Monday, June 30, 2008

Weight for it...

Should the Islanders sign Doug Weight to a one-year deal this week or next, there will be an audible groan out of large districts within Islanders Country.

(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.

The case for Campbell

So Garth has set the tone for UFA week, telling Greg Logan in yesterday’s Newsday that he doesn’t expect the Islanders to be “major” players.


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.

Calling Ron Hainsey

I’ve got a real problem with Ron Hainsey, the solid UFA defenseman from the Columbus Blue Jackets who will get a lot of phone calls on Tuesday.

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?

Hainz? Nah.

Hainser? Weak.

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

How to sign an Unrestricted Free Agent

If you do not understand how the Ryan Malone signing gets done so quickly and at that number, allow me to shed some light on how the magic works. The most effective NHL general managers will get their guys on July 1 by following this routine:

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.

The Sean Avery Checklist

Will Sean Avery sign with the team that gives him the most money?


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?

Probably not.

Do I think they should at least "drop a few lines in the water."


Friday, June 27, 2008

Just another Manic Tuesday

The highly underrated Scott Burnside of 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

The deal with Bryan McCabe

Bryan McCabe will play for the Islanders again at some point before he hangs up his skates, of that I'm sure. However, unless the Maple Leafs buy him out, I’m fairly certain it’s not going to be this year.

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

Start dreading the News

I have something to confess. I hope you’re sitting down. This isn’t easy for me.

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.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jaffe called it

Thanks to a commenter on Islandermania, I was reminded of an ITV clip where Billy Jaffe did seem to go out of his way a few times to mention the Islanders might trade down. My man Jaff is a very smart guy, but knowledge like this usually does not come out of thin air.

I'm thinking maybe Garth did try to get the word out. I guess it wasn't enough, buddy! Still, it was a noble try.

As another poster on the official fan message board wrote, the signs were there and we chose not to pay attention to them.

Figures to be another couple of interesting weeks in the Country. Enjoy it.

This is gonna take a while

Hockey is the one major team sport that is not played with balls. Yet, more than any sports league – including the NFL – the NHL is the one where the team that best combines skill and balls usually wins the championship.

The Islanders knew before Friday night what the polls on their official fan message board said. The Islanders are well aware how many season ticketholders they have, and what a breakout star could mean to the franchise. They knew that drafting Nikita Filatov – whether he’s actually amazing or not doesn’t matter for a while - would give them an opportunity to sell hope.

And yet they passed on Filatov and Luke Schenn and others and moved from 5 to 7 to 9. Instead of one player they got Josh Bailey on Friday, 2 highly-rated prospects on Saturday and a 2nd and 4th round pick in next year’s draft.

I got home from the city Friday around midnight and my laptop was exploding like the plant from “Little Shop of Horrors.”

What the Islanders did Friday night…well, it took pucks.


No question, what the Islanders did is not what I was hoping for. My wish was for Filatov and Schenn to still be there at 5 and for the question to be posed to scouting director Ryan Jankowski: in 12 years from now, who will we be more proud to have as a lifetime Islander – Luke Schenn or Nikita Filatov?

Know this, friends: by their actions Friday night, the Islanders are saying it is their opinion that Filatov is not going to be a perennial 40-goal, ticket-selling star and that Schenn is not going to be an all-world shutdown dman. If they liked them, if they really liked them, be assured the Islanders would have drafted one of them.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Islanders’ decision to pass. Jankowski and his staff – take my word for it, they work hard and they work smart - blanketed both players with scouting coverage and deep inside analysis. Their jobs are to get this right, message board and hilariously fraudulent “expert” opinion in the press be damned.

But make no mistake: by virtue of management’s eye-opening plan on Friday night, Ryan Jankowski joins the list of the 3 or 4 most important people in the Islanders organization.

By all accounts Bailey is a wonderful young man, someone the Islanders will be proud to have wear their sweater. This is a good thing for my pal Janks because he will be linked with Josh Bailey for years to come.


As for Kirill Petrov, since the Islanders had more picks than any team in the league, it was absolutely worth taking a shot. I know a team that had Petrov ranked as the top European skater. I guess they were waiting until the fourth round to select him. I hope the North American kids they took in the second and third were worth it.

