league at 15.2%. Erick Hornick mentions that the Isles are 14-7-6 when they score at least one power play goal and 19-19-6 when they do not. How could they finally pin down a consistent PP recipe that has eluded them for so long? A possible answer or at least a treatment to the disease could prove to be a two-part advantage for the guys in orange and blue.

Islanders defensive struggles, turn-overs and mistakes like the ones committed by Bailey, Clutterbuck, Ho-Sang and de Haan against Columbus have cost the Islanders in recent games. Overall, these shortcomings have brought back the surrendering of late goals in random periods and even worse, in the final minutes of close games. At this point of the season, each-and-every game is important. First, the points are necessary to even make the playoffs. Secondly, more points can help the Isles make a possible push higher up the playoff ladder, which could mean the difference between home ice or being a visitor should they advance to the second round and beyond.

So how can they address their problems on the PP and give their defensive game a shot in the arm it so desperately needs? I would say to try what they did at the trade deadline after a trade couldn’t be had at a fair price. Call up a promising prospect that may help change the face of the team.

Josh Ho-Sang has made a huge impact for New York. Yes, there are a few rookie type mistakes, but still he has sparked some offense and brought some grit and threat to the special teams. He made some noise in the AHL and has gone 3 and 3 for 6 pts in 10 games with New York that includes a tally on the PP. Ho-Sang may never be sent down again, making it harder for a guy like LW, Michael Dal Colle to show what he can do or even delay the talents of Matthew Barzal, (79 pts in 41 games so far this season at a +32) now playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, but that’s a good problem to have. And there is no reason either of those guys shouldn’t eventually be able to push an underachieving rostered player to the scratch list.

Let’s say Garth Snow gives Ryan Pulock a shot. Let him have the opportunity that Ho-Sang has gotten. Let him lend his talents on the PP and on the blue line to a defense that has been struggling as of late. Who knows, maybe he can add at least a temporary boost to their game. Possibly more. Maybe, just maybe, he can contribute even more than Pelech and Mayfield have. As an NHL pro that gains experience, he can start to contribute in a manner that the team expects after selecting him 15th over-all in the 1st round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Bridgeport sits in the eastern conferences’ 5th spot with a few weeks to go. Pulock has 12 and 23 for 35 points in 42 games at a +9. That leads BST defensemen and even after missing time with a foot injury, the offensive value of Pulock gets more apparent with each season playing in the Islanders system. Pulock left the ice on Saturday against Utica after being hit by ex-BST, Pedan, but is on tonight’s game roster for Bridgeport against Hershey.

2: Recall Jaroslav Halak

Eric Hornick sums it up well, “Thomas Greiss has played in 13 straight games (6-5-2), 32 of the last 36 games (16-11-5 with three shutouts) and 34 of the last 40 games (18-11-5 with three shutouts). Greiss has already appeared in a career high 44 games, and set career highs for both wins (23) and shutouts (3).” Greiss has been good when the team has played accountably in front of him. He has even given them a chance to win at times when they haven’t, but he can’t do it alone. Especially when he needs some time off. We have heard rumors of Isles wanting to speak with Halak about recall, especially after the latest outing at home vs Carolina went much worse than expected for Berube. 

Jaroslav Halak leads the BST in wins (16-6-3) and has cooperated with the team’s request to play in Bridgeport. The Islanders need some NHL level depth in goal and they need the confidence to join the rush when both goalies are in the net. "We never lost faith in Jaro. We think he needed to reboot his career, get some things solved, and it looks like he’s done it." – Weight

3: Keep things going offensively

The Isles’ top line has 28 goals (and 42 assists) in 29 games under Weight and per Eric Hornick, and a few others have also thrived under the new coach. Nick Leddy (18), Ryan Strome (16), Brock Nelson (15), Andrew Ladd (15) and Jason Chimera (13) have scored some serious points and have helped the Isles get back in the playoff hunt. We are well aware that they win when they score first (22-8-8) and dominate (32-7-3) when they score at least three goals and have only won once (1-19-9) when they do not. 

