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

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, situations and personalities 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 2000-01 season.  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.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Travis Hamonic: No Man Is An Island

Yesterday in my game 5, playoff ending recap, I mentioned Jack Capuano hinting that Travis Hamonic might remain with the team.  Today, Arthur Staple reported that Newsday learned that Hamonic had indeed rescinded his trade request.  So it looks like the top tier defensemen wants to remain an Islander for the long term.

Hamonic was vague when the news of his trade request broke, but it seems the pending health concerns for an 'extremely close' family member have lessened and he no longer feels a need to leave New York.  “It was a tough, trying year, but I obviously had the support of the organization and my teammates throughout the whole thing and I couldn’t be more thankful for that,” Hamonic said. “In the last little while, we’ve learned that the situation has stabilized itself, so first and foremost [I’m] just relieved for that, thankful for that and pretty grateful for that.”

Islanders’ fans should also be grateful to have a player of Hamonic’s caliber so devoted to the Isles organization, team mates and fan base.  “I love it here,” Hamonic said. “I wouldn’t have signed my seven-year deal if I didn’t like it here. I love it. I love living here and everything that being an Islander is. I couldn’t be more ecstatic, especially to know that things back home stabilized and I think that’s the main thing. I couldn’t be more grateful.”  It would have been easy for Hamonic to demand a trade to western Canada early in the season, but he made it clear to the press that he would wait until the off-season if it took that long for Garth Snow to make a deal that would help the team.  The truth is that even with a comparably skilled player in return, Hamonic’s term (4 years remaining of a 7 year deal) and salary ($3.86M per) were almost irreplaceable for New York.   Hamonic even tied a career high with 5 goals (& 16 assists for 21 pts) last season to help his team reach the 100 point mark for the second consecutive campaign.

Hamonic’s character and dedication to Long Island, Brooklyn and the Isles community has been well documented.  I found him to be respectful and pleasant to fans in and around the Coliseum and noticed he seemed proud to be a member of the Islanders organization, even back when the team’s outlook on the upcoming season wasn’t so sunny.

"I love it here & want to be here & want to win a Cup here. I never wanted to leave here and couldn't be happier to stay here."  I am thrilled that he will be in the mix for years to come.

Isles Notes:

Islanders cleaned out their lockers at IceWorks today.   

Per Staple, “Okposo confirms there's been no contract talks all year between his agent and GM, Garth Snow.”

“Thomas Greiss is headed to World Championships to pitch in for Germany. Flying to Russia tomorrow.”

Brett Cygalis, “Frans Nielsen said the ball is in Snow's court if they want him back. "I love being here, I would love to come back, but we'll see."

Shannon Hogan reported, “(Anders) Lee had been skating and said there was a possibility he could have been back for Game 7 Thursday.”

Monday, May 9, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Lightning Game 5: Three O' Clock Low

Our New York Islanders dropped game 5 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday afternoon (0-4-1 in days games on ssn).  There were aspirations of forcing a game 6 with an inspired return to Brooklyn, but that scenario was not to be.  The 4-0 loss was an unfortunate way to end their first, 2nd round appearance since ‘93 and it came in a most humbling way for New York.  Victor Hedman (2), Brian Boyle and Nikita Kutcherov all came through for their team with 4 tallies and Ben Bishop played a lights-out game in net with 28 saves to earn his 5th career playoff shutout.

In another game where the Islanders struggled defensively and failed to control play in the neutral zone, Tampa Bay pushed the limit and overwhelmed them early.  It was difficult to watch the Lightning move freely about the crease and threaten offensively in front of Thomas Greiss.  Even worse was the Islanders inability to pressure Bishop (without an Anders Lee) and hold on in games they were leading on home ice, especially in the final period.  New York was held without a point for the final 117:14 of the series (John Tavares, pointless in games 2-5) and they were outscored 17-7 after a 4-1 lead in game 1.  Their PP was horrible (4 of 18) in the series and let them down at the worst possible times.  Choosing a Grail Knight for this game was not an easy thing to do, so I’ll pass and just name Thomas Greiss my Grail Knight for the series.  His team only won a game, but they lost 2 in OT and he had them in the thick of things when he got adequate support from the team in front of him.