Reminds me of the time I was at the draft table and the Islanders had a late-developing 23-year old European in their back pocket. I was told he was a fourth defenseman who would play a decade in the NHL. It gets to the 5th round and I say to our guy, “If he’s that good, what the heck are you waiting for”? The Islanders waited until the 8th round and the 228th overall pick to draft Radek Martinek.


Spare me the analysis of how teams did on Saturday, based on “value picks” in the later rounds. C’mon people, tell me about the expert who said, “Wow, the Islanders got a 20-minute defenseman in Campoli in the 7th – what a move”! and also said the Red Wings won the draft when they got Datsyuk late.

As for these proclamations how Teams X and Y were this year’s winners, please stop. Yeah right, that kid the Islanders drafted in the 2nd or the Blue Jackets drafted in the 4th or Boston got in the 6th must really be a slam dunk stud. I mean, so what if Jim Nill of Detroit, David Conte of the Devils, the Sharks staff, the rest of the supposed draft masters and, uh, 29 other teams passed on those kids 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 times? Don’t get me wrong. I love the coverage, love people talking about hockey. But let’s not take it seriously.

I mean, with all the wall-to-wall coverage of baseball in America, how come we rarely see such hysterical analysis of the winners and losers of the MLB Draft?


I spoke with both Garth Snow and Ryan Jankowski late Saturday afternoon. Garth was very happy about the return on his trades and very proud of his scouts. Ryan, whose dad was also a scout and knows all the ups and downs, was confident his staff made the Islanders’ depth chart look a whole lot better.

My take is what you saw this weekend is rooted in the team’s draft of 2006. After the Islanders picked Kyle Okposo in the first round, they made several deals to add selections in later rounds. The result was the team’s best draft of the decade. The team seems confident they were even more efficient this weekend. This is crucial – not because of any criticism the Islanders may get from the media and the fans, but because the roster really needs it. I cannot overstate that enough.


Since we won’t know about the development of these prospects for a while, the Islanders or any other team cannot be praised or ripped for their draft.

The Islanders did make one mistake, however. The team should have utilized the media – external and internal - to set the table.

A hockey staff doesn’t just show up in the draft city and sees what happens. We have to assume the Islanders were considering for a while the concept of moving down and adding picks. Instead of going the “best available player” route, Garth could have done interviews with the team site, ITV and Newsday where he clearly got some version of the following message across:

“Our team is building from within, and to be frank, we are very thin in many areas. If it turns out we just use our picks, great. But if we have the chance to come back with even more talented young players, I have to look at it because it’s a necessity.”

If Garth had got the word out that he was considering bringing home several potentially very good players instead of one potentially great one, he would not have hurt his trade leverage on the draft floor. And the result would not have been a back-page headline that said, “Say It Ain’t Snow: Islanders Trade Down.” More importantly, he would have set a fair level of expectations for his team’s fans. Instead of booing the team’s decision to not draft an 18-year old Russian no one has seen play a game, the reaction might have been, “Son of a gun, he said he might do this…wow, he got 2 picks just to go from 5 to 7?...holy geezus, now we got 4 extra picks to go to 9…Josh Bailey – I love Josh Bailey! He’s the center to play with Okposo”!

Manage the media. Let them help you. They usually have no problem with that. Just be honest with them.

You have to understand that fans on hockey websites every day in June are the die-hardest of the die-hards. The fans that give up their Friday night in June to watch television coverage of a hockey draft on the scoreboard of an outdated arena are…well, there aren’t enough ways to say thank you to fans like that.

You don’t have to let the fans tell you who to pick, but it’s not a bad idea to make them feel like they are a little bit clued in.

Now that everyone has had the chance to see the fruit – some of the high-risk/high-reward second and third round picks – the irony is that if the Islanders had a Draft Party on Day 2, most of the fans would have gone home happy.


Friday was a real busy day and night for me at the new gig. The Islanders turned the first round upside down. I got a bunch of texts from friends saying some variation of “WTF”, “It’s chaos” and “You’re lucky you’re not there anymore.” Nah…

I missed it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Feeling a draft

If you grab the highlights of the Islanders making their first round picks from the mid-90s through Kyle Okposo, you can actually see the hair-less circle on the top of my head grow larger with each draft. No, despite too many years picking in the stressful top ten, I do not blame the Islanders for what became of my hairline.

