Friday, April 4, 2008

Boys 2 Men

After Thursday night's game, I (Ken) asked Bill Guerin which young player he thought had progressed the most this season. A dopey question, especially since it was never intended to be asked of him in the first place. It went out though, and like a good captain and team leader he politely declined comment. He refused to let himself get pinned down and play favorites. But the question has a definite answer, one that could have even been answered with the typical cliché-speak of the locker-room. They all have, as a whole.

It's been Matthew Spiller playing five games in five nights. The relentless yo-yoing of Jeff Tambellini between Long Island and Bridgeport. Kyle Okposo, who has played at three levels this season and been thrust into the New York spotlight. It's been Blake Comeau, who has shown skill while finding himself on a top line in the NHL. Or any of the other young guys who are learning on the fly.

The thing about doing post-game media is that people can't tell you how they really feel. How annoying it is to be uprooted from a situation you were finally getting comfortable in. Or how tiring it is to keep up with the speed of the pro game. Or constantly having to acclimate to new teammates in the span of a few days.

Sure, they'll give you the party line of how happy they are to be playing wherever the team sends them and in whatever role they're needed. They'll cite the great experience they're soaking up. It has been difficult for each, to be sure. But as the coach said, "sometimes you need to get flattened" to know you can play [in the NHL].

And what of that experience? Not only is it good for the players, but it's just as good for the franchise. While it accelerates the pace of each player reaching his maximum potential, it also shows the team (and other teams) the current value of each individual, regardless of whatever the ultimate fate of that player may be. If you think that teams aren't sneaking looks into the Islanders' bag you're fooling yourself. As we enter the off-season, show me a team that doesn't need young, smart, hungry guys and I'll show you a team that doesn't care about winning.

The best part of it all is that Islanders management finally realizes where it sits. Of course there's still roster flotsam to be jettisoned this summer. Parts to be added. Happily though, it appears the days of just patching holes temporarily and doling out contracts to infinity and beyond are finally through. Too bad it took a wasted season to accomplish it.

You want an end-of-season review? Congratulations to the kids men for everything they've been through this year. We've watched them progress all season long. Together.

1 comment:

7th Woman said...

Very Good Ken. I don't think it was a bad question. But truthfully, if you think about it... he sort of answered it when he said you shouldn't forget that Bergenheim is only 22 and has come a long way.