Thursday, September 25, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
I’m real excited about the new Word Press blog, designed by a Long Island company called Generations Beyond. There has been the expected (and even understandable) cynicism toward the notion of my new space being a truly independent blog. I thought a long time about how I would fight it. Then I realized the only way is to work my ass off, dig hard, get creative, be honest and let everyone decide for themselves.
Islanderspointblank.com starts Thursday with, among other posts, a fairly comprehensive review of the Islanders roster at the NHL level. I have implemented a player rating system, state whether the coaching change is a plus or minus for each player and have an Eastern Conference pro scout provide his view of the defensemen and a Western Conference assistant coach analyze the Islanders’ forwards.
In those three days when the Islanders are wrapping up in Canada and I’m closing out some business on Long Island, there could be as many as 15 updates. When the Islanders start back at Iceworks a week from today, I’ll be there waiting for them.
Point Blank will cover the Islanders season as a beat, but from a different perspective. Greg Logan of Newsday will do what he does and continue to do it well. I hope the Daily News, Post and Times are also around more regularly and you'll have my old pals from the NYI Blog Box. Point Blank will do it a bit differently. For example, if the Islanders have an early regular season road game, Newsday and newyorkislanders.com will have comprehensive reports on the game. Point Blank may instead decide to blog all day from Bridgeport on the development of Joensuu and company. While we will be all over major stories like Kyle Okposo’s rookie season and Rick DiPietro’s health, there will be plenty of times when we won’t do the mainstream.
There will be a regular item called Checklist, where you help write the story with me. The first list: How This Season Will Be Judged. There will be an NHL notes column, like all the newspapers used to have in the old days. There will be Features, such as an in-depth look at what led to the selection of one of the Islanders’ second round picks this summer and a story about a member of the Islanders hockey staff who had his car blown up (not with him in it). There will be Experiences, first-person accounts of some notorious or wonderful events in team history. Most of all there will be breaking news, scoops and plenty of opinions.
Oh yeah, and we’re working out details with a Long Island establishment for the first Point Blank Night: TV coverage of an Islanders road game, wine-tasting, appetizers, a special guest, plenty of hockey talk. I hope to see you there, probably November 6.
Thank you to everyone for the kind words about the news of the re-jiggered blog and even to passionate critics like the Rangers blogger Scotty Hockey for trying to keep me honest on its independence. I’m confident there will be plenty you’ll like about the new blog and some you might think really stinks. (Hey, sometimes you have to experiment). But it will never be boring, will never go very long without updates and, hopefully above all else, will be a lot of fun.
Thank you also to the many fans and bloggers offering to be part of Point Blank. At the opening, I will have to go it alone. Soon after, I will be add one experienced blogger as a guest editor so I can work on another project (there is a possibility of a small broadcast gig) and so my family doesn't leave me - at least this season. I’m also looking at a videographer so we can maybe add some post-game interviews to the site. Not to sound like Mike Francesa, but please give me some time to put it all together.
Maybe against my better judgment, the Comments area of the new blog will be wide-open from the start. I will only moderate if it turns profane or unwieldy. Please let me know right from the start if Point Blank is working for you. I can’t wait to get started.
Thanks again, everybody…CB
Monday, September 15, 2008
Thank you, thank you, thank you. We're gonna have some fun. I'll (hopefully) break some stories, write until it hurts and try not to embarrass myself too often.
I have lots of plans for how you can get involved. Spread the word, please. And as a reminder, I'm on Facebook. Look forward to seeing you there and around the rink...CB
Here's the official word:
“Islanders Point Blank” Blog Debuts on September 25th
Independent site by former team VP Chris Botta to provide 24/7 coverage for hockey fans
Plainview, NY, September 15, 2008 – Providing fans alternative and independent coverage of their team, the New York Islanders will be a primary sponsor of a new blog with round-the-clock commentary of the Islanders and the NHL. “Islanders Point Blank” will launch on Thursday, September 25 and will be run by managing editor Chris Botta, the team’s former longtime Media Relations Vice President. Botta’s opinion pieces, breaking news reports, rumors, rankings and feature stories on Islanders Point Blank will not be subject to approval by team management.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the fans to receive in-depth, nearly around the clock coverage of the team,” said Islanders President Chris Dey. “Chris Botta will provide the fans with a perspective and insight that they've never had before. Hopefully this develops similar arrangements with other highly qualified journalists throughout the league."
In addition to his 20-year career in the Islanders’ front office which ended last spring, Botta was a color commentator on radio broadcasts in the mid-’90s, co-authored (with Stan Fischler) the book “Pride & Passion” on the team’s first 25 years and has been a freelance contributor to publications including Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News. In his final season with the Islanders he created the NYI Blog Box, of which Richard Deitsch of SI.com wrote, “I predict Botta will be proved a visionary when it comes to the relationship between professional sports teams and bloggers.”
“The goal of Point Blank is to provide constant coverage and honest analysis of the Islanders from an original perspective,” said Botta. “Having worked for the team for so long, I have a lengthy list of contacts around the NHL and I have so many stories to share. I hope to inform and entertain hockey fans, and there will be plenty of opportunities for them to get involved on the blog.”
Islanders Point Blank (www.islanderspointblank.com) will debut on Thursday, September 25.
Even for the most optimistic Sugden supporters, he has to be considered a longshot to make the team.
He has to prove that he's not just in decent shape after playing in a low-rent "Slap Shot" league in Quebec the last two years - he has to prove, at age 30 and two years out of real pro hockey, that he is better conditioned than everyone in Islanders camp.
Sugden has to prove his skating is good enough to keep up with the rest of the fourth-liners on the Islanders. No one - not Sugden, not anyone - knows right now if he can do that. All we have to go on is his play with the Syracuse Crunch two years ago.
Reason to drive to Moncton: many teams have bans on fighting in scrimmages during training camp. But if you're Garth Snow and Scott Gordon, don't you need to see who's the best battler out of Sugden, Mitch Fritz and Joel Rechlicz? Roll the cameras, Islanders TV! Ah, think of all the hits on You Tube.
If Sugden makes the team, expect it to be as the 23rd man on the roster. Maybe he plays a game a week until his effectiveness can be judged. Thirteen forwards are already making the Islanders: the 11 on one-way contracts, plus Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau.
And if Sugden doesn't make the team, he'll have plenty of two-way offers from NHL franchises - probably from some of the teams that initially blocked him.
Either way, it should be a fun subplot to what is usually a drama-less first week of camp. Sept. 29, two weeks from today, is the team's first camp session back on the Island. Chances of Sugden making it that far? I'd say 50/50. As he told me last week, "Nobody's going to hand me anything. I know I have to earn it."
Saturday, September 13, 2008
"Hey Chris. I just got a call from Bill Daly. He talked to the other four teams. They're giving me the green light. Mr. Daly is clearing me. I'm coming to Islanders training camp. I hoped to get you on the phone, but for now - thank you. I'm heading back to the rink tonight for some more skating."
The dream of Brandon Sugden and his dad lives on.
Daly did not make any promises and did not share his opinion on what he thinks should happen. But by having the grace to get involved and at least listen to Sugden, Daly is proving why he deserves to be the next commissioner in the NHL. Of course, Daly doesn't call Sugden without the green light from Gary Bettman, so the current commissioner deserves credit here, too.
Fans and bloggers (led by Lindsay Kramer in Syracuse) spread the word about Sugden, but let's face it: it's not big news in the NHL until it reaches Toronto. For that we have to acknowledge Darren Dreger of TSN and Leafs Lunch, who's become the Peter Gammons and Peter King of hockey in Canada.
Still not sure where this is headed. Still don't have reason to be overly optimistic for the enforcer. But this is a start. The plane leaves Long Island for Moncton on Friday.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Makes perfect sense. Why would a team step aside graciously and allow the un-retirement of a player to join your rival? Especially when the player has the ability to land repeated blows to your players' heads.
I'm not taking sides on this case. My view is only that the league office should listen to Sugden's saga. But it's probably safe to say this: if Glen Sather and three other GMs cared enough to stop the enforcer from coming back to the NHL, Brandon Sugden must be one tough SOB.
He's also willing to put his money where his heart is. When I spoke with Sugden Tuesday night, he made a promise that he will donate 1/3 of any money he makes from playing in the NHL this season to charity. He would like it to go to the Princess Margaret Hospital in Ontario, where his father receives treatment for cancer.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
If you don’t know the Sugden saga, here’s a good rundown from The Hockey News. To attend the Islanders’ camp, Sugden needed to be cleared by all 30 NHL teams because he had officially “retired” from pro hockey in 2006. League rules state that if you retire, you must sit out one year before you can be reinstated. The rule makes sense because you could have guys retiring all over the place the moment they don’t like their current fates.