Life-after-NYI has been kind and joyful so far. The soul-sucking train ride to the city takes a while to get used to, but overall I have to say it’s been a lovely six weeks. I thought I would ache by now for a visit to Islanders Country, but surprisingly I haven’t. That could be because I hear from my friends at the Islanders regularly. It could also be the result of taking on an exciting, temporary challenge elsewhere in pro sports. It’s also easier to say when there are still more than a hundred days before the next game at the old barn on Hempstead.

But to be sure, the first day I’ll truly miss the Islanders job comes Friday when the NHL Draft begins. As much as I took a shot in my Hockey News column at the absurdity of the entire league flying to one city just for the crapshoot of selecting 18-year olds, for people who do what I did it’s kind of like a weekend family reunion. You get to see a lot of people you enjoy being around. You talk. You eat. You drink. And then, mercifully, you get to leave before it all becomes too much.

Of course, the U.S. sports media has made it easier on me by, ya know, paying very little attention to the NHL Draft. Hockey has seen more than a few potential superstars enter the league since the lockout. Stamkos is a freakin’ stud, Filatov may be special and you could have up to five future Norris nominees in this year’s lot. Yet, other than a one-paragraph plug for the VERSUS coverage, Sports Illustrated’s got zip on the draft in the issue that came out today. SI, needless to say, is not alone.

I don’t think I’m ready to watch the draft on TV. I’ll miss hanging out with Mario Saraceno too much. I’ll miss watching my friend Ryan Jankowski develop as one of the best young minds in the game. I’ll miss Andy Kallur’s infectious optimism. I’ll miss watching Garth grab the first building block to truly call his own. I’ll even miss the buzz from putting those Velcro nameplates on the backs of the jerseys, like I did for Luongo and Brewer, DiPietro and Connolly, Bergenheim and Kudroc. Yes, the Kristian Kudroc.

I’ll probably stay in the city after work on Friday night. I’ll eat. I’ll drink. But I’d be lying if I said my mind and part of my heart will not be elsewhere.

If any of my friends could text me and let me know whether the Islanders picked Filatov, Schenn or Pietrangelo, I’d appreciate it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Terry Simpson, Todd McLellan and the route from juniors to the NHL

I was in the Islanders job just a little over a year when on Dec. 7, 1988 team PR director Greg Bouris walked into my office and closed the door.

"Looks like Terry's out and Al's in," Greg told me.

Honestly, it took me a bit to register what the heck he was talking about. I had worked with Islanders coach Terry Simpson for 12 months and the only time he wasn't being anonymous, he was being grumpy. Terry was such a mad scientist, stuck in his charts and video and working hard at being boring and trying to pretend he wasn't really on Long Island, he never even tried to learn my name or anyone else's.

Then again, the Al part of the equation had me fooled. "Al who"? I asked Greg, today Donald Fehr's PR guy at the almighty MLBPA.

"You know," he said, "the guy with the glasses who won four Stanley Cups here a few years ago."

I thought of Terry Simpson this week with the news of Todd McLellan getting the Sharks job, and not just because Todd was drafted by the Islanders in the fifth round in 1986 and played 5 games for Terry on the Island in '87-88. The Simpson experiment with the Islanders makes me wonder if McLellan is in a much better position to succeed in the NHL than Terry Simpson, or this year's junior hockey sensation turned NHL head coach, Peter DeBoer of the Panthers.

This story by WHL broadcaster Regan Bartel has some terrific insight into McLellan's determination to improve at just about every level of his life, including a battle of the personal bulge he waged as a junior coach. Just as impressive, Todd took his coaching career one step at a time - Canadian juniors, AHL head coach (a championship with Houston), NHL assistant coach (a Cup with the Red Wings). He may not have NHL head coaching experience, but McLellan has answered every question up until now.

Peter DeBoer comes directly to South Florida of the NHL after 13 years as a highly successful coach in the Ontario Hockey League. Terry Simpson came directly to Long Island of the NHL after 11 years as a highly successful coach in the Western Hockey League.

We've heard Peter is a genius. We've heard he can motivate, teach and scheme like crazy. Perhaps he's a perfect fit with the talented but still very young Panthers, because right now all we know for sure is that DeBoer is an amazing coach of teenagers. I hope it works out. Some of those kids on Florida seem a little bratty, but they could be a blast to watch if Peter helps them get their act together.

