Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wait... that's Rick DiPietro's music!

Fifteen minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance with Geico, but the most important 15 minutes for Islanders fans came Monday when Rick DiPietro -- remember him? -- practiced with the full squad for a quarter-hour.

D.P. had been getting some practice time in with the club, facing shots, but Monday was his first real run with the full squad, and the first real sign that his long rehab is nearing its end.

How important is a healthy DiPietro to the Islanders? Well, the team's been pretty awful since he left, and the lack of depth behind him was exposed last season when a couple of minor leaguers tried to fill the void. The only positive that came out of it was the No. 1 pick, John Tavares, so I guess we owe D.P. a debt of gratitude.

It will be very interesting to see how much DiPietro's presence changes the Islanders' fortunes. You would think that it would have a ripple effect -- the defense would be more aggressive and confident, which would in turn help generate more offense. That's assuming that DiPietro returns to his All-Star level, which is far from a given. But he is a hell of a lot better than what's been there the past year.

No disrespect to Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron, of course. With D.P. on the horizon, there's already talk of the Isles moving a goalie and the logical one is Biron, who has reportedly drawn interest from the Red Wings.

If the Isles were a contender, you'd like them to keep Biron and let Roloson go for whatever they could get. But Biron would bring back more in return, so figure on Roloson remaining as the backup.

And let's be clear, he is nothing more than a backup. For all of his strengths in terms of positioning and experience, his lateral movement and quickness has all but left him. How he's started three of the first six games is beyond me. He is awful on shootouts and breakaways, and you could argue that the Isles could have had 1 or 2 wins by now had someone other than Roloson been in net.

Which is to say, we're really looking forward to DiPietro's triumphant return.

Meanwhile, the OTM line is breaking up already. Not because the Okposo-Tavares-Moulson line has been unproductive, but because everyone else hasn't. Okposo will play alongside the returning Franz Neilsen, with Doug Weight taking Kyle's old spot. Scott Gordon is hoping that spreading the wealth will get the offense moving.

In other news, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said the Islanders are welcome to come to Suffolk County, and I'm right there with him. As a Suffolk resident, I would love to see the Isles play in Islandia, or Yaphank, or Brentwood, or Melville, or anywhere closer than Uniondale.

It would certainly be better than Brooklyn, Queens or Kansas City.

Charles Wang has already made the Nassau-to-Suffolk move, taking Computer Associates from Garden City to Islandia years ago. So could it happen again? Selfishly, I hope so, but let's first try and get that Lighthouse built. OK?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lighthouse: Straight into darkness?

UPDATE: No surprise, Wang released an emphatic denial Thursday afternoon that the Lighthouse project had been abandoned.

What's more surprising to me is the reaction from some in the media / blogging community criticizing the team for letting its fans (and, let's face it, the media / bloggers ) twist in the wind for almost a day before denying the bogus story. Such horror that the "fans were being used" or that the Islanders -- gasp -- liked the story sitting out there.

Ya think?

Fans get used all the time. When they spend $8 for a beer. Or $6 for a bottle of water. Or when they're forced to pay PSLs.

In the case of the Lighthouse, fans were pawns from day one, pushed and pulled from both sides. We should be used to it by now. It's called hardball, and we all knew it was going to come to this.

I'd like to say that this will be my last post about the Lighthouse until a definitive announcement is made: either that the project is approved and shovels will be in the ground, or Wang himself saying that it is dead and that he's either selling the team or considering other sites.

I'll cross my fingers.

Original post:

I was going to post something about how the Islanders have somehow managed to provide some positives despite an 0-1-3 start -- one that included a blown three-goal, third-period lead -- but then the news dropped on the Long Island Press website that the Lighthouse project is dead.

"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."

The October 3 deadline for Charles Wang's "certainty" came and went, and the season began. But instead of writing about how John Tavares has been everything we expected and more, or how strong the penalty kill has looked, or how Rick DiPietro is making progress in practice, or how it's somewhat refreshing that one of the things the Islanders need to do is learn how to step on the other team's throat when they have it down, I'm writing about the Lighthouse. Again.

So is just about every other blogger in the Blog Box and elsewhere. And rightly so, considering the importance of the project to the team's future.

But I, for one, will hold off on the hand-wringing, the gnashing of teeth, the wailing or the pontificating.

Late Tuesday night, a Newsday blog post noted that no one from the Lighthouse was talking, but that a source close to the project said the project had not been abandoned.

You would think that after all the time and money and energy spent, Wang and the Lighthouse Development Corp. wouldn't just walk away, not this quickly. And do you really think the Oct. 3 deadline was just a way to give Wang an out, so he could say, "Hey, we tried."

I doubt it.

Maybe Wang is indeed shifting personnel to other projects. He said himself he would explore other options. Word gets out, a story is posted on the web (on the site of a free newspaper, sure, but one that's done some good work), there's no immediate comment from the team -- no denials as of 12:40 a.m. Thursday, anyway -- suddenly the stakes are raised even higher. Maybe he's serious! He can't wait on the Lighthouse forever. He's making other plans!

It's just pressure. It's Wang calling Kate Murray's bluff.

I'll show you how serious I am.

We'll see how this all pans out, but my sense is that it's just another move in the game that the Long Island Press says Wang is tired of playing.

For fans, though, it isn't a game. We wish games were all we had to worry about.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Isles make their point, one at a time

At the rate they're going, the Islanders will finish the season with 82 points -- not quite playoff-caliber, but a definite improvement over last season's last-place-overall finish.

Of course, at this rate, they'll be 0-0-82.

That's about as likely as Charles Wang and Kate Murray teaming up on "The Amazing Race," and while consecutive overtime/shootout losses isn't a trend you like to see continue, Thursday night's 3-2 loss to the Senators provided continued positives.

Like two points from Matt Moulson, who assisted on Kyle Okposo's second-period goal before scoring the equalizer for the Islanders in the third period, off a sweet pass from behind the net from Doug Weight, playing his first game of the season.

John Tavares assisted on that goal as well, giving him three points in the first two games of his career. Tavares had a terrific chance to score in the second period as well, but didn't get everything on the shot.

Okposo's goal, meanwhile, was a thing of beauty, as his displayed the kind of deft stickhandling that makes him so doubly dangerous as a power forward.

That's a fun line right now, the Okposo-Tavares-Moulson combo. What can we call it? The TOMahawk line? The TOM-tom Club? The OTM Machine? Suggestions are welcome.

Martin Biron had an uneven game, playing solid for the most part and dazzling in one sequence when he flat-out robbed Alexei Kovalev with about six minutes left. But he was sloppy on the Sens' first goal, a no-angle bank off the heel of his stick, and he should have gotten a piece of the game-winner by Mike Fisher.