The Islanders extended an invite. The team has what they believe is an up-and-coming enforcer in 21-year old Joel Rechlicz and a tough guy in Mitch Fritz, like Sugden a journeyman AHL pugilist. But most everyone in the game will tell you Sugden – when in shape – may be the most effective player in pro hockey with his gloves off. One longtime AHL executive describes him thusly: “a trained fighter, unlike anyone you’ve ever seen. Knockout power in both hands. No doubt in my mind his skating is good enough to play fourth-line shifts in the NHL. He’d be a friggin’ cult hero on the Islanders.”
But as touching as Sugden’s attempts to have his father see him play in the NHL may be, it cannot be the main part of his case with the NHL office and the four teams that blocked him. (Attempts to discover which three teams voted “NO” and which one abstained so he could plead his case have failed). With time running out, if I’m Sugden I get my agent and every power broker I’ve ever made friends with and approach the National Hockey League to personally tell my story. Like tomorrow.
One last story about Sugden and his family. In 2003, he was looking for an AHL deal and he and his father put together a fight tape – now legend in some circles. Every team in the American League got one except for the Syracuse Crunch. A GM from another team called the Crunch and said, “Have you seen this Sugden tape? It’s unreal. I’ve already got enough fighters, but you guys must be interested.” But for some reason the tape never made it to the Syracuse offices.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Jason Giambi decides this is a good time to start yukking it up at first base with Pedroia. They chat, a few giggles, while Giambi is holding a supposed member of the archrivals on first. Really now: give me a frickin’ break. Could you ever see this happening in hockey? Tie game, third period, a March showdown in front of a crazed Coliseum crowd, Comrie and Gomez sharing a laugh before a faceoff.
I know baseball is a different game, but is it too much to ask the players to care as much as the fans? The Red Sox took the lead that inning. Later on, Pedroia hit a grand slam to pretty much end the Yankees’ season. Didn’t stay with the game long enough to see if Giambi patted his little pal Pedroia on the butt as he circled the bases.
Are you ready for some hockey?
Point Blank has learned from impeccable sources deep inside Newsday headquarters in Melville that plans are being made to increase coverage of the Islanders, Rangers and the NHL in the newspaper and on newsday.com. We assume this is simply because the powerbrokers at Newsday have come to appreciate the popularity of ice hockey on Long Island, but we have not been able to confirm the reasons for the change in policy. Doesn’t matter. We’ll take it.
Mats Sundin? Unlikely, but smart to make the call for a whole bunch of reasons. He’s still a great player that will only cost the Islanders cash, and they are currently more than $15 million under the salary camp. They could find a roster spot for him and his 22 minutes as the No. 1 center would not crush the development of any stud center prospect.
Mats also loves him some fine dining and culture and lists the Islanders as his favorite team growing up. Anders Kallur has not responded to my request for comment on whether he has been courting Sundin (that’ll stir it up!). As an added bonus, nothing wrong with some sincere, heated competition to sign him, right? Worst that could happen is Sundin signs with the Rangers for less, and that’s not really a big deal at this point. As far as I can tell, the Islanders have not made any firm offers and Mats’ people haven’t told the Islanders they’re wasting their time.
I am now on Facebook. That’s a line I’d never thought I’d write. But I am, so please join me.
Please stay tuned to this space and elsewhere in the next two weeks for news on my latest venture. I hope you will be as pleased as I am and will help me spread the word. Thanks for hanging in with me over a very different kind of off-season…CB
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
It would make sense on a lot of levels for the GM to close a deal with first round pick Josh Bailey prior to the opening of camp. Draft picks do not apply to the same rule as our children. In the NHL, your draft picks are not all loved equally. Signing Bailey before he hits the ice in Moncton would send a message, especially to Bailey himself.
There’s a lot riding on Bailey, whom the team feels even better about after the kid spent a long time on and off the ice on Long Island post-draft. To a lot of eyes, the Islanders moved a few mountains (and grabbed a few extra picks) in taking the skilled two-way center with exceptional leadership qualities (darn, can’t get that PR stuff outta my head!) It’s only natural they would attempt to show the same respect towards Bailey as other teams have lavished on their recent prized first picks. Tampa Bay has signed Steven Stamkos, LA Drew Doughty. Continuing in neat order, Atlanta is ready to speak with No. 3 pick Zack Bogosian.
Of course, the Islanders do not have to wait for all of the first eight picks to sign before they ink their boy. For a deal with Bailey, the salary cap does most of the work. It mostly comes down to bonuses. There is also no downside to the gesture of committing early to their prized prospect. If he does not make the team – I don’t think you can rule that out with 100% certainty, at least for October – the three-year contract simply begins when Bailey becomes a regular pro.
The Islanders have done this before with first rounders. Don’t be surprised to hear about a Bailey deal sometime between Labor Day and the start of training camp.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Sports Illustrated assumes Hartley, Maurice and Crawford didn't care they were passed up. I say you've gotta be frickin' kidding me.
Jim Kelley is a Hall of Fame hockey writer and person who recently made the sort of lazy move that used to give me chest pains when I was on the PR side. In a recent column on SI.com, the former Buffalo News reporter wrote the following sentence on the Islanders:
"It's the kind of place where experienced coaches like Joel Quennvelle, John Tortotella, Bob Hartley, Maurice, Marc Crawford and a slew of other seasoned but currently unemployed coaches don't necessarily object to being passed over."
The laziness has nothing to do with the typos/spelling errors on two big-name NHL coaches. The bigger problem is, does Kelley really know that all of these coaches ho-hummed not getting the Islanders job? Did he ask them? Did he think about checking with them – at least off-the-record – before telling a big audience on Sports Illustrated’s website that they’d rather be unemployed than work for the Islanders?
I really doubt it. The line reads like the kind of throw-away journalism a hockey writer might post from the beach on August 14th. That’s too bad because, beyond the Islanders’ image, Jim may have inadvertently made some respected coaches in need of work look like reckless idiots.
What we do know is that Quenneville gracefully declined an invitation to interview. Tortorella, being paid over a mill by Tampa Bay this year not to coach, came in for a lengthy interview but both parties knew this wasn’t the time or the team.
But what about Bob Hartley? Is Jim Kelley certain he “didn’t necessarily object to being passed over.” How about Paul Maurice? Are we really to believe it was no big whoop to Maurice he didn’t get the gig? You really think Marc Crawford is not the least bit concerned about getting another shot at a head coaching job in the NHL?
Here’s a challenge to my friend Mr. Kelley. The cell numbers of all the coaches he named can be easily obtained by a veteran writer of his stature. Call up Tortorella, Hartley, Maurice and Crawford. Give them the chance (on-the-record only) to share their thoughts on the Islanders’ hiring process. Perhaps they will confirm that they didn’t give much of a hoot about not getting the job.
It’s late August. There aren’t a lot of hockey stories right now. Jim Kelley’s one of the classier men in the business. I have a feeling he’d make a real good column out of his findings.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I also couldn't resist replying in the Comments area after a poster said the fisherman jersey must have been my downfall (that downfall took more than ten years!) and another said DiPietro's annual 4.5 will lead to the next work stoppage.
Check it out here. Thanks.
For starters, I’m willing to put my decent hot streak of forecasts on the line. I’ve always wondered what it’s like for Peter Gammons to say Manny isn’t being traded, and then learn six minutes later Manny’s LA-bound. Always wondered what it’s like to be Sal Paolantonio all over the Favre thing and say, “It’s not even close. This could take days,” and then have Jay Glazer on Fox report 20 minutes later that Brett’s a Jet.
So here goes. I accept all risk and embarrassment.
No frickin’ way Bryan McCabe is going to be acquired by the Islanders this year.
I could qualify it and add that Bryan isn’t coming here unless the Islanders get a very high draft pick along with McCabe in return for a defenseman's salary the Islanders are happy to lose, but that would be weak.
So I’ll say it again: no frickin’ way McCabe is coming to the Islanders. For Bryan’s sake, I really hope he gets out of TO and finds happiness with a team that will appreciate his guts and dedication. It’s too bad the timing just isn’t right for a return to the Islanders. Maybe another day.
Making even less sense are the rumors on the net that our recently bought-out pal Mark Parrish could be on his way to the Islanders.
Who doesn’t love Parrish? This is a guy who can say something moronic like, “If the fans just want to boo, they can stay home” and have everyone get over it a few days later because he’s like the kid next door everyone wants to hang with. The morning after his brain cramp I told him, “Parry, cancel your plans tonight. Your penalty is signing autographs at the Team Store for an hour.” Mark replied, “I’ll stay there and sign for as long as people want to yell at me. I deserve it.”
But back to the rumor mill. How can any hockey website with pride really think Parrish is coming to Long Island? Is anyone at these sites paying even a little attention?
