Monday, February 28, 2011

New York Islanders: The Optimism is Real

There are 17 games left in the regular season for the Islanders.

Are the playoffs impossible? No.

Probable? No.

Couple that with the fact that there are 5 teams to leap frog over it is safe to say that the Islanders will look to play spoiler and win as many games as possible over this last stretch of the season.

The Islanders are a changed team this season. Anyone who has watched them extensively this year can see that.

Its not just a cosmetic change or a personnel change.

The Islanders have players that WANT to be here and succeed here.

For years now the Islanders have seemed to just take whatever the league or fate dealt them and just shrug and say "always me".

Not any more.

The guys in the that dressing room are a young, talented team on the rise and you can finally see the difference in the way the play.

Its not just a talent thing.

Its an attitude. Yogi Berra once said baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.

Ah Yogiisms. They all make us scratch our head and smile.

In this case I agree with the Yankee legend. Sort of.

Professional sports is very mental. Yes you have to have talent but if your team does not believe in itself then it is not going to go any where.

Look at the San Francisco Giants for an example.

Somewhere along the line this season the attitude changed and we saw it happen in the month after the Islanders got out of that awful win less streak in December.

The infamous Penguin game was an indicator that this team took pride in itself but the truth is that somewhere before that the players themselves are starting to believe that they have a chance to take the next step in this league.

The last 17 games of this season are going to go a long way into showing exactly what the Islanders have in store for us next season.

We as Islander fans always say next year will be our year. This season we really mean it.

The team is maturing before our eyes even with the injuries on the back line, the young group of forwards and defenseman are playing with the confidence necessary to build a winning nucleus.

The Islanders are never going to be that team that goes out and signs a player to a 90 million dollar contract. We were told when Garth Snow took over that the team had to build from within.

That's all fine and dandy, but luck also has to play a part.

Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner. Is Garth Snow a genius? Or was he lucky?

Moulson is on his way to back to back 30 goal seasons and Grabner is turning into the kind of player that people will pay to see. Every time Grabner is on the ice he makes something happen.

A breakaway, an exciting rush up the ice the kid has turned from talented rookie to a star on the rise and should at the very least be in the top 2 or 3 for rookie of the year.

If he can put together a few more goals and somehow get to 30, he may have a shot at the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year giving the Islanders their first Calder winner since Bryan Berard.

Moulson came into this season with the intent to prove that last years success was no fluke and earn a contract in the process. Mission accomplished on both.

Frans Nielsen has turned into a major player in the future of this franchise. Sure he only has 8 goals, but 5 of them are shorthanded and he has major chemistry with Kyle Okposo and Grabner. Take a look at the Islanders team stats and you'll see something even more striking. Nielsen is a plus 9 and Grabner is a plus 11.

Zenon Konopka is not just an enforcer. Hes a defensive forward. He is excellent on the face offs. He also has an X factor that the Islanders sorely need and he says what is on his mind and on the fans mind.

Sign him Garth. Hes a great character guy and someone who wants to succeed on the Island.

Where did Al Montoya come from? Buried in the minors since being a high Rangers draft choice he has only gotten a cup of coffee in the NHL with the Phoenix Coyotes. Now with the Islanders, brought in as a fill in because of all of the injuries and Evgeni Nabokov's childishness, Montoya has been a revelation in net.

8 games, 4 wine, 1 shut out, a .933 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against average?

Talk about making the most of your opportunity. I cannot wait to see what this guy will do over the last 17 games of the season.

At the very least Montoya is accomplishing two things - He has stabilized the Islanders crease and given the Islanders another option for next season.

Assuming Rick DiPietro comes back and is healthy I would love to see a DiPietro-Montoya tandem in net next season.

It allows Kevin Poulin and Mikko Koskinen to continue to hone their game in the AHL.

Travis Hamonic is going to be a very good player in this league for many years. His growth this season as a player has been nothing short of remarkable.

This team is turning the corner right before our eyes and with the ticket prices and packages the Islanders are offering for the rest of the year there is no reason the attendance should not be higher.

Get to the games fans I am saying for what it is worth that its time to give this team a look again and win or lose you will not be disappointed.

Outside of the teams abysmal run back in December it has been a pretty good season for the Islanders especially with the amount of injuries they have sustained.

Think if this - If the Islanders had won 5 of the games they lost back during that horrid 20 game stretch they would be 4 points out of a playoff spot.

If they had won 8 of the games during that run they would be 2 points into a playoff spot.

If they had gone .500 during that stretch they would be at least 4 points into a playoff spot.

