Sunday, August 31, 2008
Jason Giambi decides this is a good time to start yukking it up at first base with Pedroia. They chat, a few giggles, while Giambi is holding a supposed member of the archrivals on first. Really now: give me a frickin’ break. Could you ever see this happening in hockey? Tie game, third period, a March showdown in front of a crazed Coliseum crowd, Comrie and Gomez sharing a laugh before a faceoff.
I know baseball is a different game, but is it too much to ask the players to care as much as the fans? The Red Sox took the lead that inning. Later on, Pedroia hit a grand slam to pretty much end the Yankees’ season. Didn’t stay with the game long enough to see if Giambi patted his little pal Pedroia on the butt as he circled the bases.
Are you ready for some hockey?
Point Blank has learned from impeccable sources deep inside Newsday headquarters in Melville that plans are being made to increase coverage of the Islanders, Rangers and the NHL in the newspaper and on newsday.com. We assume this is simply because the powerbrokers at Newsday have come to appreciate the popularity of ice hockey on Long Island, but we have not been able to confirm the reasons for the change in policy. Doesn’t matter. We’ll take it.
Mats Sundin? Unlikely, but smart to make the call for a whole bunch of reasons. He’s still a great player that will only cost the Islanders cash, and they are currently more than $15 million under the salary camp. They could find a roster spot for him and his 22 minutes as the No. 1 center would not crush the development of any stud center prospect.
Mats also loves him some fine dining and culture and lists the Islanders as his favorite team growing up. Anders Kallur has not responded to my request for comment on whether he has been courting Sundin (that’ll stir it up!). As an added bonus, nothing wrong with some sincere, heated competition to sign him, right? Worst that could happen is Sundin signs with the Rangers for less, and that’s not really a big deal at this point. As far as I can tell, the Islanders have not made any firm offers and Mats’ people haven’t told the Islanders they’re wasting their time.
I am now on Facebook. That’s a line I’d never thought I’d write. But I am, so please join me.
Please stay tuned to this space and elsewhere in the next two weeks for news on my latest venture. I hope you will be as pleased as I am and will help me spread the word. Thanks for hanging in with me over a very different kind of off-season…CB
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
It would make sense on a lot of levels for the GM to close a deal with first round pick Josh Bailey prior to the opening of camp. Draft picks do not apply to the same rule as our children. In the NHL, your draft picks are not all loved equally. Signing Bailey before he hits the ice in Moncton would send a message, especially to Bailey himself.
There’s a lot riding on Bailey, whom the team feels even better about after the kid spent a long time on and off the ice on Long Island post-draft. To a lot of eyes, the Islanders moved a few mountains (and grabbed a few extra picks) in taking the skilled two-way center with exceptional leadership qualities (darn, can’t get that PR stuff outta my head!) It’s only natural they would attempt to show the same respect towards Bailey as other teams have lavished on their recent prized first picks. Tampa Bay has signed Steven Stamkos, LA Drew Doughty. Continuing in neat order, Atlanta is ready to speak with No. 3 pick Zack Bogosian.
Of course, the Islanders do not have to wait for all of the first eight picks to sign before they ink their boy. For a deal with Bailey, the salary cap does most of the work. It mostly comes down to bonuses. There is also no downside to the gesture of committing early to their prized prospect. If he does not make the team – I don’t think you can rule that out with 100% certainty, at least for October – the three-year contract simply begins when Bailey becomes a regular pro.
The Islanders have done this before with first rounders. Don’t be surprised to hear about a Bailey deal sometime between Labor Day and the start of training camp.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Sports Illustrated assumes Hartley, Maurice and Crawford didn't care they were passed up. I say you've gotta be frickin' kidding me.
Jim Kelley is a Hall of Fame hockey writer and person who recently made the sort of lazy move that used to give me chest pains when I was on the PR side. In a recent column on SI.com, the former Buffalo News reporter wrote the following sentence on the Islanders:
"It's the kind of place where experienced coaches like Joel Quennvelle, John Tortotella, Bob Hartley, Maurice, Marc Crawford and a slew of other seasoned but currently unemployed coaches don't necessarily object to being passed over."
