Friday, February 29, 2008

Back In Action

Kyle Okposo and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers return to the ice for three games this weekend. The club will be active on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as they enter a crucial stretch of the season. They are currently five points out of a playoff spot but a strong showing in these next three games will likely vault them back into position for a postseason berth.

The Islanders, while idle on Friday, also have two big games coming up this weekend. Like their AHL feeder club, the Isles are just a few points (two, in fact) shy of playoff contention. They'll take on the 8th-place Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon, then welcome in an inconsistent Florida Panthers team on Sunday. If the Islanders want to move up the table and help their cause, they must win games like these.

Sunday is likely to be another special day at the Coliseum because the Islanders will again be celebrating their proud history, this time with the 'Core of the Four' presentation. The men who anchored the 4 Stanley Cup Championships in the early 1980's will be honored with a 'Walk of Champions,' followed by a banner raising ceremony for legendary coach Al Arbour.

We'll have details of the events regarding both Kyle and those on Long Island, so you'll want to check back here frequently. It promises to be another special weekend of Islanders hockey.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

There Are No Winners or Losers

Except for Montreal which bit it big with their pathetic and head-scratching showing at the trade deadline. Bear with me for a minute while I rant. The worst thing someone can do for their head on the day after the trade deadline is to read the fall-out articles. Sports writers for the most parts are like political pundits: They know what they're talking about, they just don't know what it means.

Case in point would be a certain sports writer on a popular search engine/web domain who decided to assign grades for the moves (and non-moves) made on Tuesday. Montreal, who could only manage to ship off a goaltender for a 2nd round pick in 2009, received a C- grade. With all the talk about the great additions Les Habs were going to make, this underwhelming swap does not equal addition by subtraction. Yet four spots below the Canadiens were the Isles with a D+ rating being chastised for not adding a scorer. Wasn't that what half the league was trying to do on Tuesday? It seemed that at least the Isles got picks for a deep 2008 entry draft in exchange for a waning winger and a defenseman prone to lapses in defense. All in all it seems harsh that teams like the Islanders, who are thinking about the future first, are getting the sports writer cold shoulder media-wide. There were no winners or losers on Tuesday, just more of the same.

What did remain most surprising about Tuesday, though, was the fact that only 3 top tier players (Richards, Hossa and Campbell) were moved while rumored bodies Jokinen, Rob Blake and Marleau remained in place. I am not quite sure it was as exciting a day as everybody keeps making it out to be.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

That's All, Folks!

Just got back from speaking with Islanders' General Manager Garth Snow. We learned that Jeff Tambellini (who by now must be feeling like a yo-yo) will be called up in the wake of the Simon move.

New defenseman Rob Davison is with the team and should play this evening.

When we asked about Kyle Okposo, Garth was noncommittal, but said he wouldn't be surprised to see Kyle in an Isles jersey "at some point." Keeping things open-ended, wouldn't you say?

Well, Isles skate with the new-look Penguins in about 2 1/2 hours...


Marc-Andre Bergeron to Anaheim for a 3rd round pick.


Chris Simon to the Minnesota Wild for a 6th round pick.

Well, that frees up the #12 jersey, doesn't it?

Trade: Hossa to Pittsburgh

Tonight's Isles opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have just added the catch of the day, Marian Hossa.

Coming over with Hossa is Pascal Dupuis.

The Pens gave up Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, and Angelo Esposito. The Penguins threw in a first round pick as well.


The Blogfather, Chris Botta, has walked out onto the ice to tell us the Isles have acquired defenseman Rob Davison from San Jose.

The Sharks get a 7th round pick.

Consider me underwhelmed.


Big unexpected trade, as Montreal sends goalie Cristobal Huet to the Caps for a 2009 2nd round pick.

Earlier, Dallas won the Brad Richards sweeptakes, acquiring him along with Johan Holmqvist for three players.

And now, former powerhouse Sergei Federov has just been traded to Washington. D-man Theo Ruth goes the other direction.

Trade: SJ-BUF (and other news)

The San Jose Sharks have traded for Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell. San Jose gave up Steve Bernier and a first-round draft pick.

Also, this morning has seen Toronto trade Wade Belak to Florida and the Devils exchange forward Cam Janssen for defenseman Bryce Salvador, formerly of St. Louis.

In Islanders news, Mike Comrie will not be shipped anywhere, as he and the Isles have inked a $4 million deal for the '08-'09 season. Glad to see the centerman staying in orange and blue as this team tries to build for the future.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Trade: PHI-TB

As per TSN, the Tampa Bay Lightning have traded Vaclav Prospal to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Alexandre Picard and a 2009 draft pick.

T-Minus 17 Hours

Hello readers!

