Monday, March 31, 2008

Reality Check - Take 2

The flame-throwing has already begun at my post yesterday about the effect of injuries on the Islanders' season.

My thesis was not a commentary on the woes of the power play or the struggle to score goals.

Please allow me to take another shot at it.

My position was simply this:

With the knowledge that Ted Nolan gets as much out of his players as any coach in the league...

If Sim, Sillinger, Campoli, Witt, Sutton, Gervais and Martinek had not gone down for significant blocks of games, do you really not think the Islanders would be in the playoff hunt this week?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reality Check

Garth Snow and Ted Nolan are never going to use injuries as an excuse. But, you see, I don't have that problem. I never played the game, and I'm not the GM, coach or a player on the Islanders.

Garth is going to do the right thing with this team, of that I have no doubt. The early first round pick in this exemplary draft will add another cornerstone player the franchise needs. Rick DiPietro is clearly one. Kyle Okposo could be another.

But let's not forget what happened this season. The Islanders' injury list was an underrated story this season. You know darn well if some other teams lost as many top-4 defensemen or important forwards, we'd probably never hear the end of it. The other reason you didn't hear much about the Islanders' injuries? Garth and Ted refused to let it be an issue.

I'm not going to single out every injury, nor will we put a lot of emphasis on the shutdown of players when the Islanders fell out of playoff contention. But know this: when the season ends on Friday, the Islanders will have more than 400 man-games lost to injury.

Top two-way veteran center Mike Sillinger missed 30 games.

Jon Sim, signed to agitate and score 20 goals, missed 80.

Chris Campoli, the team's top puck-lugger on the blueline, missed 36.

Andy Sutton - 24.

Brendan Witt - 23.

Bruno Gervais - who may return this week - 19.

Radek Martinek - 13.

Here's an exercise: take another NHL team and assign an equal amount of games-missed to their top 5 defensemen. How do you think they'd do?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

When does hockey become a story in New York?

I come here today after a week on the road NOT to complain about the lack of coverage of the New York Islanders.

Instead, I'm wondering what's going on with the coverage of the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils.

The Islanders are out of the playoff hunt, and the pain is excruciating. When I walked out of the old barn on the night of the Core of the Four game - the night Craig Anderson became Ken Dryden - it hurt worse than any loss in years.

But back to our metro area rivals. Someone please tell me: when exactly is the rest of the local media going to decide "Okay, now it's time to start talking hockey"?

Do the Rangers have to win a playoff round? Do Brent's boys have to make it to the Stanley Cup Final?

I mean, it really wasn't that long ago when a Rangers weeknight game in February got the backpage of the Post and/or the Daily News. It wasn't that long ago when the New York Times would pick up the story of Marty and the Devils, you know, at least a couple of months before they raised the Cup.

What is going on here?

Are we (meaning Those In Hockey) still paying the price for the lockout? Or is that just some sort of lame excuse baseball-obsessed sports editors use?

Are we paying the price for not being on ESPN? If that's the case, shame on the editors and producers for allowing Bristol, Connecticut to dictate what's important in sports and what isn't. (This just in: the Times has assigned Dave Caldwell to the "Dancing with the Stars" beat).

I'd sure like to think I missed it, but when was the last time WFAN or 1050 ESPN had a hockey guest on one of their shows? Remember when "Mike and the Mad Dog" used to have Bill Clement on regularly? Forgive me for being nostalgic for the days of the early 2000s.

Over the last couple of months, I've read a few of these hot business books that talk about stuff like "The New Marketing" and "The New Rules of PR" and how blogging can help your business. The message of most of these books is how businesses should take their story straight to the customer and not worry about cutting out the middle - advertising outlets and the traditional media. Countless businesses have had incredible success this way. No one in sports has tried it yet.

To be clear, I'm not advocating the Islanders go this route:

Greg Logan: "Hey Chris, I hear you emailed an Islanders Insider to your database late last night that you signed that hotshot dman out of college"?

CB: "Uh...yep."

Greg: "Is that something you were ever gonna share with me and the rest of the press"?

CB: "Uh...I don't know how to break this to you, Greg. But I think you should sign up for the Islanders Insider and Islanders TV. Or read about it in the NYI Blox Box. Or check out Islandermania."

No really, I'm not advocating this at all. The traditional media is still vital to us. But the lack of any sustained buzz about the two area teams going to the dance makes you wonder.