OK, it's time for my annual rant against Cablevision sticking the Islanders on the non-HD MSG Plus 2. Watching this game on my high-definition set was like watching it through a rusty old screen door. Immensely frustrating.

I think I have old VHS tapes of the 1984 playoffs that look clearer than what fans endured watching on MSGP2. Awful. And yet the Devils, the team from New Jersey, gets its road game in HD.

I continue to insist that there is no way on earth that the Devils get better ratings than the Islanders. No way. And you can't tell me Cablevision can't put the Islanders broadcast onto another HD channel.

It's just the owners of the Rangers sticking it to the Islanders fans. But the Isles have a pretty sweet TV deal with Cablevision, so I guess we shouldn't complain. Especially since the team gets screwed so badly by its current lease. Which will of course change with the new lease for the Lighthouse -- if it ever happens. Sigh.


I'll never understand how people spend so much money on sports memorabilia. It's just not my thing. But the framed photo of Tavares with actual pieces of the netting from his NHL debut takes the cake. Are these really flying off the shelves?

The whole game-worn or game-used thing in memorabilia boggles the mind. Can I get a piece of Matt Moulson's socks from the Ottawa game to commemorate his first goal as an Islander? Sadly, I probably can.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Tavares leading Isles out of the darkness

There were many things to take away from the Islanders' home opener against the Penguins Saturday night, but chief among them was this -- the worst is over.

It couldn't get much worse last season. The Isles finished with the fewest points in the NHL, and had so many injuries it was almost impossible to gauge the development of their young players or the success of first-year coach Scott Gordon's system.

That failure, however, yielded the No. 1 overall draft pick, and the Islanders selected John Tavares. And while the rookie center scored a goal and an assist in his debut, the points were almost secondary to the other thing he delivered in spades -- hope.

The full house at Nassau Coliseum came to see a savior, and they were not disappointed. But they got much more. The Islanders outplayed the defending Stanley Cup champions for much of the game, and if victories were awarded solely on effort, the Isles would have notched one in the win column.

Mark Streit scored on a 5-on-3 power play, rifling the puck in off a feed down low from Trent Hunter, with Tavares getting the secondary assist. Then Tavares scored the first of his career with a quick backhander on the power play. Hunter scored the Isles' third goal, creating some space for himself before converting a sweet backhand pass from Josh Bailey.

The Penguins, however, are champs for a reason, and the great teams often enjoy the good bounce. Two of the Pittsburgh goals went in off the stick shaft or skate of an Islander. Otherwise, Dwayne Roloson made those of us born in the 60s proud by turning in a strong effort.

Tavares was paired with training camp feel-good story Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo, and that line looked downright dangerous -- a welcome sight for fans desperate for some offensive firepower.

Brendan Witt leveled Ruslan Fedotenko, leading to the 5-on-3 power play, which almost made up for the fact that he forgot that it was Sidney Effing Crosby streaking down the right wing for Pittsburgh's first goal.

You'd think that after such a dismal season, to earn a point against the champs in the opener would be satisfying, and to some degree it was. But the effort was so strong, you couldn't help but be disappointed.

Islanders fans can only hope the team felt the same way and has no regard for moral victories.

I have to admit, when the Islanders didn't go out and get any free agent help this past offseason beyond the two goalies, I was disappointed. After Saturday's game, I'm glad they didn't. I want to see how this group develops. I want to see them struggle and learn how to win. I want to go along for that ride.

Of course, the Isles could get blown out in game two and all the optimism of the opener could get swept away, but I can't shake the feeling that this is going to be a very interesting -- and dare I say, enjoyable -- season.

The dark days are behind us.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Islanders opening night: On with the show!

Overture, curtain, lights!
This is it. We'll hit the heights!
And oh, what heights we'll hit!
On with the show, this is it!

You know what that's from, don't you? Answer at the end of the post (and if you're over 40 and you don't know, you didn't watch enough television as a child).

A few quick thoughts as we get ready for the Islanders' season opener Saturday night against the visiting Stanley Cup champs, the Penguins.

Doug Weight was named team captain, and it is the absolute right call. A team with so much youth needs a respected veteran as captain, and the players clearly hold Weight in high regard. Good call with Streit, Witt, Park and Okposo getting the 'A.' They all deserve it.

Charles Wang and Tom Suozzi announced the new lease, which will finally allow the Islanders to retain most if not all of the income from games, including ticket sales and concessions. Now they just have to get approval and build the Lighthouse. Piece of cake, right?

It will be refreshing to actually focus on hockey and not meetings and press conferences and politics, and hopefully the Coliseum will have a full house to greet the Pens with ire. And, of course, we'll get to see the NHL debut of John Tavares, who has some expectations to fulfill.

Kyle Okposo should be ready to play in the opener after suffering a mild concussion after being freight-trained by Dion Phaneuf. Here's the thing -- I watched the hit over and over, almost hoping to see something dirty. I didn't.

To anyone who thinks Phaneuf left his feet, his skates left the ice after the hit was made, and that was lucky for Okposo. It means some of the impact was felt by Phaneuf. It's simple physics, people.

Anyway, here's hoping Okposo can play his normal game and get back on the horse. Scoring a goal will help quite a bit in that regard.

In fact, let's see a few goals. Last season, if the opposition scored twice you knew the game was over. When Scott Gordon was hired there was a promise of fast-paced, high-scoring hockey. The pace was there but not the production.

One year later, maybe this mix of young forwards can start making things happen. Or at least make things exciting again.

Answer: It's a verse from the opening theme of The Bugs Bunny Show. You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Islanders 2009-10 season preview

A buddy of mine, a Rangers fan, texted me yesterday and asked for the 16 Islanders who were on all four Stanley Cup championship teams.

Sitting at my desk at work with the Internet available at my fingertips, I tamed my impulse to cheat and rattled off as many as I could off the top of my head. How would you do? I'll list the super 16 at the end of the post.

Anyway, after I texted him back I looked up the rosters to see how I did (I only had 14 right, shame on me) and was reminded of how strong and deep those teams were. Good Lord, were we spoiled.

And then I looked at the Islanders roster for this season. Not too many similarities.

That's the curse of Islanders teams from now until they finally win another Stanley Cup (or move to Kansas City, whichever comes first). They will always be compared to the glory days, just like Mark Sanchez and every other Jets quarterback before him is compared to Joe Namath, because Broadway Joe won it all.