The Islanders have made some strides forward, but were also subject to a few bad breakdowns, especially in recent games. That could be a symptom of fatigue and a result of playing a lot of games on the road. But it all means nothing in the grand scheme of the season. The Islanders must find a way to win and not focus on the things that may have made it a little more challenging to compete. They are now 16-9-4 (.621) for 36 points under Doug Weight, but have slowed in their last 14 games, going 7-5-2 in that stretch. Their consistency has suffered and they have lost games as a result.

The stats show that the Isles are among the top teams in points since weight took over as head coach, but unfortunately the “Isles are 11-9-12 in one-goal games, winning only 11 of the 32 games (.344).  That .344 percentage of 1-goal games won is the lowest in the NHL. (The Isles were 21-6-10 in one-goal games last season.) - Hornick”

That means they need to score early and often, maintain a strong checking game, clean house in their own zone and refocus on special teams. It needs to start against the Rangers and Penguins. A win against one of them is a must. If they can’t win both, it’s necessary to be in the thick of both games and at least make themselves hard to play against, having a shot of getting at least a point moving to finish the season.

This is a good formula to ply for the remainder of the season, but unless the Islanders can start by recapturing some of the consistency gained as a result of Weight taking over, we may just be watching another campaign fall short of being able to compete for the ultimate goal.

11 games to go. How bad do they want it?

Isles Notes:

The Isles PK is ranked 15th at 80.7%.

Casey Cizikas missed 11 games (Upper Body) and was removed from the team's IR list on 3/17, playing over 16 minutes against Columbus on Saturday and looked good.

Per Arthur Staple, “Spied Pat Brisson at Barclays Center last night. #Isles owners keeping lines of comm open w/ Tavares' agent ahead of 7/1 negotiating period.”

Rangers and Sabres selected for 2018 Winter Classic, not Islanders.

Sound Tigers Notes:

3/15: The #SoundTigers have added @SHUHockey standout Justin Danforth to an ATO.

The BST are 38-22-2-1 on the season.

Hockey Notes:

U.S. women boycott IIHF tournament weeks before its hosted in U.S.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Islanders' Josh Ho-Sang: The 66th Parallel

When Josh Ho-Sang was called up on March 2nd, many fans were excited as to what he might bring to the Islanders. Under Doug Weight, the Isles are now 14-6-3 after last night’s 4-1 win in Edmonton against the Oilers and sit in the final playoff spot, 8th in the east with 73 points. Ho-Sang scored his first NHL goal (Hickey and Prince) on a blast from the point, beating Cam Talbot to open the scoring for New York. Per Eric Hornick, it was the first win (0-5-1) for the isles in Edmonton since 2003. It was also a goal that the 21-year-old has been waiting for since he started playing hockey as a young kid in Toronto. "There are no words to describe it," Ho-Sang said sporting the vintage leather jacket given to the player of the game. "It's such a relief to score and makes you feel like you belong and that things are possible. All of your dreams are coming true in front of your eyes, which is cool. It was a very special moment." – Per Cory Wright. Growing up, Ho-Sang watched his heroes and found an appreciation for the game Mario Lemieux brought as a legendary player for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Rivalry aside, you have to speak of Lemieux in a similar breath to that of Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky was inducted into the hall of fame immediately after his retirement in 1999 and his number 99 was retired by the NHL league wide, the only player who has been bestowed such an honor. Even the likes of Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Jean Beliveau or the Islanders’ Mike Bossy have not been so honored.

It is customary for teams to retire numbers or jerseys of their most revered players. The Islanders have given that honor to six players from their dynasty era. Denis Potvin’s number 5, Clark Gillies number 9, Bryan Trottier’s 19, the afore mentioned Mike Bossy’s number 22, Bob Nystrom’s 23 and the great Billy Smith’s number 31, can never be worn by another Islanders player. A fitting tribute to some of the great players that brought 4 consecutive Stanley Cups to Long Island, New York. While Mario Lemieux’s well-known number 66 has been similarly retired by the Penguins, another player on any other NHL team could select 66 if they chose to do so much like the number 5, 9, 19, 22, 23 or 31 of any of the Islanders’ greats.

