Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tank job

At least two reports out of Philadelphia today more than suggest the Islanders discussed Ruslan Fedotenko with the Flyers. They make it sound like a fact of life. For example, Chuck Gormley of the Camden Courier-Post had this:

"(Holmgren) went fishing for Islanders forward Ruslan Fedotenko, but passed on the bait it would take to get him, a first-round pick.

There's a few things wrong with this, none of it the fault of Chuck or the other Flyers reporters. They're just passing along information given to them.

But it is more than a bit distasteful that one organization would appear to be leaking information about another team's player, especially since the player - in this case, Tank - was not moved.

I want to say that there's no way Flyers GM Paul Holmgren would go there. I've known Paul for a while, going back to my days as a Flyers intern, and he has way too much class for that. Garth Snow and Holmgren are friends and worked well on two trades last year: Zhitnik for the Fantastic IVth and a third, York for Robitaille and a fifth.

Of course, I cannot confirm whether there were substantial discussions of a deal at all. I wasn't in the room. I will say I kind of doubt it.

The subject is important to me because there has been some disappointment on the Islandermania message board over Snow allegedly "asking for too much" from the Flyers, "overvaluing the player" and "not getting a second-round pick" for the potential UFA.

I don't know. Let's just say it's a deal that could have been made. Here are the current standings:

Flyers: 69 points
Islanders: 67 points

I'm curious: as Islander fans, would you be okay with trading a top-9 forward - playing his best hockey of the season - to a rival team three hours away that you're battling neck-and-neck with for a playoff berth? For a second round pick?

What would that say about your team? What would that say to your team?

As someone who has spent some time in Philadelphia, I can tell you if the Flyers traded...oh let's say Mike the NYI for a second round pick while fighting us for the Stanley Cup playoffs, there would be blood.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Four years ago, the Islanders had a deal in place at the deadline to send Chris Osgood to St. Louis for Justin Papineau and a third round pick. I heard about the trade not from Mike Milbury but from Canadian broadcaster (and former Islanders goalie) Glenn Healy.

I went to Mike and told him about the report from Heals. Mike said the deal was just about done and I should get ready to announce it soon.

A few minutes later, Glenn called me and said his latest info was the deal was now Osgood and a third round pick for Papineau and a second round pick. I said I didn't think so, but would check with Milbury.

Me: Mike, did you tweak the deal? Healy's saying it's now Ozzy and a third for Papineau and a second.
MM: How the (heck) would he know that? We just changed the deal two minutes ago!

This is my way of telling you that, although the staff at NEWYORKISLANDERS.COM prides itself on giving Islanders fans the news first, trade deadline day is the one day a year I just cannot guarantee it.

The battle between TSN and Sportsnet, along with the Canadian websites and newspapers, to get the scoop first cannot be compared to anything, anything in sports in the United States. Not even the obsessive coverage of the Yankees. (BTW, did we get Santana yet?)

I remember my buddy Joe Micheletti being asked to sit in for Sportsnet's deadline coverage because the Islanders happened to be in Toronto that day. I don't think Joe knew what hit him. At one point he called me: "Chris, this is nuts. Ya got anything for me...please?"

I'll share with you my advice to Mike and now Garth. If we make a deal and prefer that our respected departed player hears the news from the Islanders and not through the media, once the trade is agreed to in principle the GM should call the player. If he waits for the deal to be 100% official and blessed by the NHL, chances are the player will find out from the press. That's what happened to Brendan Witt after a decade in Washington, and I truly believe it was through no fault of the Capitals.

On trade deadline day, the NHL is leakier than a six-month old boy.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Rock on

Besides, you know, the game and the result, I'll remember today's trip to the Islanders-Devils game for a long time.

I decided to bring my three boys with me and take in the complete game experience as a fan. The joy started at the Rockville Centre train station when I spotted at least a dozen fans with Islanders jerseys getting on the 10:12 am to New York. My sons - 9-year old Aidan and 7-year olds Luke and Cole - actually seemed a bit disappointed. When I told them we were going to an Islanders road game in New Jersey, I think they thought we were going on the chartered aircraft and they'd be the only NYI fans lucky enough to see the game.

When we got to Penn Station around 11:00 am, it seemed like there were more Islanders fans walking over to NJ Transit than there usually are at Islanders-Rangers games at the Garden. When you consider that each year there are more and more Islanders fans filling seats at MSG, this is saying a lot. The 15-minute ride from Penn Station NYC to Penn Station Newark was crammed, noisy and wonderful.

The Rock, if you haven't checked it out yet, is priceless. Sure, there are always a few things you could knit-pick, but my biggest compliment is that it truly feels like the home of the New Jersey Devils. Everywhere you walk on the concourse, anywhere you sit in the stands, you know you're in the Devils' barn. Good for them, and congratulations to Lou Lamoriello, Mr. Vanderbeek and the entire staff for pulling it off.

(We really gotta get ourselves one of those, don't ya think?