DeBoer has two advantages on Simpson. Terry coached a team that still had Mike Bossy, Bryan Tottier and Denis Potvin on it. He also replaced Al Arbour. DeBoer doesn't have that problem, and that's a good problem not to have.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Mark of Lack-of-Finesse

Mark Gandler is a rather original and entertaining fellow. He is the agent for Alexei Yashin and Sean Bergenheim and others, but he wasn't all business when we'd speak. He has other interests besides hockey and he certainly has a unique view on some things. Mark always returned calls immediately and always spoke his mind. He's a reporter's dream.

But Mark sometimes doesn't do his clients any favors, as today's story in Newsday about the possibility of Yash coming back illustrates. In his public comments about teams, his players and negotiations, Mark tends to have the touch of Quentin Tarantino and the subtle voice of James Hetfield. He can be as tone-deaf as the kid at the back of a chorus scene in a junior high production of "Fiddler on the Roof."

Assuming there have been more-than-courtesy discussions between the Islanders and Gandler about Yash - an assumption we should hold judgment on until someone from the Islanders speaks to it - if I'm Mark Gandler, I consider not saying anything at all. And if I'm going to talk to a reporter, I would have gone with this:

"Yash loved his time on Long Island, enjoyed being part of the community and his relationship with the fans. His only regret was how it ended. After a year back home in Russia, he really wants to return to the Islanders. Yash told me he is willing to do anything to contribute to get them back into the playoffs and challenging for the Stanley Cup."

Instead, in his comments to Greg Logan of Newsday, Mark took a swing at the team and made it about - my God, of all things - cash.

"We've had discussions. But it's been very slow because I told them in the beginning how much I wanted. They're obviously not happy about that. But clearly, they missed him. They didn't have a first line last season."

Later on in the article, oops, he did it again.

"My premise is that he should get what his market value is ...Now, there is a new year and a new market, and if they want him, this is the price."

And then, as if Islanders fans had not been bloodied with more bullets than Sonny Corleone took at the tollbooth, Mark fired off another round:

"First, it's up to Ted whether he wants him or not, and second, it's up to Charles and Garth whether they want to pay him what we think he should get paid."

These comments do not help my friend and former colleague Alexei Yashin. However, if my friends and former colleagues at the Islanders needed an immediate market survey of their fan base, I have a feeling this will help them tremendously.


Someone can always argue that there was a method to Mark's madness with his quotes. You can definitely win the debate that Mark is infinitely wiser than me. It's only fair that I point out Mark Gandler has made more money - perhaps on Yash alone - than I may make in my lifetime.

But what's not up for debate is that Newsday - specifically, an editor at the sports desk last night - screwed up. The front page of the sports section has a box at the top that reads: "ROUND 2? Isles say they've talked to Yashin about coming back."

Geez, can somebody at the sports desk please take 5 minutes to read the frickin' article? There is not a single comment from an Islanders person in it. Logan even writes that he couldn't reach Garth Snow. This is unfair to the Islanders. More so, this is really unfair to the arteries of any Islander fans who hoped for a quiet Sunday morning.

(I will hold my opinion on Yash coming back until it actually happens. If it happens).

Sportswriters like Greg are quick to accurately point out that they do not write the headlines, editors do. This proves what we've also known for a long time: some editors don't even read the articles.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


This is what happens when you haven't won in a while. You start to over-compensate by going out of your way to talk about how a player or coach really wanted to be with your team.

The latest to expose himself was Florida GM-coach-turned-GM (when he's a much better coach), Jacques Martin. Jacques said the following to Panthers beat writer George Richards on the hiring of hotshot junior coach Peter DeBoer:

"He was wanted by several organizations and picked ours,'' Martin said, as reported in George's outstanding Panthers collection of short stories, On Frozen Blog. "He likes our people, likes our roster. I was able to come to final agreement with him around noon. It's great for our franchise. Ottawa, LA and other teams were pursuing him. This speaks highly for us.''

Actually, no. It speaks poorly of your franchise that you even had to bring it up. It is downright horrendous that you brought the Kings and Senators into the discussion, implying Craig Hartsburg (Ottawa) and TBD (LA) are second choices. It is - what's the word? - lame-ass.

When I was with the Islanders, I authored a few press releases like this, quoting Mike-Neil-Garth saying something like, "[Gritty but slowish 5th defenseman] really wanted to be here," or "[hit-or-miss college free agent forward who is really kinda tiny but so is Martin St. Louis)] had plenty of options and chose the NYI."

