Saturday, July 3, 2010

Islanders must get off the (salary) floor — with Kovalchuk?

In yesterday's post I talked about wanting to see the Islanders spend a little above the salary floor. Then I thought, "That's easy for you to say, Mr. Moneybags, spending Charles Wang's hard-earned cash like that."

So I decided to crunch the numbers and try and determine how much I more I want the team to spend, and what would need to happen to cover that extra investment. It's a good thing I like math.

The NHL salary cap in 2010-22 is $59.4 million, with a salary floor of $43.4 million. According to, the Islanders have almost $32.5 committed for next season, leaving them $11 million below the floor.

I'd like them to spend more, but how much more can we realistically ask? Halfway to the cap is $51.4 million, but there is no way that the Islanders would crack the $50 million mark, for psychological reasons alone.

What about $48 million? That’s not quite $5 million above the floor, enough to sign an impact free agent, either a scorer or a first-line defenseman. That would mean the Islanders would have $16 million to spend before the season starts, on free agents or re-signing players. You could do some damage with $16 million.

The Islanders must spend the floor, so we're asking Mr. Wang to cough up an extra $5 million. Presumably that money would add talent and make the team more successful, and more wins equals more fans, right? So how many more fans would need to show up at the Coliseum to cover that extra investment?

Last season the Isles drew an average of 12,735 to home games, or 78.1 percent of capacity. That put them 29th in the league in average attendance and 27th overall in percent of capacity.

The average ticket price last year was about $51.50 (I hear the prices are going up, but we'll use that figure). To get an extra $5 million, the Islanders would need to sell 97,000 more tickets, or about 2,400 per home game.

Assuming attendance this year would otherwise be about the same next season, those extra tickets would boost average attendance to 15,135, or 92.8 percent of capacity. Those figures would place the Islanders 21st in average attendance, or 20th in percent capacity.

In other words, we're not asking for much in terms of an attendance boost. It's not as if the Isles would need to sell out every game to cover that extra payroll expense. We'd just need the attendance to go from pathetic to slightly below average. Aim high!

That doesn't factor in that the Islanders' new sub-lease gives them more money from parking and concessions, or the fact that the team is benefitting from controlling all events at the Coliseum, including concerts.

Mo' money, mo' money, mo' money.

Which is to say, the Islanders in 2010-11 are in a much better revenue-generating position than they were when the 2009-10 season started.

So it is really that much to ask them to spend a little more on talent, knowing that they're going to make more money anyway, and that a better team will almost certainly produce enough of an attendance increase to justify the expense? And could you imagine if the team actually made the playoffs?

Of course, the easiest way to get off the floor — and draw more fans — is to spend $10 million a year on someone like, oh, Ilya Kovalchuk. And on Friday night, the news (rumors) started breaking that the Isles were pursuing Kovalchuk with the Kings. Then Snow confirmed the interest with Newsday.

Seems that Wang things a big gun like Kovalchuk would help push the Lighthouse forward or get some kind of deal done. And he's not been shy about big contracts for a marquee player.

Kovalchuk would certainly add a serious weapon, take pressure off Tavares and Moulson, and put fannies in the seats. Presumably, it would help the team win more games, creating the kind of juice that could ultimately help Wang get something close to what he wants regarding the Lighthouse.

Or maybe that's too much to ask.

Realistically, the Islanders don't even need A-list free agents. They don't need any "name" players to build marketing around because we already have Tavares, Okposo, Bailey, Weight and (if he ever sees the ice again) DiPietro. What the team does need is legitimate NHL talent to fill its needs, particularly a top-line defenseman and a top-six forward.
This team is getting close. There is lots of young talent here and the coaching and front office are on the right track with a plan. The fans are ready to see the team take the next step.

Kovalchuk would be one hell of a step.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Free agent frenzy doesn't visit Long Island

While the rest of the free world stands vigil awaiting the decision made by LeBron James as to where to next collect his basketball millions, NHL fans are themselves geared up for the silly season.

The free agency period began July 1 and there was a landslide of activity.

But not on Long Island.

Islanders fans have come to learn that when the clock strikes midnight on the first day of free agency, that it doesn't pay to stay up late. Or even scour the headlines the next morning. Or the following day, for that matter. Because when it comes to free agents — at least the marquee ones — the Islanders aren't interested.

And you wonder if the feeling is mutual.