Like last season, there aren't too many expectations for this Islanders team. Garth Snow imported two veteran netminders to cover for the still-recovering Rick DiPietro, but other than that, no veteran free agents were brought in to either shore up the defense or provide some kind of threat on offense.

So this season isn't a rebuilding season, it's a development season. John Tavares will learn quickly the difference between scoring goals in juniors and finding the twine in the NHL. Josh Bailey, who looked better as the season progressed last year, should continue to make strides.

Kyle Okposo, Sean Bergenheim, Blake Comeau and Frans Nielsen will be expected to generate more offense and be more consistent, and if they can -- and if Doug Weight and Trent Hunter can feed off the youthful energy and get rejuvinated -- then maybe home games will be somewhat entertaining, and fans can act like fans instead of scouts.

Joel Rechlicz is throwing his weight around and should remain as the youngsters' bodyguard. Richard Park is just a winning player. Jeff Tambellini has to show us something. Waiver pickup Robbie Schremp could be a steal, getting a chance to shine away from Edmonton.

Injuries last season eliminated whatever margin of error existed, so here's hoping defensemen Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, Freddy Meyer and Andy Sutton can at least stay on the ice. Mark Streit had a fantastic season last year and should be as productive again. This is a huge season for Bruno Gervais, who needs to validate the high hopes the team has for him. And I still like Jack Hillen, who has played well this preseason.

We were told all along that Rick DiPietro would be ready for camp. Well, now he's not playing until maybe November. Give Snow credit for acting decisively and getting Martin Biron and the ageless Dwayne Roloson to mind the nets until D.P. (hopefully) returns. When he does, figure Biron to be dealt for another piece of the puzzle.

A side note about DiPietro -- it amazes me how many people either have faulty memories or just aren't paying attention. In the NHL preview in Canada's National Post, columnist Bruce Arthur predicted that DiPietro would get the comeback player of the year award, but not before prefacing it with: "This is going to sound crazy. Like, giving-a-fragile-goaltender-a-15-year-contract crazy."

DiPietro signed that deal a week before his 25th birthday in September 2006. He played 63 games the season before, went on to play 62 games that season and played another 63 games the following season. Of course, he's been a wreck since the All-Star skills competition in January 2008, and only played 5 games last year. But no one was calling him fragile when he signed the deal.

I hope D.P. does come back at 100 percent and wins the comeback award. I'd also like to see the team overall stay healthy so guys like Okposo (who is apparently OK after being run over by Dion Phaneuf) and Bailey and Tavares can play together consistently, and help this group grow as a team.

That's not too much to ask for, is it?

And now, the answer to the question at the top of the post: Name the 16 Islanders on all four Stanley Cup-winning teams:

Bossy, Trottier, Gillies, Tonelli, Nystrom, Goring, Bourne, Merrick, Kallur, Duane Sutter, Potvin, Morrow, Langevin, Persson, Lane, Smith. I missed Lane and Kallur. Didn't think Lane was on all four teams. Not sure how I missed Kallur. I loved that guy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who Cares? Good Question

A few weeks before I started my freshman year at college I received the contact information for my assigned roommate. I decided to be proactive and call him, to let him know that I had a mini-fridge and a TV (black and white!) and it would be great if he had a decent stereo.

My immediate impression was that he was well-spoken but not terribly chatty. Then we got around to sports, around which my life at the time (and for the most part, my life to this day) revolved. Actually, I think I asked, "What sports do you like?"

"I don't like sports."

It was as if he replied in Swahili. I literally could not process the statement. I stumbled for a reply, "You don't like ANY sports?"


A few awkward-silence-filled minutes later, I hung up the phone and relayed the conversation to my mother, who was making dinner. How could they have paired me up with this guy, I wondered. We had as much in common as Ozzy Osbourne and Queen Elizabeth. I filled out a questionnaire, for God's sake!

My kid sister, wise beyond her 11 years, listened to my rant and said, "Maybe the college did that on purpose so you can get to know someone different."


I thought about that phone call after the recent Hempstead Town Board hearing about the Lighthouse Project.

I'm not going to cover the Lighthouse drama wall-to-wall in this blog. There are plenty of sources doing a much more comprehensive job than I ever could, from Let There Be Lighthouse, to Islanders Independent to Islanders Point Blank, to any other of my Blog Box brethren.

I'm in favor of the project. The Isles desperately need a new arena and lease arrangement not only to stay competitive but to survive. I am not a Hempstead resident and in fact don't live within 25 miles of the Coliseum, so I don't look at the project the same way as someone from Garden City or Uniondale.

It has been heartening to see how much support the project has been getting from people holding various stakes, from fans who want a new arena and a winning team, to unions who want jobs, to politicians like Tom Suozzi and Governor Paterson. And judging from the various hearings and meetings that have been held, the opposition is limited to a vocal minority of people and community groups near to the site.

What Islanders fans are learning is not everyone cares about their team. We've lived and died with the Isles, experienced incredible highs and embarrassing lows, and all we want is a winner. But this project goes well, well beyond a hockey team and its arena. And that's where it gets frustrating. Because the Town of Hempstead, while aware of the Islanders' history, has a lot more to worry about than a better hockey venue. There's a lot of development planned, from high-rise buildings to commercial and office space to residential space, and there are legitimate concerns on what kind of an effect it will have on the surrounding communities.

There's some fear here, fear of the unknown. This kind of mixed-use or "smart growth" development is new, and while its proponents say it's just the kind of development needed for a "new suburbia," it's easy to see why people would balk at it. It's different. Different is scary.

The Lighthouse group has done its work, provided reports on traffic and waste, provided a DEIS, has held tons of meetings. The town wants specific answers and guarantees. This week's meeting got testy as a result, but in the end, when Kate Murray asked for people in support of the project to stand up, 75% of those in attendance reportedly did so.

What bothers me most is the politics and the spinning, and it's being done on both sides. Caught in between are fans wondering why they can't just fix the Coliseum and be done with it. The answer is that Nassau County owns the land, and it put the project out to bid and the Wang/Rechler proposal was the one that was selected.

Just fixing or replacing the Coliseum was never a real option, nor was leaving the parcel the way it is, which is an awful eyesore and tremendous waste of space. Something big was going to be done there, and Suozzi has been talking for years about multi-use development that would be part of a larger, countywide initiative towards smart growth. This was going to be one (huge) piece of that puzzle.

That is, if it happens, and despite the hand-wringing and games played in Kansas City and deadlines for "certainty," it should. Yes, the October 3 deadline will come and go, and we'll read about other potential sites of Islanders home games, like K.C. or Hamilton or Brooklyn or maybe even Calverton, who knows? Wang has every right to look into alternatives as the process drags along, and he should. The lease runs out in 2015 and that year, which once seemed so far away, is fast approaching. But he's not going to give up on the Lighthouse. That's where he wants to be and where the most money will be made.