One could argue that Mario Lemieux could have eclipsed the accomplishments of the Great One, Wayne Gretzky if he had not missed so much time battling a type of cancer called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The Pens had won 2 consecutive cups before falling to the Islanders in the 93 playoffs. Lemieux missed a lot of time in his career due to nagging back injuries and health problems. He played 915 of a possible 1,428 regular season games. He retired two different times over his career due to health issues, including a forfeiture of the entire 1994-95 season due to cancer. Mario Lemieux maintained a high level of play throughout his career, even after his return from his battle with cancer. “I’ve faced a lot of battles since I was really young, and I’ve always come out on top,” Lemieux said.” I expect that will be the case with this disease.” What am I trying to say? Basically, I feel that Lemieux could have arguably been known as “the greatest” if he hadn’t had to overcome a terrible disease as well as playing at a level few could even hope to attain. He is well respected as a man and a player, and justifiably so. It’s also important to remember for the purpose of this article that his number was not retired league wide by the NHL like Gretzky’s 99.

Enter Josh Ho-Sang. A Canadian ice hockey player who like so many other kids around the world, saw Lemieux as an idol. The Islanders’ 28th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Ho-Sang was seen as an elite hockey talent who suffered from what some called a bad-attitude. This reputation is probably what prevented him from being selected in the top 10 in his draft year. The Islanders saw Ho-Sang as a risk worth taking. He had his problems over the last few years, including missing day 1 of their 2015 training camp and got a one way demotion back to juniors. But that was then and recently, he has shown that the rumors of his elite pedigree may have been well founded. With his play in the minors, for the Islanders major affiliate, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Ho-Sang was recently named AHL rookie of the month after an impressive 10 assists and 15 points while registering a plus-9 rating in 12 games last month. That was enough to get the attention of the Garth Snow and the Islanders again, who recalled Ho-Sang with intentions of giving him a shot on the big club. Ho-Sang wanted to wear number 66. A number he has worn since his time in juniors with OHL Windsor, and has continued to wear it as a pro with the Sound Tigers. Apparently, it pissed some people off. They saw it as disrespectful to Mario Lemieux.

It’s not a common number in the NHL. The Caps, Milan Novy was the first NHL player to wear No. 66. The Flyers, Yanick Dupre and Canucks’, Gino Odjick also wore it while Lemieux was an active player, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Calgary’s T.J. Brodie wore it for 3 games in 2010-11, but later changed his number 7 the following season. After Ho-Sang came up, some of the NHL media and fans seemed to take offense that he would dare to wear Lemieux’s 66 as an NHL player. SI & TSN's Michael Farber tweeted, “Josh Ho-Sang can wear any number he likes, but 4 and 9 are regular hockey numbers. No. 66 is a vanity license plate.” A vanity license plate? I call it a show of respect. In my stellar roller-hockey goal-tending career, I wore 31 in honor of my idol, Billy Smith. Watching Smith made me an Isles fan. He impacted me in such a way as a kid, that I immediately became a passionate fan of the Islanders and have remained so ever since. To Josh Ho-Sang, Mario Lemieux made a similar impression. "Just wearing the number because I looked up to the man," Ho-Sang said. "I think he's an unbelievable, unbelievable player, and just the way he's managed the game and everything. He had his ups, his downs in his career and he came back better. That's just a tribute to the person that he is. That's something that inspires me. And, on a regular basis, he had probably more hardship than most great players and he dealt with it, came back better. And that's something that no one can ever take away from him, and for me, honestly, it's something to look up to."

I, like many, can’t believe this is a thing. Especially since Ho-Sang explained that it was meant as a show of respect to one of his boyhood heroes. He even said if Lemieux asked him not to wear it, he would consider his heroes request. Well that pissed some people off even more. Consider?!? How insulting.


"It's just interesting, even people who just take the time to say stuff about it, I mean, I think I made it pretty clear that, for me, it's no disrespect. If anything, it's the ultimate respect, I think." – Ho-Sang.

I agree Josh. Just keep doing your best and we will keep cheering for you.

The Fans.


Isles Notes:

Anders Lee matched a career-high in goals last night, now at 25; good enough for the lead for the Islanders.