A year ago, I suggested in my wish list post that the Isles go out and get Mike Cammalleri, Maxim Afinogenov and Mike Komisarek. Cammelleri lit it up for the Canadiens, Afinogenov scored 24 goals for Atlanta (and could be bound for Russia this season), and hometown boy Komisarek... well, he had a forgettable year in Toronto. Hey, two out of three ain't bad. (Maybe now the Isles can get him cheap?)

The Islanders could sure use a veteran defenseman, and in the day one free agent frenzy, we saw Paul Martin sign with Pittsburgh, and Lou Lamoriello countered by inking Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder for a combined $39 million.

Think the Isles are spending that kind of dough? News flash: Ilya Kovalchuk isn't coming to Hempstead.

No, Garth Snow has resigned himself to picking through the bargain bin, although he has come up big in the past. Mark Streit wasn't an unknown commodity in Montreal, but he has stepped up his game on Long Island, so that was a huge win for Snow.

The only activity on the Islanders' ledger has been in the 'lost' column, as Martin Biron will now back up for the Rangers, and Jeff Tambellini (whose bags have been likely packed for months), is now in Vancouver.

The Islanders won't snap anyone up. Instead, they'll let the crumbs fall to them and pick out the biggest ones (or at least not the smallest.)

So who will end up here? Maybe they'll re-sign Andy Sutton to provide some size again in the back; at least he liked it here and we liked him. There's been buzz about signing UFA Eric Nystrom, a Syosset boy whose dad played here some years ago. Not an impact player, but he could provide some jam. (UPDATE: He signed with Minnesota. Missed that. Oh, well.)

After that it's anyone's guess. Like last year, I'd love to see the Islanders spend some cash and bring in someone who can score. Matt Moulson was a terrific find but let's face it, Snow got lucky. No one saw 30 goals coming from him. So if the Isles can bring in someone else to help out Moulson and Tavares and Okposo and Bailey and Weight, then I'm all for it.

Alexander Frolov, anyone? Yeah, right.

Beyond the names, can we at least see the Islanders — who are now just raking in the cash with Islanders Entertainment — take a couple of steps above the salary floor?

We know the Lighthouse isn't happening. But at some point, while building for the future — and Snow so far has not wavered from that plan — you have to give the present team and its fans something to, you know, come to the building for other than a glimpse of what could be in a couple of seasons.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Islanders roll the dice with Kabanov, Niederreiter

Steals? Risks? Gambles? We won't know for some time whether the moves the New York Islanders made at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft will help or hurt the team, but we do know one thing for sure:

They lead the league in guys named 'Kirill.'

Two years after taking Kirill Petrov in the third round of the 2008 draft, the Isles went to Russia again in the third round and selected Kirill Kabanov in what could be the steal of the draft, considering Kabanov had been ranked as high as the top three in the draft class within the past year, and 15th at the midterm.

So what happened to the 17-year-old scorer? Rumors of drinking, getting dropped by the Russian national team as well as his agent, problems with his team in Moncton, and an injured wrist conspired to sink his reputation as well as his draft standing. The Isles grabbed him at 65th overall, figuring they had to take a player with that kind of talent.

And he has talent, in spades. He also has moxie, as shown in his post-draft interview when he promised that he wouldn't let the Isles or their fans down. We'll see. The kid's 17. But the draft is a crapshoot, and you can't leave skills like Kabanov's on the table at No. 65.

As for first-round pick Nino Niederreiter, I had a feeling the Islanders would go for a forward. Can't say I saw Nino coming.

The day before the draft, I re-Tweeted something my man B.D. Gallof said about what the Isles would do at No. 5. B.D. predicted that the Islanders would go with a forward with their first pick, adding, "As Ricky Roma once said: "If everyone thinks one thing, then I say, bet the other way."

Hey, anyone who drops a "Glengarry Glen Ross" reference in a tweet is aces in my book. And I agreed that even though the Isles lack size on defense, they have some young, talented blueliners in Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan. Why not get some more help up front and give John Tavares some players to work with?

But instead of Brett Connolly (who went one pick later to Tampa Bay — you wonder if Stevie Y was rubbing his hands together with glee), the Islanders went with Niederreiter, who shined for Switzerland at the World Junior Championships, as well as with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, scoring 36 goals in his rookie season. The 18-year-old center has mad skills (witness his one-handed goal) and let's face it, the Isles need more juice on offense.