It almost makes anyone like me who cares about hockey want to root for the Rangers and Devils in the playoffs. Almost.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


In the last hour we released the official statement about Rick DiPietro having surgery on his right hip today in Vail, Colorado. Rick will be under the care of Dr. Marc Philippon, the world-reknowned hip specialist at the Steadman Hawkins clinic who repaired Rick's left hip after the playoffs last spring. Marc has also performed successful surgeries on everyone from Mario Lemieux to Greg Norman. In recent times, Garth Snow and Mike Sillinger have seen Dr. Philippon in Vail.

By getting it done today, Rick will have more than enough time to be fully ready for camp in September. It won't be a case where he will start skating in September. To the contrary, he should be able to begin working out on and off the ice well before then.

I completely understand the concern about this incredibly conditioned 26-year old athlete having surgeries on each of his hips at the end of the last two seasons. The positive side is, well, he's an incredibly conditioned 26-year old athlete.

Make no mistake: because of the landmark 15-year contact, Rick's health will always be under the microscope. Understood. This is also because he is the Islanders' franchise player.

Greg Logan has a blog today insisting that the Islanders create a goalie rotation where the backup plays at last 20-25 games each season so Rick is not over-worked. Again, totally understood. I'd be a fool to even try to counter that argument today.

What I can say is that there is no reason for over-reaction. The Islanders and their No. 1 goaltender are doing the right thing today, and I have a strong feeling DiPietro will have an even better season in '08-09.

Monday, March 17, 2008

To hype, or not to hype

Thinking aloud, what would you do with the Kyle Okposo issue if you were me and the rest of the PR/Marketing staff?

The facts: Kyle's a terrific kid and he's going to be an excellent player. He doesn't turn 20 until next month. He was the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft, selected after and before some young players already on the road to great careers.

More facts: the Islanders are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs. With injuries to nearly half their regulars, it's time to see what some of the prospects can do. Kyle is at the top of that chart.

Logan in Newsday was right - this is the biggest debut for an Islanders-drafted player since DiPietro.

So again: what do you do? How do you draw the line between the perception of over-hyping a 19-year old and serving your die-hard fans with information?

We can agree to disagree, but I'll tell you what we did. Yesterday morning, posted the press release plus a story on Bridgeport coach Jack Capuano discussing Kyle's development in measured, not hyperventilating tones. Our partners at Islanders TV had one segment of King and Mears treating it as a news item, another featuring Ted Nolan's thoughts on the recall. Again, Ted didn't act like he was selling anything. In fact, the coach said he hadn't seen the kid play since prospect camp last summer.

Today will be round two. Jason Lockhart will have a story on the website on KO's first practice as an Islander. Kyle will likely do a phone interview this afternoon for the hockey fans who can never get enough on XM Radio. I'm certain ITV will have a bunch of first-class goodies, the kind of stuff you just don't see major professional sports franchises bring so directly to their fans.

To my mind, this is providing information on a positive story, not hype.

I guess the true test will come at gametime. If the Islanders really want to sell Kyle, I would imagine you will see a spotlight introduction, maybe even drop the kid from the scoreboard for the opening faceoff. You will see the "I'm Kyle Okposo and I'm an Islander" treatment, like last year when Ryan Smyth made his grand entrance.

But I wouldn't hold my breath. We know what Kyle is. We know where our team currently stands. I suspect anyone coming out to see Kyle Okposo make his NHL debut as an Islander tomorrow will not be disappointed in the kid's play. For the 10-15 minutes he'll likely be on the ice, Kyle will act like he belongs.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

No really, this is the final word on the Prongerstomp

So the suspension for Chris Pronger is 8 games.

Here's my final thought on it, I swear. I just want to know this:

The next time a repeat offender - a "recidivist" - stomps on an opponent with his skate, does he get 8 games?

Or does he get 30 games?

I'll see you on Tuesday night for a game that will have a little extra.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"It's a mystery"

This was Islanders captain Bill Guerin after practice today in Montreal on the original decision that Chris Pronger would not be suspended for stomping on Ryan Kesler:

"I don't know the reason. It's a mystery. I'm just wondering if there is something personal against Chris Simon - because it was the same action."

Good to see that just because Simon is no longer Guerin's teammate on the Islanders doesn't mean the captain doesn't have his back.

As most of you know, Pronger waved his right to an in-person hearing and instead will do a conference call with the league judge-and-jury on Saturday. By contrast, Simon flew to Toronto for a face-to-face hearing that lasted less than 30 minutes. I hope he at least got some quality air miles out of it.