Ah the what ifs. I don't like talking about what ifs, but in this case it bears examination.

The Islanders have not been nearly as bad this season as their record would seem.

Going into next season the team would seem to be almost set in the roster for next year.

The Islanders have almost finished their own off season signings by wisely not letting Matt Moulson get to free agency and resigning defenseman Milan Jurcina and forward PA Parenteau.

One piece of business remains and that is signing Zenon Konopka to a contract extension.

Islander fans are used to feigning optimism for next season.

This time? The optimism is real.

Place your comments below.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zenon Konopka: The True Voice of the Islander Fans

When Garth Snow signed Zenon Konopka to a contract on July 2nd 2010 it seemed to be just to make the Islanders tougher as he led the NHL in penalty minutes the previous season.

What the Islanders actually got was something entirely more than just a guy to drop the gloves.

The guy speaks his mind.

Ask Zenon what he thinks of something an event, a questionable hit, someones comment and you wont get the rubber stamp answer you come to expect from professional athletes.

What you will get is his opinion. His honest and uncensored opinion.

This fact is so refreshing especially to Islanders fans who have waited for a game like last Friday's home romp of the Penguins for literally years.

Personally I have felt the Islanders needed to make such a statement going all the way back to the 2002 playoffs when a vicious hit by then Leafs forward Gary Roberts concussed Islanders defenseman Kenny Jonsson, and Leafs former enforcer Darcy Tucker submarined Islanders captain and backbone Micheal Peca basically destroying his knee.

Both hits went un punished by the NHL.

Roberts got a minor penalty after taking count them SEVEN strides and blasting Jonsson square between the numbers and driving him into the boards.

Tucker, who is known for such dirty plays, went un penalized for basically ending Michael Peca's career as a top 6 forward.

The Jonsson hit is here -
The Peca Hit is here -

I always laugh when I hear Toronto announcers commentary.

Islander fans felt then and feel now that the reason Roberts and Tucker went unpunished by the NHL was because the NHL was firmly behind the Maple Leafs and wanted the Leafs to advance in the playoffs.

The Islanders got some retribution in Game 6, when former Islanders defenseman Eric Cairns pummeled former Leafs forward Shayne Corson which resulted in Corson actually trying to kick Cairns with his skate blade.

Let us not forget who Darcy Tucker chose to drop the gloves with. You guessed it!

Islander super heavyweight Shawn Bates. Yes that is sarcasm.

That altercation is here:

- A side note, tell me after watching this clip that you don't think hockey can be relevant on Long Island.

The NHL took notice of the Corson infraction and suspended him for one whole game.

Remember how many games Chris Simon got for skate blading Jarko Ruutu?

Now I am not defending Chris Simon. Not at all. He deserved everything he got in his discipline.

The problem is Tucker, Roberts and Corson did not.

The Leafs ultimately won the series in 7 games against a depleted Islanders team playing without their team captain and one of the top 3 defenseman on the team at the time.

These events were the beginning of what Islanders fans view as the league looking at the Islanders as inferior to their larger market brethren and looking the other way when players took liberties with Islanders players.

2002 was also the apex of where the Islanders would reach in their Renaissance of that period as they have not won a playoff game since, losing both series they have been in as the 8th seed in very short order.

Granted the Islanders have not done much since then and they haven't had that much star power to protect.

Enter John Tavares.

Tavares is the piece that the Islanders needed to build around, and now with the emergence of Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson have some young quality forwards to start another run at success.

For the first time in a long time, Islander fans can see a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to on ice success.

Teams have taken liberties with John Tavares and other Islanders this season and it all came to a head when Blake Comeau got concussed on a borderline hit by Maxim Talbot and Brent Johnson broke Rick DiPietro's face.

Lets not forget about perennial Lady Byng trophy Candidate Matt Cooke, who some call the dirtiest player in hockey going out of his way not to avoid Rick DiPietro which is what set off the brawl that resulted in Rick getting his face broken by Brent Johnson.

Do not forget that Matt Cooke and Rick have a past. In one game back in Pittsburgh this season, Cooke was given three separate minor penalties for either running over Rick and pushing PA Parenteau into him.

Someone, and the Islanders will never admit this, came forward and said enough is enough.

Someone spoke up in the Islanders locker room and said we have to take a stand and show the NHL that we are not going to sit back and allow our young future stars to be taken advantage of.

The Penguins were the perfect opponent to do it against.

The Penguins with the NHL's marquee superstar and marquee superstar owner have become the darlings of the NHL.