There will be more spinning, more threats, more columns written and blogs posted and commented on, but in the end there will be concessions on the development and ultimately some version of the Lighthouse will be built, and perhaps the Islanders will begin a new era of success, both on and off the ice.

Could the whole thing fall apart? Sure, there's a chance, but the county has too much at stake here, and ultimately will not let small-town politics or developers' greed bring it all crashing down. Only then would Wang sell the team, a truly worst-case scenario.

Could the Isles end up playing elsewhere? If the Lighthouse collapsed, they'd need to. They could end up in Brooklyn with the Nets and their new Russian billionaire co-owner, who I'm sure also enjoys hockey. No way the NHL risks seeing a large-market team with the history the Isles have moving to a smaller market, especially not after the unsavory goings-on in Phoenix.

As a selfish fan, all I want is to see the Islanders return to glory, with a new home that will allow them to do what they need to do to build a winner. As long as that home is somewhere on Long Island, I'm good.

My roommate, by the way, turned out to be OK. We had nothing in common, and he was a very unusual guy -- I mean, no sports? Not even soccer? -- but we got along just fine. Maybe there's a lesson there.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Start selling those Tavares sweaters... now!

John Tavares is an Islander. Let the merchandising begin.

And, yeah, some goals would be nice. And some wins. And another Stanley Cup at some point wouldn't be too much to ask.

Islanders GM Garth Snow kept 'em guessing until the very end, but let's face it -- this was a no-brainer.

Snow got tricky last year, trading down twice and acquiring a quality player in Josh Bailey while stockpiling picks.

This time around, he had the No. 1 pick in a draft with two -- and many argued, three -- players who could legitimately be taken first overall. But Snow played it cool and wouldn't tip his hand, and that was the smartest move someone at the helm of a struggling franchise could make.

Why not keep it a secret? It created drama. It built up interest. Lo and behold, the Isles had 10,000 fans at the Nassau Coliseum, ready to either celebrate like crazy or tear the place apart if Victor Hedman or Matt Duchene was announced, which would have been nuts since both are outstanding players.

So the fans who wanted Tavares went wild, and the fans who feared Snow would screw up are maybe giving him some props tonight. The Tavares pick also sets into motion the marketing machine that will sell tickets, jerseys, T-shirts and luxury boxes.

Fans, however, only care about the on-ice benefit, and Tavares brings plenty to the table. Four years as the top player in junior hockey yielded scoring records and a world junior championships. In a tournament with the best players in the world, he was the MVP, the best of the best, and he helped his team win it all.

Most importantly, he has a nose for the net that his new club sorely lacks. So now, assuming Rick DiPietro is healthy and comes back with something to prove, and if the defense can be shored up a bit via free agency, and maybe a veteran winger can be brought in -- suddenly this Islanders team is interesting.

Tavares, Bailey, Okposo, Comeau, Nielsen, Bergenheim -- you've got some nice young players in that group. Throw in vets like Streit, Witt, Sutton, Park, Hunter and Weight, and maybe they've got something going, not just for the future, but now.

Last season, with a backup and minor leaguer tending goal instead of DiPietro, the Islanders went 11-26 in one-goal games, with 9 losses in OT or shootouts (31 points). By contrast, the Rangers, with Henrik Lundqvist in the net, went 24-19 in one-goal games, also with 9 OT/SO losses, for 57 points.

How many points would a healthy DiPietro have been worth? Then again, if he's healthy, the Isles probably don't get Tavares.

Everything happens for a reason.

Maybe someday Snow will get his due, but he's still relatively new at this GM business, and we all know you can't truly judge a draft until a few seasons have passed, but the guy should start getting some credit.

Nice work, Garth. Even if it was a no-brainer.

UPDATE: Snow traded up twice to get the 12th overall pick and selected Calvin de Haan, a puck-moving defenseman from the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.

A curious move in that Snow first traded up to the 16th pick and de Haan, based on his rating, probably could have lasted to that point. But you target players you like, and Snow obviously liked de Haan and felt he needed to move up to ensure he'd get his man.

Unlike Tavares, de Haan is 3-4 years away, and he could stand to gain another 30 pounds or so on his wiry frame. But he's a well-regarded and intelligent player, so file him away for a couple of seasons.

Isles have the 31st overall pick, first in the second round, and still have No. 56 and No. 91 (the final pick of the third round).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Isles draft preview, and a wish list

Tempting as it may be with the prospect of an anticipated packed house on hand at the Coliseum, I won't be at the Islanders draft party Friday night to see the No. 1 selection announced in person.

My softball team has a doubleheader that night, and with guys missing because of graduation parties (and the Subway series), we're a little short on players, and I'm a team guy all the way. So I'll be digging in at third base when Garth Snow makes an announcement that will either send the crowd into raucous celebration, or start a riot.

I'm betting on the former.

You can certainly make an argument for taking Victor Hedman at No. 1, since blueliners with his combination of size and speed come around as often as a waitress when you're ready for the check. And you can argue that Matt Duchene is the most "complete" forward available and deserves to be considered with Hedman and John Tavares at the top tier of the draft.

But while Snow has smartly played it coy, inviting all sorts of speculation, Tavares will be the pick here, and he should be. In his mock draft at SI.com, John Muir puts it best when he notes that Tavares has been picked apart by scouts and critics two seasons now and is still considered by most to be the best player available.

Yes, the Islanders could stand to shore up their defense, but the most glaring needs are up front. The team that scores the most goals wins, and the Isles are desperate for a scorer, never mind a marquee player that can sell tickets. Tavares fits the bill on both fronts.

So if you're going to the draft party and you want Tavares, plan on celebrating. But bring a flak jacket just in case.

What's more interesting is what the Islanders do at No. 26 in the first round, and at that point perhaps a d-man can be taken. But best player available is the way to play it.

The draft is just the beginning of the offseason, and there will be other roster decisions to be made, including free agent signings.

Here's where I get greedy and the wishful thinking runs wild.

We know that the Lighthouse Project is finally getting some real political traction. Things are looking up for a change. The salary cap will likely remain at around $56 million, with a floor of $40 million. The Isles have a cap number of around $33 million with some holes to fill.

Steven Stamkos' cap number is just under $4 million, so let's use that for Taveras for argument's sake. And let's say resigning RFAs Blake Comeau, Nate Thompson and Jack Hillen add another $3 million to the payroll (we're rounding up). That puts the Isles at the floor.

But why stop there?