The laziness has nothing to do with the typos/spelling errors on two big-name NHL coaches. The bigger problem is, does Kelley really know that all of these coaches ho-hummed not getting the Islanders job? Did he ask them? Did he think about checking with them – at least off-the-record – before telling a big audience on Sports Illustrated’s website that they’d rather be unemployed than work for the Islanders?
I really doubt it. The line reads like the kind of throw-away journalism a hockey writer might post from the beach on August 14th. That’s too bad because, beyond the Islanders’ image, Jim may have inadvertently made some respected coaches in need of work look like reckless idiots.
What we do know is that Quenneville gracefully declined an invitation to interview. Tortorella, being paid over a mill by Tampa Bay this year not to coach, came in for a lengthy interview but both parties knew this wasn’t the time or the team.
But what about Bob Hartley? Is Jim Kelley certain he “didn’t necessarily object to being passed over.” How about Paul Maurice? Are we really to believe it was no big whoop to Maurice he didn’t get the gig? You really think Marc Crawford is not the least bit concerned about getting another shot at a head coaching job in the NHL?
Here’s a challenge to my friend Mr. Kelley. The cell numbers of all the coaches he named can be easily obtained by a veteran writer of his stature. Call up Tortorella, Hartley, Maurice and Crawford. Give them the chance (on-the-record only) to share their thoughts on the Islanders’ hiring process. Perhaps they will confirm that they didn’t give much of a hoot about not getting the job.
It’s late August. There aren’t a lot of hockey stories right now. Jim Kelley’s one of the classier men in the business. I have a feeling he’d make a real good column out of his findings.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I also couldn't resist replying in the Comments area after a poster said the fisherman jersey must have been my downfall (that downfall took more than ten years!) and another said DiPietro's annual 4.5 will lead to the next work stoppage.
Check it out here. Thanks.
For starters, I’m willing to put my decent hot streak of forecasts on the line. I’ve always wondered what it’s like for Peter Gammons to say Manny isn’t being traded, and then learn six minutes later Manny’s LA-bound. Always wondered what it’s like to be Sal Paolantonio all over the Favre thing and say, “It’s not even close. This could take days,” and then have Jay Glazer on Fox report 20 minutes later that Brett’s a Jet.
So here goes. I accept all risk and embarrassment.
No frickin’ way Bryan McCabe is going to be acquired by the Islanders this year.
I could qualify it and add that Bryan isn’t coming here unless the Islanders get a very high draft pick along with McCabe in return for a defenseman's salary the Islanders are happy to lose, but that would be weak.
So I’ll say it again: no frickin’ way McCabe is coming to the Islanders. For Bryan’s sake, I really hope he gets out of TO and finds happiness with a team that will appreciate his guts and dedication. It’s too bad the timing just isn’t right for a return to the Islanders. Maybe another day.
Making even less sense are the rumors on the net that our recently bought-out pal Mark Parrish could be on his way to the Islanders.
Who doesn’t love Parrish? This is a guy who can say something moronic like, “If the fans just want to boo, they can stay home” and have everyone get over it a few days later because he’s like the kid next door everyone wants to hang with. The morning after his brain cramp I told him, “Parry, cancel your plans tonight. Your penalty is signing autographs at the Team Store for an hour.” Mark replied, “I’ll stay there and sign for as long as people want to yell at me. I deserve it.”
But back to the rumor mill. How can any hockey website with pride really think Parrish is coming to Long Island? Is anyone at these sites paying even a little attention?
For richer and poorer, the Islanders are committed to this rebuild (I can use that word because I don’t work there anymore. The GM has to use words like “re-tooling,” – as if that’s any different).
The Islanders have 13 forwards virtually locked in to make the team out of training camp. Only two of them – Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau – are on two-way contracts. Garth Snow gave one-way deals to Jeff Tambellini and Frans Nielsen because he believes they are NHL players. Tambellini would have to clear waivers – he wouldn’t – and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that if Frans didn’t get a one-way deal, he could have ended up in some unpronounceable European city with a lucrative, tax-free deal and the Islanders may have never seen him again.