I'm still having trouble grasping the original argument about the league not having sufficient video evidence, but I've already said too much.

For more, as the great songwriter Joe Jackson once sang, you can read it in the Sunday papers.

Pronger story may not be over

There is some buzz late tonight that "better" footage of the Pronger stomp on Kesler has surfaced and the league may re-visit the case.

I didn't write about this subject because I have any axes to grind with Chris Pronger or the Anaheim Ducks. My bewilderment was strictly related to 30 games for Chris Simon, 0 for this.

Let's hope justice is served and I have to offer one gigantic apology on Friday.

On the Islanders front, gotta believe we'll see Kyle O for the home game against the Leafs on Tuesday, don't you think?

Good night.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Maybe it is the name on the back of the sweater

There are some things in hockey I will never understand. Like when the defenseman has the puck at the point with two of his forwards standing in front of the goalie, and the dman wraps the puck around the boards and behind the goal so the forwards have to scramble after it. Quality scoring chance in the dumpster. I didn't play organized ice hockey, so my failure to understand the obsession with moving the puck behind the goal is a personal problem I will always have to deal with.

And now I have another, more serious problem. Chris Simon is a friend of mine. I don't believe I'm an enabler; I understand, as he does, that Simon has done some bad, at times extremely dangerous, always inexcusable things. It is equally amazing, fascinating and fortunate that none of Si's victims ever missed playing time as a result of his crimes.

The night Simon stomped on Ruutu, our twins had their seventh birthday at the Islanders game. As the Islanders came off the ice after warmup, they all reached over and gave my boys a high-5. Chris Simon went the extra mile: he stopped, took off his glove, shook their hands and wished them happy birthday. When you consider what happened about 90 minutes later, the photo is all the more poignant.

I'm going to step out just a bit here and share something that Chris said to me a few times. In all honesty, when he volunteered his thoughts I was torn between being sympathetic and concerned that Chris had lost his way. Basically, Chris felt that on judgment day he was treated differently than other players. I never let the conversation get to the subject of why.

Last night all-world defenseman Chris Pronger stomped on Ryan Kesler of the Canucks.

Watch the clip:

Chris Simon got 30 games.

Chris Pronger got 0 games.

I do not know what else to say.

Field of Dreams

The phone is ringing off the hook with demands for a response from the Islanders about appearing to be on the outside looking in if there is going to be an NHL game at Yankee Stadium. With respect, I submit that it does not make sense to respond right now because nothing is official.

There are a few things I can share. The New York Islanders, and only the New York Islanders, began discussions with the New York Yankees about an outdoor game at the old Ballyard in the Bronx more than two years ago. These conversations were high-level, make no mistake. They eventually grew deep enough that I had the privilege of taking part in one of the meetings, an all-hands-on-deck gathering with staff members from both the Islanders and Yanks representing areas from PR and advertising to ticket sales and operations. I vividly remember one of the Yankees' top field operations guys saying, "You want to have a hockey game here? I don't think the stadium could survive it."

Soon after, our new friends at the Yankees made it clear they were still very open to hosting an NHL game at the stadium - it would just have to be after the last baseball game was played.

(I should probably point out here that when these meetings were being held, everyone that should have been kept in the loop was. I'm also not aware of any time in the process when the Islanders were told to slow down or to stop pursuing this project).

Being realists - and fully appreciating the Rangers' standing as an Original Six franchise and No. 1 Market Franchise - we always understood that the game would be Islanders-Rangers. There is no better rivalry in hockey, or among New York teams.

Islanders-Rangers at Yankee Stadium would be incredible for hockey. And make no mistake, it would be phenomenal, invaluable for our franchise. I believe this has been made clear to all of the right people.

Until an official decision is made, we will continue to work on it and hope for the best.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New York Times Magazine on The Smile Train

In tomorrow's New York Times Magazine, "Freakonomics" authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steven J. Levitt report on how and why The Smile Train was created. As regular readers of this blog know, I have picked The Smile Train, which provides free cleft surgery for children, as a sort of unofficial charity of NYI Point Blank.

The story by Dubner and Levitt is a good indication why this charitable organization blows me away with its generosity, diligence and commitment. Did I mention 100% of all donations to The Smile Train goes to the program, 0% to administration fees and who-knows-what else?

As I state in the top left corner of my blog, please consider being a part of it. Let The Smile Train know you heard about them from me and I'll personally let you know how grateful I am.