We're about 17 hours from the trading deadline and the news is eerily quiet. So far Peter Forsberg is returning to the NHL (COL), Mats Sundin (TOR) will not waive his no-trade clause, and the hot rumor is Bryan McCabe and his hefty salary to the Isles (we don't see it happening).

Anyway, we'll be live at the Coliseum on Tuesday to bring you the news as it happens. Perhaps our fearless leader Garth Snow will even drop by with a few sagacious words for the readers of this humble blog to enjoy...

Having never sat through a trading deadline in an official (or even semi-official) capacity, we don't quite know what to expect. We're just hoping the day isn't a dud, as these waiting games sometimes are. Well, at least lunch will be served!

Anyway, keep your web browsers tuned in here all day Tuesday and keep hitting refresh.

And now, a quick Kyle Okposo update:
21 games, 7 goals, 13 assists, +4, 8 penalty minutes

He has dipped below the point-per-game pace again, but only temporarily, we assure you.

(And we're also pretty sure he'll still be Islander property on Wednesday morning...).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Back Up in Your Ass with the Resurrection

The question is how? How could the Isles lose seven straight, then turn it right around and win six in a row? Is it the influx of youth? Were the threats of trading the UFAs enough? Just plain luck?

Whatever it is, the Isles are peaking at the right time as it has probably turned Garth Snow into a buyer. With that said, if Snow is to make a trade before the deadline, it would hopefully be at most a tuck-in acquisition (namely to shore up the defense) that doesn't upset the newly found team chemistry. Snow could even afford to trade one or two UFAs and let the exciting youth movement take over the open spots, while gaining back draft picks in a deep draft.

One thing appears to be certain to me - Snow cannot try a Ryan Smyth-like rent-a-player trade this year and give up high draft picks without incurring the wrath of the Isles fanbase. While this has been a great recent run, the end goal of every season is to win the Cup. If the team cannot win the Cup, then you need to be planning long term, which I have been harping on on several occasions. In a weak Eastern Conference, I have no doubt that if the Isles play as they have in the past six games, they will be a playoff team (and what a change from when I was calling for the Isles to be like the Dukes and "SELL SELL SELL"). But a Cup-caliber team? I just don't see them getting past an Ottawa or Montreal - but if the cards fell right and both teams were upset early in the playoffs, who knows? I'd love to be wrong.

It will make for a very interesting deadline with so many teams as potential buyers this season. If Snow plays his cards right with his UFAs, he can be a strategic seller and buyer, at the same time, all while stockpiling draft picks to replenish the farm system. If he can pull that off, the future may indeed be bright for this franchise. Now about that Lighthouse project...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Bridgeport Connection

While all eyes have been on Kyle, and rightfully so, it could also be mentioned that all eyes should be on the surging Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Maybe by coincidence, maybe not, the arrival of KO has invigorated the push by Bridgeport to make a run for the Calder Cup playoffs. In the 17 games since the arrival of KO to the AHL, the Sound Tigers have had an impressive 12-5-0 record recovering from sub-.500 play to currently holding the 7th spot in the tight Eastern Conference race. Additionally, the Sound Tigers hold a game in hand over their nearest competitors, the Albany River Rats and Binghamton Senators while residing only 4 points behind 5th and 6th place teams the Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (choose one city already!).

Kyle himself has made quite the impression. In only 17 games KO has 6 G and 13 A for 19 points. His better than a point-per-game pace has rocketed him into 7th on the team in scoring and only 5 points out of the 5th place spot currently occupied by Sean Bentivoglio. If the Sound Tigers do manage that playoff spot, a lot of thanks might be headed KO's way and deservedly so. But it should also be the team that is proud of itself for managing to find a way to win following a sluggish start. Kudos.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

To Buy Or Not To Buy

Okay, amateur GMs out there, here's a question for you: If you were running the Islanders, what do you do with the trading deadline fast approaching?

Okposo Net has gone on record more than once as saying it was time to blow this grand experiment up. The team's recent seven game slide only intensified those feelings. However, the squad has hit a little bit of a positive stride now with a three game winning streak. Hey, we're as fickle as the next guy, though. With 61 points after Saturday's 4-1 win over Atlanta (more on that in a moment), the team still sits on the outside of the playoff window looking in, yet only 4 points out of a 6 seed (ignoring differences in games played). So, hockey fans, let's hear from you. Would you make a push for a low playoff berth by adding players and payroll or would you buy a roll of stamps and mail this season in? You can leave your thoughts at the bottom of this post.

Now, about that Atlanta game. Two notable events took place in the 4-1 Islander victory. The Islanders set a franchise record by allowing only 10 shots on goal, with Rick DiPietro saving 9 of them. It was, as coach Ted Nolan said, a total team effort and one of their finest games of the year.

