Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Can it get any worse?

If there was ever a team that needed to avoid the injury bug, it was the Islanders.

With a new coach, a new system and young players being plugged into the lineup, having the team stay healthy is all the fans really could have asked for. Expectations were low, but if the team was healthy we could have had a better idea of what the Islanders have to work with and see if they could begin building something.

Alas, life is not fair. The Isles have been hammered by injuries all season, the latest casualties being Andy Sutton (broken foot) and leading scorer Doug Weight (groin). Trent Hunter is back, but Mike Sillinger is still out, as is Rick DiPietro, who is being given plenty of time to come back from his knee surgery.

After all , what's the rush?

The Islanders saw a rally go for naught in a 4-2 loss to the awful Thrashers Tuesday night, and head into the Christmas break on a 10-game winless streak. Ten games! I feel privileged to have been there in person to see the only point gained in that stretch, the overtime loss to the Caps.

So that's a winless December for the Islanders, who are the only team in the area playing worse than the Jets, the other team I root for. Have I mentioned I'm a Mets fan, too? Bad times, people. Bad times.

We'd like to imagine what the Islanders' record would be had players like Martinek and Gervais and Comrie and Nielsen and Okposo not missed so much time, or if DiPietro had been able to start the season and stay here. But injuries are part of the game and no one has any sympathy.

Would the Isles be in first place? No. In contention for the playoffs? Maybe, maybe not. But we'd have a better read on Gordon and his system and whether it can work in the NHL or not.

We know it's an offense-first system that puts pressure on the defense, and Brendan Witt was right when pointed out the obvious. Gordon needs to figure out what works and what doesn't, and it would be a lot easier had he had a full deck to deal with. But he doesn't, and this team was talent-challenged to begin with.

Here's hoping the new year brings with it better health and at least gives this team the chance to play together for a while and make some progress.

Is that too much to ask for, Santa?

Monday, December 15, 2008

LIVEBLOG: Caps at Islanders

We're doing something a little different and a little more fun in the Blog Box -- hey, we gotta jazz things up somehow -- with a multi-blogger live blog from the Coliseum.

Check it out and chime in: (Sorry about the window size - we're working on it!)

OK, so Dee ended the live blog (by accident) early just as things got interesting - so it's 4-3 Caps, 6 1/2 minutes left, 4 on 4.

So we'll do it the old-fashioned way.

Park breaks in, tries to deke - nothing. But then Weight gets pulled down and the Isles are on the PP with 4:19 left, trailing by one.

Isles working the zone - PP runs out ... but then STREIT with the wrister from the point and it's a TIE GAME! Streit shoots it between the legs of a defender with Sim in front, and Sim deflects it into the net. Giggedy Giggedy indeed!

Last two minutes ... Nice work by Bergy keeping it in - blast by Guerin stopped by Johnson with 1:01. A frenzy!

Hilbert with a blocked shot and we're going to OVERtime!

BTW, I'm the only blogger in the Box still online. And I'll stay here til the very end, be it sweet or bitter. That's how I roll.

Pretty even so far in the OT but the Isles need to make sure someone is on Ovetchkin like a blazer.

Great shot by Hunter, snared by Johnson with 1:10 left.

OHHHHH - Alex off the POST! Walks in -- WHAT??

And 10.7 seconds left, Isles don't clear - Alex O buries it in the top left corner. Isles LOSE.

Oh, the pain. JUST CLEAR THE PUCK!!!!!!

No more words.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Islanders, like the economy and Avery's career, are sinking fast

So I was at a Christmas party Saturday night when a friend of mine asked if I was still blogging about the Islanders.


"Really?" another friend said. "Not a lot of positives there."

"Uh... No."

The party coincided with the Isles' 3-1 loss to the force of nature that is the Columbus Blue Jackets, so I was spared having to witness the team's sixth straight loss and eighth in their past nine. Good to see Richard Park score another shorthanded goal, his fifth tally of the season. And I guess Joey MacDonald played better than he did in the landslide in Pittsburgh.

But, again, not a lot of positives to speak of.

The Dallas Stars, meanwhile, said they are moving on without Sean Avery.

What a shock.

Where Avery will end up is anyone's guess. His own teammates and coaches, as well as opponents, despise him. The only ones who like him are the fans who like seeing him stir the pot, but they don't have to put up with him on the bench, in the locker room, in practice, on the team bus, or (God forbid) on a plane flight.

He is currently in an "undisclosed location" undergoing treatment for his anger issues.

One wonders if he is getting the Alex DeLarge treatment for his problems.

Avery could go back to the minors, then if he clears waivers and someone claims him, the Stars would split his salary with that new team.

Here's hoping he just quits the game and pursues his true passion -- fashion. I hear Christian Siriano is looking for an intern, and it's rumored he has an Avery poster on his bedroom wall.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Changing the channel was never so easy

My kids dominate the television in our house. If it isn't Noggin or PBS Kids, the TV is tuned to Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon or Toon Disney, or a Scooby-Doo DVD. I've got the theme for "Arthur" burned into my hippocampus.

Thursday night my son couldn't decide what video to watch before bedtime, so I said, "Great, we can watch the Islanders," and we turned on the game in time to see the Penguins go up, 2-0. Moments later, we saw Mark Streit score on the power play and I felt a surge of optimism, and wondered if I shouldn't start recording the game on the DVR so I could watch the whole thing after the kids went to bed.

Maybe not. Two Pittsburgh goals later, we switched to "Sid the Science Kid" (not to be confused with Sid the Kid), and by the time the kids were asleep, the score was 7-1. Guess I didn't miss much.

Joey MacDonald allowed two soft goals before being pulled, but when you lose, 9-2, you can't put it all on the goalies. Blowouts like this are on everyone, coaches included, and the Isles' malaise continues. Are they really this bad?

I have a hard time saying 'no.'

But there was some good news. Rick DiPietro is almost ready to return to the ice, and is awaiting medical clearance. He says he hopes to be back before Christmas.

Will that give us some Happy Holidays? We can only hope.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reality bites

It's a good thing the holidays are upon us, because between decorating the house and going to parties and shopping and managing long lists for Santa, there's little time to spend fretting over the state of the Islanders.

Four losses in a row -- with a game Thursday night in Pittsburgh looming -- is bad enough, but the Isles have been mediocre to putrid for almost three weeks now, losing seven of their last 10.

Look closer and you notice that one of those wins was aided by an own goal, and another, the home victory over the Senators, did not feature the team's best effort and could have been a loss if not for the superhuman effort of Freddy Meyer.

So is the stark reality finally settling in? Are we in for a long winter's nap?

Tuesday's loss at Philly wasn't all bad. Andy Hilbert continues to play well, picking up his seventh goal of the season, this one on the power play. And Doug Weight moved closer to 1,000 points with his sixth goal of the year.

Leads, however, are as fragile for the Islanders as a daisy dipped in liquid nitrogen. Philly scored the next three goals to move ahead, but Blake Comeau scored early in the third -- his first of the season -- to make a game of it. That is, until Simon Gagne put the Flyers ahead for good six minutes later.

There's still reason to believe. Sillinger is back, DiPietro is at least skating again, and Okposo will return soon enough. The addition of Comeau is a welcome one, and hopefully he will find the mojo that he enjoyed for a time last season, while Jeff Tambellini goes through a "conditioning" stint in Bridgeport, where it looks like he belongs.

As far Sean Avery's six-game suspension, I am amazed at some of the reactions from the media. Anyone who thinks that Avery got six games solely for his comments in Calgary isn't paying attention.

This was a warning shot across the bow for years of negative behavior. Mike Emrick delivered an audio commentary on the Avery escapade before the suspension was handed down, and in it he pointed out that, behind the scenes, people who have worked with Avery in the past say it again and again: he never learns. He has been talked to, lectured, yelled at -- nothing gets through to him. Emrick also refers to one unnamed front office person who said that there are many incidents with Avery that will never come to light. Scary, considering all that we do know.

But what gets me are the people who think the penalty was too harsh. I saw one female analyst on SNY comment that what Avery said was no different than what guys say to each other all the time. Which is true. But a guy who says that to a buddy in the bar isn't doing so as someone getting paid millions to represent his team and his league, and he certainly isn't saying it to international television.

It's apples and oranges, or to put it in a context that Avery can understand, it's like comparing haute couture to pret-a-porter.

And then there are the media types who say the NHL is crazy to discipline a player who is actually interesting and brings attention to the sport. I could care less about the mainstream media. If they don't get hockey, fine -- the NHL should focus on its core fan base anyway. We don't need that kind of attention.

Maybe the suspension will get Avery's attention, but I don't think anyone in the NHL believes it will. It allows the league to say, "Hey, we tried," for when Avery does something stupid again and they finally kick him out of the league.

And despite what may be said by the clueless media people who wouldn't know a hockey puck from a crab cake, it would be good riddance.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Stay classy, Sean Avery

In Michael Connelly's novel, THE POET, a journalist helps the FBI track down a serial killer. At one point the question is asked -- how can someone be so evil? The agents say that killers like the one dubbed "The Poet" are "from the moon," because there is just no other way to explain their behavior. They are just not from this world.

Now, trying to explain why Sean Avery does and says what he does and says is a lot like trying to figure out what makes a man like Charles Manson or Ted Bundy tick. But I'll give it a shot.

By now, you've heard what Avery had to say to Canadian television before the Stars' game Tuesday against the Flames. It was calculated, deliberate, offensive and shocking. That Gary Bettman suspended him indefinitely surprised almost no one, despite the fact that this may have been the first time in league history -- or in any league's history -- that a player was suspended for an off-the-field comment.