For richer and poorer, the Islanders are committed to this rebuild (I can use that word because I don’t work there anymore. The GM has to use words like “re-tooling,” – as if that’s any different).
The Islanders have 13 forwards virtually locked in to make the team out of training camp. Only two of them – Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau – are on two-way contracts. Garth Snow gave one-way deals to Jeff Tambellini and Frans Nielsen because he believes they are NHL players. Tambellini would have to clear waivers – he wouldn’t – and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if Frans didn’t get a one-way deal, he could have ended up in some unpronounceable European city with a lucrative, tax-free deal and the Islanders may have never seen him again.
The other 9 forwards: Bergenheim, Comrie, Guerin, Hilbert, Hunter, Park, Sillinger, Sim, Weight.
If we take it case-by-case, is Mark Parrish at age 32 still a better player than some of the above? Maybe, but it just doesn’t matter. Sign Parrish and you're telling Okposo and Comeau you don't really like them as much as everyone thought you did. Sign Parrish and you're essentially exposing your stated vision to build around youth as a fraud.
Grabbing a popular former player just because he’s available and he might be able to score 25 goals again is just not how you do it if you are truly committed to a plan.
I called around on McCabe. I didn’t bother on Parrish. If Snow blinks and picks up Parry, the Plan takes its first detour and then there would be never be any reason to believe the Islanders are true to their vision. As much as it would be nice having Mark around again, I just don’t see it happening. It can’t happen.
For his performance at the press conference and a sometimes shaky phoner with Mike Francesa on WFAN, I'd give new coach Scott Gordon a solid B. He was understandably a bit nervous and, as he said, not used to coverage from his Providence days. What did come through in his interviews were his integrity, good nature and a confidence that his way is the right way. You had to like that.
Hard to tell when I'll be back at this again, but I check the Comments daily and good questions are always inspirational. Keep them coming, and continued thanks for all the hits the last few weeks.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
“I don’t know why Scott wasn’t in the mix for the other (NHL) jobs this summer. Anyone who follows the ‘A’ will tell you he’s been the best coach in our league and deserved a shot.”
I asked the other coach if the P-Bruins were the most skilled team in the American League last season. “Not even close. Definitely not top-5 and maybe not even top-10. Don’t get me wrong, they have some players, but Scott got more out of them than anyone could have expected.”
Gushing stories on AHL coaches, like the lovely one on Gordon from the Providence Journal last season, are no big whoop. You can find stories boasting about the work ethic of coaching prospects all over the internet. There’s nothing like references from the coaches on the other bench.
“His teams were the most prepared in the league, the best-conditioned and the hardest-working,” said one of the AHL coaches. “With his focus on defense, he took a pretty good team to 55 wins. Scott showed me that I still have more to learn.”
Scott Gordon and Paul Maurice were hands-down the best available candidates for this job. My concerns for Gordon all have to do with his lack of NHL experience, which is why I gave a slight edge to Maurice. The Islanders have young people in the top jobs – Garth Snow in the GM’s chair, Ryan Jankowski running the draft. Nothing wrong with that, but I thought the franchise could use someone that might still be young, but has been there and done that.
Also, while we talk a lot about the Islanders’ youth movement, let’s not lose sight of the fact this is a team with plenty of veterans who define grizzled – Bill Guerin, Mike Sillinger, Doug Weight, Brendan Witt, Richard Park. Sometimes first-year NHL coaches lean on motivational tricks that may have worked in the AHL, but are met with shrugs (or worse) in the big leagues. I’ve seen the backlash; it’s ugly. Gordon really needs to resist the temptation to go there.
Forgive me as I do my impersonation of ESPN and The Post and share a few things I wrote in the last month, followed by some reaction.
July 6: “The Islanders have two options: work through the issues and commit completely to Ted Nolan, or shake hands and say goodbye. More than themselves or even their fan base, they owe that to Ted.”
To say the Islanders are better off for it would be an understatement. Unlike his last break from the game, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ted gets another shot at the NHL in the next 12 months. I hope so.
July 20: “In my view, the man best suited for the opportunity is Paul Maurice. I’m aware Maurice may not be the most exhilarating choice, but the Islanders do not need exhilarating. They've done that.”
A few last thoughts on Maurice, my first choice, leading to some derisive feedback because of his career won-lost record and lack of hysterical arm-waving behind the bench.
Amazing to me that his Toronto experience is so over-analyzed. Hmm, let’s see: what do we now know about his franchise player at the Leafs. Oh yeah, that he waffles like a Green Bay quarterback on whether or not to play hockey for ten million dollars a year. Geez, can’t believe Maurice couldn’t make that work!
But the final word is on Maurice’s integrity. A few days ago, a hockey scribe got Maurice on his cell phone. The coach made it clear he wanted to respect the process but would talk in detail when it was over. Maurice did say one thing, however. “I’ve seen some stories from people making it sound like this is a job anyone with experience would not want. This is a big opportunity. There are plenty of reasons to go after that job.”
July 27: “To this former PR flak, an August 12 press conference looks good: Yankees in Minnesota, Mets in Washington, Favre’s destination already known. I would think a new Islanders coach would fill most of Newsday’s backpage the following day – big-name hire or not.”
Okay, so technically the press conference is tomorrow, but the Islanders did announce the decision on August 12. Kill me for recommending Maurice all you want, but do I get any credit for at least getting the date right more than two weeks ago?
Sunday, August 10, 2008
This opinion has not changed.
I don’t know the identity of the next Islanders coach. All of us now know the finalists – Maurice, Bob Hartley and Scott Gordon. The biggest story of this search is no longer the man named coach, but the man making the selection. Know this, Islanders fans - this will be 100% Garth Snow’s choice as head coach. That’s because this is now 100% Garth Snow’s roster and coaching staff.
In my view, he cannot go wrong with two of his finalists. Scott Gordon brings to the table many of Maurice’s best attributes. What he lacks in NHL experience – if he gets the gig, there will be a significant learning curve in dealing with everyone from Brendan Witt and Mike Comrie to bloggers at games and fans at Open Houses – Gordon does have one major advantage: a practiced dedication to defense. Associates of Gordon say he is obsessive about a defense-first attitude in his teams. With Rick DiPietro and a better-than-billed top 7 on D, Gordon’s commitment to goals-against makes him a very worthy candidate for the Islanders’ job.
Gordon’s history of getting the most out of his lineups with stingy-dirty team defense means Islanders scouts probably won’t have to bother looking at kids likely to go in the first five picks of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. On the other hand, the prospects Ryan Jankowski and Co. have already drafted would continue a proper education when they arrive on Long Island.
Oh yeah, and Gordon – an ex-goalie who loves his goalies – would also be DiPietro’s best chance for an annual GAA in the very low 2s and nomination for the Vezina.
One feels like a major hump saying that a head coach who’s won a Stanley Cup is not the right man, but that’s the way I honestly feel about Bob Hartley and this job. Hartley is a very good coach whose rep has taken some ridiculously unfair hits from his Atlanta experience, including a shameful cheapshot from a Calgary columnist without a clue or hint of dignity. It is simply that, knowing what I think I know about the kind of coach needed in this market, with this team and in these times, Hartley is not a fit.
If Hartley does not get the job, I would advise he spend one season as a top consultant and roving instructor with an NHL team – why not with his friend Snow at the Islanders? – and wait for the inevitable opening when a talented team needs a firmer hand that comes equipped with a Cup ring.
And if Hartley does become head coach, Garth rarely listened to me before so I wouldn’t expect him to start now. It would only cement the notion that this is Snow’s decision, Snow’s team.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
While Gallant is likely not a frontrunner heading into his meeting with Garth Snow, he without a doubt deserves the opportunity to make his case for the job. Gerard is a good hockey man who was a true professional under some very trying circumstances as an assistant coach last season. I’ve seen some message-board material that pins the Islanders’ power play woes last season squarely on Gallant and therefore this should eliminate him from contention. Respectfully, this should be labeled in the category of fiction.
I believe Crawford is a major longshot. He’s a fascinating case because it wasn’t too long ago that he was considered hands-down the brightest and most exciting coaching prospect in the game. Crawford may have made a mistake jumping right back into the LA job just as Dean Lombardi was retooling the Kings roster. A year away to re-invent himself might do him some good.
John Tortorella could be faced with a similar career decision should he be a finalist for the Islanders job. Unlike candidates such as Paul Maurice, Bob Hartley, Mike Sullivan and Scott Gordon, a contract negotiation with Tortorella would likely be a more layered process. Like Crawford was years ago, Tortorella is a star and his earning power may never be stronger.
I wrote the following two weeks ago as I listed what the Islanders should be looking for in their next head coach:
“Someone who won’t be thinking about where his next NHL job is going to be. Someone who won’t view the Islanders as if they’re a mid-major like Vanderbilt on the way to Tennessee.”