You want to help the defense? Sign Mike Komisarek. The West Islip native is a hard hitter who would strengthen the back line, and think of all those family and friends who won't have to trek up to Montreal to see him play. Figure $6 million a year.

There's a tremendous need on the left wing, and while I'm spending Charles Wang's money, how about Mike Cammaleri? Are you kidding? With a name like that he'd be a huge fan favorite. Oh, yeah, he's also 27 and scored 39 goals last season.

Dream on? OK, what about Maxim Afinogenov? He's regressed the last two seasons and he turns 30 in September, but if you're bargain hunting, why not roll the dice?

Of course, if the Isles did sign Komisarek it would make players like Radek Martinek and Bruno Gervais expendable, and Jeff Tambellini could also be dealt, so they could trade for a left winger.

Will any of this happen? Probably not. But Snow has some options and there are some interesting players available, and maybe Wang is willing to throw a bit more cash around. After all, when you're used to losing $20 million a season, what's a few mil more, right?

Enjoy the draft, buy your Tavares sweaters and get ready for what should be an interesting summer off the ice.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Lighthouse at the end of the tunnel?

One of the many reasons I stuck with sportswriting in my bygone days of journalism and resisted any attempt to make the shift to hard news was politics. I can't stand them.

The Lighthouse Project is, of course, all about politics. If it was just about a new building for Long Island's only major professional sports franchise, we'd be enjoying a New Coliseum already, with triple the luxury boxes and all the sushi and barbeque and gourmet pizza you could eat.

So what a shock it was that soon after Charles Wang announced his October deadline to say go or no-go on the Lighthouse -- and not long after Garden City attorney Kristen McElroy announced that she would run against Kate Murray for the Town of Hempstead supervisor's seat -- did Murray extract her head from the sand and agree to meet in person with Wang and Nassau County supervisor Tom Suozzi about the Lighthouse.

And lo and behold, what a surprise that the three emerged from that meeting holding hands and agreeing, according to Newsday, "to work as a team to expedite approvals" for the project, and creating a draft timetable for the project.

Nothing like a deadline and political reality to get something moving forward.

Suozzi has wanted a "hub" at the Coliseum site for years, and now it is finally looking like the wheels are in motion. Suozzi trumpeted the need for the project at a county planning commission meeting on June 11, where several other officials spoke out in favor of the Lighthouse.

Greg Logan's blog also noted that, "On July 7, the Town of Hempstead is expected to vote on the draft EIS and then hold public hearings within 30 days. But one of the most important signs of progress, Wang said, came when Gov. Paterson assigned his two top aides, Tim Gilchrist and Larry Schwartz, to monitor the project. Gilchrist is a transportation expert in charge of infrastructure and stimulus funds for the administration."

So can Islanders fans finally breathe easy? Is the Lighthouse more than a 50-50 proposition?

And if all goes well on July 7 -- and particularly if the Islanders draft John Tavares with the No. 1 pick on June 26 -- will Wang finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and be willing to spend a little more money than the bare minimum to add some talent to the roster, knowing that in a few short years he will have everything he wants off the ice?

We can only hope. But after the way things have been the past 9 months, at least we have some reason to believe.

Penguins reward the fans who had faith

I remember watching the Penguins play the Islanders at the Coliseum earlier this season and thinking, these guys don't look that good at all. The Pens were the defending Eastern Conference champions, and had two all-world players in Sidney Crosby and Yvgeni Malkin, and yet there was something missing.

Well, they found it. They fired their coach in mid-February after four months of uninspired play and replaced him with Dan Bylsma of Wilkes-Barre (I know, "Who?!"), then added Bill Guerin for a conditional draft pick, and the march was on. They rallied to beat the Capitals and Alexander Ovetchkin in seven games, got a vacation with a four-game sweep of Carolina, then resurrected themselves from a 2-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup Finals to beat the Red Wings in seven, winning the final game on the road.


So congratulations to Guerin, who was given a shot to win another Cup and got it, along with ex-Islanders teammates Miro Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko.

Like the Blackhawks and the Bruins, the Penguins also provide Islanders fans with hope. Another team that was dismal a couple of seasons ago, now winning games and giving their fans plenty to get excited about. The Pens also were in danger of leaving Pittsburgh if they didn't get a new arena.

They got their building -- it's going up right across the street from the Igloo, in fact -- and now they have the Stanley Cup.

Coincidence? Charles Wang probably doesn't think so.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Blackhawks are Exhibit A: There is hope

Are you rooting for the Chicago Blackhawks? I am.

Not just because they have one of the coolest uniforms ever. And not only because they have exciting young talent like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. It's because the Hawks represent what's possible for a team like the Islanders. That you can be face-down in the gutter one day, and on top of the world the next.

Chicago's 7-5 victory over the Canucks sent them into the Western Conference finals, and whether they get eliminated there or go on to win the Stanley Cup -- which would be the Hawks' first championship since 1961 (kinda makes 1983 look like last week, doesn't it?) -- this season has seen a remarkable turnaround for a franchise that was, just a couple of seasons ago, among the worst in all of sports.

Prior to this season, Chicago had missed the playoffs in nine of 10 seasons, including five straight. They had just 59 points in 2003-04, followed by seasons of 65 and 71. Things were so bad that you could get rinkside seats for almost nothing. They started showing some mojo last season, with Kane and Toews providing the spark, and then this season they shot up like a bottle rocket.

So what changed? Well, owner "Dollar" Bill Wirtz died in the fall of 2007. Known as a generous and fiercely loyal man in private, he was hated by Hawks fans for his stinginess. They booed during his moment of silence, for God's sake! This was a man who had home games blacked out on local television. And I get pissed when the Isles are on MSG Plus 2 and not in high-def!

Control of the team fell to one of Bill's sons, Rocky, who got the Hawks back on local TV, hired former Cubs executive John McDonough to be the team president, and retained GM Dale Tallon. They changed the culture. They went with youth. They rebuilt burnt bridges with stars like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull.

Not only did the Hawks make the playoffs this season, they drew more than a million fans to the United Center. One. Million. Fans. In this economy.

I can hear some Islanders fans already saying, "See? We need to throw out Wang and Snow! That will change things!"

Well, no. Wang -- his regrets aside -- is the only reason the Islanders are still here on Long Island. You try spending $23 million a year on a sports team knowing you're going to keep on losing money. And Snow's rebuild has only just begun. We'll see what he does with the No. 1 pick, but if the performance of guys like Kane and Toews tell you anything it's that if you can get superstars, you grab them. Hello, John Tavares!

