Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New York Islanders: 5 Reasons They Make the Playoffs in 2011-12 (Part 5)

We have reached the final part of our five part series in why the Islanders will make the playoffs in 2011-12.

So much has happened since this series began. The Islanders and Nassau County announced plans for a new arena and there will be a public vote for the project on August 1st. Public support would seem to be behind the project to a 65-70% positive range at the moment.

Once Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano's revenue sharing plan is announced it will go a long way into whether public support stays behind the project.

That brings us to the final piece of our five part series - intangibles.

So much of professional sports is not necessarily all having the most skilled players. We have seen time and time again that it is not the team with the biggest payroll or the biggest stars that wins every single Stanley Cup or any major championship for that matter.

Its the team that puts all of it together at the same time. You can see the similarities in the Islanders now that we saw in Chicago and Pittsburgh before they ascended to the top of the NHL. The talent is there. It is young but it is there.

All that remains for the Islanders to do is to put the pieces together mentally as a group.

Garth Snow and his staff have laid the foundation for a bright future and have built the team in a way that it will be possible to keep most of this same core group together assuming they take the next step. There are no seven, eight or nine million dollar per season players on this team to hamstring him from keeping his players should they blossom into full blown NHL stars.

The Chicago Blackhawks are a prime example of how signing guys like Brian Campbell to a ridiculous contract can hamstring you from keeping the goaltender who just won you a Stanley Cup and ushered guys like Dustin Byfuglien out of Chicago.

Some people would say it was worth it to win a Stanley Cup and they may be right, but that's not the way the Islanders are being built.

The Islanders are being structured as a team that is poised to stay together for the long haul. John Tavares will be the highest paid player on the team after his three year entry level contract expires and that's the way it should be. Michael Grabner just signed a five year contract. Matt Moulson signed a three year contract.

Its the perfect way to build an organization if you want to hold onto your players.

It will be no problem at all for the Islanders to keep what they have and if they so choose, add a mid level piece from outside the organization without breaking the bank.

Why is all this possible? Because of Garth Snow. He and his staff have put a group of guys in that Islander locker room that want to succeed on Long Island and recognize that they truly have a chance to be a part of something special.

Look at what happened to the team this season. After a brutal stretch of 21 games basically torpedoed any chance of the playoffs did the Islanders die on the vine and whine about how injuries killed the season?

No they turned the season around and made the rest of the NHL take notice and put together one of the top 3 records in the NHL after the all-star break.

Fans noticed also. The attendance at the coliseum rose in this period, yes buoyed by some outstanding ticket sales ideas but also by the Islanders solid play.

There was something even better brewing in the Islanders locker room.

Confidence and certainty.

Every Islanders season of the last lets say 15 years has begun and ended with uncertainty with the Islanders losing free agents to other teams or bringing in unproven guys to pick up the slack.

This season we know every major player on the roster will be back next year and beyond.

If you do not think that is a big deal to the guys in that locker room, your mistaken. Looking around the locker room at the end of the season seeing guys you know will be back and that you know you can be successful with means an awful lot.

That brings me to the fans. Everyone knows the Islanders rank near or at the bottom of the NHL in attendance. This past season the Islanders were dead last in overall attendance and percentage of capacity.

This fact is easily explained away for two reasons.

1) No one is coming out to see a bad team and let's face it, at one point this season the Islanders were dreadful. This is something that was easily remedied by one thing. Winning. No not the Charlie Sheen type of winning, the type the Islanders did in the last 30 games of the season.

Attendance rose at the end of the season because fans wanted to see first hand what this young group was up to that was winning so many games. Looking over the attendance numbers for the season, for the first 25 home games the Islanders had what in my mind is a "good crowd" of over 12,000 fans only FOUR times.

For the last 16 home games the numbers were way up overall and the Islanders had 11 games of 12,000 or more fans with four sell outs, the only four sell outs of the season.

As you can see if the Islanders play well people will come. This coming season if the Islanders can manage to stay in the top ten in the conference a heck of a lot more people will come to see them play.

You cannot imagine what that means to a young team to look up in the stands and see 3,500 fans in a 16,250 seat arena. That has to be disconcerting especially to young players.

At the same time, when you look up and see little or no empty seats that has to be like adrenaline again especially for young players.

