Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Buzz on Gordon's Sandbox

For those of you who don't already know, I'm filling in for B.D. Gallof as the Islanders blogger on HockeyBuzz for at least the rest of this season. I still haven't figured out exactly how I'm going to manage the content in both places, but I don't intend to let this blog die.

I imagine there will be many times when the content will be mirrored from one place to the other. I respect that some people may prefer to read here, so this arrangement will work out well for you. On these occasions, I will probably post there first, and then re-run the content here on a delay. We'll see how that works out. Thanks so much to all that have supported this blog, and I hope you stay with me one way or another.

Here's the latest (and first), originally published at

During the first period of the Islanders' 3-2 loss to Florida, I expressed both my disagreement with Scott Gordon's decision to start
Joey MacDonald and my ambivalence over how much the decision really mattered. To sum up, I don't see how you deny Yann Danis the opportunity to keep rolling and to test how long he can maintain a streak of solid/winning play. The ambivalence comes from the idea that at this stage of this season, the winning doesn't matter, and Gordon is going to use MacDonald down the stretch anyway. So why not last night?

The overriding issue is that Gordon is free to play around (tinker toys?) with no fear of significant consequences. He isn't going to blow a playoff run, and he isn't going to lose his job.

The only possible dangers I see are Gordon hindering a young player's development or alienating the veteran players to the extent that the club atmosphere suffers. Let's look at these two dangers a little more closely.

Perhaps the prime example of Gordon being able to see what he has without worrying about consequences is his use of Kyle Okposo on the point during power plays. Did anyone imagine at any point until the coach put him there that Okposo would play the point? I certainly didn't.

But more to the point, what is the point of him being there? Does anyone envision that being his long-term role? I certainly don't. Which begs the question, Why put him there now? Wouldn't Okposo be better served, in this, a year of organizational development, by gaining experience down low where we all assume he will eventually be?

Maybe Gordon sees something and Okposo will be a fixture on the point for years to come. The coach has also explained that he views Streit as the sole point man, while Okposo and Doug Weight are really positioned more along the half wall. But it seems to me that both forwards spend plenty of time just inside the blue line with the man advantage.

We've seen Okposo blast a well placed one-timer home while playing point. We've also seen him rip a trio of one-timers wide of the net. Gordon is playing a delicate game of balancing what's good for the team right now and what's good for its future. Right now, he doesn't have many options to put alongside Streit on the power play. There's really no one else. So maybe Okposo is there only out of necessity. But if Gordon isn't intent on Okposo being in that spot next year, I'd rather see Chris Campoli (when Streit returns), Radek Martinek, Jack Hillen, or even a playmaker like Frans Nielsen on the point.

That being said, Okposo is showing himself to be every bit the professional both physically and mentally. He will not be ruined by playing out of place for a while.

As for the idea that the clubhouse could be poisoned by vets made unhappy by reduced roles, that's only a concern if the poison trickles down from the vets to the kids. That's not going to happen with Bill Guerin and Doug Weight around. And if they're not around? Then there's no problem to be had.

But those two have done everything the team has asked them to do, and been everything they've been asked to be. This team can continue to develop with Guerin and Weight in the fold for the rest of this year and next year.

By letting Okposo, Josh Bailey, Blake Comeau, Nielsen, and Trent Hunter feed off each other, Gordon has created a level of enthusiasm that his older players are forced to match.

Just as Gordon challenged Okposo not to be content with simply being there, the coach has challenged the rest of the young players to make it their team as much as it is Guerin's and Weight's. That is a significant step in the development of the team. Don't forget it.

I imagine that Gordon will continue to make the occasional small decision that leaves us scratching our heads. But let him have his sandbox for the rest of the year. That's where kids learn to play.

No comments: