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.