With the win against the Oil, Eric Hornick points out, “hat's 22 wins for Thomas Greiss -- joins @HDumpty39 as only #isles goalie in Post-Cup era with consecutive ssns with 22+ wins. (DP: 4 yrs).” Thomas Greiss is now 22-13-0-4 in 40 games with a 2.53 gaa and a .918Sv%.

Shane Prince left the game with an undisclosed injury.

Per Cory Wright, “Ilya Sorokin with 20 saves today in CSKA's 4-2 win over Lokomotiv. Sorokin now 5-0 in KHL playoffs.”

I posted earlier today on Twitter: “Think #Isles fans should get #Free66 trending to show how ridiculous hate for Ho-Sang wearing a # Mario apparently has eternal rights for.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New York Islanders: Not Quite Dead At Deadline

The Islanders were blown out by a 7-0 score in front of a sellout crowd in Columbus by the Blue Jackets on Sunday. It was a horrible effort and not consistent with the level of play the Isles have shown under interim head coach, Doug Weight thus far. Weight (12-5-2) responded by having a couple of grueling practices and reminded the team of their accountability to themselves and each other. The Isles are 2-1 on the road trip so far and are in Dallas tomorrow and in Chicago on Friday before heading into Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and St. Louis next week. While against western conference opponents, the points available are no less important and the team needs to respond well or risk slipping away from contention. They are without the services of Harmonic, Cizikas, Prince and now Quine, so call-ups are and have been necessary to keep pace as players move in and out of the lineup. The Isles have 120 man games lost to injury so far this season.

Josh Ho-Sang will get his chance. Ho-Sang had a strange start to his first career NHL call up this week. He was called up to the Islanders on an emergency basis, then immediately sent down while still under emergency conditions. Then, he was called back again to practice with the big club and all around the trading deadline. To make it worse, rumors surfaced that he was on trade block according to Joe McDonald of ESPN, but Arthur Staple quelled those rumors as “Not True,” per source. Staple then added, “Isles will "send" Ho-Sang, Mayfield, Pelech to BPT later today for AHL playoff eligibility. That's a paper move. Expect JHS to play tomorrow.”

Despite all that, Doug Weight maintains Ho-Sang (#66) will be in the lineup against Dallas tomorrow night. He will lineup with Andrew Ladd and Brock Nelson per Arthur Staple. I’ve been waiting for Ho-Sang (2014,1st round, 28th overall selection) to get his shot. Yes, I know he can be a defensive liability and yes, I know he has a litany of disciplinary problems, but he also has great hands and a strong ability to open the ice in the attack zone and help the offense score goals. He leads Bridgeport with 35 points and 25 assists and was just named AHL rookie of the month by tallying 10 assists and 15 points while registering a plus-9 rating in 12 games with the BST in February. “The 21-year-old Ho-Sang has recorded 10 goals and 26 assists for 36 points in 48 games for Bridgeport this season, tied for sixth among all AHL rookies in scoring.”

Going into the trading deadline, rumors surfaced that the Islanders were in the market to acquire the likes of a Matt Duchene (COL) or Jordan Eberle (EDM) to play with John Tavares. Even mentions of trading for Thomas Vanek (DET- now FLA) were circulating. Isles Twitter was even tracking the team’s flight and when it would land in Dallas after hearing that no trade news would be announced while the team was in air. I have always admired the passion of our fan base and am right there with them in wanting the team to improve sooner, rather than later. It’s a fan base that has been waiting for the future plans to bear fruit for quite some time. A trade splash with the likes of the Boychuck and Leddy acquisitions were on the wish list of Isles fans who felt that things were changing as they watched their team go from last in the east to a wild card spot in a little over a month. Everyone feels the momentum and several insiders have noticed the team’s turn around and have started talking about it. The playoffs are a real possibility, but the team needs to find a way to finally reach that frustrating and elusive next step I have been writing about them taking for years.