Trading two picks to move up and take Brock Nelson at No. 30 was bold, but Garth Snow has shown that he'll make the move to get the guy he wants. Nelson is big and will get bigger at North Dakota. The Islanders added more size with Jason Clark later in the third round, and finally got a defenseman with Tony DeHart in the fifth round. DeHart paired with de Haan at Oshawa.

I refuse to give out a draft grade. These are 17- and 18-year-olds. Who knows how they'll pan out? But it certainly looks like the Islanders came away with some talented and potentially exciting players, who could give us fans plenty to cheer about in the coming seasons.

What about this season? With the July 1 free agent period just days away, the Isles will be in a position to fill some of their more immediate holes. One request — can we get UFA Eric Nystrom on this team? I'm sure his dad will allow him to wear No. 23.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Meet me at the ... place ... somewhere on Long Island ... maybe

I've been trying to generate some feelings -- vitriol, despair, disgust, frustration -- over the latest developments concerning the Lighthouse, but I just can't do it. It's like trying to light a fire with a wet match and a cinder block. I'm done.

We heard from Chris Botta at Fanhouse that the Wilpons, owners of the Mets, had hired a high-powered project management firm to "work on a feasability study" for a new arena at Willets Point, adjacent to Citi Field. Newsday then followed up with the predictable denials from sources. Our friend B.D. Gallof compared the whole thing to a scene from the movie "M.A.S.H." which served to plant the theme song from the TV version in my head for a few hours. Thanks, buddy.

For me -- and, I suspect, most Islanders fans -- the drama has become tiresome. I'm done with the Town of Hempstead, and the politics, and the hand-wringing over whether the Isles are going to move to Queens, or Hartford, or Winnipeg, or Kansas City, or Brooklyn, or Yaphank, or Paris, Texas.

I'd be done with Charles Wang, too, except he hasn't said a word in months. At least he's not been annoying.

The Lighthouse Project has been all but disbanded and Hempstead has yet to provide new zoning for the property, or any guidance as to how Wang's proposal needs to be pared down. The general feeling is that it would have to be cut down considerably. Maybe Wang would be OK with that, maybe not.

Wang still has incentive to stay at the Coliseum. The revised lease agreement gives the Islanders more revenue from games and other events, and you'd think it would be easier for them to stay at that location in a renovated or new arena regardless of how much of the other development is eliminated.

While Wang may or may not be investigating other options, like looking to the Wilpons and Queens, at some point the town will present its new parameters for the site, eliminating the oh-so-scary "mini city" that the local politicians love to call the Lighthouse plan. Hopefully that will come soon, maybe this year? This decade? Before the next World Cup?

At that point, Wang will either be in or out, but that day seems to be so far off it is not even on the horizon. So wake me when it comes, OK?

The lease on the Coliseum runs out in 2015. There's still time to develop a site for a new arena somewhere (good luck with the Iron Triangle, though), but not much.

Part of me would love to see the Islanders find a new site on Long Island and leave Hempstead stuck with either a casino or just a couple of new big box stores to replace a tenant-less arena. Let the politicians take credit for that.

The other part of me wants to stop hearing, talking or writing about this for ever more.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Queens? Hey, It's better than Kansas City

Charles Wang has said all along that he was going to keep his options open. So to hear that Wang has been in discussions with Jeff Wilpon of the Mets about moving the team to a new arena in the vicinity of Citi Field should surprise exactly no one.

The Iron Triangle, as the glut of auto body, muffler and chop shops adjacent to Citi Field is known, is high on mayor Mike Bloomberg's list of areas he'd like to see revitalized, and Wilpon, in his interview with Newsday, is looking for another sports team to join the Mets in the area to help anchor the proposed new development.

Wilpon said he's spoken to Wang and also with Major League Soccer about getting a team to Queens, and has even discussed possible ownership of the Islanders.

Think Ed Mangano and Kate Murray are listening? They should be.

Wang has been silent, as he has for months. He seems content to let others do the talking and the speculating about what his next move is going to be. It's a smart move. Now Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead can start to envision what it could be like without the Islanders. Instead of the Lighthouse, they could have a casino. Or an arena with no tenant.

