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.

Another trade, and the exodus begins

Fans are walking out as another trade is announced - the Isles trading seven to Nashville for the ninth pick and Nashville's 40th pick overall.

This one I can't defend as much - although in what is supposed to be a very, very deep draft, the Isles now have four second-round picks. And the difference between Hodgson, Wilson, maybe Kyle Beach - isn't that much. So to recap, the Isles traded the fifth pick for the ninth pick and added two second-round picks this year, and either a second or third round pick next year.

Again, armchair GMs love getting value when moving down, and maybe that's what the Isles have gotten here.

Wilson is taken by Nashville, by the way. Good luck, fellow Terrier.

But the fans, who were hoping to get an impact player, a top-five player, are very disappointed and have voiced that displeasure here at the draft party, which has become less of a party and more of a mob gathering.

Oh, well - no Filatov

Columbus took Filatov, and the reaction here at the Coliseum isn't as bad as I thought it would be, though I just heard the first "Garth Snow... YOU SUCK!" chant. And they just booed the announcement that the Isles were on the clock, so maybe it took a few minutes for a Filtov-less reality to settle in.

But look at it this way - the Isles will either get Cody Hodgson or Colin Wilson, both forwards -- the feeling here that it may be Wilson -- and they are both very good players, both solid picks at this spot. And to get two extra picks, that's not a bad play.

Unless Filatov becomes the next Ovechkin, in which case Isles fans will be talking about this move for a looooooong time.

The deal... a good one?

The trade: Isles and Leafs swap five and seven, the Isles get either a second and a third in 2009, or a second and a second in 2009, at the Isles' option.

That's a lot of value to move down two slots. The Isles will still get a very good player at seven, Schenn or Hodgson, or maybe even Filatov, which will at least keep the fans happy.

UPDATE: Leafs take Schenn. So what does Columbus want? I've heard they're not looking at Filatov but wanted defense -- but all the top D-men are taken. Unless they Meyers or DelZotto, which would be a little high. If Columbus likes Hodgson, the Isles fans who love Filatov should build a statue of Garth Snow.

Four for four, but...

OK, so the first four went as I predicted, but we're hearing word that the Isles may have traded down to seven with Toronto...

If they can do that and still get Filatov, peace and joy will flourish here in Hempstead.

If they make the deal and Filatov goes somewhere else, I'll be under the table hiding from the angry mob.

UPDATE: They just announced the swap of picks -- let's just say the mood of the fans here isn't a happy one.

Could Toronto and Columbus take some combo of Schenn and Hodgson and leave Filatov with the Isles? We'll know soon.

Last-minute predictions

OK, almost ready to start and the fans are already yelling for the Isles to take Filatov. If he goes in the first four picks, they may tear this place down and we'll REALLY need the Lighthouse Project.

For posterity, my prediction:

1- Lightning - Stamkos
2- Kings - Doughty
3 - Flames - Bogosian
4- Blues - Pietrangelo
5 - Isles - Filatov

Maybe some wishful thinking.

Already a trade with the Kings ending up with 2 of the top 12 picks after a three-way deal that saw them move Mike Cammaleri.

"Lots of activity at the Islanders table." "Number 5 pick may be up for grabs."

We shall see...

Live at the Isles draft party

The draft party has begun, and as we wait with baited breath to see what the Islanders will do with the fifth overall pick, there's plenty to do on the floor of the Coliseum as fans continue to file in.

Beyond the items up for auction, the interactive exhibits (how hard is your slap shot?), the coolest things are the items brought down from the Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The Islanders items include the five pucks that found the net in the debut game for the Islanders and the Atlanta Flames in October 1972, a 3-2 Flames victory; the stick Mike Bossy used to score his 68th goal in 1980-81; Brent Sutter's jersey from 1986-87; along with Billy Smith's pads and the stick he used when he "scored" a goal against Colorado in 1979.