The nature of the trade deadline has evolved over the 100 seasons of the NHL. The specifics and way of business has changed. Brad Kurtzberg had this to say on the evolving deadline ritual, “The salary cap & the way the loser point keeps the standings artificially close means fewer sellers and not much action.” Shortly after the 3 p.m. deadline today, Bob McKenzie said the Islanders were officially done. Done without a single move for the fans to cheer about. Reports of Hamonic “not being available,” big or advantageous deals being struck by conference and division rivals and rumors of top players being targeted by the Islanders only fueled the fan frustration when the day turned out devoid of a single trade acquisition for New York. General Manager, Garth Snow was even reported to have at least 2 offers on table for acquiring Duchene with the Colorado Avalanche and GM, Joe Sakic, without any measure of success.

Sakic kept any trades from happening today. We know that the Isles won’t be forced into what they perceive as a non-advantageous deal. Apparently, the Islanders or any other team for that matter, weren't offering “enough” for Duchene or Landeskog according to a league source. It may have been that Sakic never had intentions of trading Duchene (or Landeskog) unless an offer blew the him away. Instead, it seems Colorado was using todays dealings as a barometer to inflate the price of his players heading into the NHL entry draft, expansion draft and free agency period coming this summer.

I don’t feel it’s realistic to “blame” Snow for not landing Matt Duchene, especially knowing what we now know about what Colorado’s true motivations might have been. @RumorBreak even had yet another last minute offer from the Islanders to acquire Duchene, but mentioned Sakic would “not bring price down.” Per B.D. Gallof, “NHL source cites that Sakic decided that he would get more if others teams were involved at draft than accept current offers.” Trading and dealing is an involved process. We all want a big move, but it won’t be made if too much has to be given up in the process. I'm well aware that we as fans, may differ on what too much is and I know how sick and tired everyone is about watching teams around the Islanders get “better” on paper while the Islanders seem able to do nothing at each deadline. I often feel the same way. It’s infuriating as a fan and I’d love to see some A-list progress more often. I’d even welcome some solid, on-the-fly additions when all seems lost and they miss out on their primary target.

While I understand not being able to make a deal for Duchene, especially knowing more details of the position that Colorado took on the day, I do think General Manager, Garth Snow and the organization should have had at least 1 back up acquisition factored in that would have been a more affordable and very serviceable addition to the team. To me, that role could have been filled by Radim Vrbata. Vrbata will be a UFA this summer and I know the isles aren’t really interested in a soon to be 36-year-old rental, but here is my point. The skilled forward has 15 & 32 for 47 points this season in 62 games. That would have put him tied for 4th on the team (Chimera) in goals, 1st on the team in assists and 2nd only to John Tavares (52) in points. The asking price was said to be a 2nd round pick. Craig Custance had Flames, Bruins, Panthers, Penguins and Islanders in the mix for Vrbata, but he stayed around to finish the season in Phoenix because Coyotes GM, John Chayka said there is a chance they will try to re-sign him this summer and didn’t want to lose him for anything less than a 2nd round pick. IMO, he may have been a good bridge player and even a sign-able short-term addition by New York this summer. Although I understand the value of a 2nd round pick, I think would have been a good, low risk acquisition for the Isles to take a chance on Vrbata to try and help add even more skill and scoring punch for the playoff push. He would have added veteran depth and offense to a team that can already score (tied for 10th with EDM at 179 points) a lot of goals.

In the net, we know that J.F. Berube was named the #2 goaltender for the Islanders when Jaro Halak was sent down to Bridgeport at the end of December. Berube is now 3-2-0-2 with a 3.38 gaa and an .894Sv%. At times, he has played very well in net. While I think Berube might be good enough to contribute to the Islanders goal-keeping duties soon, I don’t think he will serve the best interest of the team right now. But what I think hardly matters to editing the roster. What I do know is that Jaroslav Halak has done what has been asked of him in his demotion to Bridgeport. He has compiled a 14-2-2 record with 2 shut outs on the farm and has helped the AHL BSTs climb in the standings. I also know he probably should not remain there for long. There were speculations around impending trades for Halak leading into the deadline. Even Darren Dreger and Matt Larkin tweeted about him as a hot commodity in the thinned goalie market. It was rumored that a few teams were in the hunt for his services, including the Boston Bruins. That and all the other rumors lost steam as the day went on, so Halak remains as an Isles property, making an NHL $4.5M for the rest of the season and into next year, possibly spending the whole time in the AHL. Especially after not being moved at the deadline. Salary was slated as the primary reason. Per David Pagnotta, “Sounds like, per league exec, Islanders were not able to finalize move involving Jaroslav Halak. Salary was main issue.” I believe Halak should be called back up to give the team a more stable presence in net to back up Thomas Greiss (20-12-0-3, 3 shut outs and allowed 2 goals or less in 17 of last 24 starts-Hornick) and aid the team as they fight for playoff position.

