Thursday, September 25, 2008 is now live!

This is the place to go for now on. Thanks...CB

Monday, September 22, 2008

About, opening Thursday morning

The re-launch of Point Blank is this Thursday, September 25. Please remember to set your dials to If everything falls into place, there should be plenty of reading material on the new site by the time you wake up in the morning. The old site, the one you’re reading now, will self-destruct a few days later.

I’m real excited about the new Word Press blog, designed by a Long Island company called Generations Beyond. There has been the expected (and even understandable) cynicism toward the notion of my new space being a truly independent blog. I thought a long time about how I would fight it. Then I realized the only way is to work my ass off, dig hard, get creative, be honest and let everyone decide for themselves. starts Thursday with, among other posts, a fairly comprehensive review of the Islanders roster at the NHL level. I have implemented a player rating system, state whether the coaching change is a plus or minus for each player and have an Eastern Conference pro scout provide his view of the defensemen and a Western Conference assistant coach analyze the Islanders’ forwards.

In those three days when the Islanders are wrapping up in Canada and I’m closing out some business on Long Island, there could be as many as 15 updates. When the Islanders start back at Iceworks a week from today, I’ll be there waiting for them.

Point Blank will cover the Islanders season as a beat, but from a different perspective. Greg Logan of Newsday will do what he does and continue to do it well. I hope the Daily News, Post and Times are also around more regularly and you'll have my old pals from the NYI Blog Box. Point Blank will do it a bit differently. For example, if the Islanders have an early regular season road game, Newsday and will have comprehensive reports on the game. Point Blank may instead decide to blog all day from Bridgeport on the development of Joensuu and company. While we will be all over major stories like Kyle Okposo’s rookie season and Rick DiPietro’s health, there will be plenty of times when we won’t do the mainstream.

There will be a regular item called Checklist, where you help write the story with me. The first list: How This Season Will Be Judged. There will be an NHL notes column, like all the newspapers used to have in the old days. There will be Features, such as an in-depth look at what led to the selection of one of the Islanders’ second round picks this summer and a story about a member of the Islanders hockey staff who had his car blown up (not with him in it). There will be Experiences, first-person accounts of some notorious or wonderful events in team history. Most of all there will be breaking news, scoops and plenty of opinions.

Oh yeah, and we’re working out details with a Long Island establishment for the first Point Blank Night: TV coverage of an Islanders road game, wine-tasting, appetizers, a special guest, plenty of hockey talk. I hope to see you there, probably November 6.

Thank you to everyone for the kind words about the news of the re-jiggered blog and even to passionate critics like the Rangers blogger Scotty Hockey for trying to keep me honest on its independence. I’m confident there will be plenty you’ll like about the new blog and some you might think really stinks. (Hey, sometimes you have to experiment). But it will never be boring, will never go very long without updates and, hopefully above all else, will be a lot of fun.

Thank you also to the many fans and bloggers offering to be part of Point Blank. At the opening, I will have to go it alone. Soon after, I will be add one experienced blogger as a guest editor so I can work on another project (there is a possibility of a small broadcast gig) and so my family doesn't leave me - at least this season. I’m also looking at a videographer so we can maybe add some post-game interviews to the site. Not to sound like Mike Francesa, but please give me some time to put it all together.

Maybe against my better judgment, the Comments area of the new blog will be wide-open from the start. I will only moderate if it turns profane or unwieldy. Please let me know right from the start if Point Blank is working for you. I can’t wait to get started.

Thanks again, everybody…CB

Monday, September 15, 2008

Details on the "new" Point Blank, debuting September 25

I want to thank everyone for supporting this blog over the last year, and for making this new venture possible. This does not happen without your readership and all the kind words since my departure from the team in May.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. We're gonna have some fun. I'll (hopefully) break some stories, write until it hurts and try not to embarrass myself too often.

I have lots of plans for how you can get involved. Spread the word, please. And as a reminder, I'm on Facebook. Look forward to seeing you there and around the rink...CB

Here's the official word:

“Islanders Point Blank” Blog Debuts on September 25th
Independent site by former team VP Chris Botta to provide 24/7 coverage for hockey fans

Plainview, NY, September 15, 2008 – Providing fans alternative and independent coverage of their team, the New York Islanders will be a primary sponsor of a new blog with round-the-clock commentary of the Islanders and the NHL. “Islanders Point Blank” will launch on Thursday, September 25 and will be run by managing editor Chris Botta, the team’s former longtime Media Relations Vice President. Botta’s opinion pieces, breaking news reports, rumors, rankings and feature stories on Islanders Point Blank will not be subject to approval by team management.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for the fans to receive in-depth, nearly around the clock coverage of the team,” said Islanders President Chris Dey. “Chris Botta will provide the fans with a perspective and insight that they've never had before. Hopefully this develops similar arrangements with other highly qualified journalists throughout the league."