There's also the skates Gretzky wore in his final game, but I like the old stuff best. Like Ace Bailey's skate blades; the hat Punch Imlach wore while coaching Toronto to four cups in the 1960s (the guy must have a midget based on the size of the hat; perhaps he was the inspiration for the Maple Leafs coach in "The Love Guru" - played by Verne Troyer, of course); Frank Mahovlich's jersey from 1958; Eddie Shore's Bruins jersey from 1932; or the stick Gordie Howe used to score his 220th career goal -- the thing is is flat as a frying pan.

You also learn that these guys save EVERYTHING. Case in point? You can see the socks Sean Bergenheim wore when Finland beat the Czech Republic in the 2001 world under-18 championships.

Dee, they're all yours.

How about this Russian?

Counting down the hours to the draft and the Islanders draft party (starts at 5:30 p.m. - don't be late!) and I'm just putting this out there:

Since the Penguins have so many people to sign and can't possibly keep them all, and since there's usually only room for one superduperstar per team, it's been rumored that the Pens could deal Evgeni Malkin. One rumor had him offered to the Kings for the second overall pick and Mike Cammalleri, who went 19-28-47 in 63 games for L.A. last season.

Could the Isles package the number 5 pick plus one of their second rounders and a young player to Pittsburgh for Malkin? Hmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Goodbye, MSG? And hello, Yashin?!

Almost choked on my lunch when I saw this on today:

NEW YORK -- The National Hockey League is threatening to kick out Madison Square Garden, the owners of the New York Rangers, as punishment for accusing the league of violating antitrust laws.

That's right, kids! The league, in a letter signed by Gary Bettman, "asked a judge to agree MSG has breached its contract by challenging league rules and that it can force out MSG."

It all dates back to the Rangers protesting the league's control over all the team websites. Say what you want about the Islanders' past ownership squabbles, but at least the league never threatened to kick one of them out of the league.

That James Dolan is something, isn't he? From the Knicks disaster and Isiah Thomas to this, he seems like one sharp dude. Sharp as a marshmallow.

Just the kind of news that makes me smile. Unlike the report that the Islanders are thinking about bringing back Alexei Yashin.

God help us, no! I don't care what his numbers were for Yaroslavl in the Russian Superliga. And yes, the Isles' offense was pathetic last season. But they bought him out FOR A REASON. They guy is an albatross. There's no way Ted Nolan is on board with this, is there?

Not the kind of news we want to read as we prepare for the NHL Draft on Friday, when the Isles will have a chance at drafting a truly exciting Russian, Nikita Filatov.

Yea on Filatov, nay on Yashin.

Newsday's Greg Logan breaks down the Islanders' possible draft strategy here, noting that Snow could opt to trade down. That would be a mistake. If Filatov is there, you take him. If not, you grab one of the top defensemen who slid down. The Isles have extra picks and should grab the best player they can in the first round, and then use the later picks by either taking players with them or consolidating them into a higher pick at some point.

We'll find out for sure tomorrow night. See you there!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Wings over America; Milbury does it again

Belated congratulations to the Red Wings, who took the Cup in six games -- as I predicted -- over the Penguins, who should be the favorite in the East again next season, depending on what happens with their many potential free agents, and coach Michel Therien, who may or may not be very well-liked in the Pens' clubhouse.

And we know how player revolts go around here, don't we?

Meanwhile, Mike Milbury opened his mouth last week, which often doesn't end well. Responding to an off-the-cuff remark by Tiger Woods about how he didn't follow the NHL playoffs ("I don't think anybody really watches hockey anymore") Milbury called Woods "Tiger Wuss" and then went on about how tough hockey players are compared to pretty much everyone else.

I always liked Milbury's personality and he has had some great quotes over the years. For a long time I was one of the few Milbury defenders in Islanders Nation, until the evidence engulfed me like a landslide. And he is brash and opinionated, which makes him an interesting voice. But this was silly and just makes Mad Mike look insane. Take it down a notch, Mikey. For everyone's sake.

Looking ahead, the Blog Box will be well-represented at the Islanders Draft Party at the Coliseum June 20, with some surprises in store.

And if you want a peek at the list of 2008 free agents, here you go.