The Islanders need to be healthy, play together and realize they are in a position to control their own destiny if they can minimize games like one against Columbus last Sunday. Especially while on the road for a majority (17) of their final 24 games, “including nine consecutive road games for the first time in their history.” They will be playing a lot of games without much of a break in-between. Eric Hornick also mentions, “The Isles are 4-6-1 on the front-end of back-to-backs and 4-3-4 on the back-end. The Isles will play 16 sets of back-to-backs this season. The next back-to-back set is March 2nd in Dallas and March 3rd in Chicago.” The continued contributions of guys like Mayfield, Pelech and even a recently added Ho-Sang may determine the future success of the squad. The prospects are the best “guarantee” the team has when you take today’s trade picture as an example of the changing NHL landscape. The Isles went from last in the east to the 2nd wild card slot within a months’ time and although they have slipped a point out after being idle for 4 days, they were able to do more positive things over that stretch than those that were negative.
Sometimes the odd paper work, the ins and outs by the organization on managing the rules and regulations, eligibility of player movement and navigating the procedures on NHL policy may make it seem like the moves made are complete madness, even to the seasoned fan. This may explain some of the moves made or not made by the team. In a way, it may be better that a player like Matt Duchene wasn’t added to the roster just yet. He has a reputation of being selfish and just maybe, the chemistry that’s building in that locker room would have been upset. Maybe, just maybe we can see some positives by riding it out with the current team. The 1st line is clicking, the prospects solid and the appearance of a Barzal, Dal Colle, Pulock, Toews in another call up situation might just be the final pieces to the puzzle. Ho-Sang is on the clock and I am excited to see what he can do.

Isles Notes:

Alan Quine won't be traveling with the team (day-to-day upper body).

Starting 2/22, Casey Cizikas slated to miss four weeks with an upper-body injury, per Staple.

2/27:  Isles goaltending prospect, “Ilya Sorokin advanced to the second round of the KHL playoffs. CSKA swept Jokerit 4-0. Sorokin had a 25-save shutout in the clincher,” per Cory Wright.

“Mathew Barzal recorded back-to-back four-point games over the weekend, netting eight points (1G, 7A) in a pair of wins for the Seattle Thunderbirds,” helping the T-Birds make the WHL playoffs.

James Dolan Among Investors Behind Islanders Arena Proposal.

Per NHLhistorygirl, “On this date in 1980, Ken Morrow of the 1980 US Olympic team joined the #Isles.”

NHL Notes:

Las Vegas Golden Knights are officially in business.  As of today, they can start acquiring picks/unsigned prospects (college free agents, non NHL pros including those in Europe and KHL) in agreement not to take players in expansion draft.

Sound Tigers Notes:

Connor Jones has agreed to terms on a one-year (remainder of the 16-17 season) two-way deal (NHL/AHL).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Islanders Start A Wild Ride

Our New York Islanders have played 13 games under the direction of Doug Weight and have clawed their way back into the hunt for a wild card spot with an 8-3-2 record. And they have definitely improved as a team in all zones and managed to mount a more complete effort on the ice. Now we can certainly ignore the 7-1 (Chimera, penalty shot goal) drumming in Toronto last night, but overall, we all have to be happier with the snarl they have played with recently, currently 3 points out of the 2nd wildcard spot. With the news of Claude Julien being fired, many fans had the team asking for permission to talk with him like they had done with Gerald Gallant, but Montreal had rehired Julien a short time later at about $5M per for 5 years according to Pierre LeBrun. To me, you don’t change the chemistry that Weight has been able to cultivate after the toxic inconsistency that swirled around the team behind Jack Capuano. At times, they played well, improved in areas, but never found a way to rise up and take the next step under his leadership. Weight will most likely be given an opportunity to see what he can do this season, especially with the team in the thick of the fight for a playoff spot. 