The candidate I was specifically thinking of was Joel Quenneville. Coach Q has always been considered one of the classiest men in the game. I’m glad he had the class to withdraw his name from consideration before he went down a road that would not have benefitted him or the Islanders.
A John Tortorella story: It’s the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Lightning fire a shot before their first round series with the Islanders even begins. Lightning management has boxed the Islanders out of their chosen hotel in Tampa Bay for games 1 and 2. Sniping on both sides in the media begins, and when the Islanders – a big underdog – earn a split in the two games it looks like the series is going to be a nasty one.
When the Lightning arrive on Long Island, they learn that payback is a bitch. Among other things, it’s about 110 degrees in the visiting team locker room at the Coliseum. They also find their room not stocked with many of the usual amenities.
I’m in the Coliseum hallway talking to my PR colleague with the Lightning. A very sweaty John Tortorella approaches. “This (crap) has to stop,” the Tampa Bay head coach says. “Any chance Mike Milbury is around? Can you see if he’ll talk to me so we can settle this like gentlemen”?
I go to Mike’s office and tell him Tortorella comes in peace and wants a truce. The Islanders GM is impressed. “Walk him down here.”
Tortorella pleads, “This is getting stupid, Mike. You’re a coach at heart, like me. C’mon, for everyone’s sake let’s put this behind us and act like pros.” Tortorella apologizes for any nonsense that went down in Tampa Bay.
Milbury apologizes as well, the two shake hands and within minutes the Lightning room is cooled. When I see Mike later he says, “That was impressive. He’s going to be a great coach in this league.”
It would be a stretch to call Tortorella’s move genius, just because his Lightning won the next three games to clinch the series and went on to win the Stanley Cup. But I was blown away by the coach’s take-charge attitude. Most coaches in this game would never march into the office of an opposing GM. Time will tell if he and the Islanders are a fit. What I do know is the next team that gets him will be very fortunate.
Over the last two years the Islanders have invited veteran free agents to training camp, Richard Park the biggest success story. There will always be invitations to junior players the Islanders scouts would like to get another look at. But with the team's commitment to youth, one would have to assume that in September you will not see older invitees as Park, Mike Dunham and Bryan Berard were.
What there will be at camp is a new coach, some intriguing prospects to monitor and very little competition for jobs. The seven defensemen, all signed to one-way contracts, are virtually set in stone.
The biggest story of the opening of camp will be the status of Rick DiPietro, Bill Guerin and Mike Sillinger, who are all coming off major surgeries. Logan will be all over it.
By the way, maybe someone smarter than me (are you there, Eric Hornick of MSG?) can look this up. In the modern era of the NHL, what is the closest to the start of training camp that a team hired its head coach? Have to believe the Islanders may be approaching a record.
Islander fans: two things need to happen for these pathetic blogs by non-hockey writers ripping the Islanders on Newsday.com to go away.
One, the Islanders have to stick to their plan and take a step forward over the next 12 months. This doesn’t necessarily mean sneaking into the eighth spot, but the team playing hard, prospects coming along and management making smart moves consistent with their vision.
Two, fans have to resist the urge to pelt Newsday with letters to the editor, phone calls to Melville and dozens of posts in the Comments area.
Just sayin’, but if I’m a sports blogger and my Comments section has been running dry lately, here’s what I would do: write a few paragraphs on the fisherman logo and the Luongo trade and Neil Smith and – presto – wait for the call of congratulations from my boss for all the hits my blog just got.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
John Tortorella had a long session on Long Island today, on the heels of detailed interviews by Snow of Paul Maurice and Bob Hartley. While Sullivan and Gordon are not as well-known as the first week’s trio, this is a wide-open race. Also expected to interview later this week are Marc Crawford and Gerard Gallant. The Islanders and Joel Quenneville should have a date locked up in the next few days. Larry Brooks had a sweet piece today on why Bryan Trottier should be strongly considered, but Bryan is not a candidate at this time and instead will remain in his role as executive director of player development.
My sense is that a week from tomorrow, two or three finalists will be lined up for a second and final round of meetings. You could have a final decision as early as Thursday, August 7, but the process could extend into the following week. To this former PR flak, an August 12 press conference looks good: Yankees in Minnesota, Mets in Washington, Favre’s destination already known. I would think a new Islanders coach would fill most of Newsday’s backpage the following day – big-name hire or not.
For those fans who still don’t believe their favorite sports teams listen to them, I present the latest evidence: Johan Santana pitched – and was encouraged by his manager to pitch – a complete game this afternoon. The Mets’ bullpen was worn out from last night, yes, but if you don’t think the media and fan outcry for Santana to go the distance didn’t result in him going out for the ninth inning today, you’re not giving yourself enough credit.
While no one's ready to brand it The Hockey Newsday, there are signs that Long Island's newspaper is starting to understand again that the NHL is loved by a lot of people in our fair region.
Or it could have something to do with the owners of the New York Rangers purchasing the newspaper.
Either way, no one's complaining. It's like when ESPN became partners with the Arena Football League and all of a sudden Dragons highlights started popping up on "Sportscenter." You don't ask questions.
The watershed moment of Newsday's recent uptick of hockey coverage wasn't the draft or even Greg Logan, Katie Strang and Steve Zipay staffing the Islanders' and Rangers' unofficial-not-mandatory-but-you-better-get-your-ass-to summer prospect camps. No, it was when Zip found his way to the Rangers' practice facility in Greenburgh to write a story on Marc Staal for Thursday's paper.
Don't get me wrong. It's not like Zipay lives in Logan or Alan Hahn country, off exit 60-something on the L.I.E. Still, the idea of Long Island's newspaper having room for a hockey story on July 24...well, it just makes the heart sing.
If it takes the Dolans buying Newsday for the quantity of hockey coverage to be returned to major league status, so be it. And as for any concerns that only space for the Rangers will increase, or that the Blueshirts will be the dominant team over the Islanders in the paper, I wouldn't lose sleep over it. Everyone figures to benefit, especially the fans of both teams.
Now if we can only get Logan to be a maniacal blogger.
I have a different reaction than those who think the mix of Rick DiPietro and John Tortorella would be a disaster - albeit a wickedly entertaining disaster. I think the biggest reason Torts came to Long Island today with sincere interest in this gig is that, for all the Islanders may lack in the present, he knows in DiPietro he'd be starting with a first-level goaltender who's tough enough to play big in big games and tough enough to take his Parcellsian psyche jobs.
DiPietro and Tortorella know each other and like each other. There is mutual respect. I still wouldn't put my money on Tortorella getting the job - and I remain unsold that he's the best man for it - but it sure as hell is fun just thinking about the possibilities.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
John Tortorella. Joel Quenneville.
It may be late July, but it’s not like there aren’t plenty of excellent head coaching candidates available.
Bob Hartley. Paul Maurice. Gerard Gallant.
Some have a connection to Garth Snow, most don’t.
Marc Crawford. Greg Gilbert.
There are candidates with Cups as coaches, one with Cups as an Islanders player.
Scott Gordon. Mike Sullivan.
And then there are the candidates who haven’t been rumored yet. Of course, as usual Greg Logan is all over it.
All of the above have or will be invited to Long Island for interviews to become the next head coach of the Islanders. While some details still need to be worked out, it looks like most, if not all of them are coming in – and there could still be one or two more.
These would be my requirements:
A teacher. (They will all say they teach. Some of them will be full of it).
A man who is eminently trustworthy and a team player.
A coach who just wants to coach.
Someone who won’t be thinking about where his next NHL job is going to be. Someone who won’t view the Islanders as if they’re a mid-major like Vanderbilt on the way to Tennessee.
A strong communicator with the fans via the press – accommodating, accessible and articulate without being a phoney media kiss-ass.
A man who will commit to Long Island – not just mouth BS about how much he loves it here.
(RANT ALERT: I mean, really, what’s not to love and why wouldn’t they love it? These guys usually have cash, the security of a contract, a beautiful home and a long summer vacation to hang at the beach, fish or golf at Bethpage and Shinnecock. I get ill when fans go ga-ga when an Islanders player or coach says they love Long Island. We all love Long Island. Imagine how much more you and I would love it if we made the average NHL salary and had the summer off).
You have to dial up John Tortorella. He may be the best head coach available. My hunch, however, is that Tortorella knows his next move is a big one. He has the luxury of taking his time. Like Pat Riley and Bill Parcells, Tortorella will likely wait for the right job for him, and I would be surprised if it’s the Islanders of 2008-09. If I’m wrong, would it be a blast and make the Islanders that much more entertaining and intriguing? Oh yeah.