Hopefully this season more Islander fans will come back to the Coliseum and see what Snow and company are building. The fans of the team are still there but they have had no confidence in what the Islanders were putting on the ice. Now that has changed. All that has to happen is for the team to take the next step and continue to build what they have started.

Secondly on top of the the strong player base the Islanders for once have great news brewing on an organizational level. Everyone knows the Islanders have a lease with Nassau County through the 2014-15 season. That date seemed so far away just a couple of seasons ago but guess what? It takes 2-3 years to physically build an arena. If your going to have plans to build one which can take up to 2 years you have to start the process well before the lease is due to end.

The powers that be for once have done it. Plans are laid down and the time frame is right for the Islanders to move into a new home arena on or about the 2014-15 season.

Players are already making note. Grabner stated on his Twitter page that he is excited about the news for the new arena. Now that plans are in place and the Islanders future would seem to be secure it can end almost two decades of uncertainty that surrounded the team on so many levels.

Soon we will be only worried about one thing. Hockey.

Thank You all for reading and please as always, place your comments below.

Monday, May 16, 2011

New York Islanders: 5 Reasons They Make the Playoffs in 2011-12 (Part 4)

First things first, my sincerest condolences go out to Derek Boogaard's family, friends and fans.

On the heels of the huge news that the Islanders may actually have a plan for a new arena and the signing of Michael Grabner to a five year contract may I present part four in a five part series of why the Islanders will make the playoffs in 2011-2012.

For this part we will examine the Islanders defense corps.

The Islanders were decimated by injury last season. We all know this. Their defense in particular was hit the hardest.

T`here are six defense positions on any NHL team for use in a game. Everyone knows that.

The Islanders had 13 different defensemen on their roster this season counting Mark Striet who did not play one game because of major shoulder surgery.

This fact in of itself could wind up being the reason the Islanders discovered what could be a defense pairing that will play together and grow as a unit for many years to come.

Andy MacDonald and Travis Hamonic have bright futures in the NHL. They consistently played as the Islanders number one defense tandem this season and played against the best the rest of the NHL had to offer and they did very well for themselves.

The two young defenseman also showed poise on the offensive side of the game also, scoring 27 points (MacDonald) and 26 points (Hamonic.)

Most impressive is that they were the only Islanders defesnemen to finish the season with plus ratings that played over 20 games. Doing that and playing against the NHL's best definitely proves that they are ready for the full time load of playing in the NHL and should start the year as the Islanders number two pair next season.

Returning Islanders veteran defenseman Mark Striet will be back at next season. Hopefully he can return to form and lead the Islanders power play and not show any ill effects from missing an entire season from such a major operation.

If he returns to form he will bring what the Islanders most sorely lacked this year and that is a power play puck moving offensive threat.

The Islanders power play sorely missed him as he provides the presence on the offensive side of the game that a team needs to have a successful power play.

Also returning from injury are a trio of steady veteran defensemen in Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau and Milan Jurcina.

On the young side Ty Wishart also played well in his 20 games this season after being aquired for goaltender Dwayne Roloson.

On a side note if the Tampa Bay Lightning should win the Stanley Cup this season Garth Snow should get a Stanley Cup ring as former Islanders Roloson and Sean Bergenheim are absolutely lighting it up for the Bolts.

Back to the subject at hand the Islanders also have young prospect Calvin de Haan who will challenge for a spot on the team straight out of camp and will probably make the team out of camp unless he takes a step back in his development.

Could Aaron Ness also make a case for a roster spot? What happens with Bruno Gervais who is a restricted free agent?

Having to many NHL capable defensemen is a great problem to have as this past season showed people get hurt and it pays to have people that can just step in and have the team not miss a beat.

The Islanders defense corps has it all. Size, veteran leadership, solid defense, speed and young players looking to crack the lineup. It boasts a solid base for the Islanders to build on this season knowing that the goaltending will not have to stand on its head every game to keep the Islanders in games because the defense will be solid.

The Islanders core of defenseman is a more than capable unit that will only grow better with time and it has Islander fans excited to see the next step of their development.

Please post your comments below.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New York Islanders and Nassau County to Announce New Arena Deal

Part 4 and 5 of the "Why the Islanders will make the Playoffs in 2012" will have to be put on hold for the moment.