So other than the fact that it was Avery being Avery, why would he say such a thing? I have a theory that's a little wacky, but then again, so is Avery so there's a good chance I'm right.

You know the term "suicide by cop?" It's where someone commits a crime to put himself in a position to be shot by police and, hopefully, killed.

Well, I think Sean Avery is a very troubled and conflicted individual. And saying what he said prior to the game against the Flames was an attempt at "suicide by Phaneuf." Because if Avery had played, he would have ended up a smear on the boards or a spot on the ice after Phaneuf got through with him.

Maybe Avery was simply trying to get in Phaneuf's head and get him off his game, or get him to retaliate and get tossed, which would theoretically help the Stars' cause. But there could be more going on here. Read Scott Burnside's take on the situation, which references an ugly incident with a fan in Boston. He notes that there are those who think Avery needs professional help. Add me to the list.

Sean Avery, Darcy Tucker, Dale Hunter -- all players who are nasty but have often been called players you hate, but you'd love to have on your team. You can have them.

Ask the Stars if they still want Avery.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Islanders' cure: Play the Senators

"You can't beat us!"

The chant cascading down from Section 317 Saturday night at the Coliseum was ironic but true. The Islanders were on their way to their third straight victory over the Ottawa Senators this season, a win that snapped a two-game losing streak that had knocked the Isles off their five-wins-in-six roll.

Yes, the Senators, a team that has positively owned the Islanders in recent years, have now become the Islanders' whipping boys.

The Sens are having a bad season, just a point ahead of the awful Thrashers for least in the NHL as of Tuesday night. The Islanders aren't that far ahead point-wise, but considering the talent differential between the clubs, the Senators' standing is surprising.

I was at the game, sitting in Section 218 thanks to my friends Tom and Mike, who invited me to enjoy a game from a vantage point even better than the one I enjoy in the Blog Box (thanks, guys). Midway through the Islanders' awful second period, I commented that the Isles have a bunch of good, complementary players -- just with no one to complement.

The Senators, meanwhile, have a top line of Spezza, Heatley and Alfredsson, and they worked their magic a couple of times in a losing effort.

That's not to say that Josh Bailey -- thankfully here for the rest of the season -- and Kyle Okposo won't become top-line players and NHL stars someday. They just aren't there yet. And nothing against Bill Guerin and Doug Weight, but their best days are behind them.

There are plenty of likable players on this team, and players who give it 100 percent every night. But the skill level on offense is a couple of notches below most other clubs. Let's put it this way: the Isles' second PP line Saturday was Jon Sim, Richard Park and Andy Hilbert. Solid players, but they probably don't strike fear in too many goalies.

And yet, the Isles have won five of their last eight games, and with Bailey up for the season and Mike Sillinger back in the fold with Okposo hopefully getting back in the next few weeks, there is reason to believe that the Isles can compete on a nightly basis. Joey MacDonald is another reason to believe, and he was just named the league's third star for the month of November. Nice work, Joey.

While we wait for Thursday's game against the Capitals, why not delve into the Blog Box? Also, feel free to vote for your favorite Islanders blog at Yes!Islanders.

And check out Dee Karl's interview with Gary Bettman. Some gals have all the luck.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Can you smell what the Isles are cookin'?

"In my experience, there's no such thing as luck." - Obi Wan Kenobi

"Luck favors the prepared, darling." - Edna Mode

If you need me to tell you who Edna Mode is, you obviously don't have kids. And if you don't know who Obi-Wan Kenobi is ... then God help you.

Yes, the Islanders were very fortunate Monday night in Montreal. Own goals don't come around often, particularly those that tie the score with under five minutes to play in regulation. And when Ryan O'Byrne backhanded the puck into his own net on a delayed penalty call, well, you could certainly call that good luck.

But five wins in six games has less to do with luck and much more to do with how the Islanders have come together, despite missing their franchise goaltender, being saddled with various injuries and being in the midst the youth movement with a first-year coach fresh from the minor leagues establishing a new system.

We said at the start of the season that our expectations were almost nil, so anything positive this season would have been greatly appreciated. And it's not just the five wins in six games, two of them of the shootout variety. It's seeing inspired play from Andy Hilbert, leadership from Bill Guerin and pal Doug Weight, terrific performances from Mark Streit, and capable-if-not-spectacular goaltending from Joey MacDonald, who has been so good that no one remembers Dubie.

And has anyone missed Rick DiPietro lately?

Mark Herrmann of Newsday wrote how luck comes from hard work, and he is right. In a way, the Islanders are in a similar position as the New York Knicks. Not much is expected of them this season, but as long as they put in the effort and play like they give a damn, the fans can respect that and will show their support.

So far, the effort has been there and in the last two weeks it looks as if the Islanders are getting into the swing of things. And rookie Josh Bailey may certainly hang around for the duration, which would be fantastic.

It makes you wonder, when Okposo and Nielsen and Sillinger and DiPietro are all back in the lineup, how far the team can go.

To paraphrase Rick James, "Hope is a helluva drug."

One last thing -- if you're curious to know what Felix Potvin is doing these days, read Pierre LeBrun's piece on ESPN. Felix the Cat is coaching midget hockey in Quebec and enjoying retirement.

Chico the mind-reader

I had no problem watching last Friday's Islanders-Devils game on MSG Plus HD. Thanks to Cablevision's insistence on always placing the Islanders on MSG Plus 2 whenever the Rangers, Devils or Knicks are playing the same night, I had to choose between listening to Howie Rose and Billy Jaffe and watching in low-def or watching in HD with Mike Emrick and Chico Resch.

It was really no contest. Sorry, Howie and Billy, but I have a nice HD set and cannot watch hockey on low-def anymore. Plus, Emrick is one of the best play-by-play men anywhere -- and now a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame -- and I've never had a problem with Chico. The guy was an ex-Isle and he's likeably goofy.

But did you know Chico was also a mind-reader?

Immediately after Frans Nielsen was leveled by Mike Mottau in the third period of the 5-2 Devils win, Chico came to Mottau's defense and said he knew that Mottau was not trying to go at Nielsen's head or injure him.

Really? You knew what he was thinking? Well, Chico, I think you may be wasting your time doing Devils color commentary. Mind-reading is a pretty marketable skill. You can play Vegas with an act like that, although the government would probably find a use for you as well.

Mottau clearly made a run at Nielsen, who was flying around the ice like Apolo Anto Ohno and has been one of the Isles' best players recently. Mottau went after him, and if Nielsen wasn't so quick, he would have caught him clean in the head.

As it happened, Nielsen wasn't hit as hard up top, but in the process caught an edge and is now out 8-12 weeks with a leg injury. It was an awful, awful play and a tough break for an Islanders team that has already had to deal with a ton of injuries.

That said, I have no problem with the two-game suspension handed down by Colin Campbell. Would I have given him three or four games? Probably. But had Nielsen not caught that edge, he probably would have been well enough to continue. The leg injury was collateral damage, in a way, and while I have no doubt what Mottau's intent was, you could make the argument that he didn't mean to go after his head. A weak argument, I'll grant you.

But Chico can't tell us he KNEW what Mottau intended, especially when the visual evidence implies the opposite.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Three straight wins, three days off

Joey MacDonald matched Roberto Luongo save for save Monday night at the Coliseum, then clinched a shootout win for the Islanders by poking the puck off the stick of Alex Burrows on the Canucks' final shot, giving the Islanders -- well, lookee here -- a three-game winning streak.

Howie Rose and, in particular, Billy Jaffe, took great pleasure in pointing out what a shocking upset this was to the Vancouver media. But after sweeping the Senators in a home-and-home -- a team that has absolutely killed the Isles over the years -- the Islanders are looking pretty frisky.

You had to love the grin on Franz Neilsen's face after he schooled Roberto Luongo with a forehand-to-backhand move on the Islanders' first shootout attempt. Nodding his head emphatically as he skated past the Vancouver bench, Neilsen later said, "He's a big guy, and you don't see a lot of net," Nielsen said. "You have to try to get him down and get [the puck] up."

MacDonald is making fans forget about Rick DiPietro, and the home crowd has taken to the Jo-EY, Jo-EY chant. MacDonald, who had 31 saves, must have caught highlights of the Devils' shootout win Saturday night when he followed Scott Clemmensen's lead and poked the puck away from Burrows.

And take it for what it's worth, but Scott Gordon put Josh Bailey in his shootout lineup, and though the rookie didn't score, that's a pretty big vote of confidence for a kid who is making a strong case to stay in the bigs.

Of course, you take the good with the bad. With Radek Martinek back in the fold and Brendan Witt ready to return, Kyle Okposo suffered what is being called an "arm injury" and will miss about a week, according to the team. Mike Sillinger has agreed to a conditioning stint in Bridgeport but is also on the way back.

Three days off until the Isles visit New Jersey on Friday. So much for momentum.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Islanders 3, Sens 1: The future is now

Okposo (Bailey, Campoli).

That stat line says it all. It's why we're watching. In a season where the playoff expectations are as low as Bush's approval rating, seeing how the Islanders' young players develop is what it is all about.

So to see Kyle Okposo score a goal with assists from rookie Josh Bailey and Chris Campoli -- three players who could be the core of this team for the next decade -- was for me the high point of the Islanders' 3-1 victory at Ottawa Thursday night.

Bailey may only be up for a nine-game tryout, but there are indications, particularly with Mike Comrie hurting and being otherwise unproductive, that the Isles may let Bailey stick with the big club for the duration of the season, the way so many other NHL teams are allowing their rookies to shine.

At minimum, it gives fans another reason to buy a ticket. At best, Bailey could pay immediate dividends on the ice as well.