Although the Islanders have changed coaches a few times this decade, this will be their first thorough coaching search since the summer of 2001. One morning seven years ago I was surfing the net and reading about the Bruins leaving their assistant coach Peter Laviolette at the altar, instead hiring Robbie Ftorek. I look up from my laptop and there’s Mike Milbury in my office with a well-dressed young man. “Chris, have you met Peter Laviolette”? I knew then that Pete would beat out the finalists at that time, Bryan Murray and Ted Nolan.
This search will be fascinating, shaking up what’s usually a quiet time around the league. Not only is the list of candidates impressive and filled with plenty of big names, but it could be revealing for another reason.
You could have up to a dozen men interviewing for the Islanders head coach position. With the exception of Gerard Gallant, all of them are outsiders. This means a lot of people may learn about Garth’s management style and the inner workings of the Islanders front office. This means – in this rumor and innuendo-filled business, more catty than the cattiest of workplaces, where stories end up in newspapers and on the web – you’ll probably hear a lot in the aftermath from the guys who didn’t get the job. Off-the-record and spineless, of course.
There will be plenty of notes in Sunday columns like this: “One of the candidates who didn’t get the Islanders job says…”
Naturally, a lot of it will be horse-hockey. But it is something Garth and the Islanders should keep in mind. Until you get to 2 or 3 finalists, I would keep it close to the vest. Everything said in that room in the next two weeks has the potential to get out.
In my view, the leader by a nose before the process begins is Bob Hartley. He has a solid relationship with Garth Snow. More importantly, I’ve heard from several fairly-impeccable sources that he really wants the job, likes what the Islanders are doing and is 100% committed to signing up for the program.
In my view, the man best suited for the opportunity is Paul Maurice. I’m aware Maurice may not be the most exhilarating choice, but the Islanders do not need exhilarating. They've done that. They do not need a big name or a showman. They just need the best coach for them.
Maurice may not have the best track record of the candidates, but I believe he brings the best of everything this challenge requires (see above). Coaches tend to not last long, but you have to go into the process looking for your Ruff or Trotz. And of all the candidates, Maurice is the one I can see thriving on Long Island for ten years, working well with Garth - and Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey and the rest - for ten years.
This endorsement was NOT paid for by the People for Paul Maurice. I don’t even know any of Paul's people.
Who is doing the hiring? Garth Snow.
Will Charles Wang meet the 2 or 3 finalists? You bet your ass.
And if I were the sole owner of a hockey team – whether it was a cash cow or bleeding between 20 and 30 mill a year while politicians act like politicians – know this.
I would want to meet the top candidates, too.
Keeping my pledge to those so kind to ask that I pop in from time to time, I will unload my thoughts once or week or so until (hopefully) I know what I’m doing in September. When I initially decided to end this on July 7, I thought it would be a quiet time. Silly me.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Going out on a limb: every scribe will have the Islanders in the 10-15 range in their ’08-09 Eastern Conference predictions, somewhere among Atlanta, Florida and Toronto. And, of course, the Islanders will be very much alive in the playoff hunt in March.
One of the wild things about UFA week: by Day 3, teams are giving $3.5 million deals to players that weren’t even on the boards in the GM’s office – you know, the one with their “vision” – on Day 1. There’s a reason those boards are dry-erase.
Newsday had an impressive feature Sunday with a reporter on the front lines as Nassau police are on DWI patrol. Yet in the NHL there are still plenty of people who have a major problem with imbedding a reporter in that all-important pregame meeting for a regular season tilt.
It’s on the Islanders to continue to bring along Sean Bergenheim. He may only max out somewhere between a third and second liner, but I’m confident he can be a very effective player on a very good team. Let it be the Islanders.
Former Islanders who the mere mention of their names brings a smile: Bob Bassen and Steve Konroyd – the first two players to make me feel comfortable around the team, Trots, Kelly Hrudey, Jeff Hackett, Dennis Vaske, everyone on the ’92-93 team, Kaspar, Flats. That gutless puke Travis Green – a real good kid who became a real good man, smiling Mariusz Czerkawski – such a sweet man, he tried to hook me up in a Montreal bar. The “Sarge” Sergei Nemchinov, Roberto Luongo, Zdeno Chara – who once when visiting the office saw the staff doing a season ticketholder mailing and pulled up a chair and stuffed envelopes, Kenny Jonsson, Scatch, Mark Parrish and Jason Blake – the most impressively self-made player I ever saw. Wacky/driven as all hell but I love that guy.
One of the things I’ve missed is waking up Sunday morning, logging on to the New York Post and saying my prayer of hope that the Islanders are not roasted in Slap Shots by Larry Brooks. Funny thing about Larry: people take shots at him, but everybody reads him. Slap Shots is one of the few must-reads we have in the game. Brooks covered the dynastic Islanders, was an executive with the Devils and is the biggest hockey voice in New York, but has yet to be acknowledged by the Writers Association for the Ferguson Award at the Hockey Hall of Fame. I would hope this doesn't mean the honor is not about skill, impact and passion for the game but rather about something petty.
Has Snow tried to talk his friend Kenny Jonsson into coming back to Long Island? Garth was a goalie and knows how great KJ is, so of course he has...a few times. Kenny is most likely finishing his career in Sweden.
To my friends in the NY mainstream media resisting the horrible notion of ever joining this century and blogging, I urge you to re-consider. Look at some of the great work out there by Rich Hammond on the Kings, Mike Russo on the Wild, Sam Weinman's often loopy stuff on the Rangers and George Richards on the Panthers. Now, I assume these gents don’t put in all this work for free, but it would be nice to see more coverage circa the year 2008 from the local writers. Don’t worry: just because you blog doesn’t mean you will lose your Mainstream Media association card!
Yes, the Islanders need to win, and win big, to bring the fans back in huge numbers 41 regular season games a year. It would help tremendously, however, if the franchise is able to solve the dilemma of ho-hum corporate support on Long Island. Senior VP Chris Dey appears to be on a mission to boost local business support with the Islanders Business Club and other initiatives. This season should be a good test to see if the corporate market stands up before the Lighthouse comes to town.
As I said on XM, the reason why the Rangers still might work next season is because of their base of youngsters – Dubinsky, Dawes, Callahan, Prucha (I’ll take him if Tom doesn’t want to play him), Girardi, Staal. Like the Islanders’ kids, none of them (except perhaps Staal) are sure-fire A-listers. But they bring something every night. Better than that, they are a great watch. No reason why the Islanders can’t match that soon.
The expectations for Kyle Okposo make me queasy for such a great kid like KO. Without a doubt, he’s a player who could play a big part on a championship team. But some of the excitement seems a little over-juiced. Keep the bar at a fair level for the kid – maybe 25-35-60 in two or three years. Kyle had 9 goals in 35 games with Bridgeport, 2 goals in 9 games with the Islanders. Enjoy the kid. He’s going to be fun to watch develop.
So there is no misunderstanding, my puzzlement over the installation of a defensive system only after the Islanders were eliminated from playoff contention is this: with the team shorthanded throughout the second half, why didn’t they start thinking about minimizing scoring chances-against when the Islanders were still in the playoff race?
There was no surprise in Uniondale when the Penguins signed Ruslan Fedotenko. Pitt expressed interest in Tank before they went in another direction right before the deadline.
In the Comments section, I got a question about who the real Rick DiPietro is. On the ice, I’ll leave it to an NHL goalie coach who says Rick is easily one of the three most talented goaltenders in the game and he will have his moment when the D in front of him is top-10 NHL. Okay, I’ll make one suggestion on the ice. When the Islanders are on the PK, allow Rick to get in the opponent’s heads by playing the puck. When they’re not, tell him to just stop it. Off the ice, sure we averaged one moment a season when we cursed each other’s name. But when it was all over for me in May, Rick sent me a text after he got out of surgery that was as classy as any of the notes I received. SOB still has me rooting for him.
To answer the question from the Comments on the Ted post: no, I’m not aware of Garth Snow getting a contract extension. If he did, I'd like to think he'd buy me more than just Chipotle when we worked together.
As for the Q about what it was like to walk past Dale Hunter in the Coliseum hallway after he mugged Pierre Turgeon, this is what went through my mind: “I’d like to sucker-punch him, but Hatcher would probably kill me.” And “Man, that jackass looks just like Robin Williams.”
I was flooded with emails yesterday asking why I brought up the lack of resolution on the Ted Nolan issue. That’s easy. The Islanders have not won a playoff series since the spring I got married. That was in nineteen hundred ninety-three. I saw something that bothered me and could lead to those 15 years becoming 20 if it’s not rectified one way or the other.