Personally, I'd have no trouble driving an extra 20 minutes or taking the train to see the Isles play. If they can't make it happen at the Coliseum, then Queens would be the next-best thing. (Actually, Melville or Brentwood would be even better, but I'm not holding my breath.)

Will any of this happen? The Iron Triangle is an environmental disaster (think Chernobyl without any trees to kill) and the people running the "businesses" there have vowed to fight for every last grease-covered and rat-infested inch. So don't expect anything to happen anytime soon.

Like the casino talks, perhaps the Wilpon gambit helps push things along so a revised Lighthouse plan can finally be put forth and accepted.

Or maybe the Wilpons really do go ahead and buy the team.

Either way, it's better than seeing the Isles end up in Kansas City, or Winnipeg, or Branson, Mo., or some other place.

Again, the fans just want the team to stay here and have all this resolved sooner rather than later. But it's never been about the fans, and has never been more than partially about hockey.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A casino? Really?

Long Islanders love their casinos.

We fly to Vegas (cheap, non-stop flights from Islip!), drive to Atlantic City (or take the bus -- it's practically free!), or head up to Connecticut for Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods (high-speed passenger ferries from Orient Point!). It's all very convenient and loads of fun.

But a casino right in our own backyard? How gauche.

Shinnecock Nation, however, has seen how much more money a tribe can make running a casino than selling discount cigarettes on the side of the road, and it wants a piece of the action. Fair enough. The Shinnecocks got the good news at the end of last year that they met the federal recognition criteria, and once they officially get that, you know that building a casino on Long Island will be at the top of their to-do list.

Building a casino out in Southampton will be all but impossible due to traffic, geographic and likely massive residential opposition. Maybe they could build one in Yaphank, near the expressway. Instead, the Shinnecocks have been talking to Nassau County executive Ed Mangano about a casino project that would include a renovated Nassau Coliseum.

Goodbye Lighthouse, hello all-you-can-eat buffets, slot machines and blackjack tables. Jackpot!

While Newsday wonders whether the casino talks "cast a shadow on the Lighthouse," I'm thinking that this could actually speed things along.

The Town of Hempstead wants the Lighthouse pared down and is in the process of rezoning the parcel to make that happen. Charles Wang and Scott Rechler have so far not budged on their mixed-use proposal, which opponents liken to a small city.

Mangano has said that the county has to keep an open mind and look at all possibilities.

I don't know what's going on behind closed doors, but here's how I imagine (or hope) it all goes down.

Local opponents, given the choice between the Lighthouse in some form and a casino, realize that the former is much more palatable.

Wang -- who shot for the moon with his Lighthouse plan -- agrees to work with the new zoning and get something done, which will include a wonderful new arena with lucrative revenue streams. You know, so they can bring in some more talent and maybe win a championship? That's what this is all about, right?

The Shinnecocks don't mind being used because the talks show other municipalities that they are serious players, and maybe another entity (Suffolk County? Riverhead Town?) will be more open to building a casino that would generate the kind of tourist revenue that Connecticut is enjoying so much.

And Mangano comes out looking like a real player and the savior of Nassau County's future.

Too much to hope for? Maybe. But as hockey fans, we just want this mess resolved. We're tired of the politics, the pettiness and really tired of waiting. We want to replace the dump our team plays in with a better facility that will not only make games more enjoyable to attend, but will bring in more money for our team, which we hope will mean better players, more victories and maybe -- just maybe -- another Stanley Cup in our lifetime.

Will that finally happen? I'm not ready to bet on it. Not yet.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Islanders: A Tale of Two Teams

Last summer I was at a birthday party at a friend's house when I ran into a mutual friend who had formerly worked for the Islanders. We talked about the draft, and John Tavares, and what the future held.

He said the felt the hockey operations were in good hands. Garth Snow, Scott Gordon, Ryan Jankowski, Bryan Trottier and Ken Morrow had the team pointed in the right direction, and with young talent like Kyle Okposo, Tavares, Josh Bailey and Frans Nielsen, the future looked bright.

"But they have other problems," he said.

I thought he was referring specifically to the Coliseum and the awful lease agreement that the team had struggled with for so long, and the mired-in-political-molasses Lighthouse Project, which was seemingly going nowhere. He agreed that those were big issues, but that the real problem was the owner himself, Charles Wang.