Bailey was praised for his poise by coach Scott Gordon and the fact that Okposo's goal came on the power play is another good sign. The Isles scored two man-up goals in the game, the other by Trent Hunter.

Bill Guerin's goal early in the third upped the lead to two goals. It's a good thing the Isles didn't score again, because we know what happens with three-goal leads around here. There was no collapse this time, though, and Joey MacDonald had a solid game in net with 29 saves.

Thomas Pock may miss Saturday's rematch at the Coliseum after getting a game miscounduct for elbowing Ryan Shannon. A multi-game suspension is a possibility.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

AC/DC, the NHL and Bucci

John Buccigross' column on is a must-read for me and anyone who loves hockey. His latest column -- or blogumn, as he likes to call it -- posits that AC/DC's "Back in Black" should be the soundtrack to the NHL.

I was moved to email John because AC/DC and the NHL have always been linked for me. I also wanted to let him know that I enjoy his weekly tributes to the late Jack Falla, hockey writer and professor at Boston University. Here's what I sent this morning:


I graduated from BU in 1989 and while I didn't take any of Jack Falla's classes (I was a Broadcasting and Film major), I saw him quite a bit at Terriers men's hockey games, which I covered for the student newspaper, The Daily Free Press. Reading the heartfelt tributes from his former students makes me wish I knew him better.

Anyway, your AC/DC column struck a chord. One of my projects for Film Production I was to make a five-minute film. I chose to create an homage to "Greatest Sports Legends," an old show that I recall airing during rain delays of Mets games. My film, "Greatest Street Legends," profiled my younger brother, Joseph, billed as "the greatest roller hockey player on Penn Street." He was, in all honesty, a goal-scoring machine.

The piece opened with a straight-on shot of our garage door. As the door rolled up, you heard the tic-tic-tic-tic opening of "Back in Black." When the first quitar chord slammed home, you saw Joe decked out in his black Bruins Cam Neely jersey, ready to rock. Cut to an overhead shot of him skating down the driveway and out into the street -- taken by me sitting on the roof.

The soundtrack was all AC/DC, except for the finale and closing credits, which featured "We Are the Champions" behind shots of Joe lighting the lamp, intercut with crowd shots lifted from Islanders Stanley Cup celebrations used without the express written consent of the National Hockey League.

My professor thought it was OK -- I got a B-plus. Classmates who were more interested in making arty, indecipherable exercises in ego just didn't get it. But there was one guy in class -- a New Hampshire kid who played in a rock band -- who came up to me and said, "That was my childhood right there."

To this day, it is the finest compliment I have ever received.

AC/DC and the NHL -- perfect together.

Mike Gasparino
Proud Islanders Blog Boxer from Saint James, NY


We'll see if it makes it into the "Mother of All Mailbags" section of his next column, but I figured I'd post it here to see if anyone else feels the same way about hockey and the Thunder from Down Under.

As for my favorite AC/DC songs (glad you asked!), I'd have to include:

It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'N Roll)
Ride On
The Jack
Inject the Venom
Back in Black
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Islanders say: Yes, we can

Now THIS is change we can believe in.

Just 24 hours after winning in overtime at home and avoiding another blown three-goal lead, facing the division- and conference-leading Rangers at the Garden, the New York Islanders proved Tuesday night that they can weather a hell of a storm without Rick DiPietro, and came away with a 2-1 victory that gave them a small winning streak and a ton of hope that, maybe, things are actually looking up.

Credit Joey MacDonald for coming up huge while the Rangers swarmed him like he was Marisa Miller at a frat party. MacDonald was so busy in the first two periods that Scott Gordon called a timeout with seven minutes left in the second just to "give him a blow," with the Rangers at that point holding a 25-9 advantage in shots on goal.

Credit also the penalty kill, which incredibly scored both Islanders goals. Nate Thompson converted a 2-on-1 with Franz Nielsen, breaking a scoreless tie early in the third period, and after a classic "let's give the home team a chance to get even" penalty on Brett Skinner, Richard Park stole a weak cross-ice pass by Michal Rozsival and scored on a breakaway, beating a rusty Henrik Lundquist.

MacDonald missed getting his shutout in the final two minutes, but no matter. With DiPietro out for a month or so, MacDonald is proving to be more than capable in the pipes.

And maybe his performance is helping fuel the growing confidence that the Islanders have shown in the last week. Sure, they lost in overtime in Philly and blew a three-goal, third-period lead at home to the Canadiens, but players and Gordon insisted that progress was being made. Against the Bluejackets and Rangers, they've provided tangible evidence instead of just hopeful quotes.

The victory over the Rangers also proved that the Islanders don't have to play their system to perfection to win, even against a top team like the Rangers. They have a goaltender they can be confident in, one that can keep them in games where the system isn't working. And they have players like Park who make things happen with smarts and hard work.

America saw a new day dawn with Obama's victory Tuesday. Is it morning for the Islanders as well?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Islanders are down, DiPietro is out

Well, at least the third jersey is a hit.

Scott Gordon's first 10 games as head coach are among the worst in team history, down there with Earl Ingarfield and Phil Goyette, who posted their stanky stretches in the inaugural and historically bad 1972-73 season. But you can't completely blame Gordon for what's gone on so far.

Yes, the team has had its troubles adapting to a completely new system after a tough training camp, and those growing pains were expected. But injuries -- to defensemen Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek and Freddy Meyer, and goalie Rick DiPietro, who will be out 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair an unidentified damaged meniscus -- combined with an inability to capitalize on scoring chances when they present themselves have conspired to sink the Islanders to the bottom of the standings and dampen whatever enthuiasm the fans had at the start of the new campaign.

Regarding DiPietro, whether the meniscus in question is in his right knee or his left, it really doesn't matter. Let's say the injury he suffered was unrelated to his previous injuries, as the team has stated. It doesn't change the fact that DiPietro has had three surgeries in the last seven months and is looking as stable as a one-legged stool.

We're willing to give DiPietro a chance -- he played 62, 62 and 63 games the previous three years -- to get healthy and be the team's horse. But there may not be much of a race left to run by the time he gets back.

Getting a point on the road in Philly is something, but the overtime loss is still a loss. What happened Saturday night, in the third jersey's debut, was just awful and sort of typified the Islanders' young season.

You just cannot blow a 4-1 lead at home. I understand the Canadiens are a popular choice to win the conference, but after playing so well for 40 minutes, to allow four unanswered goals -- regardless of who was or was not in the net or on the ice -- is unacceptable. That third-period collapse is the kind of thing that can rip the heart out of a team, and here's hoping the Islanders learn from it and not let it drag them down any further.

What made it worse was the sound of so many Canadiens fans cheering the outcome. Watching the game on televison, it sounded like the game was being played in Quebec. Fellow Blog Boxer Frank Trovato has an excellent point -- many Islanders home games are almost like road games with so many fans of opposing teams buying available tickets at the Coliseum.

It's disheartening and it sucks and I can imagine what it's like as a player to hear that in your own arena. But I cannot condemn Islanders fans for not filling those seats, considering how much tickets cost, especially in this economy, and considering the team's recent lack of success and amount of turmoil the franchise has experienced.

Put a winner on the ice, and fans will come.

As for the third jersey, I was unsure about it at first glance, but having watched the Montreal game and seeing the jersey "in action," I am sold. Getting one with 27 TONELLI on the back is a given at this point. I've added it to my Christmas list.

That, and a couple of victories. Please, Santa?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

No DiPIetro, no win against the Rangers

The power of positive thinking can only take you so far.

Up until Monday night's game against the Rangers I'd been trying to convince myself that the Islanders season won't be as bad as everyone thinks it will be. A playoff appearance may not be likely, but I thought that maybe these young players will come together in Scott Gordon's new system, and maybe some of the veterans will feed off the mojo, and we'll all be pleasantly surprised.

But, like Carl Spackler in Caddyshack telling the bishop in the midst of a torrential rainstorm, "I don't think the heavy stuff is coming down for a while," I think I've been deluding myself. Because all signs are pointing to a long season.

Start with Rick DiPietro, who really is injured. His situation was clarified somewhat by the team, which explained that the fragile goalie has a "lower body injury unrelated to his previous injuries" and is "day to day." So maybe it's his knee but not the same injury, maybe it's a groin, maybe it's a quadricep pull -- your guess is as good as anyone's.

What's clear is that DiPietro hasn't been 100 percent all season, is coming off multiple surgeries, and is now on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time. And this is the guy who was supposed to be the glue holding everything together. Yeesh.

And he's not the only one hurt. Half of the team's defensemen are out, continuing the injury bug that sunk the squad last year. Mix in the struggles of learning a new system and you're looking at another lottery pick (which is what many fans want, anyway).

That's not to say that the Islanders played poorly Monday night. In fact, they played pretty well and even outplayed the Rangers for a good portion of the contest. Kyle Okposo in particular had a standout game, scoring his first goal of the season. The kid was all over the place. Trent Hunter, Richard Park and Mark Streit also had very solid games.

Joey MacDonald also played well, undone by a couple of bad breaks. The Rangers' first goal went in off the stick of Bill Guerin, a luck bounce found Ryan Callahan, and another deflected shot went right to Scott Gomez at the side of the net. Sloppy stick control gave the Rangers a 5-on-3 and led to their fourth goal.

Otherwise, the Islanders played hard and had plenty of good scoring chances, but couldn't finish, which of course is a big problem. Along with the injured defensemen. And DiPietro, who could be back in a couple of days. Or weeks. Or months. Who knows?

Again, there was a lot to like Monday night. But the end result was another loss, the team's fourth in five games at home.