It wasn’t like I unloaded insider secrets, went all Scott McClellan on my old team. There wasn’t a thing I wrote that wasn’t already public info, that wasn’t already covered by Greg Logan and that Greg will continue to be all over. It’s remarkable to me that some 24/7 fans thought I outed stuff everyone didn’t already know. It really does seem like the Islanders had an intriguing draft, signed Streit and Weight and – just like that – for some, all was forgotten. I don’t think so.
The private stuff I have kept to myself. To those of you who have read this blog going back to its inception when I was a team official: did you really expect me to go out just thanking a bunch of people? Maybe I’m stopping the blog a few days too late.
Well, actually I would like to thank some people. I’ve spent the last four glorious weeks in Major League Baseball as a PR consultant around the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, with a few more weeks to go. Call it Dream Job 2. A big thank you to my teammates Dan Queen, Sarah Leer, Sylvia Alvarez, fellow insultant Josh Rosenfeld (legendary former PR man of the Magic-Worthy-Kareem Lakers), Matt Monagan and our skipper, Matt Bourne. It has been a riot, a thrill and a privilege to be a part of it, and I cannot thank them enough.
Thank you to all the Point Blank readers. My “limited engagement” ends today. I’m not going on that family trip, but the next few weeks will have me working 18 hours a day on the many incredible All-Star events (unfortunately, I do not have a block of Bon Jovi tickets). Especially for all the class they have shown me, I owe MLB my best.
So many of you have been kind enough to ask me to keep this blog alive. A few suggested I keep it, even if it means just dropping a line once or twice a month. Thank you for the recommendation. I just might do that.
Either way, the Comments area remains open. I’ll be reading and will try to address whatever and whenever I can.
See you around.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
That’s it until the opening of camp, right?
It shouldn’t be.
Somehow lost in the shuffle – maybe everyone is just living in denial – is the matter of the Islanders and their head coach, Ted Nolan. When we last left off, the season ended miserably, fingers were being pointed in all directions, and the whole thing got so awkward that at my last Islanders Open House in April, these were the only questions on every fan’s mind:
Why are the Islanders letting Ted enter the final season of his contract without an extension?
Is Ted on board with the team’s plan to build around young players?
Do Ted and Garth like each other?
I’m sorry, but has anything changed with this subject in the last two months? Seems in the haze of Bailey and Petrov, Streit and Weight, everyone forgot about it. That is, until it came up in an interview I did on Friday night on XM Radio. I touched on the break in trust between Ted and the Islanders, and I will expound on it here.
If the Islanders are truly committed to getting it right, then they have one more big decision to make this summer.
Is Ted Nolan their coach for the long haul? Is Ted the Islanders’ Barry Trotz, their Lindy Ruff – the man who will stay positive and consistent in his approach to developing the kids every stumble and step of the way? Do they feel they can count on Ted like – gasp – the Rangers rely on Tom Renney?
Right now, there isn’t much of a relationship between Ted and Islanders management. Despite Ted’s success as a coach in junior, I don’t believe the Islanders are confident he really buys into the youth movement.
The other tall hurdle is the immense damage from last season. From March 1 on, when the ship was sinking, awkward moments came daily. You didn't have to be the PR director of the team to see the stains.
There was Ted’s repeated use of the phrase, “You work with what you got,” referring to his own lineup. I saw an Islanders interim head coach named Bill Stewart say that once and he hasn’t sniffed the National Hockey League since. I was amazed Ted said it, and was equally amazed he got away with it.
There was Ted ignoring policy and telling Greg Logan he was entering the last year of his contract and there were no discussions about an extension.
There was the weekend I was visiting family over Easter and got a slew of calls with the same exasperated message: “Ted just said he’s playing Joey Mac because Garth told him to.” The coach could have said, “Garth and I talked about it and decided we wanted to see what Joey’s got.” But he went out of his way not to be diplomatic. Why? And what kind of message does that send to Joey McDonald?
There were damaging lapses in relationships with key players. There was a real stunner no one seemed to pick up on: after the Islanders struggled for weeks and were eliminated from the postseason, only then did the team implement a defensive system to minimize scoring chances. An act of defiance? I hope not. It may have cost the Islanders the first overall pick.
After each Open House this offseason, I’ve heard from too many Islanders fans who approached the always-accessible Ted with questions about his team, only to have their jaws drop when Ted gave some version of “Depends on what they decide to do,” “It’s up to them” and worse.
They, they, they. Not we. Shame on everyone.
The Islanders were the only team willing to give Ted another shot in the NHL. They were proud of it, and Ted would go out of his way in his first season to show his appreciation. Why did it come to this between Ted Nolan and the Islanders?
Ted Nolan is not 100% at fault here. Not even close. For the breakdown to get to this point, there is plenty of blame to go around.
I don’t care about the committee rules. If the GM thinks at least one of the four coaches should be a former defenseman to mentor Campoli, Gervais and the kids - those are my thoughts, I should make clear - the GM should insist on it. When Garth is asked by “Mike and the Mad Dog” if Ted starting Dubielewicz raised an eyebrow, he needs to resist his inner New England wise-ass and not say, “One eyebrow or two”? If you’re going to talk about how you’re a committee, you need to act like a team. I also don’t want to make this about Ted’s handling of Jeff Tambellini. That’s an insult to both of them. If Jeff can play in this league, he’ll prove it on his own.
Beyond all the garbage, there is the essential issue of whether the Islanders believe Ted wants to coach this team in a rebuild, is the best man to coach this team and is a coach Garth Snow can see himself working with side-by-side for the next decade. Darcy Regier has it with Ruff, David Poile with Trotz. Garth will be the GM of this team for at least ten years. He needs to have a coach he trusts implicitly. Long Island could use a mainstay behind the home team bench.
The Islanders have two options: work through the issues and commit completely to Ted Nolan, or shake hands and say goodbye. More than themselves or even their fan base, they owe that to Ted.
Friday, July 4, 2008
1. It proves why Chicago was smart for digging deep to sign Brian Campbell as a UFA
2. The Islanders were wise not to break up the plan and pay the price in personnel to get Boyle
The Islanders really like Boyle. They did more than kick tires, they pursued a deal. But - before it got to whether Boyle would have approved a trade to LI - it's obvious the Islanders weren't willing to go too far in the deal with Tampa Bay.
Besides Carle, the big piece is the first round pick. Even the president of the Islanders Booster Club would concede it's more likely the Islanders' first round pick will come before San Jose's.
Seems to me any trade talks between Doug Wilson and Garth Snow died right there.
The Islanders need to hold on to their first round picks for at least the next year or two. Last thing they need is a Tom Kurvers/Toronto situation. That's when the Maple Leafs traded a future No. 1 to New Jersey for Kurvball and everyone in TO had heart problems as the Leafs blew and it almost ended up being the first overall pick - Ontario kid named Eric Lindros.
My hunch is if Snow was ever going to include his first round pick as part of a deal, it would have to be top-10 protected.
Boyle would have been an incredible add for the Islanders for the right price. Lining it up with what the Sharks paid, the Islanders would have had to give up their 2009 first-rounder, Chris Campoli (maybe not Carle, but close and also a better contract), a kid like Robin Figren and a fourth.
Pass. The Islanders are simply not yet in a position to make a deal like that.
With only a few days left before I take a break and decide what I'm going to do next, I welcome your feedback, critiques and questions.
I'll have a few more things to say between now and Monday.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
I'll be speaking with Mike Ross and Mick Kern about the NYI. Finally, my dream chance to carve Garth up.
I'm telling you, this could be dangerous. It's one thing to try and be the semi-under-control former Islanders "executive" while writing this blog, but radio? We'll see.
Can you curse on XM?
This is one of those wacky things that happen at the Islanders. It happened a few times when I was there, and I find it a source of minor amusement now.
Apparently, the team has signed a former San Jose prospect named Mike Iggulden. My hunch is the Islanders wanted yesterday to be about Doug Weight, which is classy and understandable, and figured they'd save the announcement of Iggy's addition for another day.
The problem with this, however, is once a contract is filed with the NHL or NHLPA, the player's name starts popping up on league and union websites. Resourceful folk, like the beautiful maniacs on Islandermania, find this stuff and start talking about whether Iggulden is going to play for the big club or the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
That's okay. Nothing wrong with the die-hards digging hard and coming up with a scoop.
But this is where it gets kinda topsy-turvy. The Islanders have not announced the Iggulden signing. The Sound Tigers have not announced the Iggulden signing. But there it is, in the Connnecticut Post, Bridgeport staff openly discussing, um, the Iggulden signing. You do have to give credit to Sound Tigers beat writer Mike Fornabaio, who I know from painfully first-hand experience out-works just about every hockey reporter on the planet. Still, this is a little bizarro.
Is it a big deal? I guess probably not. But I will say this: there is something to be said for organeyezational discipline, of which I admittedly am no master.