Until the third period, the kids and I had a blast. We were in the same row with two of the moderators from Islandermania. I think they couldn't believe I didn't have better seats. Aidan sat next to a Devils fan who seemed to enjoy going back and forth with him:

Devils Fan: Marty's better than Ricky.
Aidan: Is not.
DF: Is too.
Aidan: Marty stinks.
DF: Marty has three Stanley Cups.
Aidan: I'm 9. I don't care. DP's better now.

We were one section over from 116 loud and proud members of the New York Islanders Booster Club who made the journey. From beginning to end, they gave their hearts to the NYI. I can tell you for a fact the guys on the ice heard them and appreciated it.

A Devils fan nearby started the whistle-thing that in the Garden leads to the chant of "Potvin sucks." But today it led to a boisterous "Rangers suck." My boys were touched that Islanders and Devils fans could be brought together in harmony for the greater good.

Despite the packed house, we never had to wait any of the 16 times we went to the men's room. Nor did we ever wait more than a minute to get Aidan's Nathans hot dog, Cole's pizza, Luke's chicken fingers, my BBQ and their Carvel. Between today and my kids' visits to the Coliseum press box (free snacks, private john), my kids still have no clue what it's really like to take in a hockey game as a fan at an old barn.

The train back from Newark was a fire hazard and unpleasant, but I'm sure if the Islanders had won (and my wife wasn't away the last seven days visiting her father) I wouldn't have been so whiny. I perked up when I saw three of the Blog Boxers at NYC Penn Station and they were so pumped about the trade deadline on Tuesday. Later on, the conductor on our train invited me and the boys to sit in his private compartment. He's been a huge Islanders fan for years and it turns out I used to give him my tickets from time to time when he was a teenager. Even when he told me he's now 30 years old, it didn't depress me. It was that kind of soul-stirring day.

I know every team thinks they have the best fans in the league, but in the case of the Islanders, it's true.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hey Greg, have a seat

I touched on this in a guest column in the Sports Business Journal coming out of the lockout. There was a lot of chatter about what the NHL needed to do to increase coverage. The biggest idea was for hockey personnel to be as accesible as possible to the press. Like, for instance, have reporters imbedded in the GM's office during the trade deadline.

Lots of people, not just media and PR people, have ideas on this. An old friend suggested at a business breakfast at the beginning of the season that if our press meal was more like brunch at the Four Seasons, the Islanders would be all over the newspapers. I quote: "the way to get to the sportswriters is through their stomachs"!

Let's say that were true, which it isn't. Here's the problem: Greg Logan, Pete Botte, Dan Martin (doing what he can - and we appreciate it - for the Post), Dave Caldwell, who's done some strong feature work in the Times...they don't decide how much space they get to cover the Islanders. All four of these reporters are good people, hard workers and proud professionals. I have no doubt if they had their way, they would be writing more than they are. Even Logan - look at some of his Tolstoy-ian blog entries!

It's the sports editors in charge. And often it's the people above them. Take my word for it: the editors don't give a hoot what we serve in the Coliseum press box.

More than that, it never factors into their equation how accessible teams and leagues are to their reporters. As I wrote in the Sports Business Journal, there isn't a league more restrictive with its access than the National Football League. Ted and DP are available seven days a week, Cough Coughlin and Eli - 3 set days a week. And no sports league gets more coverage than the NFL.

The reason why I'm on this subject - again - is because if any of my colleagues in the NHL are trying to track down a columnist or TV reporter to pitch a hockey story, try Florida. EVERYONE is at spring training for baseball, especially in New York. The local TV affiliates, Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11, often have two or more broadcasters in FLA. "With the Yankees in Tampa, I'm Len Berman. Let's throw it to Bruce Beck with the Mets in Port St. Lucie, and then we'll throw it to that other guy stalking Tom Glavine at Braves camp."

(BTW, Bruce Beck is one of the nicest guys anywhere. Besides being a classy broadcaster, he sends me and Corey a tin of Hershey's pretzels every holiday season. And it's not like Bruce is at our games a lot!)

Okay, let me try to finally get to the point. In hockey, if Logan needs one of my guys anywhere at any time, we do everything we can to make it happen. If Caldwell is doing a Timesian think-piece on face-washing, he can get Brendan Witt on cell. That does not mean our coverage is going to be bigger and better.

In Newsday today, Wally Matthews wrote about a media regulation the Yankees have:

"(There is) a silly Yankees rule prohibiting the media from sitting in a clubhouse chair, even if the player it belongs to is nowhere to be found, or if the player in the neighboring locker invites you to sit while you talk. It is a way of discouraging intimacy, of making sure no one gets too comfortable, interviewer or interviewee, of guaranteeing player-media interplay is kept as brief and inhospitable as possible."

Imagine how much coverage they'd get if they let the reporters sit down.