For the record, these claims were always true. We never fibbed or were so desperate to name-drop the other teams our new players could have signed with.

Still, the practice is pretty weak. Just because the Islanders GM told me we may have out-bid or out-charmed a player for his services doesn't mean I had to include it in the release. Consider me the guilty one. No doubt there were times when even this PR guy was feeling insecure about his team, just as Jacques Martin may be about his Cats.

If he hasn't already, the GM can expect calls from Bryan Murray and Dean Lombardi. My advice to Jacques: il suffit de présenter des excuses et aller de l'avant.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Will the Islanders go to Nik Fil-A?

First things first: Nikita Filatov is not Alexander Ovechkin. Just because Nik’s Russian, wicked-skilled and the top-ranked European in the 2008 NHL Draft, everyone needs to take a breath, give the kid a break and not make that leap.

With that out of the way, there’s still reason for hockey fans to be pumped. At a time when so many supremely skilled young forwards are entering the league, Filatov’s gifts give him the potential to one day be mentioned in the same sentence as every under-23 offensive sensation not named Crosby and Ovechkin.

No, I didn’t forget to include Evgeni Malkin.

I’ve heard enough from scouts across the league that I’ve known for years and respect greatly. To a man, here’s what they say about Filatov:

· With proper development and the expected filling out of his thin-pretzel frame, the Russian can score 35 goals by his third NHL season. And then take off from there.

· While his energy and passion are not at the Ovechkinian level – really, whose are? – the kid’s love for the game comes through in his play.

· Right now, he couldn’t check anyone in the NHL, but his desire to learn will result in Filatov becoming an adequate player in his own end.

· Off the ice, he’s a delightful kid. The NHL teams that met with Nikita and his parents were impressed and felt comfortable that the kid wants to have a long career playing hockey in North America.

Very few teams seem to have question marks about Filatov. Usually by now you could have found some rock-head NHL scout with Western League-lust who would have whispered something awful like “He’s a dog.” Like the guy who told me after the Islanders drafted Ziggy Palffy in the second round, “A little early to be drafting a Czech, don’t ya think”?

(Yes, I know Ziggy is from Slovakia. The scout was stupid and ignorant).

But I haven’t heard of anyone dogging Filatov. He is almost unanimously considered a top-8 selection. My estimate is that at least two-thirds of the league will tell you Filatov is easily the second-best forward available, behind Steven Stamkos.

So now the question is, will Nikita Filatov still be on the board when the New York Islanders draft at No. 5?

There’s a good chance. Tampa Bay will take Stamkos at No. 1. While I’m told LA likes Filatov, I have a hard time picturing GM Dean Lombardi pass on Drew Doughty at No. 2. With the left shot D Thomas Hickey and righty Doughty, the Kings could be set for a while. Everyone drools over the dmen at the top – Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Zack Bogosian, Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers – but deep down just about everyone sees Doughty as the surest of the sure things.

Atlanta has the third pick and knows they have yet to develop a stud defenseman since they entered the league. That ends on June 20, when Don Waddell selects the second-best defenseman. My money is on Don’s scouts recommending Bogosian.

By the way, I don’t think you’ll see any trades leading to movement between picks 2 and 5. There’s so much talent available, I’m not sure any of the GMs have the nads to give up their position.

Which leaves only St. Louis standing in the way of the Islanders having the option of taking Filatov. What I think I know about the Blues’ hockey ops staff tells me they would love to have Pietrangelo, Myers or Schenn become the Chris Pronger to Erik Johnson’s Scott Niedermayer. What we know about the Blues' goal to get back on the map makes you wonder: could they really pass on a potential breakout star in Filatov? Could they really pass on this?

For the Islanders and their fans – and most hockey observers on Friday night, June 20 – this is where the drama is.

Which, of course, leads to the final question:

If Filatov is there at No. 5, will the Islanders take him?

I wouldn’t know even if I still worked there, but consider this: DiPietro...Okposo...Filatov.

That’s a franchise building from within that could suddenly get a whole lot more exciting.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Why NHL players - at least Eastern Conference players - can't complain about the schedule

It remains true that, as a whole, hockey players are among the most accommodating in all of sports. I know full well if I should end up in another game, the boys of the NHL will likely have spoiled me.