As of this morning, no Iggy story on the Islanders website. No story on the Sound Tigers website. No announcement for Logan, who lives for this stuff, and the rest of the media, who, alas, do not.
One thing's for sure. If this sort of thing happened on Lou Lamoriello's watch, he'd freak.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
As I wrote 48 hours ago, this is a no-lose deal for the Islanders. Early on, Weight will not be taking away anyone's icetime. Should one of the kids earn it down the line, that's what I would call a good problem to have.
Doug's arrival on the Island is a welcome one. He is a class act, and you can never have enough of them in your room. Especially class acts who can still skate.
In Weight and Mark Streit, I'd say the Islanders have had two solid days to start UFA week. They are a better team than they were before noon on Tuesday, and they haven't done anything to screw up the plan and hinder the development of their prospects.
Although I don't agree with many of Jim's player evaluations - Wade Redden may have some issues, but he's a better defenseman simply falling out of bed than Brooks Orpik - his point is strong.
Remember the talk during the lockout of a $40 mill max cap? Now that's just the floor.
The revenue generation in other sports is at a level where the NBA, NFL and MLB can look you in the eye and say semi-sincerely that their fans won't pay the price for player salary escalation.
The NHL is my favorite league, but you know who's ultimately paying the cost for Manic Tuesday. Can't wait to see what Hainsey and Orpik get today.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I really don’t want to go after the Jeff Finger signing. But I will say that if you took the career stat boxes of Finger and Mark Streit and put them side-by-side, you’d think the Islanders made the deal of the decade.
I would have loved to have been there when JD got the news that Vancouver signed 24-year old grinder Dave Backes to a three-year, $7.5 million offer sheet. Gotta give Gillis credit: he’s going into the job not worrying about making friends. Good for him. Financially, not great for hockey. PR-wise, it’s priceless. Can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.
Ok, one more thing on the Finger signing. Here’s what happens when a deal like this goes down: in Toronto, the pro scouts are patting themselves on the back for unearthing an underappreciated gem. In Colorado, they’re sitting around saying, “We love Fings, but are you frickin’ kiddin’ me? Ah, never mind. Good for him. SOB’s buying the Molsons when we play there.”
In my new consulting gig, I announced some news today. I can’t wait to see whose paragraph is bigger in the city tabloids – the thing I released or the Streit signing. Results tomorrow.
Sorry for the tease before. Have to believe there won’t be another announcement tonight out of Uniondale. I’m told, in the immortal words of Don Maloney – doing a nice job in Phoenix, by the way – the Islanders have nothing imminent. Besides, Garth has to know if he’s going to sign somebody who can make an impact, there’s no sense making a formal announcement after Newsday goes to press. Right?
I'm not saying the Islanders will announce another signing tonight, but I can tell you this:
When the team signs a player to a five-year, $20-million contract and Garth doesn't even have two minutes to do an interview with Islanders-owned ITV, sending out chief pro scout Kenny Morrow instead, it only means one thing.
At 10:15 pm, the store is still very much open.
Let’s get all the quibbling out now: too much money, blah blah, blah…too many years, wah, wah, wah…he’s coming off one big year and he’s no Kenny Morrow in his own end, yadda, yadda, yadda...
This is unrestricted free agency in the National Hockey League on July 1. You see a player you want, a player who fits your team and fills a need, you simply go out and blow everyone else away with your best offer.
That’s what the Islanders did with Streit and this is what happened with every single signing that happened today. The teams that are waiting until tomorrow are going to find that the prices haven’t come down. Wait ‘til August if you want to go bargain-hunting. Richard Park aside, you usually get what you pay for.
I doubt Streit felt it necessary to tour the facilities on Hempstead Turnpike before agreeing to terms and saying, “I am an Islander.” I suspect Garth told him, "We really want you, we're prepared to do everything to get you, you'll play 25 minutes a game and we'll be counting on you."
My friends at the Montreal Canadiens love Mark Streit. They’re proud of the player he’s become the last few years. They knew he would be gone and are wishing him well. Across the board, you will hear raves about his integrity and, most crucially, his ability.
(Inevitable bitchy column out of Montreal about the Islanders over-paying for a one-dimensional guy from Switzerland in 5 seconds, 4 seconds, 3...)
I wrote yesterday that there were plenty of reasons for the Islanders to step up the plan and go after a Brian Campbell. Streit is not Campbell - despite the obvious stat comparison, let's be clear about that - but he's a terrific addition. As a bonus, he's a fun player to watch.
The Islanders work is not done with Streit. You don't just sign a player and stand by and watch him. I don’t care that Streit’s 30, accomplished and seasoned. Now it’s on the Islanders to put him in position to succeed. Now it’s on Ted Nolan and the coaches to get the best out of him. No one wants to hear that he got 60 points last season “because he played in that fast and wide-open Montreal system.” Nonsense.
You went after Mark Streit for his talent and his 60 points. Make it work.
Monday, June 30, 2008
(Cripes, I sound like Stan Fischler with that one. Let me try again).
The Islanders are going to sign Doug Weight sometime in the next two weeks and the initial reaction will likely be unfavorable. People will point to Doug’s 37 years and 1,137 regular season NHL games and rightfully declare the last thing the Islanders’ youth movement needed was a smallish center near the end of his career. There will be plenty of jokes worthy of the Catskills: “This is a good signing…in 1998”!
For one year at a fair price, signing Doug Weight is a smart move.
There’s no way around it. The Islanders need centers. They have Mike Comrie, who needs someone to be his co-No. 2 . They have Mike Sillinger, coming off major hip surgery at age 37. Richard Park can play center, but seems to have found a niche with the Islanders as a wing. They have prospect Frans Nielsen, who can be an outstanding NHLer with the proper development and patient coaching. There’s Ben Walter for depth and not much else for now.
Why move a terrific young player like Blake Comeau to center if you don’t have to?
In 2005-06, Weight was instrumental in leading the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup. The year after he was 16-43-59 with St. Louis (would you not sign up for that right now?). Last year he bounced from the Blues to the Ducks and never got on track.
It would be completely unfair to say he is done just because he’s 37.
There aren’t many great options for the Islanders at center in the UFA market that opens tomorrow. Doug Weight will play hard, lead, teach, settle down the power play, get at least 40 points and represent the Islanders well.
If “major” means signing Marian Hossa, Sean Avery, Wade Redden – not sure I’d throw 20-30 million at Wade – and Olaf Kolzig, I agree. I don’t expect the Islanders to sign a combo like Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, whose blockbuster additions led the Rangers to…well, the same second round they reached the season before without them.
But still, hear me out.
The Islanders are flush with pride over the haul they brought in with their shifty shenanigans in last weekend’s draft. The team website has certainly pounded us with enough stories that translate as, “See…Kevin Allen, E.J. Hradek, the I.S.S. and some guys on satellite radio say we did great, so there”!
I mostly kid. Although their ’08 draftees may not be blue-chippers in the Crosby category, the Islanders have good reason to believe they have stockpiled plenty of top-6 forward, second D-pair skill.
Add to the ’08 bonanza the take from ’06 – including 25/35 thumper Kyle Okposo and heart-and-soul speedster Robin Figren – plus maybe a surprise or two from their abbreviated ’07 draft, and I ask you this:
If these kids are truly as good as advertised, how many more drafts are needed to get to Stage 2 of The Plan?
Look, you can’t go into a season thinking you’re going to suck and be rewarded for your “patience” with a first or second overall pick to take John Tavares (next summer’s Stamkos) or Victor Hedman (billed as a 6-foot-6 Nik Lidstrom). The National Hockey League doesn’t work this way. A year ago, who had the Lightning in their Stamkos pool?
The Islanders cannot count on being there. There is enough of a sample size over the last two years: with Rick DiPietro, Brendan Witt, Richard Park and the rest of the gritty-gutties, the Islanders compete. They will not blow chunks out of the gate. Around Christmas, someone will call them the Little Team That Could. Look at last season. Look how jammed Garrett Timms’ trainer’s room had to get before the team finally tapped out in mid-March.
No team, especially the Islanders, should even be thinking about Tavares and Hedman until Trade Deadline 2009 at the earliest.
Should the Islanders purchase a pair of frontline forwards and a pair of top defensemen this week? No, I’m not advocating hiring a bunch of mercenaries.
However, it wouldn’t be a setback to the plan if they looked into acquiring a big-time defenseman. It would be a step forward.
Just asking: having Brian Campbell play 28 minutes a game for the next six years would take ice away from which hotshot Islanders D prospect exactly?
Signing UFAs is more compatible with building from within than you might think. When you sign a UFA, it only costs you a lot of cash. The team that acquires Dan Boyle from Tampa Bay this month will have to pony up prospects and picks.