Remember, this was a former employee who was happy to have gotten out of there, so there may have been an axe or two to grind. But looking back at the 2009-2010 season, which is just about over, I thought about our meeting last summer, and it's becoming increasingly clear that when it comes to the Islanders, there are really two teams: the one on the ice, and the one concerned with everything but the ice.

The former has had a pretty successful season, as successful as one could be without making the playoffs. Tonight's 4-3 victory over the Canadiens gives the Islanders 79 points, including wins in five of their last six games and an 8-3-2 mark over their last 13 games, good for 18 points. With three games left in the season, the Islanders were still mathematically in the race for the final playoff spot, and if I had told you that the Isles would be in playoff contention until the final week of the season, you would have taken that and ran.

It's even more impressive when you consider where the Islanders were last season: 26-47-9, and a league-low 61 points. Of course, that futility yielded a No. 1 draft pick in Tavares, who has combined with the surprising Matt Moulson and the continued development of players like Okposo, Bailey, Blake Comeau and Andrew MacDonald to give fans real hope for the future.

Consider, too, that this progress took place with almost no help from Rick DiPietro. Remember before the start of the season, when we were told that DiPietro could be back in November (they were off by two months), there was a feeling that if D.P. could somehow return to his pre-injury form, his All-Star form, that perhaps the Islanders could turn things around pretty quickly. After all, how many wins is a top goaltender worth?

As it happened, DiPietro lasted only eight games before being shut down again. Thankfully, Snow inked two netminders in the off-season, Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron, and thanks primarily to Roloson, that helped keep the Isles in the hunt, or at least on the fringes of it.

That said, there were plenty of things that fell short. Defense was a problem all season, as were the special teams, especially the penalty kill. But all in all, considering the talent level and relative inexperience in key areas, the Islanders at least showed progress as the season wore on, even if the late-season surge came too late.

Off the ice, things are an absolute mess, unless you consider the development of Islanders Entertainment a big win. If you're wondering what DiPietro has been up to lately, just visit the Islanders Entertainment web site, where you'll see him on video extolling the virtues of the product, which is basically tickets to shows combined with a hotel room and breakfast.

The Lighthouse? It's in the dark. The project itself has not uttered a word in months, there is no hope of breaking ground anytime soon, and regime change in Nassau County has turned the whole thing into a huge question mark (as if it hasn't been on all along). There are even whispers of a possible breakup of Wang and Scott Rechler, which if it happened, would seemingly doom the project. What would happen next is anyone's guess.

Without the Lighthouse and the revenue it would bring, the Islanders are unlikely to ever commit more money to the team beyond the minimum payroll floor. There will be talk again of Wang selling or moving the team, maybe to Brooklyn, maybe to Queens or somewhere else on Long Island, maybe to Kansas City or points unknown.

And that's the depressing part. We've seen enough from the current young players, Gordon and Snow to believe that perhaps there is some light at the end of the tunnel, that the team is just a season or two, or a key player or two, away from becoming relevant again.

But then you look at what else is going on, and you look at the owner, and you realize that players come and go, and coaches and GMs can get fired, but no one fires the owner. He is who he is, and you're stuck with him unless he sells.

I understand that Wang has sunk a lot of money into this team, maybe saved it when he bought it. But I hope he understands that while the fans want a better arena, one that will help the team make more money that could be invested back into the product, we really don't care about office space or hotel rooms or canals or housing or entertainment packages with complimentary breakfast.

We want a team to be proud of. We're only halfway there.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wang loses his gamble with DiPietro

I have a friend who is a gambler. In addition to college and pro football and basketball, he's been known to put money on U.S. Open women's semifinal matches. That's hardcore.

Like most gamblers, he'll tell you all about his winnings, the three-team parlays and close covers, and then little or nothing about the bad beats. But that's the gambler's prerogative. You always want to believe you're up more than you really are.

Charles Wang would like to have that luxury now that it is becoming increasingly clear that the Rick DiPietro signing was a bad gamble. The bad beat of all bad beats. A bust.

The Islanders announced this week that D.P. will be shut down for the season because "surgical swelling" in his knee has not subsided. This after taking a particularly conservative approach where he did not play a game until January 10. He made it through only eight games, and has appeared in only 13 in the last two seasons.

Critics of the 15-year contract between DiPietro and the Islanders have been legion, and to their credit, they've been slamming the deal since before the ink was dry. Media, fans, unnamed hockey executives -- they couldn't understand why in God's name Wang would commit himself to a deal so big the player would be immovable.