Coach Capuano made some magic in the post season and he tried to juggle lines, make call ups and even allowed John Tavares to dictate the team’s travel and practice schedule going into the possible elimination game.  None of it worked out in the end.  “It’s brutal,” John Tavares said. “It’s hard to believe it’s over. You put a lot into it. We didn’t accomplish what we set out to do and it’s a tough way to go out.”  No one in blue and orange expected to go silent after an emotional 5-2 road win in game 1 where the Islanders frustrated and overwhelmed Ben Bishop and the Lightning attack.  But after some solid adjustments and a few key performances (without Stamkos & Stralman) by their vets, Tampa Bay out played and out coached New York for the remainder of the series en-route to their second consecutive appearance for the eastern conference finals.

“You don’t get to the final eight without doing some good things,” Tavares said. “That’s not good enough for us. The expectations are high. We want to go a lot further.”  After another 100pt season and accomplishing a second round opportunity, the Isles have a lot to be proud of, but the loss and the way it happened will haunt them all summer long.  A summer that will see new majority ownership of Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin take control ahead of minority owner, Charles Wang.  What will that mean for Garth Snow, Jack Capuano and a few of the big free agency questions the organization will have to sort out in the off season?  TSN’s Shawn Simpson made some ripples on Twitter when he mentioned “hearing” that special advisor to Garth Snow, George McPhee will take the Isles reins with Ledecky ownership.

The most intense moments of the loss came in the locker room after the game.  Frans Nielsen was quoted as saying, “I've always been proud to wear this jersey,” while Matt Martin added, "I love this team...I love this group ..(but) I don't know what the future holds. I've been here 7 years, & loved every second."  Travis Hamonic had a few emotional moments as well.  The Islanders 2nd round, 53rd overall 2008 pick had reportedly asked for a trade prior to the season, but seemed proud to be a member of the team.  "I love being an Islander, more than anything. It’s one of the best things I do in my life," he said. “It was a pretty cool feeling in Game 6 (winning the series against the Florida Panthers) and I’m glad we had a chance to do that in front of our fans. They’ve supported us throughout the whole season. Sorry, it just sucks. ... I’m really confident in our group. This is pretty frustrating.”  When asked about the loss, Hamonic added, “As a group we have to learn from this experience.”  We?  Jack Capuano hinted that Travis Hamonic may just remain with the team into next year.

I won’t get into too much about the culmination of the 2015-16 campaign now, but I promise to have a season review up in the next few days.

Friday, May 6, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Lightning Game 4: Falling Short Again

Our New York Islanders came into Friday night’s game 4 down 2 games to 1 after a painful O.T. loss on Tuesday.  A win tonight would tie the series at 2 all while a loss stacks the deck against New York at 3-1 (win series 90.3% of the time).  Cal Clutterbuck thought the Islanders chances were pretty good at a comeback, "If we play that way we give ourselves a good chance to win."  In Game 3, the Islanders played almost well enough to win.  Well enough if you don’t count giving up the lead three separate times.  The adjustments they need to make for tonight are to eliminate the type of defensive mistakes they have been guilty of lately, push hard for a full 60 minutes and find a way to jumpstart their struggling PP.  Rumors of a few lineup changes trickled through Twitter today and came to light during warm ups.  Ryan Strome and Ryan Pulock returned to the roster in lieu of Alan Quine and Marek Zidlicky.  Per @StatsCentre, “the Islanders will go for their 1st home win in a 2nd round series since May 12, 1993 - a 7-5 win vs the Pens in Gm 6 of their Patrick Div. Final.”

The Islanders came out sloppy, but physical.  They got pressure on the Tampa net and frustrated the Lightning until they were awarded a PP.  Kyle Okposo (Kulemin & Nielsen) managed a huge PPG and helped the Islanders score the elusive first goal of the game, 1-0.  Isles maintain offensive zone pressure.  John Tavares rings one off the post on an odd man rush and then Thomas Hickey insights Callahan into a double minor PP chance.  Unfortunately, the Islanders manage 1 shot on the 4:00 man advantage and give the TBL back some confidence after a well-played period.  Shots are 16-6 Isles after the first.