Play hard and lose. Not exactly the most effective marketing slogan.


As far as the third jersey is concerned, I wasn't sure how I felt about it at first glance. Okay, it's a throwback to the old days, and we know the Islanders are all about celebrating the past. So in a sense it's not too exciting. Then again, did we want something ridiculous? Or something with the lighthouse on the chest?

The more I looked, the more I liked. It's retro. I decided I would possibly buy one. So I guess it works.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Memo to Islanders: We can handle the truth

First of all, setting a team record for shots on goal in a loss doesn't mean a whole lot to me. A loss is a loss (the third in four games at home, by the way) and scoring only three times on 60 shots isn't much to be proud of. I'm sure Mike Bossy in his day could do better than that blindfolded.

Yes, the Islanders played well enough to win, but the last I looked there was no such column in the standings.

The real news, unfortunately and again, surrounds Rick DiPietro and his health (or lack thereof), with the added twist supplied by the NHL policy of injury nondisclosure, which the Islanders have taken to like tween girls to the Jonas Brothers.

What does it say that the team captain, Bill Guerin, wasn't aware of an injury when he gave his postgame interview? I find it hard to believe that during the first intermission, the players weren't aware of DiPietro -- the franchise goalie -- being hurt. And why no announcement during the game? When a player is hurt and comes out (like Witt the game before), an announcement is always made.

So Guerin, who is asked to stand before the media every night and tow the company line like a good soldier, is hung out to dry and looks out of the loop. Nice.

Was there an injury? Was Gordon using the injury as an excuse to punish DiPietro by yanking him without embarassing the player who supposedly is protected from on high by the owner who gave him a 15-year deal (a deal with which I have no problem, by the way)?

We don't know because of the NHL's policy allowing teams to reveal nothing about injuries, and the Islanders' strict following of said policy. Newsday's Greg Logan had a humorous take on the situation, but it isn't funny. If DiPietro was hurt, it should have been revealed immediately. Instead, we're left with clouds of suspicion.

Blame the league for sanctioning such shenangians and the Isles for following along in lockstep.

We can only assume that DiPietro really was hurt and Guerin was in the john or something when the coach told the team, or maybe Gordon forgot to tell the team, or ... you get the idea.

But if D.P. wasn't hurt and was pulled for once again trying to clear the puck up the middle -- something my six-year-old son's dek hockey team is implored NOT to do on a weekly basis -- or for coughing the puck up one too many times, then fine. Charlie Manuel of the Phillies was praised for benching Jimmy Rollins for not running out a ground ball and Rollins basically said, "He's right. My bad."

We'd rather have seen the same from Gordon -- again, IF DiPietro wasn't really hurt, which is only speculation, which is the rule of the day around the Islanders. (You want some mystery surrounding the new uniform? Be my guest. Forgive me for the anticipatory cringe.)

No one is above the team. Just ask Mike Singletary, who benched starting QB J.T. O'Sullivan and gave a detailed explanation as to why he ordered highly-touted tight end Vernon Davis off the field during the Niners' loss to the Seahawks. A coach like that you'd follow to the gates of hell.

It's called accountability, and the great teams have it.

What also bothers me about the Islanders and their injury policy is that it's the way the Patriots do business, and I hate the Pats and Bill Belichick. Sure, they've been successful, but in a league where all injured players are not only named but categorized (for the gamblers, of course), the Patriots are the standard-bearers for subterfuge, and it stinks.

And as far as Belichick -- a so-called defensive genius whose teams have a habit of imploding in big games -- I often wonder what his record would look like without Tom Brady, or Adam Vinatieri, or without cheating, or without Ernie Adams behind the curtain.

What can I say? I'm a Jets fan.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

LIVEBLOG: Stars v. Islanders

First time in the Blog Box in person this season, hoping to see Sean Avery smeared along the boards a few times as the Isles take on the Stars, and I have two words to describe my evening thus far:

Dis. Aster.

The dedication of a Blog Boxer knows no bounds. I work about 40 miles east of the Coliseum, but when I left at 5:35, with only a drive-thru stop at Mickey D's on the agenda, I should have had plenty of time to get to the game. I hit major traffic immediately (some kind of accident), took a detour and hit McDonald's early to get it out of the way. By 6 p.m. I was on Route 347, and cruised from there to the county line.

Except that those electronic traffic signs had bad news. Major delays in Nassau. Toggled from 880 to 1010 and back for the traffic reports, and as usual, nothing to indicate a problem on the Northern State. So when the traffic sign told me it would take 28 minutes to go the 7 miles to the Meadowbrook, and with Mother Nature calling like a telemarketer with a grudge, I got off at 106/107 for a pit stop and a new route via Hempstead Turnpike.

By the way, as I'm writing this, it's 3-0 Stars with two minutes left in the first. So this little story of mine is far more entertaining than this game, which was 13 minutes old by the time I got here. Back to the tale.

I pull into a Burger King; it's empty -- good sign. But there's a 7-year-old kid waiting at the locked men's room door. Five minutes later an employee comes out, having cleaned it. Did I want to ask the boy's mom if she could take him into the ladies room so my bladder wouldn't burst? Yes. Did I? No. So a two-minute break lasted 15, and there's no hope of making the opening faceoff.

I pull into the Coliseum lot at 10 after seven. Go to where I usually park, near the media entrance. Sections of the lot are closed, I can't find a spot, have to park near the back. I finally get through security at almost 20 after. An hour and 45 minutes for what should be a 45-minute trip. Awesome.

As far as this game goes, the Isles had two great chances down 2-0, one on a pass from Comrie to Guerin in front stopped by Turco, and then seconds later Okposo in the slot fires high top right. A few minutes later, Eriksson scores to make it 3-0 Stars. Boos rain down from the crowd at the horn. For this I braved Long Island traffic? The nachos tonight had better be good.

And Avery? Maybe the boos were strong when he first stepped onto the ice (again, I wouldn't know) but the rest of the period the reaction was less than expected. By the way, a few rows down there are two guys in Rangers Avery sweaters. I'd like to go down there and tell them to get the f&ck out of my building. Maybe I'll get thrown out. That would be the perfect capper to this night.

Unless the Islanders come back. Stop laughing.

You know what's far more entertaining than this game (so far)? This. And this. I'm not a huge fan of Jimmy Kimmel, but this stuff kills me. Back to the game in a few moments...

One big positive for the Isles is tonight's return of Chris Campoli. But in the spirit of this evening's awfulness, we've just been told that Brendan Witt may not return. Another injury to the defense. Good lord.

The Stars just had a chance on the doorstep, which begs the question, will Gordon leave DiPietro in the game if it gets to 7-0, since he believes in leaving the goalies in the game? Chew on that for a bit.

Meanwhile, Bergenheim and Avery get into it on the boards, injecting some life into the crowd. Isles end up with a 5-on-3, and seconds in, Guerin hits the post, then Weight with an open net hits the right post and it skids across the goalmouth to Hunter, who slides it across the mouth again -- ALONG THE GOAL LINE -- before the net comes off. Snakebit.

Moments later, another penalty on the Stars. Turco makes a couple of stops, Stars clear, then clear again. 5-on-4, Tambellini has a shot at the left post, can't bang it in. More boos, and the power play ends with the Isles whistled for having too many men on the ice. Talk about it not being your night. If you left now to beat the traffic -- and there's 14:53 left in the second -- no one would blame you.

One at a time, baby. ISLES SCORE - Bergenheim takes a pass from Streit, and at the top of the circles flicks a backhand pass to Guerin, who snaps a low shot past Turco to make it 3-1 midway through the second. Suddenly, there's hope -- if the D can shut the Stars down the rest of the way.

Maybe not. Stars make it 4-1 with 6:53 left in the middle period, a wrister from above the left circle by Morrow deflected by Barch. So much for the momentum.

Now it's 5-1 Stars, and the only cheers for DiPietro are of the sarcastic variety. And the D.P. Pull Watch is officially on.

Intermission cuisine -- a pulled pork sandwich from the BBQ Pit. I am taking a major gastrointestinal risk here, but so far, not bad. Spicy!

Watching the second period highlights, such as they were, on the jumbotron, I wondered -- Howie Rose had to endure the drama and the pain of the Mets' failure to make the playoffs, and now he's calling Islanders games, including this mess. I'm sure the paychecks soften the blow, but you gotta feel for the guy.

Isles on the power play and some sweet tic-tac-toe passing, Weight to Hunter in the corner across to a charging Streit at the right post for the back door goal, and it's 5-2.

Particularly disturbing tonight has been the Isles' defensive play in their own zone, playing 5-on-5 but often looking like they're a man down, allowing the Stars to work the puck around and for some reason refusing to take the body. Have the Stars not showered in a week? Just awful.

Sim scores with 2.1 seconds left, the final is 5-3. On to the postgame, which should be a blast.


- Witt has a "lower body" injury. Where on the lower body is anyone's guess. Vegas should have odds on NHL players' injured body parts. My guess is the odds for the knee is 3-1, the quad 6-1, ankle 8-1, groin 2-1.

- The media's waiting a while in the press room. Bloggers wonder if Gordon is reading them the riot act or telling them everything's gonna be all right.

- Saw photos of the new locker room at Citi Field for the Mets. It is easily 10 times the size of the Islanders locker room at the Coliseum, which is not much bigger than the typical locker room at The Rinx. Seriously.

GORDON: Says the team's penalty killing was inefficient. "We had chances to score some power play goals, but we did everything but put them in the net."

He thought they did a better job on the forecheck. "We sustained pressure, forced some turnovers. To me that's an excellent sign."