This is the day that Islander fans have been waiting for for what seems like decades.

Today at an 11 AM press conference Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is inviting everyone under the sun to a press conference at Nassau Coliseum to announce plans to build a new 17,500 seat hockey, sports and entertainment arena for the New York Islanders on the site of the current Nassau Coliseum.

The press conference is open to the public.

Mangano will seek approximately 400 million for the project which includes 50 million dollars for a minor league baseball stadium on the Mitchell Field property.

August 1st 2011 will be the date the Nassau County residents can vote on whether to accept the deal or not.

Detractors will ask why should the county have to foot the bill when Charles Wang was ready to spend about four billion dollars to build the Lighthouse Project?

The answer is simple. Blame Kate Murray.

The tossed thousands of jobs and a much needed central project of Long Island away by rezoning the property in effect killing Charles Wang's legacy project.

The County will foot the bill, but the cost of the project would be offset by a revenue sharing plan that will pay for the cost of the project over the Islanders new 30 year lease to play in the new arena.

They are projecting the project to start in the Spring of 2012, with completion for the 2014-15 season.

The major hurdle right now is the voters have to vote yes on the referendum for the arena but once the economics behind how good a new arena will be for the area the vote should be a relatively easy one to pass.

The Nassau Coliseum is a venue that is becoming a difficult one to draw high end acts to.

A brand spanking new arena would change all of that.

It would change the perception that the Islanders are waiting to run from Long Island with the current lease expires in 2015.

The Islanders would instantly become relevant to free agents around the NHL and to its current players to stay here and build a winner.

With the Islanders current crop of young players lays the foundation. An arena deal in hand makes the team instantly credible.

Its a bright day for hockey fans all over New York. Ranger and Devil fans included. Rivalries are what make sports. With all three metro area teams on strong footing and with state of the art facilities makes the rivalries all that much better and could be a centerpiece for the NHL to build its northeastern coverage around.

Throw in strong franchises in nearby Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and you have an American hockey hotbed.

Let's vote it in August 1st and get this project done.

Monday, May 9, 2011

New York Islanders: 5 Reasons They Make the Playoffs in 2011-12 (Part 3)

For Part three of this five part series, we will examine something that is not as black and white as scoring goals and stopping pucks.

Its called respect and perception.

How is this beginning to change? The Islanders still finished in the bottom 5 in the standings after all.

Well firs things first in order to change anyone else's perception that your just not a bottom feeding franchise any more you have to first start believing it yourself.

It is not good enough to say it, but truly believing it.

As this season wore on and the Islanders were mired in one of te worst losing streaks in franchise history it would have been so easy to say "well its the Islanders, they are supposed to suck."

Enter Jack Capuano. No one was impressed when the Islanders fired Scott Gordon and promoted Bridgeport Head Coach Jack Capuano, figuring he was just going to ride out the rest of the season and the Islanders would begin their search for the right guy to try and bring the Islanders out of the doldrums.

Then something happened. The Islanders started to take to "Cappy's" new system which afforded the players the opportunity to go out and show their creativity and individual talents on the ice.

How long ago does it feel the Islanders replaced Gordon with Capuano? It seems like ages.

Instead of wondering where Scott Gordon wanted them to to be on the ice in any given situation the players were given an outline and told "use your instincts."

The Islanders managed to pull themselves up and be competitive. Not only that, bolstered by solid goaltending from Al Montoya and Kevin Poulin the Islaneders managed to have one of the best records in the NHL after the all star break and look really good doing it.

Players like Michael Grabner, Frans Nielsen, Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic blossomed before our eyes.

Players like PA Parenteau, Matt Moulson and Al Montoya showed us that other teams were wrong for not promoting them to larger roles.

Players like Zenon Konopka, Trevor Gillies, Matt Martin and Michael Haley showed us that the Islanders were not going to allow other teams to take liberties with our players, despite some questionable methods.

John Tavares showed he is becoming the player the Islanders will be able to build around.

This group of Islanders players believe in themselves. The have a solid foundation for once that is yielding results on the ice and it showed in the way they played the final 35 games of the season.

