Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bossy speaks, fan poll quotes from the best

While the Pens grab a 2-0 series lead on the Rangers (please, Tom Renney, no more whining), there were a couple of Islanders-related things I enjoyed, starting with an interview with Mike Bossy at the New York Times' Slap Shot blog.

Bossy has always been one of the most intelligent and well-spoken Islanders, and the interview is a thoughtful one, with the Boss giving his thoughts on the state of the game and how it compares to his era. My favorite quote:

"The standards have changed today from what they were in the past. A lot of times I’ll hear people talk about certain players today, calling them great. And I say, ‘If he is great, what was Gretzky or Bobby Orr or Maurice Richard?’ And they look at me with a strange kind of look."

Then there is the ESPN Ultimate Standings: Fan Satisfaction Rankings. It polled fans of every "big four" professional sports franchise and had them grade their team in seven categories, including fan relations, ownership, affordability, stadium experience, coaching, players and title track, with an eighth category called "bang for the buck" that used research to determine how fan dollars translate to wins.

What's interesting is how the Islanders, a team that failed to make the playoffs and has some of the lowest attendance figures in the NHL, ranked among the other New York teams. The Isles finished 74th out of 122 teams overall, but were third among the seven New York teams, trailing only the Super Bowl champion Giants and the Yankees, who were 48th and 65th, respectively. The Rangers were 79th, the Mets 93rd, the Jets 105th and, of course, the Knicks were dead last at 122nd. (If you want to throw in the Jersey teams, the Devils were 40th and the Nets 100th).

Two numbers stand out for the Islanders, who ranked between 58 and 76 in six of the eight categories, right around their overall number. Those numbers are 116 and 5.

The former is the team's rank for stadium experience, no shock there. Compare that to the Devils, whose experience at the new Rock had them 16th. The number 5 is where the Islanders finished in the coaching category, which was defined as "strong on-field leadership." That's right, FIFTH.

Who were the top four? The Patriots (Bill Belichick), Tigers (Jim Leyland), San Antonio Spurs (Gregg Popovich) and Los Angeles Angels (Mike Scioscia). That's some pretty nice company to be in for Isles coach Ted Nolan, who clearly has the fans' respect. Finishing just behind Nolan were Bobby Cox of the Braves and Phil Jackson of the Lakers.

Just something to think about for Charles Wang and Garth Snow when determining whether or not they want Nolan to be a lame-duck coach in 2008-09.

One last thing about these rankings - when you click on the team name you get a summary, where we learn that the Islanders jumped from 87th in 2007 to 74th this year. I hadn't clicked on the summary until after I started this very post, but imagine my delight to see that yours truly was quoted in the summary, at the end:

"Thanks to bureaucratic snags, Wang's Lighthouse Project - a state-of-the-art facility, including a training facility, to be built on the grounds of the outdated Nassau Mausoleum, uh, Coliseum - remains frozen. Unfortunately, so do the fans. Bemoans one blogger: "Walking across the vast, wind-swept parking lot in the dead of winter is like traversing the Siberian steppes."

That last line is a quote from Still Drivin's post of November 14, 2007. What can I say? The guy has impeccable source material.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fan Fest offers some insight

I wasn't at the Fan Fest Wednesday night at the Coliseum -- my son's sixth birthday was a tad more important -- and while these kinds of events are generally held to satiate the faithful and pump up ticket sales, I liked what I heard.

I'm all for building through the draft and through your own organization, and the Isles are well on their way in that regard with the likes of Gervais, Campoli, Bergenheim, Okposo, Comeau and DiPietro. Let's HOPE that Snow was serious in getting a "true heavyweight" free agent up front who can help energize the attack.

Good luck building the season ticket base. Hopefully the Isles will continue to offer discounts and such but with the economy the way it is, the only way that number is going to go up significantly is if the team becomes a consistent playoff competitor and the Isles are playing in a new arena. As it is, the Isles are a mediocre team playing in a dump. Not a good combo for the attendance stats, where the Isles are last when it comes to fannies in the seats and 25th out of 30 in percentage full. Figure if the Isles averaged 15,000 a game, that would be 92 percent capacity. That would be pretty good -- but fans aren't going to come to see an average team.

Thankfully, Snow is "sick of being average." So are we.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Isles don't move, will draft fifth

The Islanders' lottery experience was much like my own — when it was over, nothing changed.

The Isles will stay with the fifth overall pick at the June 20 NHL draft, which projects to be a good one. You can find Central Scouting's list here, and it includes links to other rankings as well.

The Islanders could certainly use a dynamic offensive player like Nikita Filatov of Russia, or they could get another power forward like Kyle Beach. Or will they get a chance at one of several top blueliners like Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn or Zach Bogosian? I'd like to see a forward come in but either way, the Isles will be getting a quality player and GM Garth Snow will have some decisions to make.

Owner Charles Wang has made some comments regarding reported tension in the front office and the possibility of giving Ted Nolan a contract extension. Saying "we'll honor the contract" isn't exactly a vote of confidence, and while that approach may make sense in the business world, it's a little different in pro sports, where media coverage can turn a smoldering situation into a five-alarm blaze.

