Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gone Fishing

We'll be back after this important breaker...please stay tuned.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Two-Minute Minors for 7/24/08

The Ducks have rewarded coach Randy Carlyle, who was entering the final year of his contract, with a two-year extension. So that's how that works. (See, if Ted had just won a Stanley Cup there would have been no problem!)

I stopped into the NHL Store on Sixth Avenue yesterday to see if there was any news about the arrival of third jerseys. A very friendly and enthusiastic salesperson told me that they should arrive in late August or early September with the rest of the fall line merchandise. I was not aware that the NHL had a fall line. Look out, Giorgio Armani.

Really, though, it's no shock that the league would refresh its merchandise in preparation for the new season. It was just funny to hear it put that way.

The salesperson also told me that the NHL Store staff is hoping that it gets to sell the new third jerseys at all. It seems that the league prefers to keep specialty items like third jerseys in the domain of individual team stores so that the teams benefit directly from the revenue. I was surprised to learn that the league's flagship merchandise store might not carry such highly anticipated products. However, it does make sense, especially for a team like the Islanders whose fan base is so concentrated geographically. Most Islanders fans will purchase the new third at the arena, at the team store at the Broadway Mall, or online. But if you were hoping to pick one up in Manhattan, you might be out of luck.

Speaking of Manhattan, I recently spotted a kid wearing a yellow Islanders baseball hat on W. 72nd Street. That pushes my ratio of Manhattan Islanders gear sightings per year over the 1.0 mark—4 sightings in three years! We now have three baseball hats and one ski cap.

In case you haven't adjusted your browsing habits to include the NYI Voices blog yet, Steve Mears reminds us that the Islanders are opening the season on the road once again. Someone should check the NHL bylaws for the rule that prohibits the Islanders from playing their season opener on home ice. I would have gotten around to posting this as the season drew closer, but since Steve brought it up already, let's update the numbers.

In 2008 the Islanders will open their season on the road for the 32nd time in 36 seasons. And just for emphasis, let's repeat another fact stated by Mears: the Islanders have opened the season in Los Angeles more times than they have opened it on Long Island.

Mariusz Czerkawski announced his retirement from hockey today. Hat Tip: Mirtle (1), (Lowtide, Polskie Radio), 12:17. Somehow that didn't hit me quite as hard in a "Wow, I'm old" sort of way as when Claudio Reyna announced his retirement from soccer recently. But Mariusz is only 36 and was playing to the tune of a point per game in the Swiss-A league the last two seasons.

It's hard to remember Czerkawski as anything more than the leading scorer on some horrible Islanders teams. At least he was the one guy you could look to for a little offensive excitement during those painful years. He did manage to stick around long enough to see the team turn a corner and reach the playoffs in 2001-02. Anyway, happy retirement, young man.

I'd review the second episode of Islanders Illustrated, but it's 7:57 and writing this has caused me to forget that it was on. I'll have to catch it next time around.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Snow Adds Stability to the Youth Movement

Perhaps I should have held onto the previous post title a little longer.

Some observers have questioned the accuracy of calling Garth Snow's direction a youth movement. With several aging veterans slated to play key roles on the 2008-09 Islanders, it is a valid question.

Unless Kyle Okposo, Jeff Tambellini, Blake Comeau, Sean Bergenheim, and Frans Nielsen are all playing significant minutes, then the youth movement looks half-hearted.

At least, it did until the last several days.

With the signings of Tambellini, Bergenheim, and Nielsen to multi-year, one-way contracts, Snow has added a new dimension to his youth strategy by:

  • Making a quantifiable commitment to the young players
  • Demonstrating confidence in the abilities of these players
  • Giving them reassurance that their roles belong to them
  • Adding stability to the roster
Of course it remains to be seen if Snow has made commitments to the right players. But under the terms to which they agreed, it's certainly worth finding out.

The Nielsen contract is unusual. Rarely do you see an organization commit four years to an unproven player unless he is a can't-miss prospect. It's not as though large offer sheets were in his near future.

But with an average salary of $525,000, the cap structure is hardly at peril. You could even argue that Nielsen is taking the bigger gamble. While he may be limited to fourth-line duty this coming season, his position on the depth chart promises to improve in the coming years. If he produces at all, he will be underpaid. So credit Frans for making a commitment to being an Islander as well.

In a matter of a few days, Snow changed the perception of the youth movement from being about who plays where next year to who is an Islander for the next couple of years.

It would have been very interesting to see how all of this would have unfolded with Ted Nolan as the head coach. That being said, it's even easier to figure out why he's no longer at the helm. Imagine the conversation last Monday went something like this:

Snow: We're making commitments to Tambellini, Bergenheim, and Nielsen.

Nolan: I can't guarantee them lineup spots or ice time.

Snow: They will be Islanders. They won't be going down to Bridgeport and they'll be around for the next few years at least.

Nolan: Then I need security beyond this year.

Snow: I'm not prepared to do that right now.


Anyone who now takes over as coach of the Islanders will know exactly what he's getting into. One of Snow's most important tasks is to figure out which of the candidates pay lip service his to plan and which are prepared to execute it.

Let's dismiss the notion that no one wants to coach the Islanders. There are only 30 of these jobs in existence. Way more than 30 people are interested in having them. Only the very best can afford to turn their noses up to an NHL head coaching vacancy. And most of those guys already have jobs.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Garth Snow Means Business, Signs Tambellini for Two Years

Reading some of the quotes from Garth Snow yesterday regarding the philosophical differences between him and Ted Nolan put an extreme thought in my mind. Snow, of course, went out of his way to explain that he wanted to go with younger players.

What really caught my attention were the specific references to Jeff Tambellini, such as this one in
The New York Times:

“We feel a player like Jeff Tambellini, who’s been playing well down at the A.H.L. level, deserves a chance to get significant ice time with us.”

The extreme thought I had was, Could this divorce have simply come down to Jeff Tambellini? How crazy would that be?

Nolan was obviously not a fan of Tambellini's work. Nor did he appear particularly inclined to give him more chances. One of the first things I thought of after digesting the news yesterday was, What does the new coach do if Tambellini only scores 2 goals in the first 30 games?

That question becomes all the more interesting now that Snow has signed Tambellini to a two-year, one-way deal, which Greg Logan says "virtually assures a full shot to play a role as a top-six forward."

So the day after Nolan leaves, Snow locks up Tambellini with the big club.

It can't be that differences over a single player were the sole cause of the split. But now the thought doesn't seem quite so crazy.

Just a quick thanks to Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy for his praise of yesterday's Nolan-Snow analysis in this space.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ted Nolan and Garth Snow Reach an Impasse

"I feel my continued service aboard can only reduce my usefulness to the Navy...and increase disharmony aboard this ship." --Mister Roberts (1955)

Increased disharmony indeed.

In the 1955 film Mister Roberts, the title character, played by Henry Fonda, solicited a transfer of duty from his captain, played by James Cagney. One can only wonder how instrumental Ted Nolan was in orchestrating his own departure from the Islanders.

One thing certainly can be said about this dismissal/firing/settlement: the Islanders managed to end the Nolan era better than the Mets ended the Willie Randolph era. And Garth Snow benefits from making this change in this media market at a time when the move the Mets made appears to be paying off.

Some fans are expressing outrage, but there is not a universal outcry of injustice. Perhaps it's as simple as we all saw it coming.

But it's remarkable that this story does not seem to be on fire. You get the sense that the fan base not only knew this was coming, but is accepting it—maybe not across the board, but widely enough that there really aren't any flames to be fanned or doused.

But how did we get here?

How does Snow, with so little experience as an executive, get to institute his philosophy while Nolan's successful body of work is shoved aside?