For years, I've watched on TV as my PR colleagues at some of the other pro teams try to stop their athletes for post-game interviews and get run over, as if they weren't even there. At the Islanders the last few years, I only had that trouble with one kid - and he usually apologized or made up for it some other way.

That said, I'm not sure the gap between the otherworldly likability of NHL players - "hockey guys are by far the coolest, best guys in sports!" - and other pro athletes is as big as it once was.

For anyone in the NHL who has ever mitched and boaned about how the schedule takes away from their personal lives, let's take a look at the recent itinerary of the New York Mets, shall we?

After having the day off on Monday, May 19 - on the heels of playing games 10 straight days (all in New York, at least!) - the Mets had this schedule:

May 20 (day/night doubleheader)-21-22: in Atlanta

May 23-24-25: in Colorado

May 26-27-28: vs. Florida at Shea (note the lack of day off with the flight from Colorado to NY)

May 29-30-31: vs. Los Angeles

Sunday night, June 1: vs. Los Angeles (for ESPN)

Monday, June 2: in San Francisco (yes, you read that correctly - Sunday night game in New York, flight across the USA and game in San Fran less than 24 hours later).

June 3-4: in San Francisco

June 5-6-7: in San Diego

That's 21 games in 20 days, folks, and it gets even better.

Tonight, after flying 6 hours after the Padres game yesterday, would be the one night off before the Mets play another 9 games in 9 days - the last 3 in Los Angeles before a day off and continuation of another road trip. It would be the only night besides June 26 when David Wright and the boys could stay at home.

However, God bless them, it's not.

Here's the press release:

FLUSHING -- The New York Mets today announced that Carlos Beltran, Ryan Church, Carlos Delgado, Aaron Heilman, John Maine, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Brian Schneider, Scott Schoeneweis, Billy Wagner, David Wright, and Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver have confirmed their participation in the Mets Foundation's "Teammates in the Community" fundraiser Monday night, June 9 at Richards in Greenwich, Conn.

Incredible stuff.

Am I saying anyone should feel sorry for a pro athlete's schedule? Of course not.

For my old colleagues in PR, marketing and community relations, I simply recommend clipping and saving this just in case a hockey player - as one once told me - tells you he doesn't even have time to go to the bank.


In a related subject, an NHL higher-up told me earlier this season that the difference between the travel schedules of the Eastern (easy) and Western (insane) conferences is "practically scandalous."

Just for a goof, estimate how many miles the Detroit Red Wings had flown this season compared to their rival in the Final, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

When you're done adding it up, you'll realize the Red Wings winning four Stanley Cups in 11 years is an even more remarkable accomplishment.


Why I'm Still Rooting - Trottier and Bossy

After a long stretch away from the Islanders for their own separate reasons, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy returned to the Islanders in recent years for all the right reasons.

Understand this: neither Bossy (corporate development) and Trottier (player development) have mail-it-in, candy-ass jobs. I saw with my own eyes that they work hard and with a ton of pride.

Nothing would be better than to see the Islanders back on top, and Trottier and Bossy there to share in the exhilaration.


I know. It seems like I haven't talked much pure hockey lately. I promise to down the stretch. It appears I will be working in another sport for the next while, but I look forward to blogging about this great game whenever I can. I'm not a Mets fan, but seeing their game and charity schedule inspired me to understand that you can always make time.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The NYI knew Erin Andrews before she became a singular sensation

What’s a sports blog without an entry about Erin Andrews? Every self-disrespecting sports blog has one. Consider this my sad attempt to bring readers to a blog by linking to pictures and video of Erin.

For those of you without ESPN, Ms. Andrews is a sideline sports reporter who over the last four years has innocently developed a following of Taxi Driveresque proportions.

My Islanders career missed out on the Stanley Cup, but I was witness to plenty. I was there when Al Arbour came back for game 1,500. I walked by Dale Hunter in the locker room hallway after he mugged Pierre Turgeon. I saw Ferraro and Kaspar outplay Lemieux and Jagr in ‘93. I took newly-drafted Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe to the Empire State Building. I saw Dubie morph into Georges Vezina for a miraculous week.

And I was there for the early days of the Erin Andrews era at ABC/ESPN.

The scene is the first round of the 2004 playoffs, the Islanders against the heavily-favored Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders are in Tampa for the first two games. The usual Lightning media are at our practice the day before Game One, with one exception.