Things don’t get easier with the Rangers at home on Thursday, a home-at-home with the Devils this weekend and on the road to visit Detroit, Montreal and Columbus to finish out the month. They need to continue generating PP opportunities (15-76 at 19.7%) and keeping their man-down situations (7-55 at 87.3%) to a minimum, just as they have in their last 24 games.  The differential is the best in the NHL per Eric Hornick.  How does Jason Chimera feel about the rivalry to be renewed tomorrow night? Staple quoted him as saying, “I’ve only been here six months and I hate ’em,” Jason Chimera said. “It’s not just the team, it’s the people that cheer for them. You hear your neighbors talking about the Rangers and you want to beat them even more.”

The trade deadline is 20 days away and fans have Duchene, Landeskog, Sharp or even Vanek (who is known for hating the idea of playing in Brooklyn) penciled in to join the team via trade. To get any of those guys will take a lot of assets, especially right now because the rumors of deals that have been making the rounds are clearly to the advantage of the seller. The Avalanche have Duchene under contract and although they are firmly entrenched at the bottom of the league, GM, Joe Sakic is in no hurry to move an asset like him without premium assets in return. And with the Isles so deep on defense right through the Sound Tigers roster, wouldn’t be so quick to compromise that depth without due cause. AHL All-Star, Devon Toews leads the team with 24 assists and Ryan Pulock leads the defense with 10 goals and 22 points in 27 games. Especially with Travis Hamonic injured, they would be ill advised to make a trade of a defensive commodity at this time. Jaroslav Halak (11-1-2) has been making the most of his time in Bridgeport, where he has a team record, ten game winning streak and has helped the Tigers push out to a 30-16-1-1 record. If he isn’t in the long term plan and although expensive at $4.5M cap hit per through next season, he might be just what a team like the LA Kings would need to stay in playoff position.

Some say without a major acquisition to play on the first line, John Tavares will sour on the idea of resigning. Publically, Tavares (20 and 26 for 46pts) has stated his intention is to play in New York and isn’t looking ahead to free agent at all.  Anders Lee has 20 goals (2nd to Tavares on the team with 21) and 12 assists in his last 26 games and is playing like a bonafide 1st liner, ranked 3rd in points on the team with 34. And let’s talk about Josh Bailey. Bailey has 11 and 27 for 38 points in 55 games and is playing like the high 1st round pick he was back in 2008. The isles scoring depth has helped the first line get a little less attention and that has translated in goals, and by extension, wins. Brock Nelson, Jason Chimera, Ryan Strome and Andrew Ladd have played much better as of late and the defense has made big contributions as well.

Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield are still keeping pace and Nick Leddy is an amazing player to watch under the Weight regime. 1st in D ice time at almost 23 minutes a game, Leddy has .57 pts. per game rating and 2 ppg. “As a team, we changed a few things. We’re having the puck a little more,” Leddy said. “We’re moving our feet a lot more in the offensive zone, using the D more, having a five-man attack, and it’s providing a lot of offense for us,” per Staple in Newsday.  “Thomas Greiss has started 17 of the last 20 games (9-5-3) and 19 of the last 25 games (11-5-3).  He has allowed two goals or less in 13 of his last 19 games,” per Eric Hornick.

The meter is running and their fate is in their own hands.  They play 22 of their last 34 away from the Barclays Center. Hornick mentions they “do not have a homestand longer than two games. Following this 10-game stretch the Isles will play nine straight road games for the first time in franchise history.” They need to tighten up at the start of the game, where they have started to return to the ugly habit of surrendering the first goal over the last 4 games and improve their 7-12-4 road record if they have any hopes of doing some damage in the playoffs. Additions, subtractions, whatever.

The damage should start against Michael Grabner and the New York Rangers.

Isles Notes:

Shane Prince, Cal Clutterbuck are still out due to injury. Travis Hamonic remains on the IR.