People noticed. It took the news making Islanders 9-3 victory over the Penguins to get people to notice, but it worked. Say what you want about that game but it got people talking. It got people interested. The Islanders said in that game we are not a team that are going to allow other teams to come in here and do what they want to us any more.

Other teams that saw the Islanders on their schedule the last 35 games of the season realized that they were not going to just walk all over the Islanders and have an easy win.

That means a lot also. Perception. If a team does not respect you and knows it can beat you up easily, take cheap shots at your star players, can count on your goalie letting in softies and porous defense then nine times out of ten that is exactly what is going to happen.

All that changed this season.

Islanders fans always want to believe in the team. For the first time in a long time attendance increased at the end of the season as the teams performance improved.

Say what you want about Nassau Coliseum. Everyone knows its a dump and the worst arena in the NHL. The bottom line is that if the Islanders manage to become a winning franchise the arena situation will not matter and people will come. People do not come to arena to see the arena. They come to see their team win hockey games. Win enough of them and ala Field of Dreams, people will come.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

New York Islanders: 5 Reasons They Make the Playoffs in 2011-12 (Part 2)

For Part 2 we will examine the state of the goaltending for the Islanders.

Ever present is Rick DiPietro with his 11 years remaining on his contract.

Rick has suffered through major injury after major injury the past three seasons and his health is always a major question.

Showing very brief flashes of his former self in the 26 games he got to play this season Rick's come back was shall we say, unremarkable?

Some would call it down right awful as Rick had the lowest save percentage and highest goals against average of any goaltender in the entire NHL who played 20 games or more.

All this being said Rick will be back in 2011-12 barring another injury. Can he turn it around?

That question is still way up in the air but the answer to it says that the Islanders could be in a position to contend for a playoff spot next season and they will not be able to afford to throw games away any more while Rick tries to find his game.

That is what the AHL is for.

You read it here first. If Rick does not perform somewhere close to the level he has been capable of in the past then Garth Snow will be forced to send Rick to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers much like the Rangers did with Wade Redden.

The thing is I believe Rick still has game in him. How much he can help the Islanders is anyones guess. I am rooting hard for him and if the Islanders fans I have spoken to are any indicator as to what the support for Rick amongst the fan base is well let me just say his support is waning.

Rick will be an employee of the New York Islanders for at least next season, but he may be wearing out the Port Jefferson Ferry.

He is also not immune to a buy out as Islanders owner Charles Wang has done in the past with monster contracts. Alexei Yashin anyone?

Rick aside the Islanders have some viable choices with another amazing pick up by Garth Snow when he plucked Al Montoya out of goaltender hell in San Antonio, the AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes and stuck him in as the number one goaltender because of injuries to DiPietro, Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen the trading of Dwayne Roloson and the immaturity of Evgeni Nabokov.

What the Islanders got was nothing short of remarkable. Montoya played 20 games for the team going 9-5-6 with a sterling 2.39 goals against average and an equally sterling .921 save percentage.

Montoya earned the first one way contract of his career and will be an Islander next season.

So if Rick is to spend time in Bridgeport barring a career resurgence, who will be the number two man?

Kevin Poulin, a young 20 year old just out of junior was lighting up Bridgeport with a .932 save percentage and a 2.19 goals against average in 15 games. There was no way his success would translate to the NHL right?


In 10 games Poulin posted a 2.44 goals against average and a .924 save percentage in the NHL before a freak knee injury ended his season.

He will be back next season and if Rick falters or gets injured then the young net minder may just up and take his spot.

In any event the future of the Islanders crease with or without Rick DiPietro is secure.

What about Evgeni Nabokov? Well the Islanders are going to toll his contract meaning he will be Islander property next season. Whether that is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen. He can't likely be traded as the rules governing his contract still apply because basically its the same contract he signed last season.

If the Islanders were to trade him, he would again have to pass through waivers before he could be dealt.

Maybe coming in at the end of the season this year makes more sense to Nabokov now. If it doesn't it sure will when he is sitting on his couch in San Jose watching what is left of his career tick away.

In any event, the Islanders would appear to be set in net.

Place your comments below.

Stay tuned for Part 3 - Respect and how the Islanders are getting it back.

5 Reasons the Islanders Make the Playoffs in 2011-12: Part One

People keep asking me - Where is all of this optimism surrounding the Islanders come from?