But Wang does things his way, and at the time he needed a marquee player to build his team (and promotions) around. D.P. fit the bill. He was young, a budding star with matinee-idol looks and a game to match.

Why 15 years? Why not 10? Or even eight? Only Wang knows for sure. And, maybe Mike Milbury, who reportedly put the bug in Wang's ear about inking D.P. long-term. After all, it was Milbury who traded Roberto Luongo and drafted DiPietro with the first overall pick in 2000, instead of Dany Heatley or Marian Gaborik. I know, it's painful to think about. (By the way, Ilya Bryzgalov of the Ducks went No. 44, and the rest of the first three rounds produced almost no one.)

Wang defended the length of the deal by pointing out that the annual salary was just $4.5 million, so if DiPietro turned out to be a top-level goalie, it would actually be a bargain.

Wang, who likes to think he thinks out of the box, rolled the dice. At the time, DiPietro had no injury history to speak of. The year before he signed, he played 63 games. The next season, 2006-07, he played 62, and the following year he played in 63 and made the All-Star team. Had he followed that same trajectory, the deal would have been justified.

But we know what happened. Hip surgery in March 2007. An injured hip at the All-Star skills competition in 2008. Another hip surgery the following month. Knee surgery three months after that, followed by another knee surgery in November. Five games played in 2008-09, a long layoff to recover, and then eight games this season.

That dice roll came up snake eyes.

We assume (and hope) that the contract is insured, because we know it is guaranteed. If DiPietro retires due to injury, he gets paid. If he retires at any point for other reasons, he forfeits the remainder of the deal.

Personally, I wasn't a big critic of the deal. I wouldn't have done it myself, but I understood -- to a degree -- Wang's logic. DiPietro was his best player and he needed someone to focus the marketing on. There was no reason to think that he would get hurt the way he did, except this is ice hockey, and players do get hurt. A lot.

Garth Snow said he expects DiPietro to be ready to go next season. What else is he going to say? DiPietro insists that he is in the best shape of his life -- except, of course, for those darn knees. He said he's just following doctor's orders.

For his part, Wang is learning that when you gamble in sports, you can't hide the bad beats. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and when you lose, everyone knows about it and won't let you forget it.

As a fan, I can only hope that DiPietro comes back healthy, but like most fans I don't expect it. In all likelihood, the D.P. era is over and the contract will go down as one of the worst in NHL history, right alongside the one the Islanders signed with Alexei Yashin.

That's the kind of history we don't need.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Colin Campbell: Asleep at the switch

You know the guy at work who does nothing but convert oxygen to carbon dioxide? We all know a guy like this. The guy who has somehow been able to hold down a job despite little to no evidence of productivity? The guy who displays no aptitude or discernible skills yet continues to collect a paycheck?

Colin Campbell is that guy.

The NHL's chief disciplinarian brings cluelessness to new levels with each ruling he makes, the latest being the two-game suspension levied against Alex Ovechkin. Campbell somehow felt that Ovie deserved a two-game suspension for his hit against Brian Campbell (no relation, I think... maybe he's a distant cousin and that explains it).

Ovechkin was rightly given a five-minute major and a game misconduct, but anyone who saw the play other than dyed-in-the-wool Blackhawks fans knows that a suspension was not warranted.

But Campbell went ahead and gave out a two-game suspension. Where was the suspension for Matt Cooke against Marc Savard? Or for Steve Downie after he took out Sidney Crosby? And yet, Maxim Lapierre did get suspended four games for slamming Scott Nichol into the boards recently.

No rhyme, no reason. You wonder if that phrase is etched into a plaque on Campbell's wall.

Campbell makes Homer Simpson look like Frank Grimes. He makes G.W. Bush look like Abe Lincoln. He makes Larry Storch of "F-Troop" look like Marlon Brando.

We understand how someone like Campbell gets a league job like the one he has. What we don't understand, given his record, is how he actually keeps it.

Are there compromising photos involved? Someone's secret diary? A grainy video? Something's keeping the guy employed.

Scott Burnside has a terrific take on it at, comparing Campbell to the lead character in the film "Memento." Nice.

Burnside goes on to say that the league has no credibility when it comes to discipline. "This will be so until the NHL has the gumption to make meaningful change to the way it does business, until it tears down the Star Chamber and replaces Colin Campbell with a more effective, more transparent form of justice, one the players and coaches and fans can understand and accept."

