Monday, September 15, 2008

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."

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