So I figured what better way than to give specific reasons why the Islanders will be playing meaningful games in April and maybe May of 2012.

This article will be the first in a five part series looking into the reasons the Islanders resurgence will continue into next season and beyond.

Part 1) Goal Scoring/Line Consistency. For the first time in what has to be 5 years the Islanders top 6 forward core knows who it is going to be, barring injury of course.

The top line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and PA Parenteau returns in tact which Tavares is coming off leading the team in points and scoring 29 goals and 67 points.

That total should improve next season as Tavares matures into the player Islanders fans cheered for the team to draft a couple of years ago.

Matt Moulson second on the team with 53 points with 31 goals showed the world he was no one hit wonder and PA Parenteau, a player who has enjoyed only a cup of coffee in the NHL until this season netted an impressive 20 goals and 33 assists.

As the season wore on and Islander fans got used to a perennial AHL player in Parenteau teaming with our prized player in Tavares we realized that this guy has skill and is an excellent play maker which is why he complemented Tavares and Moulson so well.

Hopefully this unit can continue to grow together and take the next step forward.

The Islanders were not a one line team this season either.

General Manager Garth Snow made his second excellent waiver wire pick up in two seasons when he picked up Michael Grabner from the Florida Panthers after he failed to impress their new top brass.

Florida's loss like the Kings with Moulson the year before, was most certainly the Islanders gain.

Grabner started the year in a not to eventful fashion chipping in the occasional goal and impressing the heck out of everyone with his blazing speed.

Once he was paired with Islanders center Frans Nielsen all hell broke loose. Grabner started to score goals at a frenzied pace winning NHL player of the month honors and earning himself a Calder Trophy nomination scoring 34 goals, with 6 of them short handed.

Frans Nielsen surprised a lot of people this season. Never in any Islander fans wildest dreams could we imagine the kind of season he put together especially when paired with Grabner not only at even strength but short handed. He scored 13 goals this season, which in of itself is no big deal but then you look closer and realize that seven of them were short handed. He got 31 assists also and was a plus 13.

Sooner or later Nielsen could find himself nominated for a Selke Trophy.

Kyle Okposo came came from his major shoulder surgery and struggled early on but then got his legs and was able to mesh well with his line mates. He only scored 5 goals in 38 games but he showed flashes of the two way power forward he is capable of once he got his stamina back.

I don't know about you, but I look forward to seeing what these six players can put together next season.

The remaining 6 forward spots appear to be filled as well, with returning veteran banger Trent Hunter looking to rebound from a lost season. Hunter's offensive skills are not the best part of his game as he will never score over 20 goals again. However he provides a physical presence that the Islanders need as he loves to throw the body around. Hopefully he can stay relatively healthy.

Matt Martin and Michael Haley are ready to assume the roles of enforcers who can skate and chip in goals here and there.

Josh Bailey's 2010-11 season was a disappointment as he will look to rebound and show he belongs in the NHL. Bailey reminds me a lot of a former Islander prospect Tim Connoly. He is a play maker who has a nice wrist shot and is coming to a point where he is going to take the next step up. As Tim Connoly proved not every player is an impact player right out of the gate.

The Islanders also have a pair of rookies that will look to crack the line up next season also, as Nino Niederrieter has been dominating the WHL ever since the Islanders sent him back there after his nine game cup of coffee with the team.

Kirill Kabanov will bring his immense ego and talent to training camp to try and convince Jack Capuano to keep him here. If he performs like he has in the QMJHL playoffs in camp I'm sure he will get the obligatory nine game look come October.

Blake Comeau is another Islander player that is coming into his own netting a career best 24 goals this season and will also look to improve on those numbers and if he can mesh well with Josh Bailey can give the Islanders three lines that can score goals.

I also hope the Islanders bring back Zenon Konopka who turned into the Voice of the Islanders and instilled some pride in wearing the Islander crest in that locker room.

Will Trevor Gillies be back? I hope so. Its comforting knowing you have a top heavyweight enforcer to stick up for your young stars.

Garth Snow and his team of scouts have put together a very nice group of young forwards that can pretty much do everything. They can skate, pass, hit, fight, score and kill penalties.

Please leave your thoughts below.

Coming in Part 2 - Goaltending is a positive?! Absolutely.