You either like the guy or you don't, and if Nolan is going to be given year three to prove himself -- as if he hasn't proven himself thus far -- who's to say he doesn't get snapped up by someone else? Was this season a step backwards? Yes. Was it Nolan's fault? No.

You'd think that since Wang brought Nolan in, the coach would be in good standing. But reports of a rift between Nolan and Snow concerning the management of Rick DiPietro to the talent on the roster have percolated all season.

Nolan is pretty much a proven coaching commodity who has gotten a lot from what he's had to work with, and he's well-regarded throughout the league. Snow, meanwhile, went straight from backup goalie to GM and has done a fair job this season, although it was clear from the start that scoring would be a problem. And it was -- big time.

Both men owe Wang a debt of gratitude -- Nolan for being rescued from exile and Snow for being given such a huge opportunity with no experience. Is Wang hanging that over their heads?

With a less-than-dynamic crop of free agents, it will be interesting to see how Snow addresses the needs on offense and how the draft plays out. We'll be watching.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Game recap: Islanders 4, Rangers 3 (SO)

Ted Nolan put it best after the season finale when he said, "The one thing with this group of guys is they never quit... We didn't take the easy way out, which is a good sign."

Certainly, the Islanders are disappointed with not making the postseason, and for much of the season this looked like a playoff team. There was a time when things were really clicking, and the chemistry looked great with additions like Josef Vasicek and Ruslan Fedotenko and Mike Comrie playing well, and we thought we might have something here. But water seeks its own level, and then when the injuries piled up -- a rash that included starting goalie Rick DiPietro -- the writing was on the wall.

That said, beating the Rangers at the Garden in a shootout to deny them home-ice advantage in the first round isn't the worst consolation prize. Wade Dubielewicz played great, making 48 saves, and we'll say it again -- he can be our backup goalie for the duration of DiPietro's contract if he wants. The guy has the ability to come up big in the clutch.

You also love how the Park-Comeau-Okposo line played the last two weeks, and that's something to look forward to for next season. Okposo scored the first goal of the game with assists from both his linemates, and Park's shorthanded goal gave the Isles a 3-2 lead after two periods. All three scored in the shootout, with Park's fourth-round tally the game-winner after Dubie stoned Prucha. Niiiiiice.

Jack Hillen also looked solid and assisted on Miro Satan's goal and again, here's someone who could contribute big-time, a puck-moving backliner with some poise. Add him to a list of young players like Okposo, Comeau, Neilsen, Bergenheim, Campoli (remember him?), Tambellini and Gervais, and there's plenty of reason to hope.

Meanwhile, the Isles have an 8.1 percent chance at the top pick in the draft and will otherwise pick fifth in what looks to be a loaded field.

We'll post a season-ending report card in the next few days, but in the meantime -- other than rooting for the Mets -- we'll be looking for the Devils to bounce the Rangers in the first round. And why not? Brent Sutter was an Islander.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Game recap: Rangers 3, Islanders 0

I wasn't at the game, unfortunately, and you don't see these things on television but according to Boomer Esiason (who was there) and a caller to his morning show with Craig Carton, there were more fisticuffs in the stands than there were on the ice, where the only set-to was a lame grab session involving Sean Avery and Rob Davison in the final minutes.

Typical of an Islanders-Rangers game, and there will certainly be more arrests at the Garden tonight when the Isles close out a disappointing season and the Rangers -- who clinched a playoff spot with Thursday's shutout victory -- advance. Actually, there shouldn't be too much police activity -- Islanders fans would be wise to avoid the Garden at all costs, and let the season end as it did for the team - not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Nothing much to say about the loss, other than Sean Bergenheim better learn how to convert chances like the ones he had last night. Also, the Park-Comeau-Okposo line played well again, with Comeau looking particularly sharp.

Jack Hillen also played well for his NHL debut, paired with Radek Martinek and getting 20 shifts. He's just another piece in a puzzle that Garth Snow will have to decipher in the offseason, one of several young players who have a chance at playing here next season.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Liveblog: Devils 2, Islanders 1 (OT)

Live from the Blog Box tonight for the Newport SoundIsles against the New Jersey Devils. Drew Fata, Matt Keith, Kip Brennan, Joey MacDonald... my son's kindergarten class has a higher average age than this crew. But we love the kids - they're playing for jobs, which means they're at least playing for something.
Isles looking to improve to 7-1 against the Devils this season, and the Hummer Metro Ice title is within sight. So they're 6-1 against the playoff-bound Devils. I know I've mentioned it before, but it warrants mentioning. Who did we lose to?

Isles news today - they signed recent Colorado College defenseman Jack Hillen to a two-year deal. A free agent, Hillen was the top-scoring defenseman in Division I college hockey with 6 goals and 31 assists in 41 games. He could make his NHL debut against the Rangers. An outstanding pickup for the Isles, who add to their stable of young talent.

I have to admit I'm a bit distracted with Pedro pitching for the Mets tonight against the Marlins. Pedro's first two batters of the season: HBP and a two-run homer. Ouch. Read all about it at Metsfanclub.com. Please.

Devils on the power play, a shooting gallery but MacDonald comes up big, and so does Freddy Meyer, who gets his stick on a shot headed for an open net. Isles kill it off. Can we get a JO-EY MAC! chant started or what? (C.J. Papa suggests 'GO JOE GO' - that works.)

Vasicek scores - in the Dave & Buster's Power Minute! Just 51.7 seconds left and the Devils cough it up at their blueline, thanks to a diving effort by Bill Guerin. Vasicek picks it up, dekes
Martin Brodeur and puts a backhand into the net. Isles up, 1-0, after one.

Getting ready for the start of the second - nice to hear Jiggs McDonald doing the play-by-play again tonight. Jiggs and Eddie will always have a place in our hearts.

FYI, the NYI Mobile fan poll tonight is, "Who is the Isles' MVP - Hunter, Guerin or Park?" Gotta go with Park. The guy's done everything Nolan's asked for this season and brings it nightly.

Devils tie it on the power play, their third advantage of the game courtesy of a penalty called on Okposo - his first foul of the season. Goal scored by Elias on a slapper from the left point. By the way, too many Devils fans in the house tonight. Go back to Joisey!

The more I think about it, the more I dislike the fact that the Isles play on 'MSG Plus.' It's not so much who owns it, but the name. Can't they just call it SportsChannel again? So we feel like we're not second-class citizens?

Left pad save by MacDonald, who's playing well tonight. Tom Liodice at The Tiger Track says Joey has had a fine season at Bridgeport. End of two, and it's still 1-1.

We had a meeting of the minds pregame with all the Blog Boxers, and I had a chance to sample some of Clark Gillies 2007 Chardonnay. You can, too, tomorrow in Farmingdale. Read all about it here, in an article written by our own Dee Karl. It's all for a good cause. There's also a 2005 Pat LaFontaine Cabernet Sauvignon. How did the Gillies wine taste? Audacious and crisp - and definitely not fruity.

Meanwhile, in Florida, the Mets have come back from 4-0 down to tie the game 4-4 in the fifth. Not a good night for Pedro, who apparently pulled a hamstring or something. Damn.

Back to the game, where the Devils are outshooting the Isles, 38-18 with 8:40 left in the third. Devils clinch their playoff spot with a win tonight, so we're playing spoiler. Again. (Sigh.)

One of the Blog Box favorites tonight (particularly Tiger Track Tom) is Kip Brennan, up from Bridgeport. Check him out on YouTube for some of his greatest bouts, including one with a fan. Fun for the whole family.

Three minutes left and Guerin has a chance on the doorstep, stopped by Brodeur. Less than a minute left, and MacDonald comes up huge, stoning Elias and then the rebound. A little "Old MacDonald" on the organ here at the Coliseum. Nice.

Oooooovertime! Ouch. Just 29 seconds in, Devils score on a deflection by Parise. Devils are in, Isles have two more against the Rangers and that's all, folks.


Ted Nolan:

MacDonald I thought he played a very solid game.

Especially with the number of people we have out we have to make sure we keep it as simple as we can. And it worked in the first period. That's a very talented team on the other side.

Sutter is a real good coach in this league and his team is well-prepared. They play strong, fundamental hockey and that's the type of team that wins in the playoffs. We match up pretty well against them.

I thought Matt (Keith) did well, especially with the limited ice time that he had. I thought he showed great poise and good skill when he knocked that pass out of the air and walks in and had a good shot. First time seeing him, I was impressed.

This is a great test for a lot of these young kids, to see how they react. It's good to play one good game, but to see if you can play two or three in a row, and to play at this level you have to play at a consistent level. So far, so good.

It's a long season and young legs are very important. You have 22 or 23-year-old kids full of energy.

Joey MacDonald:

We have a lot of talent on this team, a mix of young guys and old guys, we have Okposo and Comeau and guys like Spiller playing almost every night between here and Bridgeport. It was a tough loss, you don't want to lose the game but they got a break at the end when they got a stick on it and it changed direction, but overall it was a pretty good game.

That's how they score a lot of goals - ugly goals, jamming it in, getting their sticks on it a lot of times. Overall I thought I saw the puck pretty well tonight, and I tried to keep all the rebounds to myself, and the ones I didn't, the 'D' were there to kick them out.

(On familiarity with the other former Sound Tigers): I think it's huge, playing all together down there. You kind of know what everybody's doing, and what to expect. We've got Spills and Fata playing there, you see them every game, and they're just keeping it simple. They're logging a lot of minutes there and a lot of minutes up top. It's easier when you've got a bunch of guys you've played with all year.

It's not a good situation to be in, you don't want to be out of the playoffs, but you've got to stay positive. The guys that don't have contracts, those guys have got to step up and perform and try to earn a job for next year. The guys that do, you have to earn their respect from the coach and play as well as they possibly can.