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!