On losing Witt: "We've had to go through this every single game. We're putting out guys with minutes they shouldn't be getting. Chris Campoli is in his first game back and we're asking him to play first-line defense minutes. It's not a great situation."

Gordon noted that the loss of Witt comes after losing Martinek and without Sutton, that's a lot of lost experience from the D line. He adds he hasn't spoken to the trainer yet so there is no timetable for Witt's return.

FREDDY MEYER: "It's always a tough thing when a D-man goes down. Everyone has to step up and do what they can. Knock on wood (he knocks on the locker), hopefully that doesn't happen again."

"We have to do better killing penalties and staying out of the box and not giving them chances."

Asked if there is a lack of toughness: "We're team tough. There's not a heavyweight, but everyone has everyone's back and that's the way we've got to play."

BILL GUERIN: "Again, we're in the penalty box too much. I think that's the biggest thing. Our penalty kill wasn't as sharp as it needs to be."

"It could have been different if we score on our 5-on-3, we had 2 pucks on the line."

"We ask a lot of our penalty killers every night, it's very taxing. That's a problem we have to address."

On Witt: "Injuries are a part of hockey, we can't use them as a crutch. We'd like to be healthier. But when things like that happen, it's an opportunity. The seventh defenseman has an opportunity to win a job."

On Dallas: "Modano, he looked 37 out there. They had a good game on the power play and that was the difference."

On D.P., who heard some boos and mock cheers: "No one puts more pressure on himself to help the team than Ricky. When a game goes south, [fans] look at the goalie. Saturday, though [against Carolina], they'll love him again."

On Gordon saying there were positive signs: "We definitely did, we got some turnovers tonight."

RICK DiPIETRO: "They played well. They capitalized on the power play, the Ribiero line was especially good. It's just not what we wanted."

On the fans: "The fans are passionate about this team and don't want to see us lose. So you understand that."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cablevision forces Islanders into a low-def world

Was at my mom's house Saturday, and after dinner, I went to the TV to watch the Islanders play the Panthers in Florida.

Punched in 717 on the remote for MSG Plus HD, and there were the Devils. Backed up a spot to 716, MSG HD, and there were the Rangers. Where was this game? Not in HD, although I checked 701 just in case. Because I can never remember that C-SPAN2 is the carryover channel -- the cleverly named MGS Plus 2 -- I went to the iO channel guide to find that the game was on Channel 14, which is normally the channel guide channel.

We should be used to this by now. Neil Best wrote about the Islanders' second-class status here, addressing the opening-night fiasco where the Islanders opener didn't appear on CSPAN2 untio after the first period was OVER because of a "technical error." Yeah, sure.

It's certainly one of the most frustrating things about being an Islanders fan: the local cable monopoly, Cablevision, also owns the Rangers, the Isles' chief rival.

Cablevision claims it is all about ratings, but I want to see the numbers that say the Devils -- a team that still has trouble selling out a building that is the Taj Mahal of NHL arenas, a building with terrific public transportation access -- have better television ratings than the Islanders.

It's baloney. Cablevision has absolutely no incentive to help the Islanders out and will stick it to them every chance they can. Whenever the Devils and Islanders have a conflict, the Devils get the regular channel, and the HD channel, and the Isles end up on the overflow channel, and not in HD.

It's enough to make me want to switch to Verizon FiOS -- except FiOS does not carry the MSG channels in HD. Auugh! I know, having FiOS wouldn't allow me to see the Isles in HD, but at least I wouldn't be paying Cablevision for screwing us fans.

And don't hold your breath about the situation changing anytime soon. The Isles' deal with Cablevision was extended to 2031, and the team gets roughly $20 million a year from it. So unless Cablevision dedicates an HD channel for the Isles, at least for when they conflict with the Devils and Rangers, Islanders fans who enjoy their hockey in HD will have to settle for watching the Isles in awful low-def, which is very tough to go back to.

Best also mentions the radio deal and Chris Dey's detailed explanation, but I have no beef with it because I happen to get WMJC pretty well where I live and could never hear Bloomberg Radio at night anyway.

It's my lot in life. Like many others, I'm a Mets-Jets-Islanders fan, a second-class citizen all the way. That's OK. It makes it that much sweeter when they win.


Oh, and about that Panthers game? At least Rick DiPietro played and did pretty well. Otherwise, the 2-0 shutout loss wasn't much to write about. Consider it the first of many such games we'll experience this year as the offense struggles to score and the team struggles to find its identity and get in the flow of Scott Gordon's system.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Two out of four ain't bad

Wins aren't going to come easy for the Islanders this season, so when they get one like Thursday's night's 4-3 overtime victory over the Lightning, we should all be happy.

Sure, they lost a 2-0 lead and a 3-2 lead in the third period to a winless Tampa Bay club, but let's look at it this way: In the first four games of the season, playing without their starting goaltender, playing for a new coach in a new system with a bunch of new faces, the Islanders are 2-2.

You think Barry Melrose would take that right now? They guy's tearing his mullet out.

This was a game that the Isles could have easily let get away from them -- and it almost did. But credit the forechecking Frans Nielsen for being where he should have been, and send a nice big fruit basket to Olaf Kolzig for wandering behind the net and coughing up the puck to Nielsen, who found Trent Hunter for the winner.

Hunter had two goals in the game and after looking a little sluggish in the opener has picked up his game, with four tallies so far. We'll take offensive production wherever we can find it, and we know Hunter can score. If he can step it up a notch this season, that will go a long way.

Rick DiPietro looks like he could be back soon, if not Saturday against the Panthers then almost definitely for the home game against the Stars on Thursday, Oct. 23. D.P. had a solid practice this week and his return should provide a big boost.

Meanwhile, Radek Martinek is out 4-6 weeks and Blake Comeau is working on his game in Bridgeport. Martinek's injury hurts but is not surprising -- he's pretty brittle. Hopefully, Comeau will get the message that no one is given a spot in the lineup -- you have to work for it. He's a good young player with the kind of skills this team can't afford to pass up, but Gordon did the right thing by sending him down.

One last thing -- welcome aboard and good luck to the 10 new members of the Islanders Blog Box. That makes 20 of us. And who says no one cares about this team?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Welcome to Goaliegate

The conspiracy theorists are out in force surrounding Rick DiPietro, Scott Gordon and Joey MacDonald, wondering what DiPietro's true condition is, and why he wasn't inserted into the game Monday after Buffalo jumped out to a 5-0 lead in a 7-1 embarrassment at home.

(Note to the kids who were there -- that was NOT Islanders hockey, at least we hope not. Please don't try that at home.)

Newsday's Greg Logan wrote: "This was a case of chickens coming home to roost. DiPietro wasn't healthy enough to start the first three games of the season, but he was deemed healthy enough to be the backup.

Don't try to look for the logic here. There isn't any, which probably is why Gordon pulled a Sarah Palin, ignoring a question he didn't like and changing the subject when he was asked directly if DiPietro's readiness was a factor."

Gordon later said: "I'm not a strong believer in pulling goalies to change momentum. I want our goalies to not get the feeling that, if things don't go right for them, they can look to the bench and look over their shoulder, thinking, 'When am I coming out?' I want them to find a way to battle.

"Ask any of the goalies that have played for me. It's been the same thing. I've been through that, and I know what it's like when your coach has a quick hook ... We might have suffered a little bit tonight, but Joey will know when he's in this situation, it's his battle."

I have no problem keeping a goalie in when there is a rout on. If that really has been Gordon's philosophy all along, and he is a former netminder himself, I'll take him at his word.

And if DiPietro is not 100 percent, which he clearly is not, and is only on the bench in case of emergency -- and Gordon doesn't think a 5-0 lead qualifies as one -- then I can see why they would not want to put DiPietro into a losing cause and risk injury just by being on the ice, since anything can happen; better to just leave him out.

But it's hard to see what the Islanders have to gain by having DiPietro on the bench at all. If he's out, he's out. If he's on the bench, he may as well be in street clothes. What's the harm in having Yann Danis back up MacDonald for a week or so while D.P. gets in game shape? And if his injury is worse than they are letting on, then this is truly a ridiculous charade.

Based on the team's actions, you would assume DiPietro would be ready to play at a moment's notice, and if MacDonald was knocked out in the crease, DiPietro would be able to come in and play the rest of the game without risk of injuring himself any further.

You would think.

Hopefully, that is really the case and this is all much ado about nothing, and is a situation that has only been exacerbated by the NHL's policy of saying virtually nothing about injuries, which is a terrible policy to begin with. The Isles, like every other team, are behaving like a gang of Belichicks because they have been allowed to by the league, so they're just playing by the rules they've been given.

Reporters, bloggers and fans may not like it, but hey -- we just help pay the bills. Who are we to judge?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Who's worried about the offense?

Five goals? In one game? Four in the first period? That's like a week's output for the Islanders.

OK, so maybe the Blues were a step slow, playing their second road game in as many nights. But give credit to the Islanders for taking it to them right off the bat, grabbing a 4-1 first period lead en route to their home-opening win Saturday night.

Joey MacDonald started again amid a TSN report that Rick DiPietro had fluid on the knee. D.P. said any swelling that was in the post-surgery knee wasn't serious and that if it was, he wouldn't be the backup. Scott Gordon commented that even if the Isles lost their first three games without DiPietro, if the time off was good for him, it would ultimately be best for the club, which is, of course, true.

So the "JO-EY" chants rang through the Coliseum as MacDonald looked sharp again, further erasing what had been one of the club's many question marks heading into the season -- would the Isles have a capable backup in net?