Wang is desperately trying to change the Islanders' economic reality with the Lighthouse Project, which -- if it is approved, as it should be -- would put the club in a better financial position, allowing it to be more aggressive in adding to the roster. They have a couple of possible future stars in Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey.

Of course, it would help if local government was more supportive. While county executive Tom Suozzi has been a staunch supporter of the Lighthouse as a lynchpin of the future development of Nassau, Town of Hempstead supervisor Kate Murray has been the fly in the ointment and a superior example of why politicians get such a bad rap. How important is the Lighthouse Project to Ms. Murray? So important that she didn't bother to show up at a project meeting on Monday. You can't make this stuff up.

The point is, change on the ice can happen and it can happen faster then you think. The Bruins are another example of a team that -- under the same ownership, by the way -- has gone from basement to penthouse in a couple of seasons thanks to better management and outstanding young players.

So I'll be rooting for the Blackhawks and the Bruins to meet in the Cup finals. Two Original Six teams showing the league how it's done. Hopefully, the Islanders and their fans are paying attention.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Once proud? Always proud

When the Islanders dropped a 9-0 decision to the Hurricanes a week ago, ESPN featured it on their NHL highlights package and referred to the team that came out on the short end as the "once proud" Islanders.

And when the Isles finished the season Sunday with a loss to the Bruins, the team's fourth straight loss, another media outlet described the Isles as "lowly."

Fine. The Isles finished with the worst record in hockey and had one of the worst records in team history. But as a fan -- at least, as a fan who likes to keep things in perspective -- I wouldn't call this team "lowly." And I'll never not be proud to be an Islanders fan.

We knew going in -- before the season-ending injury to Rick DiPietro and before the other injuries that piled up like so much firewood --- that this could be a rough season. No expectations. We liked a lot of the young players and liked guys like Brendan Witt and Radek Martinek and Doug Weight. But with a new coach, a new system, very little firepower (the team finished with no 20-goal scorers for the first time ever), and with a clear mandate to get the youngsters a lot of playing time, the playoffs weren't likely. But it was a step in a new direction.

Once D.P. and the others went down, the writing was on the wall. The rest of the season would be an experiment. Bill Guerin left for Pittsburgh. We had Joey MacDonald and Jann Danis as our goalies. A lot of players saw time who otherwise wouldn't have made it to the big leagues.

But you know what? The team showed signs of life. Prior to the final four losses, the Isles were 14-14-5 over 33 games. So they basically played .500 hockey in the second half, and STILL secured one of the top 2 draft picks.

That's half-glass full thinking, but I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy. I don't have the time or the energy to be negative.

And whether the Isles get the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, they know they'll either get Tavares or Hedman, a win-in if there ever was one. Of course, almost every fan wants Tavares, who could be the marquee offensive threat this team has been dying for. But if they end up with Hedman, they have a backline anchor for the next decade. Coaches love that.

Was the season a failure? Whenever you don't make the playoffs, it's a failure, and 14 other teams failed. But did we really expect that this season? What we did see was plenty of promise from the likes of Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Sean Bergenheim and even Jesse Joensuu, and a terrific season from Mark Streit.

Getting Tavares or Hedman will be a huge addition to a young team that is trying to build for the future, and literally build a new home.

For me, there are only two disappointments. The continuing mystery over the health of DiPietro, and the politics of Kate Murray and her gaul at sending a mailer to county residents as part of her misguided effort to get stimulus money to renovate the Coliseum and derail the Lighthouse Project.

Hey, Kate! Nassau County wants it. Tom Suozzi wants it. Based on most public feedback, the majority of residents want it. Islanders fans certainly want it. The NHL wants it. Plenty of unemployed and underemployed Long Island residents want it.

Someone needs to vote her off this Island.

Anyway, as far as still being proud to be an Islanders fan, I have a quick story. My son plays deck hockey and for some reason likes playing goalie. When he does, he wears a blue Islanders jersey instead of his team T-shirt because it fits over the pads.

After one recent game, he walked off the court raising his stick and yelling, "Let's Go, Islanders!" To which the opposing coach, wearing his Rangers hat and satin jacket, said something like, "Oh, too bad."

In my younger, pre-parent days I might have fired back with a sharp retort and a promise to back it up with Jack Johnson and Tom O'Leary. Instead, I patted my son on the head and told him to keep it up.

Let's go, Islanders.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A reason for optimism in uncertain times

This is why we watch. Seeing Kyle Okposo hit his stride as he has the last four games, working alongside fellow youngsters Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau to give the Islanders three straight wins and seven points in their last four games, is exactly the reason why we tune in (in HD or not) or find a seat at the Coliseum.

The present may not be much to look at, but the future has potential. And again, that's all we asked for at the start of the season. Give us some hope. Show us that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

On the ice, it seems that way. Off the ice? Well, that's another story.

Newsday -- after stirring the pot by wondering whether the Isles could end up moving to Kansas City -- published an article Saturday underlining how the team's lease with Nassau County and SMG makes it extremely difficult for the team to leave.

What the article didn't include was how onerous that lease is. It is most likely the worst lease in professional sports. SMG reportedly gets all parking and concession revenues plus a third of ticket sales and advertising revenue.

So when you pay your $7 to park and plop down $20 for a beer, a hot dog and a pretzel, the Isles get bubkus. The team does get most, if not all, luxury box revenue, but that hardly balances things out.

Obviously, SMG guards that lease like a pit bull does a steak. SMG has refused to be bought out in the past, although the Milsteins offered a measly $7 million 10 years ago, nonsense considering SMG gets an estimated $2 million or more per year from its deal with Nassau County.

But while some would point to the Newsday story as evidence that the team isn't going anywhere (experts agreed that the language is very specific), that same story included a quote from another expert who stated the (somewhat) obvious:

"The only way out is through mutually acceptable negotiated termination," said attorney Scott Mollen of Manhattan, who writes about leases for the New York Law Journal.

There are six years left on the lease. Let's say the Town of Hempstead (which should share the spotlight with SMG as the villians in this whole fiasco) keeps stalling, or continues to press for a simple renovation of the arena, without the rest of the Lighthouse features. Let's say Charles Wang has enough of the nonsense and puts the team up for sale.

Now, let's say there is a prospective owner who wants to move the team to a new city with a sparkling new arena already in place (one that would give him the bulk of the game revenue instead of just a fraction). That owner could buy out the remainder of the lease with an offer of $20 million or more, knowing full well that he would earn that money back in a couple of years in his new city.

SMG could balk, forcing the team to stay and honor its lease. But when that lease is up for renewal, the Islanders would demand much better terms, so SMG's days of milk and honey would be over. SMG could just take the money and move on, which would pave the way for the new owner to move the team and leave the Coliseum without a primary tenant, and leave Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead with a LOT of 'splainin' to do.