A pretty good-lookin’, exceptionally graceful young woman by the name of Erin is asking to speak with the Islanders PR person. Having been deliriously-happily married for more than a decade at this point, 'tis only a tawdry rumor that I paid Eric Cairns and Eric Godard to lock my PR associate in the men’s room.

The mysterious reporter introduces herself. Her name is Erin Andrews and she’s been assigned by ABC/ESPN to do some sideline hits during the Islanders-Lightning series. She explains that she had just done a few years with a regional sports network, but her contract was not renewed. Or she resigned. I don’t remember. I do recall she seemed a bit down in the dumps about it. I also remember thinking that whomever the doof is that let her go at that network, he or she should start thinking about what they want to do in their next career.

It is what it is, and Erin had/has it.

Before, during and after the Islanders practice, I shared with Erin a few storylines for her sideline reports. Before and after Islanders practice, I never had so many Islanders players seem concerned with how I was doing.

“Hey CB, everything OK? Need me for anything? If you do, you know I’m always there for ya”!

“Hey, do you or your friend want a cup of coffee from the locker room”? (Because, after all, veteran NHL defensemen are always offering to make coffee for their PR guys).

“Hey Botts, how are the twins? And YOUR WIFE, how’s SHE doin’”?

I always wondered what it was like to be really attractive and have people stop, stare and make fools of themselves in your presence. By standing close to Erin Andrews, I found out. It reminded me of the “Seinfeld” episode when Jerry is dating the gorgeous blonde and she gets him out of a speeding ticket. In Erin’s presence that day, I could have easily hit up the guys for 10 grand each for the Aidan Botta Scholarship Fund.

Early in my time with the Islanders, I devised with a colleague the “Plus-3” equation of pro sports. What this means is that if a female executive, staffer or reporter is a solid 7 in real life, in the sports industry she is a 10. In this still predominantly male business, there remain countless men – some are my best friends! - who tend to act like they’ve never seen a woman before.

The “Plus-3” is sexist, shameful and embarrassing for me to admit more than 15 years later. It would be even worse if my co-author wasn’t a close woman-friend and colleague in the business who experienced daily the awkwardness of having people stop, stare and make fools of themselves in her presence.

I guess this makes Erin Andrews a 12 or 13, depending on how high you set your bar at perfection.

Erin’s work for ESPN on the Islanders-Tampa Bay series was solid, so naturally she was outta hockey in no time and on to College Football Saturday Night, then college hoops and Major League Baseball. There are times during the football season when I flip between ESPN and ESPN2 and could swear she’s doing games in Gainesville and Knoxville at the same time.

When I met her in 2004, I had no idea Erin would become a phenomenon - “America’s Sexiest Sportscaster” according to the scholars at Playboy. But her success does not surprise me. As a reporter and as a person, Erin Andrews is the real deal.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

David J. Neal sets the record straight

Two weeks ago, I told a story about Mike Milbury - against all odds - having trouble seeing an interrogator at a press conference. Read the story here.

I was happy to hear from the writer, David J. Neal, whom I haven't seen in years. David had a few important corrections to my story. Here's his email:

The Milbury story is a funny one except for a few facts:

1. I'm not Rastafarian.

2. The dashiki suit, which was black and glittering gold, was African and pretty darn cumbersome. Getting to the pockets was a bitch so I haven't worn it often since buying it in Dallas during the 2000 Stanley Cup Final.

3. Milbury scanned the room, but I wasn't hidden by the glare of the lights - what also struck everyone was funny was he had mananged to miss the one black guy in a loud African suit who was also sitting in the front row.

But, yes, it was funny. Mr. Mike definitely increased all of our workloads at a few drafts.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Q: on the Islanders' "unique management structure"

Mike Carey asks: Chris, now that you have some separation, tell us what you REALLY think of the Isles management structure. Meaning, this whole "decision by committee" concept (Wang, Snow, Nolan...whoever else now has an equal voice). Do you think it's working or can work?

My take on the management structure – the “hockey committee” – is that frankly, and respectfully, it is really no big whoop.

I thought this way when it was first announced two summers ago when Neil Smith, Ted, Pat LaFontaine, Bryan Trottier and Co. were hired. And I feel the same way now. The committee is simply an avenue for all of the franchise’s leaders to communicate with one another. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be anyway?

When Garth replaced Neil, we discussed what his response should be when asked about this supposedly innovative structure. It didn’t take long to formulate his position.