In addition to his 20-year career in the Islanders’ front office which ended last spring, Botta was a color commentator on radio broadcasts in the mid-’90s, co-authored (with Stan Fischler) the book “Pride & Passion” on the team’s first 25 years and has been a freelance contributor to publications including Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News. In his final season with the Islanders he created the NYI Blog Box, of which Richard Deitsch of wrote, “I predict Botta will be proved a visionary when it comes to the relationship between professional sports teams and bloggers.”

“The goal of Point Blank is to provide constant coverage and honest analysis of the Islanders from an original perspective,” said Botta. “Having worked for the team for so long, I have a lengthy list of contacts around the NHL and I have so many stories to share. I hope to inform and entertain hockey fans, and there will be plenty of opportunities for them to get involved on the blog.”

Islanders Point Blank ( will debut on Thursday, September 25.

The final word on Sugden

Today, Brandon Sugden is like all the other players attending NHL training camps as tryouts this week.

Even for the most optimistic Sugden supporters, he has to be considered a longshot to make the team.

He has to prove that he's not just in decent shape after playing in a low-rent "Slap Shot" league in Quebec the last two years - he has to prove, at age 30 and two years out of real pro hockey, that he is better conditioned than everyone in Islanders camp.

Sugden has to prove his skating is good enough to keep up with the rest of the fourth-liners on the Islanders. No one - not Sugden, not anyone - knows right now if he can do that. All we have to go on is his play with the Syracuse Crunch two years ago.

Reason to drive to Moncton: many teams have bans on fighting in scrimmages during training camp. But if you're Garth Snow and Scott Gordon, don't you need to see who's the best battler out of Sugden, Mitch Fritz and Joel Rechlicz? Roll the cameras, Islanders TV! Ah, think of all the hits on You Tube.

If Sugden makes the team, expect it to be as the 23rd man on the roster. Maybe he plays a game a week until his effectiveness can be judged. Thirteen forwards are already making the Islanders: the 11 on one-way contracts, plus Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau.

And if Sugden doesn't make the team, he'll have plenty of two-way offers from NHL franchises - probably from some of the teams that initially blocked him.

Either way, it should be a fun subplot to what is usually a drama-less first week of camp. Sept. 29, two weeks from today, is the team's first camp session back on the Island. Chances of Sugden making it that far? I'd say 50/50. As he told me last week, "Nobody's going to hand me anything. I know I have to earn it."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

OMG, Sugden's coming to camp

At 9:15 pm I listened to a voicemail message on my cell that I probably will never forget. It was Brandon Sugden, shaking and ecstatic.

"Hey Chris. I just got a call from Bill Daly. He talked to the other four teams. They're giving me the green light. Mr. Daly is clearing me. I'm coming to Islanders training camp. I hoped to get you on the phone, but for now - thank you. I'm heading back to the rink tonight for some more skating."

The dream of Brandon Sugden and his dad lives on.

Bill Daly calls Sugden

The groundswell of support for Brandon Sugden has made an impact. NHL No. 2 Bill Daly called Sugden yesterday, told him he was aware of his story and that he'd contact the teams blocking him from attending Islanders camp. Read more about it from Joe Warmington in today's Toronto Sun.

Daly did not make any promises and did not share his opinion on what he thinks should happen. But by having the grace to get involved and at least listen to Sugden, Daly is proving why he deserves to be the next commissioner in the NHL. Of course, Daly doesn't call Sugden without the green light from Gary Bettman, so the current commissioner deserves credit here, too.

Fans and bloggers (led by Lindsay Kramer in Syracuse) spread the word about Sugden, but let's face it: it's not big news in the NHL until it reaches Toronto. For that we have to acknowledge Darren Dreger of TSN and Leafs Lunch, who's become the Peter Gammons and Peter King of hockey in Canada.

Still not sure where this is headed. Still don't have reason to be overly optimistic for the enforcer. But this is a start. The plane leaves Long Island for Moncton on Friday.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Exclusive: Sugden dream-blocker revealed

Point Blank has learned the identity of one of the four teams blocking enforcer Brandon Sugden from attending Islanders training camp next week. As you might expect, it is the Islanders' biggest rival - the New York Rangers.

Makes perfect sense. Why would a team step aside graciously and allow the un-retirement of a player to join your rival? Especially when the player has the ability to land repeated blows to your players' heads.

I'm not taking sides on this case. My view is only that the league office should listen to Sugden's saga. But it's probably safe to say this: if Glen Sather and three other GMs cared enough to stop the enforcer from coming back to the NHL, Brandon Sugden must be one tough SOB.