The other 9 forwards: Bergenheim, Comrie, Guerin, Hilbert, Hunter, Park, Sillinger, Sim, Weight.
If we take it case-by-case, is Mark Parrish at age 32 still a better player than some of the above? Maybe, but it just doesn’t matter. Sign Parrish and you're telling Okposo and Comeau you don't really like them as much as everyone thought you did. Sign Parrish and you're essentially exposing your stated vision to build around youth as a fraud.
Grabbing a popular former player just because he’s available and he might be able to score 25 goals again is just not how you do it if you are truly committed to a plan.
I called around on McCabe. I didn’t bother on Parrish. If Snow blinks and picks up Parry, the Plan takes its first detour and then there would be never be any reason to believe the Islanders are true to their vision. As much as it would be nice having Mark around again, I just don’t see it happening. It can’t happen.
For his performance at the press conference and a sometimes shaky phoner with Mike Francesa on WFAN, I'd give new coach Scott Gordon a solid B. He was understandably a bit nervous and, as he said, not used to coverage from his Providence days. What did come through in his interviews were his integrity, good nature and a confidence that his way is the right way. You had to like that.
Hard to tell when I'll be back at this again, but I check the Comments daily and good questions are always inspirational. Keep them coming, and continued thanks for all the hits the last few weeks.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
“I don’t know why Scott wasn’t in the mix for the other (NHL) jobs this summer. Anyone who follows the ‘A’ will tell you he’s been the best coach in our league and deserved a shot.”
I asked the other coach if the P-Bruins were the most skilled team in the American League last season. “Not even close. Definitely not top-5 and maybe not even top-10. Don’t get me wrong, they have some players, but Scott got more out of them than anyone could have expected.”
Gushing stories on AHL coaches, like the lovely one on Gordon from the Providence Journal last season, are no big whoop. You can find stories boasting about the work ethic of coaching prospects all over the internet. There’s nothing like references from the coaches on the other bench.
“His teams were the most prepared in the league, the best-conditioned and the hardest-working,” said one of the AHL coaches. “With his focus on defense, he took a pretty good team to 55 wins. Scott showed me that I still have more to learn.”
Scott Gordon and Paul Maurice were hands-down the best available candidates for this job. My concerns for Gordon all have to do with his lack of NHL experience, which is why I gave a slight edge to Maurice. The Islanders have young people in the top jobs – Garth Snow in the GM’s chair, Ryan Jankowski running the draft. Nothing wrong with that, but I thought the franchise could use someone that might still be young, but has been there and done that.
Also, while we talk a lot about the Islanders’ youth movement, let’s not lose sight of the fact this is a team with plenty of veterans who define grizzled – Bill Guerin, Mike Sillinger, Doug Weight, Brendan Witt, Richard Park. Sometimes first-year NHL coaches lean on motivational tricks that may have worked in the AHL, but are met with shrugs (or worse) in the big leagues. I’ve seen the backlash; it’s ugly. Gordon really needs to resist the temptation to go there.
Forgive me as I do my impersonation of ESPN and The Post and share a few things I wrote in the last month, followed by some reaction.
July 6: “The Islanders have two options: work through the issues and commit completely to Ted Nolan, or shake hands and say goodbye. More than themselves or even their fan base, they owe that to Ted.”
To say the Islanders are better off for it would be an understatement. Unlike his last break from the game, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ted gets another shot at the NHL in the next 12 months. I hope so.
July 20: “In my view, the man best suited for the opportunity is Paul Maurice. I’m aware Maurice may not be the most exhilarating choice, but the Islanders do not need exhilarating. They've done that.”
A few last thoughts on Maurice, my first choice, leading to some derisive feedback because of his career won-lost record and lack of hysterical arm-waving behind the bench.