Using our rivals as an example, if the Rangers are thinking about signing a Chris Drury or Scott Gomez, how do you think it’s done?

Of course, the GM has his say – the ultimate say from the hockey staff perspective.

The head coach provides input – after all, if he is not the kind of player the coach likes, the coach is not going to play him and you've wasted a lot of dough.

You rely on other lead voices – pro scouts, perhaps the head amateur scout who might know a lot about the player’s development.

And then finally, the owner – because he’s the one writing the rather sizeable check. If you think $50 million deals are being offered in the NHL without owners demanding deep detail before they give the green light, well…it just ain’t happenin’.

You better believe that’s how the Rangers do it. There are some rare examples – Lou Lamoriello’s autonomy is legendary, although the current Devils owner, Jeffrey Vanderbeek is much more involved than the late John McMullen was – but you can be sure that’s how it’s done by at least 25 of the NHL’s 30 franchises.

So, in my opinion, the Islanders’ management structure is perfectly fine. I suspect that one day it will be heralded to a ridiculous degree. Like the career-term deal to Rick DiPietro, it’s interesting how other NHL teams have followed suit by talking about their “new management structure" - having co-GMs (Dallas), adding senior voices (St. Louis), possibly hiring the head coach before the GM (Toronto).

Perhaps if the Islanders did anything wrong when putting together the “hockey committee,” it was in the announcing of the news itself. I'm a big believer in sometimes just implementing an idea and letting the tale be told over time instead of calling immediate attention to it. I remember Neil Smith getting creamed by “Mike & The Mad Dog” about the structure on the day he was hired, and it seemed to me we made it way too easy for people who didn’t know what they were talking about to poke holes in it, to make fun of it.

It's a fact of life, folks. When you’re coming off a season when you don’t qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s often best to keep things low-key. When you’re winning, you can do whatever you want and you’ll look like a genius. Think about the perception of the Boston Celtics under Danny Ainge a year ago. Think about the perception of the New York Giants about eight weeks before they won the Super Bowl.

The Dallas Stars fired the very bright Doug Armstrong during last season, replacing him with co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson. Without making a roster move, the Stars proceeded to go weeks without losing. Man, even before they traded for Brad Richards and made the conference final, that co-GM thing was brilliant!

Two years later, the hockey committee is a strong idea but really no big whoop. When the Islanders surprised the critics by making the playoffs with a miracle run in the last week of '06-07, the new management structure never came up, did it?

Substitute “hockey committee” or “unique management structure” with what it really is:

Just a bunch of your leaders communicating on a regular basis.

Ultimately, the “hockey committees” or “unique management structures” that are popping up in NHL cities near you will succeed or fail based on competence and successful communication.

That, and – oh yeah – on whether your team wins hockey games.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I'm in the media now: column runs in The Hockey News

During the third day of my retirement, I wrote a column about a few things the NHL could do better and I sent it to The Hockey News. Next thing I know, Bruce Bennett is taking a headshot of me when we're in Philly for Game 4 because THN wanted to run the article.

I guess I'm not media-relatin' for now. I'm in the media. Such a proud moment for me.

Seriously, having a full-page column in The Hockey News is a cool thing. It's in the current issue on the Stanley Cup Final. Lidstrom and Crosby are on the cover, which also features a tease for my story. It says, "Not Enough Hate in the NHL."

That refers to one of my suggestions, that the game could use some more bad blood.

I write: "Is there a rule that everyone in this violently beautiful game has to act like gentlemen all the time? Face it: the objective is to win the Stanley Cup and make the most money. There may be revenue sharing, but there doesn’t have to be spit sharing. Players are competitors, not colleagues. If you want to skip the handshake line, or just one hand, go for it. And if you really can’t stomach someone on the other team, please alert the media the day before the game."

Please pick up this issue (at newsstands now!) or through and let me know what you think. Also send letters to the editor either praising my work or blasting the heck out of it. Editors like that. Maybe I'll get to do another one and take my wife out for a second dinner.

The photo THN ran with the column is of Sean Avery. Funny how things work out, eh?

The headline the editors wrote is "I Got Voted Off The Island," which is strange because, as I say in the opening paragraph, I resigned.

Oh man, now I don't even sound like a blogger but a traditional sports reporter whining about my editors. This life change has me so screwed up.