Casey Cizikas called for tripping early in the 2nd period as Thomas Greiss lost a skate blade that can’t be fixed at the bench.  So JF Berube came in with Greiss to locker room for repairs.  It marks Berube’s first NHL playoff appearance.  Berube made a couple of key saves helping the Isles kill the Lightning PP.  Greiss returned a few minutes later to relieve Berube at the Isles net to the cheer of the sellout crowd.  New York much better defensively, especially at center ice but managed only 6 shots in the middle period.  Brock Nelson gave the Isles a late penalty to finish the period and de Haan came close with a good shorthanded chance.  Thomas Greiss and Thomas Hickey were big for New York.  Some concerns for Cal Clutterbuck who missed regular and PK shifts in the period.  Shots were 10-6 TBL.

The 3rd period was delayed due to some damage form the Zamboni to corner boards at the Barclays center.  The Islanders continued the press, but was Kucherov that tied it, short side at 1-1 with 12:11 to go.  Garrison went on to hit Okposo in the face with his stick, no call.  Greiss (19 of 20 with a .950Sv%) came up big with a minute left after a Leddy turnover on a Killorn writer in the slot.  The game would go to overtime.  Shots were 6-5 in the period and 28-22 after regulation.  Isles were 1/3 man up and 3/3 man down, 45-28 in hits.

The Islanders required overtime (2-1) in 4 of the last five games at the Barclays Center.  In tonight’s extra session, de Haan broke a stick and took one from Okposo, who can’t make an effective defensive play a few seconds later.  This resulted in a Garrison score and the game winner benefitting from a de Haan screen of greiss just 1:34 in.  Tampa Bay wins it 2-1.

The positives were the play of the 4th line yet again as well as the unyielding play of Thomas Hickey.  I'll award Grail Knight of the game to Hickey for the tempo of his game tonight and acknowledgement for all the little things he does game in and game out.

The game was nasty and the Islanders played well for most of it, but lost again.  The power play has been so egregious, it leaves little to depend on.  The Islanders were strong to start and seemed to succumb in the third period and fall short gain in O.T. for the second straight game.  They have been out shot 104-52 after the first period in the series.  Thomas Greiss was good, but Ben Bishop played another solid game and kept the Lightning around until they got it done.  He helps Tampa endure until they can capitalize on opportunities later on in the game.

Let’s look back on the double minor opportunity in the first period in which the Islanders managed only 1 shot.  That leaves no room to bitch about blown calls by the officials.  Let’s also acknowledge that the Lightning have done a good job keying on John Tavares.  In the first 7 games, JT had 6 and 5 for 11 points (5-2).  In the last three, he has been held to no points (0-3).  The Islanders were a bounce or two away from winning both O.T. games and having the 3-1 lead in the series.  But the reality is Tampa Bay actually has it with game 5 going back to Florida.

Hearing the Lightning players giggle and taunt fans in celebration of their well fought and deserved win still turns my stomach.  Yeah, it makes me mad.  The odds say the Isles have a 90.3% chance to yield the series while down 3-1.  We all know what is at stake here.  Since the Isles can’t seem to catch a break, I guess they need to ALL man up and make their own for game 5.  

It’s that simple.  There is no time for anything else.

Isles Notes:

The @TBLightning (.769) own the highest win percentage in playoff OT road games in #StanleyCup Playoffs history (min. 2 GP). @EliasSports

Game 5 is in Tampa at 3pm while Game 6 on Tuesday would be a 7:30 pm start in Brooklyn.

John Tavares was named one of three finalists (Ovechkin, Weber) for the NHL’s Mark Messier Leadership Award.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

2016 Playoffs, Lightning Game 3: Barely

When a series is 1-1 in the NHL, the team that wins Game 3 wins the series 66.7% of the time.