Amazing to me that his Toronto experience is so over-analyzed. Hmm, let’s see: what do we now know about his franchise player at the Leafs. Oh yeah, that he waffles like a Green Bay quarterback on whether or not to play hockey for ten million dollars a year. Geez, can’t believe Maurice couldn’t make that work!
But the final word is on Maurice’s integrity. A few days ago, a hockey scribe got Maurice on his cell phone. The coach made it clear he wanted to respect the process but would talk in detail when it was over. Maurice did say one thing, however. “I’ve seen some stories from people making it sound like this is a job anyone with experience would not want. This is a big opportunity. There are plenty of reasons to go after that job.”
July 27: “To this former PR flak, an August 12 press conference looks good: Yankees in Minnesota, Mets in Washington, Favre’s destination already known. I would think a new Islanders coach would fill most of Newsday’s backpage the following day – big-name hire or not.”
Okay, so technically the press conference is tomorrow, but the Islanders did announce the decision on August 12. Kill me for recommending Maurice all you want, but do I get any credit for at least getting the date right more than two weeks ago?
Sunday, August 10, 2008
This opinion has not changed.
I don’t know the identity of the next Islanders coach. All of us now know the finalists – Maurice, Bob Hartley and Scott Gordon. The biggest story of this search is no longer the man named coach, but the man making the selection. Know this, Islanders fans - this will be 100% Garth Snow’s choice as head coach. That’s because this is now 100% Garth Snow’s roster and coaching staff.
In my view, he cannot go wrong with two of his finalists. Scott Gordon brings to the table many of Maurice’s best attributes. What he lacks in NHL experience – if he gets the gig, there will be a significant learning curve in dealing with everyone from Brendan Witt and Mike Comrie to bloggers at games and fans at Open Houses – Gordon does have one major advantage: a practiced dedication to defense. Associates of Gordon say he is obsessive about a defense-first attitude in his teams. With Rick DiPietro and a better-than-billed top 7 on D, Gordon’s commitment to goals-against makes him a very worthy candidate for the Islanders’ job.
Gordon’s history of getting the most out of his lineups with stingy-dirty team defense means Islanders scouts probably won’t have to bother looking at kids likely to go in the first five picks of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. On the other hand, the prospects Ryan Jankowski and Co. have already drafted would continue a proper education when they arrive on Long Island.
Oh yeah, and Gordon – an ex-goalie who loves his goalies – would also be DiPietro’s best chance for an annual GAA in the very low 2s and nomination for the Vezina.
One feels like a major hump saying that a head coach who’s won a Stanley Cup is not the right man, but that’s the way I honestly feel about Bob Hartley and this job. Hartley is a very good coach whose rep has taken some ridiculously unfair hits from his Atlanta experience, including a shameful cheapshot from a Calgary columnist without a clue or hint of dignity. It is simply that, knowing what I think I know about the kind of coach needed in this market, with this team and in these times, Hartley is not a fit.
If Hartley does not get the job, I would advise he spend one season as a top consultant and roving instructor with an NHL team – why not with his friend Snow at the Islanders? – and wait for the inevitable opening when a talented team needs a firmer hand that comes equipped with a Cup ring.
And if Hartley does become head coach, Garth rarely listened to me before so I wouldn’t expect him to start now. It would only cement the notion that this is Snow’s decision, Snow’s team.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
While Gallant is likely not a frontrunner heading into his meeting with Garth Snow, he without a doubt deserves the opportunity to make his case for the job. Gerard is a good hockey man who was a true professional under some very trying circumstances as an assistant coach last season. I’ve seen some message-board material that pins the Islanders’ power play woes last season squarely on Gallant and therefore this should eliminate him from contention. Respectfully, this should be labeled in the category of fiction.
I believe Crawford is a major longshot. He’s a fascinating case because it wasn’t too long ago that he was considered hands-down the brightest and most exciting coaching prospect in the game. Crawford may have made a mistake jumping right back into the LA job just as Dean Lombardi was retooling the Kings roster. A year away to re-invent himself might do him some good.