Secondly, young forward Blake Comeau was speared, choked, and punched by Thrashers defenseman Garnet Exelby in the 3rd period. Comeau never dropped his gloves, mind you, yet Exelby saw fit to give Comeau's "undercarriage a bit of a how's your father" with his stick, as Austin Powers might say. Exelby then placed his hands around Comeau's throat and squeezed, then followed that with a punch. While Exelby was given a game misconduct, we believe a suspension must follow in the coming days. In the wake of the Chris Simon suspensions and other events, this was a case of 'intent to injure' if there ever was one. We'll see if the league handles this similarly.

Also, since this is Okposo Net, we should probably mention that Kyle is rolling merrily along, now with 6 goals and 11 assists for Bridgeport in 16 games. He still appears reluctant to shoot, but you can't argue with his chance-creating ability.

The Sound Tigers throw down against their rivals Hartford on Sunday afternoon. It's always entertaining when those two teams get together. We'll see if Kyle is physically tested in that one. Until then, keep those comments coming.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Kyle Okposo Experiment: An Early Look

The choice to leave college early and join a professional sports league is not one young athletic prospects should take lightly. But since Kyle Okposo joined the Islanders franchise in early January spurning the continuation of his college career at the University of Minnesota, the coach for the Golden Gophers team made it sound as if the choice was made under duress. Seemingly blaming GM Garth Snow and the scouts of the Isles, Don Lucia bemoaned KO's choice as one not of his own making. I find this fact hard to swallow.

Kyle is by no means a dumb hockey player. Anyone who has had the joy to hear him speak knows he is an articulate, polite and animated young man. They see in his eyes a passion that lies very close beneath the surface. While Minnesota was struggling through much of their schedule Kyle did not have the room to expand on his talent. Scoring was hard to come and, only 2 years into his program it now seemed that less than a handful of players, especially KO, were being leaned on to take the reins of the Golden Gopher charge. While the team was struggling so was KO.

For those who have ever followed NCAA hockey, they know it is a scrappy game. Collegiate hockey is by no means the high speed, high octane, smooth competition we have come to expect at the NHL level. For players of Kyle's caliber, who have succeeded at Juniors by constantly outshining the lesser players, college is often more of an extension of the peewee leagues than it is a practice for the bigs. After showing off big time in his freshman year, expectation would have it that his sophomore season would be an extension of that flashiness and sadly for the most part it was not. KO made the choice to come the Isles early because of a number of factors:

* The atmosphere at UM was toxic. With such high expectations last season and such a poor finish the team had yet to recover emotionally. This year started off slow and never really kicked into high gear. Kyle was moved to center and was playing out of his natural position. KO was feeling stalled and I think he made Snow and the rest of the Islanders franchise support know that.

* The Isles own roster gaps meant the time is now for a young prospect like KO to make his move towards the NHL. With about half the season left for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, KO knew that he could get some good pro experience in as he makes a charge for a starting spot on the 2008-09 team.

* Personal hopes. One of only a handful of highly touted African-American prospects, Kyle could up the ante and bring more respect for players of African descent to the NHL sooner.

These are just a few reasons why. Without getting the chance to sit down with KO we may never really know his true motivations. His current play with the Sound Tigers is living proof that the move seems to have invigorated him as a player. With 14 games under his belt he has notched an impressive 5 G and 10 A, better than a point per game. He has yet to go more than 2 games without a point and most telling has 5 multi-point games since joining Bridgeport. We here at Okposo Net feel the move was the right step toward the Kyle's development.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Kids Are Alright

With the Islanders now statistically closer to the bottom of the table than a playoff spot, the team is beginning to look beyond this season. A convenient spate of injuries at an inconvenient time of the season has accelerated this process. In the last week the Islanders roster has seen the likes of Jeremy Colliton, Jeff Tambellini, and Frans Nielsen added to it. With the season slowly slipping away, we think it's about time. But let's also check in on a few others who haven't made the leap yet...

Kyle Okposo had a good weekend, totalling 2 goals and an assist to restore his point per game pace. Despite having new linemates, Kyle clearly didn't miss a beat (although the team dropped the Saturday contest 5-2 to Lowell). As of now Okposo is at 4-9-13 in 13 professional games. Might a post-trading deadline call to the Islanders be imminent? Stay tuned.

University of Denver product Rhett Rakhshani is sometimes overlooked, but shouldn't be. His Pioneer squad is 19-8-1 so far this season, and Rhett is 10-11-21 in 24 games. Now 7th, the team had been ranked as high as 3rd in the national polls. So we'll keep an eye on that situation too.

Lastly, Tomas Marcinko has been holding his own for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. His 34 points in 33 games deserve attention and perhaps a move to Bridgeport. We'll see how it all shakes out after February 26th, when GM Garth Snow will hopefully add a few more youngsters to the ranks.

Whatever happens in the next 2+ weeks, at least the foundation for a nice, young, hard-working team is being laid. It's a refreshing change for this franchise and well overdue.


The authors of Okposo Net send our heartfelt wishes for a speedy recovery to former Islander Richard Zednik. He sustained a scary injury during a game in Buffalo which required immediate medical attention. Apparently a teammate's blade caused a large laceration to his neck. Again, we all wish him the best of luck.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Two Minutes to Midnight

With nine games left before the trading deadline and yet another dispiriting home loss by the Islanders, the clock is officially ticking. In this blog about 6-7 weeks ago after the miserable goal drought, I wrote that the Islanders needed to scrap their current plan and build with youth for the long term. Since that time, the Isles made a bit of a spirited run, but have now fallen back to earth.

With tonight's Anaheim loss, the Isles have fallen to 13th in the East and 25th in the NHL. Tomorrow, GM Garth Snow should be on the phone with various contenders and looking to trade certain expiring Islander contracts for whatever prospects are available. The rebuilding process of the team needs to begin now, with a 3-5 year time horizon in mind.

What that means is that the Isles shouldn't worry about 2008-09 and look toward 2009-10 to make an impact. Do not overpay for Marian Hossa or someone similar in the offseason. Instead, stockpile draft picks and build from within. If the Isles ever plan on attracting marquee free agents without having a new facility in place, they need to become a consistent winner. Patchwork teams will not get the job done now or in the future.

This is not to say that the Isles should dump all of their veterans. I would keep guys like Bill Guerin, Mike Sillinger and Brendan Witt as they still are solid talents that can also be valuable mentors to the Isles' youth. But next year should be used as a year-long run to see which new Islanders will be the future of the franchise and which will not. And if the Isles happen to get the #1 pick and grab John Tavares in 2009, all the better.

I believe Islander fans will stand behind the team in the long run if there is a coherent strategy in place - lord knows they had every reason in the late 1990s to give up on the franchise. The onus is on top management to articulate a real plan.

In the meantime Garth, if Ottawa is on line 1 and Minnesota is on line 2, please take the calls.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Super Bore Weekend

In between the week long media blitz the New York Football Giants are enjoying and the nonstop Johan Santana news, there was hockey played in New York.

The news regarding the play and recent results provided by the Islanders, though, is perhaps best left far from the colorful back pages of the sports dailies. In our opinion it belongs buried somewhere near the Dear Abby column or the used car ads. That is to say in a place where it's very hard to find and hidden from children, because their outings of late have been abominable. It's bad enough to lose frequently while being entertaining (think 1962 Mets), but the Islanders are currently stuck in the unenviable position of being mediocre and uninteresting.

Following Saturday's 4-1 loss to Montreal, the Isles have lost their last four games in a row. What's worse, they've averaged a paltry 1.25 goals per game over that span. The offense, normally thin, has become non-existent. With only a goal or so per night to work with, there isn't much Rick DiPietro or Wade Dubielewicz can do to earn wins between the pipes. Mind you, the team from Long Island hasn't won in front of its home fans yet in 2008.

By the looks of the game reports from The Tiger Track or, the fans are getting restless. In the important pre-trading deadline part of the season, sadly, the wins are not coming. With the good start this team had followed by a seemingly endless malaise, it's hard to tell if this team is still a playoff contender or headed right to the bottom of the table.

Furthermore, what seemed like shrewd free agent pickups just months ago are starting to feel like sunk costs (as the graphic above so clearly illustrates). No amount of line shifting, time on ice adjustments, or motivational speeches by coach Ted Nolan can seem to get this group of forwards scoring on a consistent basis. There might be some help in Bridgeport, but not nearly enough to right this sinking ship.

Speaking of the kids in Bridgeport (nice segue, huh?), their season hasn't been such a crackling affair either. They don't quite have enough talent to be a playoff team, and the only reasons to watch them are to follow the prospects on the top two lines.

Jeff Tambellini has played this season like a house on fire. American Hockey League teams can not stop him. He scored a goal in the AHL All-Star game and has (at last check) 56 points on the season. That's still a point per game.

Kyle Okposo, while not producing at that rate, has chipped in when possible, such as the assist he tallied on Friday night or the shootout goal he scored during Saturday night's victory in Hartford. However, at 2 goals and 8 assists in 11 games, he's going to need to show a lot more before (Islanders general manager) Garth Snow comes calling.

The Islanders are still high on centers Frans Nieslen and Ben Walter, who have done well assisting Tambellini but need to net a few more goals themselves.

Kudos also to goalies Mike Morrison and Joey MacDonald, who have been solid if not spectacular, but are stuck in a franchise logjam behind DP and Dubie. Their names only pop up if there's an injury scare to a goaltender on Long Island, though.

Getting back to Kyle, right now he's "paying his dues" in the minors. However, anyone who thinks he's going to magically save the Isles' season is sorely mistaken.