Read the Times Magazine piece here today:


The Sunday NHL columns hit mailboxes and computer screens in less than 24 hours. I predict at least a half-dozen hockey scribes, and probably more, will have their take on Ted's decision to start Dubie over DP on Thursday night.

For the record, I'll have no problem with any columnist offering their opinion. After all, gutsy and controversial decisions are what makes the world of sports go 'round. Major League Baseball thrives on this; it was kind of neat to give "Mike & the Mad Dog" something to talk about when they did almost five hours of Islanders hockey on Thursday.

What I will find shakey are any reports citing "sources" on the subject. What is there to source? From beginning to end, the Islanders were completely transparent on the subject. Even if you weren't one of the few with a press pass and notebook in our hallway on Thursday, you could have heard the head coach, the starting goalie for the night, the backup goalie, the GM, the team captain and even the team's owner share their thoughts over 50,000 clear-channel watts on WFAN.

There is nothing to second-guess. There was nothing to hide. Garth Snow suggested to his close friend and former goalmate DP that he take a day to heal from the mourning of his grandmother. Toward the end of his career as a goaltender, Garth lost his dad and a brother. He is also close to Rick's family. The GM gave advice both from the mind and from the heart.

Dubie started and won on Tuesday. True to his word - "there's a great chance Dubie will start on Thursday" - Ted went back with Wade for the rematch at the Coliseum. The Islanders lost, but it wasn't their goaltending that let them down.

Tonight in Philadelphia, with two full practices and two morning skates under his belt, DiPietro gets the start against the Flyers. Ted has implied Rick will likely start the rest of the way. End of story.

Yeah, right.

Monday, March 3, 2008

My Core memory

Of all the incredible and indelible memories of the Cup run, by far my favorite moment was when the Islanders came back late to win the decisive Game 5 against Pittsburgh at the Coliseum in 1982.

It's my favorite because it's the most personal. My lone sibling, my older brother Nick, was and still is a dedicated fan of the New York Rangers. It clearly was killing him that the team from Long Island I adopted at age 7 in 1972 had so much success, so quickly. Nick dealt with the first two Stanley Cups with a decent amount of dignity, but let's face it - I'm sure he couldn't wait until the shenanigans of Bossy, Trottier, Smith, Potvin and the boys mercifully ended.

That's the way it looked on April 13, 1982 when the Penguins took a stunning 3-1 lead late in the third period of Game Five of the Patrick Division semifinals. The series was tied at 2 games each and this was back in the day when first round series were best-of-five.

My brother and I watched the game on TV that night, and as the minutes counted down - way too quickly for me...9 minutes left, 8 minutes left, 7...I was dying. Nick was surprisingly quiet for a while, but I guess he just couldn't hold it any more. Lying on the couch, he turned around and said to me, "Hey, sorry about this little brother. It's been a great run. It couldn't last forever."

Nice thought, but the Hallmark Hall of Fame moment ended there. As Nick turned away from me he couldn't suppress a huge grin and started to chuckle. Think Jack Nicholson as the Joker. I wasn't laughing.

Seconds later, Mike McEwen (an unheralded dynasty member who we need to get to the Coliseum someday soon) scored at 14:33. Then my guy John Tonelli scored three minutes later to send it into overtime.

When JT scored again at 6:19 of overtime to win the series, it was heaven. For starters, my favorite player had done it again. (Ever notice how JT's mug is in the frame when they show just about every big goal during the dynasty?)

Of course, the dynasty was still alive, although we weren't calling it a dynasty yet. But think about it: without the heroics of McEwen, Tonelli, Bobby Nystrom and their cohorts in 1982, March 2, 2008 isn't possible. "The Core of the Two" just doesn't sound right.

Best of all, brother Nicky was silenced. His agony would continue for another two years, until the magnificent, unparalleled run of 19 straight playoff series victories finally ended in the Cup Final against Edmonton in 1984.

It's funny. Now that we're in our 40s and have children of our own, maturity shows some sign of creeping in for me and Nick. He's been with me at a few functions over the years where the Islanders legends are present. He seems a bit weirded out that I don't just actually know Bossy and Trottier and Denis and JT, but I even sometimes speak complete sentences to them.

But the coolest part of all is, when he meets them, you can tell Nick has the ultimate respect for the heroes of the Islanders dynasty, what they accomplished and the class they displayed through it all. If you think about it, there may be no greater compliment to the Core of the Four.