Is that likely? Probably not. The Coliseum has been a money maker for SMG for years and it would be in their best interest to work out an arrangement with team ownership and the county to continue to manage the arena in the future.

But the "doomsday scenario" certainly is possible, and admitting so doesn't make one an alarmist. Just a realist.

Which is why the Lighthouse Project is so critical. It is everything. It is essential to the Islanders finally turning their fortunes around. Support it here.

Because it is clear that without the Lighthouse, the team's future could end up playing out elsewhere.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Getting back to work, but on what, exactly?

The Islanders return to action tonight to face the Atlanta Thrashers in a game that is, shockingly, not on Versus.

The Isles have had eight days off for the All-Star break, so they'll either be raring to go or rusty as a barn door hinge. Some of the players really enjoyed their time off, none more so than Mark Streit, who got to represent at an All-Star game that was decided by a shootout. Streit had two assists to help the East win. (If anyone cares.)

Some players won't be back. Joining Rick DiPietro on the shelf is Mike Sillinger, who is lost for the season thanks to another hip surgery. Which means the Isles will lose more faceoffs down the stretch, which won't help their chances for, you know, winning games.

Which is the point, isn't it? I forgot.

Anyway, appropo of nothing, enjoy this, the best beer commercial of all time. (Which was banned from running during the Super Bowl, by the way).

Friday, January 23, 2009

I want my Islanders in HDTV

Newsday's Neil Best has a great article on the Islanders and their relationship with Cablevision, noting that the TV deal between the two entities -- which runs through 2031 -- is mutually beneficial, especially for the Islanders, who would get only a fraction of that kind of money in another market. Like, say, Kansas City (which, by the way, has a smaller population than Nassau and Suffolk Counties).

But while that is certainly a good reason why Charles Wang would want to stay on Long Island, if he doesn't get what he needs via the Lighthouse Project, he could very well sell the team, and another owner in another location could move the club where he or she wants, regardless of the broadcast deal. That's the concern.

As far as Cablevision goes, has anyone else noticed that the HDTV channels are dropping like flies?

Here's my question -- with so many available HD channels now, is there ANY reason why all Islanders games cannot be shown in HD? I'm sure they could run MSG Plus 2 on one of the HD channels as well as 141 and 14. They have the capability.

I would love to hear someone from Cablevision explain why they can't do that.

Losing DiPietro just adds to a lost season

Mama said there'd be seasons like this...

The fact that Rick DiPietro is officially out for the season is hardly shocking, and while disappointing, considering the laundry list of injuries the Islanders have already suffered this season, it's almost fitting.

Should we be concerned? Of course. You would think that a meniscus surgery wouldn't be such a big deal, but the fact that the knee hasn't responded well to a second surgery, and the fact that doctors aren't guaranteeing anything once he rests it for 6-8 weeks, are red flags of the highest order.

What gets me are the yahoos (you can find them in most any comments section or message board) who use the injury as the latest excuse to crucify Charles Wang and Garth Snow. DiPietro was pretty durable up until last season, when he was an All-Star. Since then, he's suffered a bad stretch of luck that may or may not be related to his prior workload.

His 15-year deal was signed a season before his All-Star nod and since that time, there have been many long-term contracts inked by the league's top stars. The Islanders had no marketable marquee player -- D.P. was it. He was 25 at the time, with his prime ahead of him, and at $4 million a season, he traded the opportunity to make bigger dollars down the road for security, and Wang rolled the dice that his goalie would not only earn his money and stay healthy, but that he would be the cornerstone of the club -- on and off the ice -- much as Martin Brodeur has been in New Jersey.

You wonder if he'll ever be the same, and hope the extended rest and rehab is what he needs. But if something like this was going to happen, a season like this -- where, remember, we had no expectations anyway -- is a good time for it to happen.

Of course, all the injuries and not having your No. 1 goalie -- on a team that was offensively challenged to begin with -- have made for some tough viewing.

Fans who actually watch the games have noticed that the Isles have played hard and have been in almost every game. But without go-to scorers and with so much inexperience -- including backup goalies in the nets -- complete games are few and far between. There's a lot of learning going on, and a lot of new faces in and out of the lineup, so consistency hasn't been there.

Again, to me, it doesn't matter. Mark Streit -- playing in his first All-Star game this weekend, and deservedly so -- was a tremendous pickup, and who doesn't love Josh Bailey? Despite the losses and the insane amount of injuries, there has been enough positives to see to prevent this fan from calling for people's heads or heading for the nearest bridge.

Then again, I root for the Jets and the Mets. Patience and perspective are required.

Monday, January 19, 2009

We shall overcome

Not to make light of a holiday that celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but as we prepare for the Islanders' holiday matinee this afternoon against the Capitals, consider:

  • The Islanders are 2-17-2 since December 1, picking up 6 points in 21 games.

  • They are 1-10-2 in their division.

  • Rick DiPietro is just about lost for the season, and Joey MacDonald, his backup, is also out, which means Yann Danis is your starting goalie.

  • The team and fans were crushed to learn that Wade Dubielewicz was claimed off waivers by Columbus, ending his return bid.

  • Chris Campoli became the latest to be sidelined by injury.

  • Newsday identified the person behind Kansas City's bid to get a pro sports team, and he's considered a more powerful figure in sports than Gary Bettman. Wonderful.

  • The team has moved its training camp to Saskatchewan, which is a lot closer to K.C. than Uniondale.

Bad news, right? Well, please consider this as well:

  • In this awful string the team is struggling through, 15 of the 12 games were decided by two goals or less, including eight one-goal games, so the Isles aren't getting blown off the ice despite being severely shorthanded by injury (and, yes, a talent gap that was there at the season's start).

  • The Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl.

Yes, the Cardinals, a team that hasn't won a football title in more than 60 years, a team that has been a laughingstock for decades, is in the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If the Cardinals can make the Super Bowl -- and don't be shocked if they win -- then anything can happen. So keep the faith.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kansas City, here we come?

And so it begins.

Newsday's Islanders blog on Thursday posted a link to a story on TSN that reports the Isles and L.A. Kings will play an exhibition game in September in Kansas City, a municipality that is actively seeking a professional hockey team for its major-league-ready arena, the Sprint Center.

TSN's Darren Dreger reports, "... according to league sources this game could be perceived as a veiled threat of potential relocation if plans for a new arena on Long Island aren't soon finalized."

Charles Wang has never explicitly threatened to move the Islanders. In fact, he has time and again expressed his commitment to the area.