As far as the avalanche of goals, they came thanks to aggressive play and a shoot-first-ask-questions later approach. Kylo Okposo got it started by grabbing a turnover in the corner and flicking a pass to Richard Park, whose rebound was knocked in by Mike Comrie. Trent Hunter fired a blast on the power play that beat Chris Mason, Sean Bergenheim followed with a score, and after the Blues cut the gap to 3-1, Andy Hilbert scored a shorthanded goal thanks to a terrific pass in traffic by Mark Streit, who has looked very good in two games.

Gordon noted after the game that it was only two points, but "it was the way we played. Hopefully that's going to be our identity as a team and that's how we're going to play."

Identity. It's something the Isles have lacked for some time. Under Ted Nolan, the team's identity was, well, Nolan. Now, under Gordon's system, this batch of young players has the chance to establish themselves, not only as individuals but as a group.

And if they can play this way -- especially at home -- for the rest of the season, then at least going to the Coliseum can be something we can look forward to.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

No column for moral victories

You get the feeling that Islanders fans may see a lot of games like Friday night's season opener at the Devils. The team battles in a low-scoring struggle, but ultimately loses.

We can't complain too much about the outcome. The Devils are one of the better teams in the conference and the Isles lost a close, 2-1 game on the road. And while the Devils controlled the action for much of the game, the Islanders had some good scoring opportunities. They even scored on the power play!

Kyle Okposo got the rare penalty shot, stopped by Martin Brodeur. Then there were three posts in the first 25 minutes, and a couple of other good scoring chances, including one for Jeff Tambellini after some nifty stickhandling by Radek Martinek.

I'm still not sure how Patrik Elias wasn't called for being in the crease on the Devils' second goal. He skated in without being pushed. Chico Resch called it, but somehow no one on the Islanders complained. Oh, well.

Joey MacDonald got the start in goal for the Isles and no one should have been surprised. Rick DiPietro has played only once in the preseason and his practice time has been limited. We presume he'll play in the home opener. In any case, MacDonald played very well, making 27 stops, which should ease the minds of anyone missing Wade Dubielewicz.

Jon Sim also looked good, as did Mark Streit in his Isles debut. Coach Scott Gordon said he was happy with the effort in his NHL debut.

The home opener is tonight and your truly will be there in the Blog Box with some old friends and possibly some new ones, as the box is growing in year two.

Maybe we can get two goals tonight? Hey, it's the start of the season -- optimism abounds.

P.S.: Yeah, everyone loves The Rock and think the Coliseum is a dump. But at least our place is up to code. We think.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Isles on the brink of... something

Some final thoughts as the Islanders get ready to open the season Friday night at New Jersey, a team they somehow dominated a year ago:

Good to hear that Chris Lee is OK after being boarded by Rostislav Olesz Monday night. Always scary to see that, and it's why boarding penalties need to be enforced even more strictly than they are now. The league will suspend a player a dozen games or more for swinging his stick, but slamming someone into the boards from behind -- which can do serious damage, including paralysis -- draws far less punishent. Never made sense to me.

It was a bit surprising to see Josh Bailey on the opening-night roster, but why not have him show the coaching staff and the fans what he's got? It will be fairly clear within a week or so if he's ready or not. If not, then within nine games he can go back and captain his junior team. If he lights it up, keep him around. This team can use some juice.

Michael Farber at has a column this week that calls out the NHL for thinking about expanding into Europe. It's ridiculous, he says, and I agree. What is the point? Why create more teams and water down the product in North America -- you know the top Euros would jump at the chance to play closer to home -- nevermind the obvious logistical problems of playing games across the pond.

I don't even like the idea of playing season-opening games overseas, regardless of the sport. But the NHL in particular should focus on the fans it has than worrying about picking up more fans across the globe. Forget globalization. Embrace hockey as the great niche sport that it is.

I hesitate to even mention the column by Newsday's Johnette Howard because it only serves to give it the attention it doesn't deserve. But I can't help myself (I won't link to it -- if you still want to read it after this, be my guest). It's the typical, poorly researched, kick-someone-while-he's-down, easy pot shot column that Wallace Matthews has mastered.

It hasn't been that long that the Isles haven't made the playoffs (and you could argue that injuries aside the team would have had a shot last season), but you wouldn't know it by reading this drivel. Columnists like Howard and Matthews only serve to assure me that I did the right thing when I canceled my Newsday subscription. You ain't missing much, at least if you're an Islanders fan.

Speaking of the low road, it was good to see that Ryan Hollweg was suspended for the first two games of the season for picking up his third boarding and game misconduct penalties in the last 41 games. The guy is a cheap shot artist and hopefully won't be in the league much longer.

It pained me to see Hollweg labeled the victim when Chris Simon hacked him in the face (Simon was wrong, no doubt), only because Hollweg has been one of the dirtiest players in the league for some time and in that case got a taste of his own medicine. Hollweg's specialty, it seems, is boarding, and we know how I feel about that.

And so the blog comes full circle. You're welcome!

Friday, October 3, 2008

New York Islanders 2008-2009 preview

I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to the Islanders in 2008-2009. But I can tell you why.

Two words: No expectations.

Believe me, after being disappointed by the Mets for three straight years, it will be refreshing to go into a sports season without any hopes of winning a championship or making the playoffs.

Could the Islanders make the playoffs? Well, anything is possible. Many of the players are unknown quantities getting their first real shot at playing full-time in the NHL. We don't know how the players will respond to new coach Scott Gordon and his in-your-face, high-energy style of play.

So the 2008-09 season will have a significant learning curve, not just for the coach and players, but for the fans as well. And while the unknown may be a bit scary, it should be interesting.

Will Rick DiPietro finally be able to play a full season without injuring something? Will Gordon give him more rest at the risk of annoying him? Many pundits like to say that DiPietro is at the core of whether the Islanders will succeed or fail, but you know what you're getting from D.P. when he's healthy -- a very good goalie who can win games for you.

The difference between another lost season and hope for the future will be found elsewhere.

Defensively, I like what I see. Injuries torpedoed the unit last season, and already -- thanks to the intensity of Gordon's workouts -- Andy Sutton and Chris Campoli are hurting. Once they're back on the ice, a unit of Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, Campoli, Bruno Gervais, Freddy Meyer and new acquisition Mark Streit looks solid and fairly balanced. Also, don't forget about Jack Hillen. I like this kid a lot, and he has made an impression on the coaching staff.

Streit will be challenged to help the offense and the power play, but it's unlikely he'll put up similar numbers as the Isles are just not as potent as the Canadiens were.

The Islanders couldn't score goals last season and have already been shut out twice in their first four preseason games. So while the team may play at 100 miles an hour, goal scoring is still a huge question mark.

Plenty of players will be given a chance to change that. Is Jeff Tambellini ready for the NHL or not? We'll find out in short order. Can Kyle Okposo make the kind of impact he's projected to make at this early stage of his career? Can Frans Nielsen play at this level? Can Sean Bergenheim take his game to the next level? Can Blake Comeau continue to develop and improve?

You get the idea. Lots of questions.

We know what we've got with Mike Comrie, Trent Hunter, Bill Guerin, Richard Park, Mike Sillinger and, to an extent, newcomer Doug Weight. How the veterans mesh with the youngsters in Gordon's system is the biggest question of all.

Rookie Josh Bailey could make the team to start the season -- he inked a new deal this week, the day before his 19th birthday -- but the player who could make the biggest impact is Jon Sim. You remember him, right? He missed all last season after blowing out his knee in the home opener, but he's back and has looked good, and has even shown some scoring instincts.

Gordon's Providence teams were tough to play, and if the Islanders can successfully implement that style and make the opposition work for everything they get, then games at the Coliseum could be significantly more entertaining. The Islanders certainly have plenty of young legs belonging to players looking to make a statement in this league, and a coach who knows what he wants from his team.

Like I said, I'm really looking forward to the season. Not because I expect a Stanley Cup run when it's over, but because the Islanders look like a team that will play an agressive style, with a number of players who have a ton of promise, and that combination could make the Coliseum fun again.

Plus, I've always liked a good mystery.

Friday, September 5, 2008

NHL season starts a little too late

The 2008-09 National Hockey League season kicks off in about a month in Prague and Stockholm, and the Islanders begin their new era Oct. 10 in New Jersey.

Since I'm knee-deep in the Mets season (and their quest to win a National League championship that should have been theirs last year), and geared up for the new-look, Brett Favre-led New York Jets -- not to mention my fantasy football team, The Sinatra Group -- hockey is not exactly at the head of the line in my sporting life right now.

It got me thinking that the NHL schedule starts too late when it begins in early October. Surely the league doesn't want to compete with the NFL, which kicks off around Labor Day weekend, but by waiting until October, hockey launches its new season just as the Major League Baseball playoffs are getting started. The NBA starts its season on Oct. 28, when the World Series could well be over.

I'd like to see the NHL move up its schedule and start the season in mid-September, which could also move the end of the NHL playoffs back into May. Let the NFL have its kickoff, but then get things going before the baseball playoffs get started.

Of course, had that been in effect this September, there's a good chance my head would explode. Mets pennant race? Hockey season starting? J-E-T-S, JETS! JETS! JETS!? Trying to decide whether to start Donald Driver or Dallas Clark? Talk about sensory overload.

Anyhow, if you can't wait for the hockey season to begin, has launched its season previews, including, of course, the New York Islanders.

ESPN's Terry Frei also had an interesting piece on high ticket prices in the NHL and how the league is flirting with the danger of a mass exodus of ticket buyers. Frei wonders how people can even buy season tickets these days, a question I've been asking for a while now. I know I can't. Thank God for HDTV!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gordon hired as new Isles coach

OK, so he's a former Eagle. I can deal with that. The bottom line is that Scott Gordon is a solid choice to lead the New York Islanders as their new head coach.