I've yet to be convinced that Charles Wang's way of doing business is going to be beneficial to the franchise. He ignored the traditional standards for hiring a GM. All that was required was familiarity with the game, the intelligence to do the work, and a willingness to do whatever Wang wants. I'm not entirely sure that familiarity with the game is a prerequisite.

Can't you imagine, if Snow vacated the GM position, that Wang might hire someone he likes and thinks is capable regardless of hockey knowledge? Specialty skills and experience? Not required.

On the other hand, dismissing Nolan may have been the most general managery thing Snow has done. Maybe he went to Wang and said, "Look, I'm the GM. I should be able to pick my coach."

Why wouldn't Nolan want to get on board with the program? Did he simply not believe in it? In his exit comments, he stated that he has great respect for what the organization is doing.

So was he simply worried that he would be held accountable for the poor won-loss record of a rebuilding team? More likely, he couldn't stand to have his voice and influence marginalized within the organization. Nor would he have liked to have been told how to run his team.

Nolan is a proud man. Having said that, let's not let it singularly define the man. He is also sharp, pleasant, and engaging, among many other things I'm sure.

But he may be too proud to toe the company line, whether in subscribing to organizational philosophy or in accepting coaching advice. The former should be part of his job description, but the latter should be required only in small and infrequent doses.

On leaving, Nolan doesn't seem particularly aggrieved. But you'd have to think he's unhappy with the way things turned out—unless he was equally unhappy about the way things were.

He said the right things today, which was ironic considering the trouble Snow and Nolan had filtering their public comments over the last few months. Maybe they were filtered, but they certainly weren't veiled. It has been odd to see them passive-aggressively stating their displeasure through the press.

The decision to remove Nolan probably had less to do with how the Islanders performed under his direction than it did with two men being unable to find common ground. It wasn't so much philosophy on the ice as it was divergent definitions of respect off it.

It may have been as simple as Nolan being unwilling to coach without security beyond this year, and the organization being unwilling to give him that security. A matter-of-fact impasse, and a mutual parting of the ways.

That management and coach couldn't get on the same page is a shame. Nolan has a lot to offer as a coach. But he still seems to have a lot to overcome.

Nolan was an NHL outsider. The Islander faithful felt pride in knowing that its team opened the door for this man with a knack for motivating players to get back to the big leagues. But once back in, it continued to feel like Nolan was an outsider.

Would any other NHL team have ever given him a shot? What team other than one starved for recognition and run by an unconventional owner would have opened this door?

Nolan was never perceived as just a hockey coach. He was a player's coach. But that meant that he had the accompanying tag of tactically challenged. And then he favored veterans. So he wasn't a player's coach to all players. Then some of those veteran players apparently didn't appreciate what he had to offer.

He certainly found himself on the outside of the inner circle. At the draft in Ottawa, it looked like Nolan was sitting at the distant relatives' table.

There was sufficient evidence to suggest that this parting was coming. Give credit to the people involved for taking care of it before the timing would have caused even more turbulence for the team.

Many of us wanted Ted Nolan to be the answer. It was a good story that could have become even better. It still doesn't compute entirely that Garth Snow gets to decide that Nolan is not the answer. It's unsettling that stubborn pride could lead a good leader astray.

The ideal solution would have been for coach and management to find a way not to clash. It didn't happen. The ideal now is to get everyone moving in the same direction.

The NHL would benefit from its Long Island franchise gaining traction and momentum. It would also be richer for the continued presence of Ted Nolan.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

NYI Top 10 Individual Seasons

Just one (for now) comment (okay, correction) on this latest list put out by the Islanders on their Web site.

At No. 8 we have Brent Sutter with 42 goals and 60 assists for an impressive 102 points. According to the article, "Sutter led the team in assists in the 84-85 season, and was just six goals off Bossy’s team leading 48 scores."