John Tortorella could be faced with a similar career decision should he be a finalist for the Islanders job. Unlike candidates such as Paul Maurice, Bob Hartley, Mike Sullivan and Scott Gordon, a contract negotiation with Tortorella would likely be a more layered process. Like Crawford was years ago, Tortorella is a star and his earning power may never be stronger.
I wrote the following two weeks ago as I listed what the Islanders should be looking for in their next head coach:
“Someone who won’t be thinking about where his next NHL job is going to be. Someone who won’t view the Islanders as if they’re a mid-major like Vanderbilt on the way to Tennessee.”
The candidate I was specifically thinking of was Joel Quenneville. Coach Q has always been considered one of the classiest men in the game. I’m glad he had the class to withdraw his name from consideration before he went down a road that would not have benefitted him or the Islanders.
A John Tortorella story: It’s the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Lightning fire a shot before their first round series with the Islanders even begins. Lightning management has boxed the Islanders out of their chosen hotel in Tampa Bay for games 1 and 2. Sniping on both sides in the media begins, and when the Islanders – a big underdog – earn a split in the two games it looks like the series is going to be a nasty one.
When the Lightning arrive on Long Island, they learn that payback is a bitch. Among other things, it’s about 110 degrees in the visiting team locker room at the Coliseum. They also find their room not stocked with many of the usual amenities.
I’m in the Coliseum hallway talking to my PR colleague with the Lightning. A very sweaty John Tortorella approaches. “This (crap) has to stop,” the Tampa Bay head coach says. “Any chance Mike Milbury is around? Can you see if he’ll talk to me so we can settle this like gentlemen”?
I go to Mike’s office and tell him Tortorella comes in peace and wants a truce. The Islanders GM is impressed. “Walk him down here.”
Tortorella pleads, “This is getting stupid, Mike. You’re a coach at heart, like me. C’mon, for everyone’s sake let’s put this behind us and act like pros.” Tortorella apologizes for any nonsense that went down in Tampa Bay.
Milbury apologizes as well, the two shake hands and within minutes the Lightning room is cooled. When I see Mike later he says, “That was impressive. He’s going to be a great coach in this league.”
It would be a stretch to call Tortorella’s move genius, just because his Lightning won the next three games to clinch the series and went on to win the Stanley Cup. But I was blown away by the coach’s take-charge attitude. Most coaches in this game would never march into the office of an opposing GM. Time will tell if he and the Islanders are a fit. What I do know is the next team that gets him will be very fortunate.
Over the last two years the Islanders have invited veteran free agents to training camp, Richard Park the biggest success story. There will always be invitations to junior players the Islanders scouts would like to get another look at. But with the team's commitment to youth, one would have to assume that in September you will not see older invitees as Park, Mike Dunham and Bryan Berard were.
What there will be at camp is a new coach, some intriguing prospects to monitor and very little competition for jobs. The seven defensemen, all signed to one-way contracts, are virtually set in stone.
The biggest story of the opening of camp will be the status of Rick DiPietro, Bill Guerin and Mike Sillinger, who are all coming off major surgeries. Logan will be all over it.
By the way, maybe someone smarter than me (are you there, Eric Hornick of MSG?) can look this up. In the modern era of the NHL, what is the closest to the start of training camp that a team hired its head coach? Have to believe the Islanders may be approaching a record.
Islander fans: two things need to happen for these pathetic blogs by non-hockey writers ripping the Islanders on Newsday.com to go away.
One, the Islanders have to stick to their plan and take a step forward over the next 12 months. This doesn’t necessarily mean sneaking into the eighth spot, but the team playing hard, prospects coming along and management making smart moves consistent with their vision.
Two, fans have to resist the urge to pelt Newsday with letters to the editor, phone calls to Melville and dozens of posts in the Comments area.
Just sayin’, but if I’m a sports blogger and my Comments section has been running dry lately, here’s what I would do: write a few paragraphs on the fisherman logo and the Luongo trade and Neil Smith and – presto – wait for the call of congratulations from my boss for all the hits my blog just got.