Who better to make a point against?

It was just icing on the cake that Brent Johnson got the start in net, and was lit up like a christmas tree by the young Islanders.

If I was a betting man I would bet that Zenon Konopka was the one that said look guys we can continue to take whatever the NHL's darling franchises do to us, or we can make a statement that cheap shots and questionable hits against our players will result in consequences.

The Islanders settled almost every piece of open business against the Penguins and you can bet that if Matt Cooke was not suspended for a dirty hit on Fedor Tyutin on February 9th.

It was a wild statement of frustration that had Islanders fans rallying behind their team again that said "we are as mad as hell, and were not going to take it anymore!"

Zenon Konopka has proven to not only be a guy that can drop gloves. He is excellent on face-offs, he is a sound defensive forward.

More than that he brings an X-Factor that you simply cannot teach. He has taken pride in wearing that NY Islander jersey. He, along with others has instilled an attitude in that locker room of we have to stand up for each other.

He will speak out for the team and tell you exactly what the fans think.

Zenon has spoken out against the comments made by Mario Lemieux, someone whom I greatly respect as a player and an owner as does Konopka himself.

If this is what Zenon is saying to reporters, you can bet he has done his best to say it to Islanders players.

Have pride. Play hard. Stick up for one another.

Konopka is a guy the Islander fans can rally around. An everyman who does the dirty work and lets you know when he has a problem with something.

Garth Snow, get this guy signed to a long term contract and don't let the Islanders lose what they so dearly need - A player that instills in others the need to have pride with that Islander crest on the front of their jersey.

Not only that, but also for other teams to respect it and this was a great place to start.

Please post your comments below.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New York Islanders: Mess in the Crease

The Islanders situation in net right now could not be written in the cheesiest B movie as a believable situation.

It reeks of a bad luck that stinks as high as the roof of Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders have had 6 different net minders in Islanders uniform and 5 that have seen in game action.

The latest fiasco sees Kevin Poulin, the 20 year old who has been a bit of a phenom for the Islanders so far putting up all-star numbers in albeit limited action this season has injured his knee in warm-ups before the game against the Maple Leafs last night.

The Islanders announced today that Poulin has a dislocated knee cap and is out for the season.

As a result, the very shaky 22 year old Mikko Koskinen was thrust into NHL action he was not ready for and he showed it yielding 5 goals on 27 shots and 2 on the first 2 shots he saw.

How did we get to this point where an NHL team had to go to the Odessa Jackalopes to find a goaltender?

Brief History Lesson -

The Islanders started this season with a seemingly healthy Rick DiPietro and 41 year old rock Dwayne Roloson. On paper a very solid 1-2 punch in net.

With the Islanders revamped and very deep veteran defense the goals against average should come way down, right?

Wrong. Why you ask?

Injuries are a problem for every single team in the NHL. That is a fact. For whatever reason the Islanders seem to be snake bitten in a way that would make Murphy's Law seem like a fall back for the team.

Estimates put the Islanders man games lost to injury so far this season at around 360.

The league average is somewhere around 150.

Lets go through the list of players that have been or are injured this season for the Islanders and the amount of games they have been out with a minimum of 3 games to this point-

C - John Tavares - 3
RW - Blake Comeau - 4
RW - Michael Grabner - 4
C - Frans Nielsen - 7
C - *Doug Weight - 37
G - *Rick Dipetro - 7
RW - *Trent Hunter - 36
G - Nathan Lawson - 8
D - *Mark Eaton - 21
D - *Mark Streit - 53
RW - Kyle Okposo - 44
D - *Mike Mottau - 35
D - Radek Martinek - 11
D - Milan Jurcina - 37
C - Josh Bailey - 4
D - Jack Hillen - 10
G - *Kevin Poulin - 1

The * means the player is out for the season.

I do not care if you are the 2010-11 Islanders or the 1982-83 Islanders. This many injuries will kill your season.

The Islanders have 7 every day players out for the season. 3 players on this list are goaltenders and they are all hurt at the same time.

That's how Joel Martin rose from the "elite" ranks of the CHL's Odessa Jackalopes to the NHL.

Will Joel Martin see some NHL action this year?

Well if Mikko Koskinen's performance against the Leafs is any indication coupled with how Islander goaltenders are dropping like Rick Dipetro after Brent Johnson gets a hold of him then I would say it is a safe bet.

There is one man to blame for the state of the Islander crease. Who is it you ask?

Garth Snow for trading Roloson? Nope.

Charles Wang for whatever fans want to blame on him this time? Nope.