The AHL Coach of the Year was hired Tuesday night by Isles general manager Garth Snow, getting the nod over more experienced NHL coaches like Paul Maurice, Bob Hartley, Joel Quenneville and John Tortorella, as well as Mike Sullivan, who coached Gordon's old team, the Providence Bruins, as well as the Boston Bruins.

It's clear that the Islanders were looking for a coach who could help develop the growing number of young players on their roster, and there are a bunch. Gordon seems eminently qualified to do so.

Providence was 55-18-3 last season under Gordon, who had a record of 221-141-20-27 as the Providence head coach. He was an assistant with Providence for three seasons prior to taking over the squad.

Gordon was a goaltender at Boston College and led the Eagles to the Frozen Four in 1985. His NHL goaltending career can best be described as nondescript, but he soon turned to coaching and has done extremely well in the AHL and ECHL. Whether that will translate into success at the highest level remains to be seen, but it looks like Snow -- who first met Gordon in the Quebec Nordiques camp in 1987 -- got his man.

Besides developing young players, Gordon may also bring some excitement to Nassau Coliseum with his coaching style. Gordon's teams have been some of the top-scoring teams in the AHL, and goal scoring has been an Islanders weakness. If Gordon can get Kyle Okposo, Jeff Tambellini, Blake Comeau, Sean Bergenheim and Frans Neilsen to start lighting the lamp with regularity, then the Coliseum could be a happening place to be in 2008-09.

In any event, the future begins now. Welcome, Scott Gordon.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sullivan intrigues as Islanders head coach candidate

I'll be up front about it: I went to Boston University and have a bias toward Terriers. But that isn't the only reason I think former Bruins coach Mike Sullivan may be a good choice as the Islanders head coach.

First off, I have a feeling that none of the so-called "big three" candidates -- John Tortorella, Paul Maurice or Bob Hartley -- will be a match for this club, although it seems that of the three, Hartley has the best chance, and not just for his relationship with Garth Snow. The guy won a Cup with Colorado and had great success there.

So, putting them aside, let's look at the other four candidates that have been confirmed by Newsday.

Sullivan was outstanding the one year he coached the Providence Bruins and he was 41-19-15-7 in his first year behind the Boston bench, when the Bruins were booted in round one of the playoffs. The team regressed the next year and didn't make the playoffs, and Sullivan was then fired by incoming GM Peter Chiarelli. He spent last season as Tortorella's assistant in Tampa Bay.

With so much youth on the Islanders, Sullivan - who is 40 - looks like a good fit. He's had success working with young players and has worked or played alongside some pretty good coaches, including BU legend Jack Parker.

Side note: Sullivan played four seasons for the Terriers, finishing in 1990. I covered the Terriers for the Daily Free Press, the daily student-run newspaper at BU, his sophomore and junior seasons before graduating in 1989. He was one of the top players back then and everyone thought highly of him, as I recall (my memory is a little hazy - it was college, after all).

Joel Quenneveille is not as attractive; he is a retread who isn't the guy who should be leading this squad. Islanders assistant coach Gerard Gallant is a possibility but one would think as an internal candidate, if he was a strong possibility he would have either been hired already or you would hear much more buzz around him.

The other interesting candidate is current Providence Bruins coach Scott Gordon, a former goaltender who has had terrific success the last five-plus years in the AHL. Gordon, who played at Boston College (boooooo) was named the AHL's top coach last season, when Providence won the regular-season points title.

Boston coach Claude Julien, who coaches a defensive style, led the Bruins to a winning record in his debut last season and isn't going anywhere. Gordon has paid his dues and coaches a wide-open, offensive style that has been described as entertaining; it's also been pretty successful at the minor league level, at least.

So Sullivan and Gordon look like the most interesting possibilities, at lease from my point of view. If I had to pick, I'd go with Sullivan. After all, he is a Terrier.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bailey, please lose that number

So it seems that Josh Bailey has a number — 27.

Bailey is wearing the number at the Islanders prospect camp in Syosset.

You know how we feel about No. 27. It should be hanging in the rafters of the Coliseum with TONELLI over it.

Was J.T. a Hall of Fame player? No, but other than the names currently hovering above the ice in Hempstead, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more beloved, harder working, more dynasty-critical player than John Tonelli. He worked the corners, he could score goals, he was a character guy - he was the whole package.

Quick story -- I was working in Manhattan a few years back and our company was relocated down to 28th and Park from Times Square. The first day there, my buddy and I went to a deli across the street for lunch, a real popular place where people lined up for chopped salads (I had a hero, of course).

So we're sitting at a table and in the middle of the line is Tonelli himself. I mention it to my friend, who is about six years younger than me and not a hockey fan at all. He has no clue who Tonelli is. I explain that the guy is my favorite player of all time, and he says I should go up and talk to him.

I've never been one to seek autographs or approach celebrities in public -- I figure they're people leading their lives like the rest of us, so why bother them? My friend says Tonelli is one of those people who is famous only to a select group of fans and is probably not accosted as much as one would think, and that he would probably appreciate someone telling him how much he was admired.

Just as I resolve to head over, Tonelli pays for his lunch and walks out. I figured that maybe he worked in the area and perhaps I would bump into him at lunch again, but I never did, and in my first year in the Blog Box I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting him. But you can be sure that if he's in the house when I am, I'll make a point of saying hello.

And telling him that No. 27 should be on a banner and not anyone else's back (sorry, Josh).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nolan-Snow fallout continues

I've said before that it boggles my mind that there are Islanders fans old enough to have their own children who cannot remember when the Isles last won a Stanley Cup. Some of that is just the cyclical nature of sports -- even the Yankees have had their down years. Much of that has to do with the ownership struggles the team had to endure prior to Charles Wang purchasing the club, trying times that set the organization back at least a decade.

John Spano, the Gang of Four, the fishsticks logo, Mike Milbury, years of losing -- all conspired to drag down the once-sterling Islanders image. And while Wang has brought stability to the owner's box, he has been criticized for the "team approach" he favors and for giving Rick DiPietro a 15-year deal. So when the news broke that Ted Nolan was fired by Garth Snow -- in what both sides claim was a mutual parting of the ways -- you knew that it would be labeled as yet another example of how bad things are on Long Island.

And sure enough, Scott Burnside of ESPN has weighed in, calling the team a "laughingstock."
Newsday columnist Wallace Matthews -- who probably wouldn't recognize Bill Guerin if he bumped into him -- slapped together some nameless quotes from former employees and player agents to paint the picture of Wang as clueless, and that his hobby "happens to be the systematic screwing-up of a once-great hockey team."

Never mind that Wang more or less saved the team from leaving the Island, that he has been fighting tooth and nail to upgrade the Islanders' arena -- which besides being hopelessly outdated is saddled with the worst lease agreement known to man -- and has put a good deal of focus on community events to strengthen the ties between the team and its fans.

That DiPietro contract? Call it a trend, as NHL teams are locking up their top, young (amd most marketable) players long-term. Wang has also embraced new media in a way no one else has, from Islanders TV to my personal favorite, the Blog Box.

And yet you wonder if the Nolan news is received by players around the league the way Burnside portrayed it - another reason why not to play for the Islanders. Another example of instability from a team that plays in a dump.

But look closer at the move and you see that, given the direction the team is headed, it was inevitable and probably best for everyone, including Nolan. Snow did a terrific job of compiling extra picks at the draft and generally got good reviews (although not from many fans who wanted Nikita Filatov). The Islanders have a number of promising young players on its roster who need playing time to develop. So it's all about the future, and that's fine -- pick a plan and stick with it.

Nolan, with one year left on his deal, felt the team was close enough to win now with the addition of better, more experienced talent. Hence the philosophical differences. You can't blame him, he's a coach. Now he'll get a chance to coach somewhere else.

As a fan, you hate to see a quality coach leave, but there are plenty of candidates out there -- we'll see who Snow selects. The Nolan move also seems to indicate that this really is Snow's team and not so much directed by committee, which would be a step in the right direction; a team needs its GM to be the one to make the final call.

Hopefully, the rebuilding process won't be painfully long -- there's precious little juice in the arena these days and the on-ice product hasn't been terribly exciting. But when you talk to fans you know that they are genuinely excitied about players like Okposo and Campoli and Tambellini and Comeau and Gervais and want to see them play and succeed.

Maybe this is the core of a team that will contend on an annual basis. The team that will one day play in the Lighthouse, a state-of-the-art arena. The team that will bring a Stanley Cup back to Long Island.

Nolan's firing was a step forward. We'll see if it's a step on the right path.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Snow job: Nolan is fired

There were signs and whispers throughout last season, and into the draft, and today the Islanders made it official when it was announced that Ted Nolan will no longer coach the team.

Both GM Garth Snow and Nolan himself described the ending of the relationship as a matter of "philosophical differences." Snow wants to rebuild the team with youth. Nolan, who has one year and $600,000 left on his contract, wanted to be more competitive now.

As a blogger who has watched the team closely, especially this past season, I'm not surprised, but all along I held out hope that Snow and Charles Wang would make more of an effort to compete now (read: spend some more money on talent) while not abandoning the younger players, in the hopes that Nolan would stick around. That's not happening, and Nolan is now free to find employment elsewhere.

Nolan is a terrific coach, a class act and a good guy from all accounts. I think back to the ESPN fan satisfaction rankings that were published in April, which I wrote about here. Basically, fans of all of the 'big four' pro sports leagues ranked their teams in a number of categories, and in the coaching category -- described as 'strong on-field leadership' -- the Islanders finished FIFTH out of all of the pro sports teams.