Say what you want about the ambitiousness of The Lighthouse Project, but revitalizing the area around the Coliseum and Hofstra University has long been a goal of Nassau County, and the fact is that Charles Wang and Rexcorp are committed not just to a new and improved arena but developing the property that they own.

Financing is not an issue. The need for construction work on Long Island is tremendous.

What the project lacks is approval, and if an exhibition game in Kansas City is necessary to remind the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County and whoever else what is at stake, and that time is certainly of the essence, then so be it.

And if anyone out there doesn't think there is a risk of the Islanders leaving Long Island, look at the Seattle Supersonics. That was a team that had won an NBA title, that had tremendous fan support and played in a recently renovated arena.

All it took was an ownership change to send the team to Oklahoma City, the fans be damned.

It will be very interesting to track the progress of the Lighthouse project in 2009. And you can do so at the Lighthouse site, or at its blog.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A history lesson

I caught a bit of the MSG program "Greatest Days" the other night, the one about the Islanders' first Stanley Cup championship.

It featured interviews with John Tonelli and Bob Nystrom as well as a couple of middle-aged fans talking about what that day was like, a group that included Uniondale native Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abbate of The Howard Stern Show, who said he had to monitor the game on a dingy TV set at the gas station where he worked.

The day the Isles beat the Flyers on Nystrom's overtime goal -- thanks to a perfect pass by Tonelli, thank you very much -- was the day of my brother's First Holy Communion. So the house was filled with relatives, including all of my cousins, many of whom are girls.

Viewing conditions were, as a result, not ideal. While my brother, my father and I would have liked nothing more than to watch the game in peace, there was dinner to be had, and coffee and cake, and "Don't you want to play with your cousins?"

Most of my cousins had as much interest in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals as I had in Strawberry Shortcake (the cartoon, not the dessert). My mother determined that I, the mature one at age 11, should be a good host and play with them a game of Monopoly. The fact that the Flyers had, at this point, tied the score and sent the game into overtime mattered little.

So we set up the game board on the living room floor and I positioned myself so I had a clear view of the TV in the den, but once the OT started a crowd began to gather, hindering my view of the set. I did my best to crane my neck between dice rolls and reading "Community Chest" cards to keep up with the action.

When Tonelli found Nystrom, I was in the middle of a turn and my view of the TV was blocked. I ran to the set, celebrating, and watched every replay in an attempt to make up for having missed seeing the goal live.

My other memory from that day is of my brother and I shooting on our street hockey goal in front of our house wearing our Islanders home whites, and of cars driving by honking their horns as we raised our sticks in triumph.

It was certainly one of my greatest days as a sports fan.

Now, the Islanders have been criticized for leaning too heavily on (if not living in) the past, and I've felt that way myself. But while the state of the team has been depressing of late, I'm happy that I, as a fan, have those memories to look back on, and that the team does, in fact, have a tradition to be proud of.

Imagine being a Detroit Lions fan today. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. Fans in Buffalo and San Diego have never seen a world championship in any major sport. The Maple Leafs haven't won since 1967.

I'm going to be 40 soon, and I've never seen the Jets win a Super Bowl. But for half a decade, my favorite hockey team won four straight titles and 19 consecutive playoff series, an embarrassment of riches for any fan.

Sure, things are bad now. But there is hope. The Bruins were a laughingstock a couple of seasons ago, and now they're the beast of the East. And the Chicago Blackhawks were more or less left for dead, but with a new owner running the show and some outstanding young talent, the Hawks are one of the hottest properties around.

The Islanders are a young team that has lost more than 260 man-games to injury in their coach's first season behind the bench. They play in an awful arena and get the shaft by the cable network that broadcasts their games.

But people do care. The fans care. Charles Wang, I believe, cares about the Islanders succeeding on the ice and in the New York market for reasons that extend beyond his real estate interests.

The Bruins and Blackhawks have shown how quickly the tide can turn with the right management, the right talent and some luck. The Islanders are batting zero in the luck department lately, but there is some talent here and a high draft pick is a lock. We'll see whether the management can make it all happen.

My point, if I have one, is that Islanders fans have to be pretty thick-skinned these days, but they've been to the mountaintop before and have to have faith that they'll be back there again.

And look at it this way -- at least we're not fans in Seattle.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Islanders ring in the New Year with hope

The 10-game losing streak that began December was like a cinder block lashed to the Islanders' collective foot, dragging them to the bottom of the NHL standings and taking the fans' spirit with them.

And although Rick DiPietro continues to provide his best impression of a china vase, the Islanders have showed some spunk recently, closing out 2008 with five points in their final four games, the latest an entertaining 4-2 victory New Year's Eve against the Florida Panthers.

I've said all along that as an Islanders fan with zero expectations, all I wanted to see this season were signs of progress. But the many injuries coupled with the growing pains of learning Scott Gordon's new system have made it difficult to determine whether the team was moving in the right direction.

But things have finally started to look up. DiPietro's return in a 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs turned out to be just a cameo appearance, but it made clear that his presence means the world to this team. Joey MacDonald has done an admirable job filling in for so long, but he's not at DiPietro's level.

In fact, had D.P. been healthy enough to face the Rangers, you could see the Islanders taking that game, as MacDonald's proclivity for allowing big rebounds and the annoying soft goal reared its ugly head.

And give Mike Comrie credit for coming back to the lineup and providing the offense the team has sorely lacked. Sure, he could be showcasing himself for a seemingly inevitable trade off this sorry Island, but since he's been paired with Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau, that line has looked terrific and finally gives the team a semblance of a scoring threat. And his two goals against the Sabres helped salvage a point in the road in what was the second game in as many nights, another positive sign.

It was nice to read that Doug Weight doesn't want to leave, and he has been a great addition to the team. With a one-year contract, a veteran like Weight is prime trade material, but with so many young players not ready to be leaders, having guys like Weight and Bill Guerin are necessary to show them the way and provide direction, even when the playoffs are a long shot.

Trevor Smith is the latest newbie to suit up in the blue and orange, and here's hoping his goal-scoring ability made the trip with him from Bridgeport, something that hasn't happened with Jeff Tambellini.

And wouldn't you like to see more goals like the one Sean Bergenheim scored against Florida? Highlight-reel plays like that have been extremely rare in these parts, and maybe that's the kind of play that Bergy can build on as we enter 2009.

The new year begins with a western road trip, and DiPietro was on the plane, so presumably he'll play. Maybe one of his New Year's resolutions will be to stay in the lineup.

If he does, it gives the Islanders a decent chance to make 2009 interesting, if not successful. But at least there's some hope.

Happy New Year, everybody!