Rick DiPietro for having a glass face, knees and hips? Nope.

Try Evgeni Nabokov. Nail on the head. This guy has the gumption to spurn the NHL in free agency and run the the inferior KHL, stink up the joint there so bad that his team sends him packing.

He then manages somehow to get one of the elite teams in the NHL in the Red Wings to sign him in hopes of coasting his way to a cup watching Jimmy Howard do all of the work and then whine when a team has the "audacity" to play by the rules and claim him to bolster their depleted crease.

Turns out that team was the Islanders.

Nabokov said this pearl of wisdom when the Islanders claimed him. "I was surprised they picked me up. I was like, “Wow, what’s the point?"

Whats the point? The point is Evgeni that the team is in desperate need of a goaltender. You ruined your value so much by playing so poorly in an inferior league that all you could do was sign a $570k contract which would prorate at around $250k.

That makes you very desirable to a team like the Islanders. Either you understand that or you don't.

Snow called Nabokov directly and when he identified to Nabokov who he was, he promptly was hung up on.

Charles Wang called Nabokov directly and was also spurned.

Is Nabokov a 35 year old 10 year NHL veteran or a 8th grade teenage girl?

ESPN caught up with him and the goaltender told them he was sticking to his decision to stay home.

In the immortal words of Christian Bale - Ohh Good for you.

Don Meehan, Nabokov's agent must be pulling his hair out. Did he not explain to his client that this could happen? Did he not understand the NHL's waiver process for signing players to contracts who have played professionally in other leagues?

Meehan also went on record to Bob McKenzie of TSN saying the goaltender would report to any team that claimed him because he is looking to audition for a contract next season.

Really. I guess any team except the Islanders.

Has an agent ever fired a client?

You would think Nabokov would realize by now that if he does not report to the Islanders and finish the season as he is under contract to do the Islanders have the right to "toll" his contract for next season, essentially making him Islander property for the entire 2011-12 season at the same value of the contract he signed.

Is there any chance the Islanders say well OK, well be the better people here and even though you insulted us, spurned us, hung up on your GM, and basically called the organization a joke and let you go sign with who you want?

No Way.

If Nabokov does decide to report to the Islanders next year I say put him right between Zenon Konopka and Trevor Gillies in the locker room.

Before you ask the question why the Islanders would put a claim in on Nabokov like some others have, think about this.

The Islanders have a guy on their roster serving as backup that came from the CHL's Odessa Jackalopes.

That's why the Islanders claimed you Evgeni Nabokov.

The Islanders are the bad guys here? Anyone who thinks this is clearly on some type of hallucinogen.

St. Louis tried to bring in Kyle Wellwood and Marek Svatos only to have them claimed by Nashville and Vancouver.

Did they whine and stomp their feet and stay home like Evgeni Nabokov?

Instead of proving yourself with the Islanders for less than half a year and getting your choice of where to go next season now you can look forward to sitting on your rump in your house cursing Garth Snow until 2013.

Moving forward, Garth Snow is currently raking the muck of the NHL to try and find a veteran goaltender to fill the void for the rest of the season.

Names being considered are Micheal Leighton, Mike Smith and Jonas Gustavsson.

Whatever the Islanders have to give up even if its a 7th round draft pick is directly on Evgeni Nabokov's shoulders.

He is the bad guy here.

Please place your comments below.

Friday, February 4, 2011

New York Islanders: Rick DiPietro's Future

Lets put aside the national attention that Rick Dipetro's "fight" with Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson for a second.

What is God's name is Rick thinking?

Rick not only has major knee and hip problems but also has had some serious concussion issues.

One punch from the much larger Johnson and Rick's knees buckled and down he went.

DP seems to have escaped mostly unscathed other than I'm sure his mighty ego and left cheek got bruised.

It could have been much worse.

Charles Wang has made a mighty large investment in him and for his to risk his own health especially with how prominent concussions have become in the NHL was a stupid thing to do.

I am sure Mr. Wang was not happy about that especially considering how much time DP has already spent on the disabled list the past 2 years.

Its obvious Rick was not expecting Johnson to throw any punches because he did not even protect himself.

Boom goes the dynamite.

DiPietro has struggled mightily this season and his numbers are well below his or any other starting NHL goalies standards.

The problem is there are 10 years left on his contract after this year.

Rick is not going anywhere unless the team sends him to the minors so he can work on his game to get back to his All Star status or the Islanders buy out the remainder of his contract.

We will get to that later.

Now to the media attention.

TSN had it as a lead story and their crew talked about it at length.