In DiPietro, you have a player every goalie coach in the league drools over. Rick has not had a top-20 defenseman in front of him since Kenny Jonsson went home more than four years ago. My admiration for Brendan Witt – entering the last year of his deal – Martinek, Gervais and Campoli is well-documented on this blog. But it would not be a bad idea to put at least one all-star dman in front of DiPietro. Soon.
Brian Campbell is just 29 years old. It's nice the Islanders have had a couple of good drafts. The Plan could use some momentum.
What’s his nickname?
In hockey, Richard Park becomes Parksy, Trent Hunter is Hunts, Brendan Witt, naturally, is Witter.
What the heck do you do with Hainsey?
Hainsey-sy? Don’t think so.
I guess there are bigger problems for a team to have. Ron is a good player who is about to cash in spectacularly. After struggling as a first-round pick in Montreal – he went 12 picks after his pal Rick DiPietro in 2000 – he found his game under Ken Hitchcock in Columbus. He will deserve every cent he gets this week because many teams could use a fully developed 24-minute man entering the prime of his career.
Did I mention Hainsey happens to be buds with Rick DiPietro, who could use a mobile 6-foot-3 dman in the Islanders’ end? Sources tell Point Blank Page Six that Rick attended Hainsey’s recent wedding. It's not exactly the Lightning hiring Mr. Malone and then signing Mr. Malone's boy, but it's something.
Ron is only 27 years old, so his signing wouldn’t foul up the franchise’s plan to build around youth.
He could stay with Columbus, but I suspect Hainsey’s agent will get big offers from more than a dozen teams, including the Islanders. At whatever the going rate is for Ron Hainseys – figure on Scott Hannan money – six years would get it done. It’s simply a matter of how far the Islanders will go.
With John-Michael Liles staying in Colorado, the alternative on D for the Islanders is probably not signing anyone at all. You can make a case for that, too, I guess. Depends on how patient you think you can be.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
1. On Monday, demand that your IT staff installs a private fax machine in your office.
2. Before you leave the office late Monday night, finalize your list of the free agents you really want. If there are any players you are only kinda-sorta interested in, eliminate them from your list and never think about them again.
3. One second after the opening of the UFA Megsatore on Tuesday, take what you would like to offer the agent of your desired free agent, add 50% more cash and one year to the term.
4. Fax your offer to the agent. Since the fax is in your office, you don’t have to worry about the disapproving look from your assistant, the look of shame from your chief pro scout.
5. After the agent stops laughing and tells you he already has offers that blow yours away, ask agent, “What will it take to close the deal and for you to not shop my offer”?
6. So he knows you mean business, take agent’s proposal and add 10%. Don’t think twice. Fax offer.
7. Host media conference call right away before anyone changes their minds. Talk about how this was the player you wanted all along. Smile as your new player tells the media your team was his first choice.
8. Take shower. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Would Avery prefer to be in or near a major American city?
Would he really prefer to be a short limo ride away from the fashion-show runways?
Does he have a recent history of making his team better?
Could he be a lightning rod for a team without a storyline?
Is he the rare NHL player that stirs emotions and shocks hearts - one way or the other?
Is Avery the extremely rare NHL player who could move tickets and merchandise?
Could he actually move newspaper editors to say, "You know, we should probably go cover that Gong Show"?
Does it look like Sean Avery, only 28 years old, is going to be available to sign with any of the 30 NHL teams starting Tuesday and it won't cost them a player or a draft pick?
Do I think the Islanders are going to sign Sean Avery?
Do I think they should at least "drop a few lines in the water."
Friday, June 27, 2008
The highly underrated Scott Burnside of espn.com has a breakdown of the top unrestricted free agents available on July 1. No one is disputing these are good hockey players. You can also be sure of the following:
* The UFAs will go to the team that gives them the best contract. Or they will go to the team that gives them the second-best offer, a smidge under the best offer spread out over several years, and they will say it wasn’t about the money.
* Their signings will be universally hailed by the fans of the team signing them.
* At least one of those players’ families will go through the unfortunate experience of having some sad people say or write that he went to a new city because his wife insisted on it.
* In a matter of hours, the wonderful Brian Rolston will go from a versatile, invaluable second-line player with high character and a cannon of a shot – he will hear from at least 20 teams – to, “OMFG, did you see how much Rolston got? He ain’t that good.”
* A grand total of zero of these free agents will have the best season of their NHL careers.
* They will not be one of the three most essential players on the team that wins the Stanley Cup in 2009.
* At most, only one of them will be part of a team that makes a Conference Final.
* One of them will say they signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs because they love that “hockey really matters here.”
* By November, that player will realize Toronto is in Canada and that hockey really matters there.
*At least once during the season, the former free agents will privately question whether they should have left their old team.
* At least once during the season, the GMs that sign them will privately question what they were thinking about on that hot July day when they gave this player 30% more than they planned on.
* Ultimately, that GM will chalk up the decision to caving to pressure from media and fans. And maybe his coach.
* The new teams of the free agents will be slotted into UFA “Winners” and “Losers” across the information superhighway and in mainstream newspaper columns on Sunday, July 6. A year later, we will look back at those columns and they will all seem funny.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
As much as the Toronto media can be badasses, I find it charming how they often take one for the Maple Leafs. The rumors of McCabe coming to Long Island, all generated out of the province of Ontario, often read like come-ons. (“C’mon Islanders, how can you not do McCabe for two picks and a prospect”?)
What is it they do not understand? He has a no-move clause and there may be two teams (at most) that he may be okay going to. McCabe earned the right to tell the Leafs to stick it when the Maple Leafs gave it to him as part of a contract negotiation when they really wanted him to play for their team.
Why would the Islanders do the Leafs a favor, and also give up something of value? There is no reason for the Islanders to take on Caber’s wicked contract unless the Leafs include a major sweetener. For example, the deal would have to look this:
Islanders get: Bryan McCabe, first round pick in 2009
Maple Leafs get: 7th round pick in 2011
I’m not really exaggerating what the Islanders would need to give up.
Of course, since Cliff Fletcher already paid a dear price to move from 7 to 5 and take Luke Schenn in the first round, he has very few chips to offer (that didn’t last long!). Although I thought the Islanders should have stayed at 5 and taken Nik-Fil-A, Garth Snow did get a good return. In fact, I dislike Fletcher’s decision far more than Garth’s. One thing Cliff has going for him: if Schenn can just stand upright, the TO press will hail him as the next Larry Robinson.
Despite the no-move, I believe McCabe would come to the Island with a huge Irish grin on his face. His wife’s family is here and he loves the Island. I always say Long Island is one of the greatest places in the world to live. It is the greatest place in the world to live if you’ve got a lot of dough.
Only slightly off-topic: my list of celebrities I’ve run into at Laguardia: Art Garfunkel, Ray Davies, Bryan McCabe (7x).
Bryan’s been a target at times in Toronto because the Leafs gave him a big contract and he’s not as smooth as Borje Salming. He’s also taken some shots on the Island because of the “Can Opener” stuff from the ’02 playoffs.
But I hope at some point he gets to represent the Islanders again. Time will tell if the Leafs have the guts to buy him out, because if they do Bryan could be an Islander sooner.
Bryan McCabe can play on my team anytime.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Now that I’m out of hockey in an official capacity, I’ve done something I’m ashamed of. I have no one to blame but myself.
Since I’ve started spending time in Manhattan, there have been a few days when I…I…oh man, this is hard.
I’ve dropped two quarters into the slot and…god, I hope my mom doesn’t read this.
I have purchased the New York Daily News.
(I wish I could say I feel better now).
I’ve confessed my sins to my friend Peter Botte, the man assigned by the Weekly News to the Islanders the last few years as a sabbatical after doing hard time on the Yankees beat. Before that, he covered the Islanders daily and entertainingly for the Post. Pete seemed to understand my setback.
I coughed up Fitty Cent for the News today. I used to be aghast at what wasn’t in it – you know, hockey coverage, especially of the Islanders and the Devils. I read the News today, oh boy, and…well, let me give it to you straight.
The New York Daily News has not just one, but two sports columnists at Wimbledon.
(That’s a tennis tournament in England).
I love tennis. Play it, poorly. Watch it, the Majors regularly. If I wasn’t too busy whining for better hockey coverage, I would work pro bono to shine a brighter light on the great game of tennis. I'd do everything I could to bring the Australian Open TV ratings up to at least Stanley Cup Final level. I would pay to work for Ana Ivanovic, her being French Open champion and all.
I think it’s wonderful that both Filip Bondy and Mike Lupica are writing columns from the fortnight. Just consider this, hockey fans.
Whether Fil and Mike are staying one week or two, the budget for this boondoggle far exceeds the travel expense for the New York Daily News to cover the New York Islanders.
I mean to cover the Islanders…for the last decade.