I think of Chris Simon inviting Logan to sit with him in the adjacent locker stall in Philly earlier this season. I think of Billy Guerin treating even the harshest critics with class in every interview. I think of Ricky responding to Corey's request to stop for an interview with the Post after the pre-season brawl against the Rangers: "If Larry Brooks needs me for anything, I'm there." I think of Brendan Witt and Mike Sillinger sitting at their lockers after brutal losses this season, sending the message to the media, "We stunk, we know it and we're here to face the music."

Nope, for the NHL and the NYI, accessibility is not the answer.

I better get back to working on my filet mignon, lobster and eggs for Monday's matinee.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On injuries, and the announcement of them

After a meeting at the Plainview office this morning, I got word that Garth would like me to get over to Iceworks for practice as soon as possible. I already knew about Chris Simon, but figured maybe it was related to that. Nope. Maybe it was news on Brendan Witt. No. (Should have an update Thursday). As usual, it was what I least expected.

Turns out the league was looking into the matter of us not properly disclosing an injury. When I heard this, I was shocked. I didn't even know what player the league could have been talking about. Garth said it had something to do with Bruno Gervais.

Now, I love Bruno. I always say it: if I had a daughter, she could marry him. Incredible kid. Real good young defenseman who's going to get even better. But what possibly could be controversial about Bruno Gervais? Was it THAT slow a day at the NHL office? (Just kidding).

I spoke with the league and cleared up the misunderstanding. The league thought we "refused to disclose" Gervais' injury on Tuesday. What went wrong is they only saw a report from yesterday morning and didn't know that we officially announced what was ailing Bruno around 6:00 pm, an hour before faceoff.

It's important I share with the fans what I told the league today. More than anyone, you are owed an explanation of how, when and why we announce injuries.

I completely agree with the NHL's recent move to strictly enforce the proper dissemination of injuries and prognoses. The whole "upper body" and "lower body" thing was getting silly - and this is from the organization that brought you last year's classic, "general body soreness." (!)

That said, I will always believe that the media is owed a detailed injury report on a player only when that player MISSES A GAME. Let me explain.

We all know about the guts these players have. Hockey players play hurt all the time. Let's say Freddy Meyer was kept out of practice today, but we knew he was determined to play in Thursday's game in Toronto. Does it make any sense at all to tell reporters - and by extension, the fans, yes, but also the TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS - what's ailing Freddy? Why would we put a bulls-eye on a wrist, his back or his shoulder?

Why give the Leafs even the slightest competitive advantage?

More than that, why put Freddy unnecessarily in harm's way?

I'm using Freddy as an example. He's not hurt and is playing tomorrow. As some of you know, he did gut out a big chunk of the second half of last season with a finger as twisted as an Auntie Anne's pretzel.

Bruno is injured. Heading into yesterday's game, Ted Nolan told reporters he would be a "game-time decision." At 5:00 pm yesterday, when I realized Bruno wasn't at the rink, I informed Garth it was time to go public with an injury announcement. Our trainer Garrett Timms confirmed it was a strained oblique and by 6:00 pm, everyone reporting on the game had an accurate update. Bruno is day-to-day.

As Keith Olbermann used to say, aren't we all?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why Tommy went to Phoenix

My Uncle Mario passed away last week. He was married to my dad's sister, the incredible Marie Botta Apuzzo, who cooked up some of the most amazing 18-course Christmas Eve meals. Yeah, we're Italian, although not as Italian as we used to be.

Uncle Mario's vital contribution to the meals was his craft of conversation. He was a storyteller and he had the wisdom of Yoda, played by Brando. I tell you about Mario because, naturally, it all comes back to sports.

His son, my cousin Tommy, inherited the family gene of worship for the Yankee pinstripes and the New York football Giants. Tom has always been a huge diehard of the Big Blue. He's one of those fanatics who, through some arrangement, has Giants season tickets - even though he doesn't have Giants season tickets.

Uncle Mario passed away on Tuesday morning, was waked Wednesday and Thursday in Westchester and his funeral was on Friday. After the post-funeral pasta lunch extravaganza on Friday - a curiosity to most, but I'm starting to understand it as I get older - Tommy was going to bolt for Phoenix for the Super Bowl.

Now, this is the sort of decision that has the world divided. Some people say, "Of course, your dad would want it this way. Go West and bring Mario and all of us back a championship." Then there's the 90% of the population who think the idea of getting on a plane for a football game after your dad passes away is, you know, wacko.

When my wife Catherine asked me about this, I said I was comfortable with whatever my cousin decided. Now that Tommy's a 50-year old doctor with two grown children, I believe he's earned the right to make his own choices.

So on my way out of the lunch, I hugged him and said, "You go West and bring my Uncle Mario and all of us back a championship."

Last night, around 10:15 pm, Plaxico Burress was so overcome with emotion from the victory that he cried. I know for a fact he wasn't alone.

And that is why we are sports fans. That is why, when sports are at their best, there is never any talk of contracts or controversy.

That is why people can smirk all they want, but there's a whole bunch of us who want to see if Frans and Tamby can give the Islanders a bit of a lift on Tuesday night.