In other words, Islanders fans who participated in the rankings had tremendous respect for the job Nolan was doing, ranking him ahead of the likes of Bobby Cox of the Braves and Phil Jackson of the Lakers. The only coaches ranked higher were Bill Belichick, Jim Leyland, Gregg Popovich and Mike Scioscia.

Presumably, the next Islanders coach will be on board with Snow and his desire to see the team's young talent develop and perform. The obvious names out there are Paul Maurice, John Tortorella (who is Dee's favorite, I'm sure) and Bob Hartley, all fired after last season. We'll throw Brian Sutter's name into the mix. The brother of Duane and Devils coach Brent took over as the coach of the Red Deer Rebels last summer; the team is owned by Brent.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Isles are gonna carry that Weight

So many different ways to go for a headline here. "The Weight is over." "Isles make Weight-y acquisition." "Dead Weight?"

We'll go with the Beatles reference and hope that Weight still has what it takes to actually carry the Isles now and again, now that he's here on a one-year deal and reunited with his buddy Bill Guerin.

Weight has been an All-Star in this league and has been one of the top players in the NHL, but is nearing the end of a solid career. He didn't do much last season, but the Isles figure he could regain some spark with Guerin and at the very least provide leadership and role model material for the younger players. He can start by coming to camp in shape.

Weight and Streit weren't the free agents I expected the Isles to get, but they make sense in their own way. With the eventual new contracts for Bergenheim, Gervais, Tambellini, et al, the Isles payroll will end up a couple million over the salary floor, and I'm on record saying the Isles owed it to their extremely patient and loyal fans to make more of an effort to be competitive.

But the situation is what it is. If patience is a virtue, Isles fans should have no worries about getting into heaven. Hopefully, they'll enjoy another championship before that happens.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Streit Stuff

The Islanders got their puck-moving defenseman after all, signing Mark Streit, formerly of the Canadiens, to a five-year deal worth a reported $20.5 million.

It's a nice deal for the Isles, getting a talented backliner in his prime who isn't one of the big names, certainly, but a quality player who can only help what was a horrible power play last season, one ranked 29th in the league. Yeesh.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning continue to give new coach Barry Melrose toys to play with, dealing conditional picks for the rights to Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Vaclav Prospal and signing all three, then signing 27-year-old Radim Vrbata, who scored 27 goals last season.

We'll see if the Isles can pick up a center and a left winger, perhaps players who could be considered first-liners? Maybe? Please?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Time to kick the tires

The free agency period begins tomorrow, and GM Garth Snow has already declared that the Islanders will not be a major player on July 1 but will only "kick the tires" on a few possibilities. Then again, Snow made it look like he was ready to adopt Nikita Filatov, he loved him so much, and we know what happened there. So maybe Garth is playing poker again.

In any case, none of the Isles' unrestricted free agents are returning, and according to, with the Bates buyout the Isles' cap number so far is under $32 million, and that includes the Yashin cap hit. With a new salary floor of $40.7 million and a cap of $56.7 million, there's money to be spent. Figuring in the six players who have been extended qualifying offers and possible arbitration, you're looking at a payroll of around $36 million.

I'm not going to try and predict who the Islanders will end up signing -- other than to say that Jagr, Hossa and Sakic won't be headed to Hempstead. But here's what they COULD do...

Brooks Orpik, 27, would give the Isles some added muscle on the back line. I keep hearing that the Isles are looking for a puck-moving defenseman, but throwing Orpik back there with Witt and Martinek can only make Rick DiPietro smile.

Kristian Huselius, 29, went 25-41-66 for the Flames last season and was rumored to be on Snow's trade radar. Now it will only cost them more of Charles Wang's money, and Huselius would be a first-line left winger.

Brendan Morrison, 31, is a veteran center coming off some recent injuries who won't cost much more than the $3.2 million he made last season with the Canucks. Morrison and Huselius would address the Isles' biggest needs at center and left wing.

Figure that trio would add about $12 million to the annual payroll, bumping it to $48 million, right in between the floor and the ceiling. As a fan, I hope that's not a pipe dream.

Ted Nolan is in the final year of his contract. The Isles missed the playoffs and the fans -- who are being sold on the Lighthouse Project -- can't be expected to wait until then to get excited about this team. If the Islanders want fans in the seats, if they want free agents to want to come here, they need to change the culture to a winning culture, and Nolan is a huge part of that. Spend more and you will make more. Sure, Wang will still lose money in the end, but he'll make that up in spades when (if) the Lighthouse is finally built.

Eight million above the floor isn't too uch to ask. Then again, I don't sign the checks.

Starting tomorrow, we'll know which way the team is headed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Bitterness abounds

Considering I root for the Mets, Jets and Islanders (God help me if I was a Knicks fan), it's remarkable how optimistic I am about my favorite teams and their futures. It's also kind of amazing I haven't either become an alcoholic or sniped anyone from a bell tower.

The similarities between Mets fans and Islanders fans in particular are notable in that each group is populated by some of the most bitter, negative people around. Mets fans are still stunned by the Collapse of 2007, which came a year after the Mets lost to the Cardinals in the NLCS and then watched that very beatable team go on to win a World Series.

Islanders fans have suffered through 25 years of championship drought, and in that time they have not only not won the Stanley Cup, but for significant stretches they were an absolute joke. Spano. Fishsticks. Milbury. Say no more.

As a result, Islanders fans have almost no confidence in the organization. Sure, they like Ted Nolan - what's not to like. But they can't stomach Charles Wang's unusual ideas about running a franchise, and they still see Garth Snow as the old backup goalie. So it's not surprising that so many fans are lamenting the loss of Nikita Filatov as if he was a lock to be the next Sergei Fedorov.

He's not, though. He's undeniably talented but small, so who knows how that will pan out. Snow gathered up extra picks and some of his second-day selections -- Kirill Petrov, Corey Trivino, Aaron Ness -- look like steals. We won't know for sure for a few years, but that hasn't stopped the naysayers from treating Snow like, well, Milbury. Which isn't fair.

What fans should be more concerned about in the short term is what Snow is going to do to help the team in 2008-09. He may have done an outstanding job of restocking the system, but other than maybe Josh Bailey (and that's a big maybe), none of the 2008 draft picks will make an impact next season.

And while the Isles aren't likely to land the biggest fish in the free agent pool, fans should expect -- maybe even demand -- that the Isles at least approach the league salary cap and go after some significant talent, particularly up front. There's no first line on this team, and it's tough to win too many 2-1 games.

All I'd like to see is an honest effort to bring in legitimate talent. I won't attempt to make a list. I actually am willing to trust Snow.

Then again, I am an optimist. Somehow.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A matter of philosophy

One of the most memorable and painful sports memories for me, as a Jets fan, came when the Jets selected Ken O'Brien over Dan Marino at the 1983 NFL Draft. I'll never forget Sal Marchiano, covering the draft for WNBC, asking a Jets fan at the draft for his opinion. The fan admitted he was surprised by the move before uttering the words that fans will take to their graves:

"The Jets must know something we don't."

Hmmm. Maybe not.

Islanders fans -- and, judging by the fan reaction at the Coliseum and the action on the message boards, the vast majority of fans -- are hoping tonight that Nikita Filatov does not become the Islanders' Dan Marino, the one that got away. If the Isles wanted Filatov, they could have had him at five, so they must not have viewed him as the sure thing, the dynamic goal scoring machine, which is how so many fans see him.

The reality is, despite the vast amount of information and scouting reports and video available to fans, the teams know a heck of a lot more than the fans and they have their favorites.

You wonder whether the Islanders would have taken Filatov at seven had he still been there, but that's a hypothetical question that will likely never be answered. Maybe the Isles took a chance that they could get Filatov at seven and pick up an extra second-rounder in the process, and when he wasn't there, they moved down where they knew they could get Bailey, a player they liked.

It's a moot point now. This is a draft that fans will point to forever, and we'll see in a couple of years whether or not it's a successful one. Will Bailey and the other picks end up as the core of a championship caliber team, or will Filatov go on to become the next Ovechkin? There will be plenty of people keeping tabs on that.

The pick is Bailey

Josh Bailey, center from Windsor of the OHL is the pick at number nine. Ranked as the 14th North American skater... word on TSN was that he was the player the Isles had identified all along. Maybe a bit of a reach at nine, with Hodgson and Beach and Boychuk available, but that was clearly Snow's plan. He liked a guy he knew would drop, and used the higher picks to acquire additional picks.

Not a strategy that fans love, but other GMs would applaud. Especially in a deep draft, you pile up picks and that gives you not just more players, but flexibility.

Bailey last season - 67 games, 29 goals, 67 assists for 96 points. Regarded as a two-way player and a good playmaker, especially on the power play. We'll meet him soon on the video board here.

The draft is a crap shoot, people. And it's only part of what the Isles need to do before the new season. There's always free agency.

The question is whether the Isles will try and trade back into the first round since they have so many second-round picks, and it is certainly possible. Again, in the end, if they can get two first-rounders and the player they wanted all along, the team will consider the draft a success.

UPDATE: Draft party host John Buccigross of ESPN just interviewed Bailey. He described himself as an offensive player who sees the ice well and has a head for the game, adding that the players he looked up to the most were Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic.

Asked if he thought he was ready to play in the NHL now, he said, "Yeah, definitely," and that he wanted to keep building up his strength. Bailey received a warm round of applause from the remaining fans -- the most disgruntled and disappointed have already, like Elvis, left the building.