Mike Bossy never totaled 48 goals in an NHL season. He broke 50 in each of his first nine seasons, a feat still unmatched by any other player. During the season in question, 1984-85, Bossy actually tallied 58 goals, or 16 more than Sutter. It was only during Bossy's injury shortened tenth and final season that he failed to crack the 50 mark, settling for 38 goals in 63 games.

This message brought to you by the
Coalition to Protect the Legacy of Mike Bossy, est. July 12, 2008.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Boyle on the Way to San Jose

The reports of the Islanders' interest in Tampa Bay defenseman certainly had me intrigued, particularly if a deal that didn't involve Chris Campoli could have been pulled off.

Let's face it: the Islanders still lack appropriate players to fill the point men roles on two power-play units. And unless Ted Nolan intends to use Mark Streit for the full power play every time, adding a defenseman with Boyle's offensive abilities and physical presence would have been a very positive move.

To this point, Campoli has shown more offensively than Bruno Gervais at the NHL level so it would have been preferable to keep him around as one of the other point men. And I don't think it would have been wise to lose the minutes and defensive prowess of Radek Martinek.

Of course, this is all moot now as TSN is reporting that Boyle has waived his no-trade clause and is on his way to the San Jose Sharks. Coming in return to the Lightning is Matt Carle, a 1st round pick, a 4th round pick, and a prospect. Brad Lukowich would accompany Boyle to San Jose.

Not a bad job by the Lightning transforming that asset into something that fits better with their recent moves. Perhaps an even better job by Garth Snow not overpaying for Boyle.

Update: Jon Jordan reports the prospect is defenseman Ty Wishart.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

HNLI Free Agency Recap Show

Thursday night's special Hockey Night on Long Island Free Agency Recap show is now available for streaming over in the sidebar. You can also download the show from the show site or from iTunes.

Thanks to Steve for having me on. He and Alex always do a wonderful job hosting. I thought this was a particularly great show with lots of interesting Islanders and NHL topics to plow through. Some very good callers added a lot to the discussion.

I was joined as a guest on the show by Bill from New York Islander Fan Central. Bill does an impressive job updating his blog every day with all news related to the Islanders and Sound Tigers. It's a must read for fans of both teams.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Streit Signs Five-Year Deal with Isles

TSN is reporting that the Islanders have signed defenseman Mark Streit to a five-year contract worth $20.5 million.

I guess Garth Snow really didn't want to tip his hand on this one. With all the talk of Hainsey and McCabe, Streit never seemed like a realistic possibility. That's what's great about days like this: the really pleasant surprises.

As mentioned by Greg Logan on his Newsday blog, Streit put up as many points from the blue line as Brian Campbell did last year.

Streit will be 31 years old in December, so perhaps it was the length of the contract that put the Islanders' bid over the top. But in comparison to the Campbell contract, the Isles could get great value out of this deal.

One column from this past January speculated that Streit's worth was around $2 million per season. The Islanders are sure to receive some criticism for paying him twice that amount.

However, this was one of those situations where if the GM really wants the player (and it appears that Snow did), he has to do what is necessary to get the player. It's the same reasoning that justified the Mets giving Pedro Martinez a fourth year.

Streit, from Switzerland, has played only three seasons in the NHL. But his adjustment to the league has been swift. He has gone from 11 points (in 48 games) to 36 points in 2006-07 to 62 points this past year. He posted 34 points on the power play for the Canadiens in 2007-08 (7 goals, 27 assists).

Before joining Montreal for the 2005-06 season, Streit did accumulate some experience with North American minor league hockey. In 1999-00, he made appearances in all three of the ECHL, IHL, and AHL.

It's worth noting that Streit has seen some time as a forward and I don't have a breakdown of how that may have influenced his offensive production. But here are some varying opinions from a thread on Yahoo! Answers.

Keep an eye here for more of the official word on the signing from the Islanders.

Mark Streit's career stats, courtesy of hockeydb.com.