This is not the kind of media attention the Islanders want or need at this point. TSN has no respect for DiPietro or the Islanders, that much is evident.

They were basically saying Rick initiated the contact with Matt Cooke which forced his team mates to stick up for him.

They went on to say that Rick is arrogant and got what he deserved and the players on the Islanders resent Rick for starting the altercation.

Excuse me?

Last I checked, Rick was pretty popular with his team mates and has made a lifetime commitment to a team that most would run away from.

Could it be that Rick is wearing out his welcome with the Islanders?

I highly doubt that.

I am sure there are a few people in the Islanders organization that wish Rick was not on a lifetime deal but Rick is a team guy and there is nothing he wants more than to be a part of a winner on Long Island.

Do people blame Rick for the long contracts now becoming a standard for the NHL's elite?

The pioneer of super long term contracts is not Rick DiPietro. Its Charles Wang.

When Mike Milbury traded for Alexei Yashin he promptly gave him a 10 year contract which at the time was unheard of in the NHL at the behest of Charles Wang.

That contract, followed by a 15 year contract to Rick which also carried with it Neil Smith out of Long Island set the stage for the mega deals now almost common place in the NHL last being Ilya Kovalchuk's 17 year contract with the Devils last year.

The longest contracts in the NHL have been limited to just a few teams but the practice is growing.

The Flyers have signed Danny Briere to an 8 year deal, Mike Richards to a 12 year deal and Jeff Carter to an 11 year deal.

The Red Wings have locked up Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen to 12 and 11 year deals respectively.

Tampa Bay signed Vinny Lecavalier to an 11 year deal.

The Blackhawks have Marian Hossa and Duncan Kieth under 12 year deals.

The Capitals have Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom under 13 and 10 year deals respectively.

The Canucks have Roberto Luongo under a 12 year deal.

The trend will most assuredly continue as it has become the standard for teams that want to keep their stars and teams that want to lure stars from other teams.

On the surface the long term deals seem like a great thing. You lock up your best players and fans can rest easy knowing they do not have to worry about losing their cornerstone players.

When Rick signed his deal and when Yashin signed his people scratched their heads sure but the Islanders are a team that had to take that gamble. The problem is that when the deal does not work out you have exactly the problems the Islanders have right now.

The Islanders are suffering for these deals as over 9 million of their salary this season was paid to Yashin and DiPietro.

All of the other deals mentioned above are to major impact players in the NHL who are healthy and contributiong on a nightly basis. The same cannot be said for the Islanders.

So what can the Islanders do with Rick? He cannot keep putting up numbers like he is right now with a 3.30 Goals against average and a .890 save percentage.

That fact is made to look worse when rookie Kevin Poulin is putting up numbers like he is at 2.37 goals against and a sterling .929 save percentage on with the same players in front of him.

Poulin looks to be the goaltender of the future for the Islanders. The problem is? another lengthy, costly buy out will be required.

So how costly would a buy out of Rick's contract be?

Well, Rick has 10 years left on his contract after this season at 4.5 million per season. a buy out takes the total value of the contract and allows it to be paid over double of the time left on the contract.

So the Islanders would be on the hook to pay Rick 1.5 million over the next 20 years at a grand total of 30 million. That would net the Islanders a savings of 15 million on a buyout over the length of the contract.

Garth Snow and Charles Wang are going to have a very large decision to make this summer.

Mistakes are costly. The bigger the gamble, the more costly the mistake.

Don't forget, Evgeni Nabokov is still under contract to the Islanders and unless he reports to the Islanders at least for next season he will sit out all of next season also.

He comes at a bargain at 570k for next season. Nabokov and Poulin would make the Islanders goaltending tandem next season in the event of a buy out and Nabokov does not continue his career suicide.

Buying out Rick is a long shot as of right now. He is still working out the kinks in a comeback from a series of injuries that would have forced a lesser man to hang up his skates and collect on the insurance money for the rest of his life.

Rick wants to succeed. He has a burning desire to be the player he was 3 years ago and will not give up unless his body completely breaks down.

But that already may be the case. Rick has had health issues this season and he has been mostly a shadow of his former self.

Can he recover and be the player he once was? Or is Rick finished as a full time cornerstone net minder?

There is no one rooting for Rick DiPietro harder than me. I admire the fact he signed his career to the New York Islanders when almost no one else would make one quarter of the commitment he has made to Long Island.

That being said the numbers do not lie and they are not pretty.

Should the Islanders buy out Rick or give him more time to work through his rust?

Leave your comments below