Until that happens, expect more of the same. When there's an on-ice incident that requires thoughtful consideration and consistency, Campbell will instead spin his wheel of fortune, or shake his magic 8-ball, or whatever he uses to mete out punishments (or free passes).

That's the kind of guy he is.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Islanders' final 20: What do we want?

The Olympics are over, Canada got its gold medal, and the Russian president is about to roll some heads. But there's no time to bask in the Olympic glow (or, if you're Team USA, wallow in the disappointment). The stretch run for the NHL season is here, and the trade deadline is just a day away. Which means teams have decisions to make.

For the Islanders and GM Garth Snow, there will be many phone calls initiated and received. Does Snow trade Andy Sutton? What about Dwyane Roloson and Martin Biron? Or any of the team's other unrestricted free agents like Doug Weight, RIchard Park, or Jon Sim?

UPDATE: Sutton is traded. See below.

The reality is murky. The Islanders -- despite losing 9 of 11 prior to the Olympic break -- are one of seven teams within striking distance of the final two playoff spots in the East. The Isles have 20 games left to play, 11 of those at home, where they have a winning record (unlike, say, the Rangers).

I used to think that if your team was on the bubble, it didn't matter if it made the playoffs or not, because it would probably get bounced in the opening round, with an outside chance of making it to round two. But with this Islanders team, I think making the playoffs -- even if it led to a first-round elimination -- would be huge.

With a core of young players, to reach the post-season now would be a tremendous boost in experience and confidence and would help accelerate the group's development, and would affirm that coach Scott Gordon has the team headed in the right direction.

Can that happen? Seven teams is quite a scrum, but it's possible that the team goes on a run and squeaks in. Possible, but not likely, especially if Snow trades away key pieces. Snow's moves will be made solely on what benefits the club in the long term.

Take the goalies. Snow should deal whoever brings back a higher return, and that's likely to be Roloson. He played great while he was here, but a 40-year-old netminder isn't part of the future.

Sutton's story is a little different. I'd hate to see him go. He's big and mobile, but he's going to be a free agent, and there are plenty of suitors. If the Isles cannot sign him to an extension now (and that's pretty remote at this point), then it makes sense to trade him to a contender willing to rent him and then try and sign him as a free agent this summer. Keep in mind, he'll be 35 in a week.

Dealing Sutton would hurt the team's playoff chances more than anything else, but you've gotta do what you've gotta do.

(UPDATED: Sutton was traded Tuesday afternoon to Ottawa for a 2nd-round pick. MORE)

As a fan of this team, my approach is "whatever happens, happens." Making the playoffs this season was always a remote possibility, so being within hailing distance of the playoffs with 20 games left isn't bad. If Snow can convert some pieces into draft picks or prospects, all the better.

If the team somehow catches lightning in a bottle (and gets some serious help along the way) and makes the playoffs anyway, then that would be icing on the cake, and it would be fun to see how the team performs in that setting.

The endgame begins tonight at home against Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks. Keep your trade trackers on.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lessons learned at the Olympics

Maybe it's just me, but when I hear 'Finland,' I think of the Monty Python song.

I should probably think about Teemu Selanne or Saku Koivu or Mikka Kiprusoff, because those guys could very well knock off the U.S. in the semifinals this afternoon.

Finland is a funny team. When the Olympics roll around, all the talk is about Russia, Canada and Sweden, with an eye on the pesky Czechs and some "can the U.S. do it?" thrown in for good measure. No one talk about Finland. And yet, they're almost always in medal contention.

It could be a pitcher's duel with Ryan Miller against Kiprusoff, but this whole Olympic tournament has been dominated by the netminders. Roberto Luongo has stepped in to help rescue the Canadians, Jonas Hiller was the top goalie in the tournament until the Swiss were dispatched in the quarters, and Jaroslav Halak has been outstanding for the Slovaks.

Just ask Russia how important goaltending is. Yvgeni Nabokov was about as effective as an umbrella in a hurricane against Canada the other night, but blame the coach for (a) not pulling Nabokov after the first period, or (b) not giving Ilya Bryzgalov -- who has 32 wins and six shutouts for Phoenix -- a shot at starting.