He's also willing to put his money where his heart is. When I spoke with Sugden Tuesday night, he made a promise that he will donate 1/3 of any money he makes from playing in the NHL this season to charity. He would like it to go to the Princess Margaret Hospital in Ontario, where his father receives treatment for cancer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The NHL must listen to Brandon Sugden's story

I just got off the phone with Brandon Sugden and have reached a conclusion. It’s time for the commissioner’s office of the National Hockey League to review the case of his attempt to attend Islanders training camp next week as a tryout.

If you don’t know the Sugden saga, here’s a good rundown from The Hockey News. To attend the Islanders’ camp, Sugden needed to be cleared by all 30 NHL teams because he had officially “retired” from pro hockey in 2006. League rules state that if you retire, you must sit out one year before you can be reinstated. The rule makes sense because you could have guys retiring all over the place the moment they don’t like their current fates.

But the Sugden case has its exceptions, and its merits. If you haven’t caught him on You Tube, Sugden is a fighter – one of the best on-ice pugilists of the last decade. He played four seasons with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL but became disheartened when the NHL came out of the lockout looking to cleanse the enforcers out of the league. He left “pro hockey” to sign a deal with the St. Jean Chiefs of the LNAH, a Quebec-based league where every team has a half-dozen players with at least 200 penalty minutes a season. For more money than he was making with the Crunch, Sugden flew in for games on Fridays and Saturdays with St. Jean and worked all week in his family’s label-manufacturing business in Toronto.

Then everything changed when the Ducks of Brian Burke won the Stanley Cup, and suddenly most teams were looking for enforcers. Sugden’s dream of playing in the NHL was alive again.

The Islanders extended an invite. The team has what they believe is an up-and-coming enforcer in 21-year old Joel Rechlicz and a tough guy in Mitch Fritz, like Sugden a journeyman AHL pugilist. But most everyone in the game will tell you Sugden – when in shape – may be the most effective player in pro hockey with his gloves off. One longtime AHL executive describes him thusly: “a trained fighter, unlike anyone you’ve ever seen. Knockout power in both hands. No doubt in my mind his skating is good enough to play fourth-line shifts in the NHL. He’d be a friggin’ cult hero on the Islanders.”

There is so much more to the Sugden story, which really is about him and not at all about the Islanders. His dad – whom I can tell from one conversation with Sugden is his life – has cancer and maybe not a long time to live. In between doctor’s visits, Mr. Sugden supervises his kid’s boxing workouts in the morning – Dad was a boxer, the first Canadian to spar with Muhammad Ali – and studies his weight training sessions to make sure Brandon isn’t taking any shortcuts.

But as touching as Sugden’s attempts to have his father see him play in the NHL may be, it cannot be the main part of his case with the NHL office and the four teams that blocked him. (Attempts to discover which three teams voted “NO” and which one abstained so he could plead his case have failed). With time running out, if I’m Sugden I get my agent and every power broker I’ve ever made friends with and approach the National Hockey League to personally tell my story. Like tomorrow.

And if I’m Sugden, I speak with Bill Daly and anyone else who’ll listen the same way he spoke with me tonight.

“Look, I made many mistakes when I was a kid,” the 30-year old Sugden said. “I was a rebellious idiot and got banned from a league. But I worked hard to turn my life around, which might not have happened if I hadn’t met my wife. I have been off drugs and alcohol for seven years. I have been a good person, a good example, for a long time. When I was in Syracuse I used to speak in packed auditoriums in front of more than 500 people about the wrong way and the right way to live. I did everything on my own time and I was proud when I was named Man of the Year for the Crunch.

“This is killing me. I want this chance – for me, for my dad, for a lot of reasons. I can only hope I get the chance to plead my case.”

Sugden told me tonight that he has received a few AHL offers over the last week, but he is determined to win his personal battle and is keeping his commitment to the Islanders because they were the first team to reach out and offer the invitation to camp. Only if he loses his appeal will he consider other AHL deals, which likely wouldn’t come from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers since they already have Rechlicz and Fritz under contract.

One last story about Sugden and his family. In 2003, he was looking for an AHL deal and he and his father put together a fight tape – now legend in some circles. Every team in the American League got one except for the Syracuse Crunch. A GM from another team called the Crunch and said, “Have you seen this Sugden tape? It’s unreal. I’ve already got enough fighters, but you guys must be interested.” But for some reason the tape never made it to the Syracuse offices.

When Crunch management contacted Sugden, they asked why they never got the tape. Brandon and his dad said they never in a million years would have been so classless to pitch for a job in Syracuse. On July 29, 2003, Trevor Ettinger – an enforcer prospect who played for the Crunch – committed suicide. Syracuse management thought so much of Sugden’s integrity that they brought him in for a tryout, told him they would have a zero-tolerance attitude toward any BS and gave the man a chance.

Whether the National Hockey League will is uncertain, whether they should is open for debate. I hope the league will at least listen to his story.