Islanders-Lightning, Game 3.  Report said that Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Pulock and Josh Bailey skated today and that Bailey would play if he was ready per Coach Capuano.  So that meant Ryan Strome (2 assists in game 1) would sit again.  “Sucks, but there isn't a lot to say. It's an important time at home and the guys that are in will do the job.”  The Lightning haven't won in regulation in past 9 visits vs Isles (1-7-1). As far as the Islanders were concerned, they would try and keep it that way.  Travis Hamonic and Brian Boyle “collided” at center ice during warm-ups.  It was clear the Isles weren’t going to allow a repeat of game 2’s performance to happen at home.

The Islanders came out with a chip on their shoulder and played with an edge.  As if it was pre-written, Josh Bailey (Kulemin & Hamonic) scored at the 7 minute mark to make it a 1-0 lead and silenced his critics, while breaking a 21 game scoreless streak.  Bailey would continue to play well in both ends and looked good in his first game back from injury.  Brian Boyle knocked in a puck with a high stick and even though Tampa celebrated, the "goal" would not count.  Tampa Bay got back on the stat sheet and (Callahan) would net a PPG with just 12 seconds remaining in the period to even the score at 1-1.  The Lightning would add another at the start of the 2nd period. (Hedman) scored 8 minutes in to take a 2-1 lead.  Drouin skated into the Isles zone and was met by a solid Thomas Hickey check, causing him to leave the ice.  Nick Leddy (Clutterbuck & Cizikas) ripped one past Bishop a few minutes later to tie it at 2-2 for New York.

The Islanders came out in the third and took the lead again (3-2) after Josh Bailey (Hickey & Prince) scored a PPG for his second of the game.  But just a minute later, Tampa Bay tied the game at 3-3 off the first playoff goal by Namestnikov.  A Cal Clutterbuck wrister from the top of the circle beat Bishop to give New York a 4-3 lead with 8 minutes remaining in regulation.  Islanders got some good chances late, but couldn't convert.  With Drouin back on the ice, Bishop was called to the bench with 2 minutes remaining and the TBL tied the game (Kutcherov, assists Drouin & Hedman) with 38 seconds remaining and forced overtime.  Shots in regulation, 39-38 Islanders, Greiss 34 of 38, .895Sv%).

In overtime, Brian Boyle layed a shoulder to the head of Thomas Hickey and broke free to hang by the net uncontested and stuff it in for a 5-4 Tampa win. Some of the Lightning players, including Drouin, taunted Isles fans at the glass after the winning goal was scored.  Its New York’s first OT loss of these playoffs and a tough one to take, but it’s far from over.  

Capuano spoke after the game on Boyle’s hit to Hickey, "It’s a direct shot to the head. Probably gonna be suspended for a game...Whole game shouldn’t come down to that."  We don’t know whether or not Thomas Hickey was injured on the play.  Brock Nelson continued to struggle and was a passive observer on the TBL GWG.  He may find himself the odd man out, allowing Ryan Strome to get back in the lineup for game 4.  de Haan struggled and the Isles had a few defensive miscues late in the game and surrendered 3 leads in regulation. To make it worse, their PP was a dismal 1 of 4 again.

On the positive side, the 4th line was unreal tonight.  Their physicality and offensive contributions have been immeasurable this year, especially in big games.  Thomas Greiss (37 of 41 with a .902Sv%) was good yet again, but the real story as we all know was Josh Bailey.  Isles twitter went berserk with the announcement of Bailey’s imminent return this morning.  Many, including me do not get some of Capuano’s moves, like his insistence to play Bailey while a Ryan Strome would sit.  But credit the head coach, he has gotten better reading pulse of his team and has been an asset behind the bench.  Josh Bailey had 2 goals tonight and played well enough to be awarded 1st star of the night.  He is my Grail Knight of the game.

Per Jack Capuano, "We're one of 8 teams still playing now for a reason. We play hard. We're resilient."  Series is 2-1 Lightning.  Game 4 is Friday in Brooklyn at 7 pm.

Isles Notes:

Islander’s game 3 was a sellout. 4th consecutive playoff sellout and 12 consecutive home sellout from regular season.

The New York Islanders signed defenseman Parker Wotherspoon to a three-year, entry-level contract.