There are a few other lessons we've learned at the Olympics thus far, and here's hoping some of them find their way back to the NHL.

- More action, less commercials. How awesome has it been watching these games with commercial breaks that are shorter and less frequent? Will never happen with the NHL, so enjoy it while it lasts.

- I was disappointed that the Olympics weren't being played on the big ice, but I have to say the pace of these games has not disappointed at all. Lots of up and down, exciting play, which has more to do with the talent level and motivation than it does with the dimensions. It's playoff hockey every game.

- Mark Streit is a terrific hockey player. Islanders fans have known this for a while now, but his Olympic performance, logging mega minutes every night, only seals the deal. Tons of talent. Can't say enough about that pickup by Isles GM Garth Snow.

- Can it be this simple? Three points for a regulation win, two for a win in OT or shootout, zero if you lose. Since the shootout isn't going away in the NHL -- Howie Rose can call it 'Home Run Derby' all he wants, it's just too popular -- I'd amend that to one point if you make it to the shooutout, but I'd extend the OT to 10 minutes. Done.

- Love those Slovakia jerseys. I'm biased, because I'm half Slovak, but they are sharp. So are the Slovaks, who I will be pulling for big-time against Canada. Hey, Ziggy Palffy is on the team!

I have a confession to make: I was rooting for Russia against the Canadians. I know, I won't be invited to any more cocktail parties at Mike Milbury's house, but I was, if only to bump the "home team" out of the games and level the playing field a bit.

What a waste for Russia. Incredible amount of talent on that team -- it just never came together. Blame the coach, blame the KHL-related politics, blame the goalie, but the bottom line is that the superstars came up short. The power play was miserable. How is that even possible with Malkin, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Datsyuk and Gonchar out there at the same time?

No guts, no glory. Is there a word in Russian for 'backcheck?' Apparently not.

One final lesson, which is really more of a confirmation. Milbury and J.R. Roenick are tools. Their defense of Dan Boyle for slew-footing Alexander Semin was mind-boggling. Could Semin have laid off the hard hit at the end of a lopsided game? Sure. But he just finished his check, which the Canadians did all night, which is the kind of hard-nosed hockey someone like Milbury normally respects.

Milbury and Roenick as NBC's primary hockey analysts? They can surely do better than that.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Remember him? DiPietro finally returns

Almost one full year.

That's how long it's been since Rick DiPietro has been on the ice in an NHL game for the Islanders, 364 days since a 5-4 loss in Phoenix. Now, rising from the ashes, DiPietro will be trying to win the Isles some games, while proving to the many doubters that his pro career is far from over.

Hard to believe it's been that long, but as a Mets fan, I've become accustomed to seeing my team's top players out of action for longer than anyone expected (hello, Jose Reyes).

A lot's happened in the 12 months that DP's been out. Barack Obama took over as president. Banks were bailed out. Man walked on the moon (wait, it hasn't been THAT long).

The Islanders carried on without their franchise player, and while the record was disastrous without NHL-caliber netminders, it did help them land John Tavares with the No. 1 pick. So maybe DP (or at least his knee) deserves some thanks.

Credit Garth Snow for landing Dwayne Roloson, who has been outstanding, and Martin Biron, to help man the nets until DiPietro was ready to return. Roloson's performance in particular made it easier to let DP take his sweet time in rehab.

And wouldn't you know it, the Isles have done pretty well without No. 39. Matt Moulson has been a revelation with 16 goals, Tavares has shown he's the real deal, also with 16 scores, and Kyle Okposo has been terrific as well. The Isles are just three points out of a playoff spot.

Goaltending, however, hasn't been the issue at all, thanks to Roloson, and DP isn't going to score much, no matter how far away from his net he roams. But while DiPietro's return won't help the Isles light the lamp, it could provide a huge boost defensive and, possibly, emotionally, if he can return to his previous form.

That's a huge 'if.' Let's take it one game at a time. It will be great to see DiPietro finally back in goal, shaking off the rust.

It's a new year for everyone.


I love John Buccigross and his blogumns on, but I have to take issue with his latest edition, where in his mid-season look at all 30 teams he says of the Islanders, "Start losing and get down to the bottom three of the league to draft another star."

I hate that thinking. Sure, getting Tavares was huge, but you never tempt the hockey gods with talk of tanking to get a better draft pick. That's a sure sign of the return of Scott Scissons.