Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Islanders See The Wiz Off

In a move that is perplexing a lot of Islanders fans, today the team shipped defenseman James Wisniewski to Montreal. In return the Isles received a second round pick in the next entry draft and a condition 5th round pick in 2012.

Brad Kurtzberg has the full story here. It give me pleasure to feature Brad's work since he has been a terrific friend of this website and does an outstanding job covering the Isles for Inside Hockey.

As for my own expectations, I thought the Islanders might wait until the trading deadline to move Wisniewski, but apparently General Manager Garth Snow believes he is getting maximum value in this deal. The trade comes as no surprise to me (as Wisniewski is a free agent at the end of the season and wouldn't have re-signed), just the timing of it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Isles Stay Hot During A Blizzard

The Islanders played a game on Sunday (12/26) night in front of a crowd at about 19% of full capacity. I was scheduled to be there, but it would have taken either a hefty paycheck or a complete loss of sanity on my part to get me out into the blizzard conditions on Long Island. The Islanders, who wished to postpone the tilt, petitioned the league for a cancellation but were rebuffed.

Silly (some might say stupid or even reckless) league directives aside, the Islanders and Montreal played in front of a crowd of 3,136 hearty souls, most of them Canadiens fans.

We New York fans appreciate our Canadian visitors spending their money at our rink, but they left disappointed. The Islanders toppled the Northeast Division leaders by a 4-1 score behind strong games from Dwayne Roloson, P.A. Parenteau, and Frans Nielsen. Blake Comeau opened the game's scoring with his eighth tally of the year, and Michael Grabner matched Comeau's total with a nifty second period goal. The Islanders led 2-0 after two periods.

In the third period the Islanders solidified their win with an event that hasn't happened since Opening Night: a two power play goal period. Parenteau and James Wisniewski were the scorers and Roloson was the willing benefactor. He stopped 38 Montreal shots (of 39) to earn the win and first star of the game.

The win puts the Islanders on a five game point streak, as they've taken nine of a possible ten points over than span. While still well out of playoff contention, the uptick in effort and results is appreciated by their loyal fanbase.

News and Notes:
***

- Due to the weather, any fan that had a ticket to the 12/26 game can exchange their ticket to any future Islanders home game. Complete information via the team website can be found here.

- Forward John Tavares notched his 20th point of the season in this game.

- While there is no date for his return, it seems early to mid-January is a realistic timetable for Kyle Okposo's return to NHL action.

- The Isles take on the New York Rangers in a snowy New York City on Monday (12/27) night.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Introducing: Nathan Lawson

I'm not one of those people who pretends to know things when they don't. I'd rather admit that I don't know something than look like a fool pretending to. In the case of Saturday night's starting goalie, Nathan Lawson, I don't know much about him. And as for why the Islanders decided to start him, well, that's anyone's guess.

What I can tell you about Lawson is that he has been waiting for a shot to play in the National Hockey League for over three seasons. I might also mention that he played collegiate hockey at Alaska-Anchorage, putting up a GAA over over 3.00 each season there. Then there's the matter of his 3.78 GAA and .890 save percentage at Bridgeport this season.

So with the team issuing a brief statement about veteran goaltender Rick DiPietro experiencing some knee swelling on Saturday (12/18) morning, the decision was made to call up Lawson on an emergency basis. It was then determined that he would get that night's start against Phoenix.

But why not start Dwyane Roloson, who has 527 more games of experience in the NHL?

Well, this has been a season of curious decisions on the Island. And you can add this one to the list. Head coach Jack Capuano said earlier in the day that he knew Lawson from his time coaching in Bridgeport. And that if Lawson was going to be a part of the Islanders roster then he was going to start.

Well, I guess if you were going to make him drive the 60 or so miles it shouldn't be in vain, right?

Before I create the impression of being too negative, I should just say that I am happy for the guy, and in fairness, Lawson acquitted himself fairly well in what had to be the most nerve-racking start of his life. He lost in a shootout, 4-3, but saved 32 shots. I suppose the part of the game that annoyed me was seeing Lawson and the Isles blow a late lead and then being unable to stop any shots in the shootout.

Oh well, chalk it up to inexperience.

So now we observers are left with starting goaltender speculation, injury speculation (the team said DiPietro's swelling was "minor" and the goalie himself wasn't worried), and potential trade speculation. The beat goes on for Islanders fans.

So to recap, the Islanders lost, rumors are sure to abound, and I didn't really introduce Nate Lawson at all. On the other hand, at least I finally found a use for the neat little 'Lawson' logo.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A-Mac's Coming Out Party

And now for something positive: The Islanders were 3-2 winners against Anaheim on Thursday (12/16) night! But even more encouraging was the play of defenseman Andy MacDonald.

Against a bigger and stronger Anaheim team, MacDonald and fellow youngster Travis Hamonic performed the heavy lifting against the Ducks' front line seemingly all evening. Paired together, MacDonald paced the team with 25:53 in ice time, while Hamonic chipped in 23:38 of his own.

"I thought the two young kids were up to the challenge and played extremely well," said a jubilant head coach Jack Capuano after the game. 'Cap', as he's known, earned his second win as the head coach of the Islanders in a season that has been short on smiles.

MacDonald, the third-year man out of Nova Scotia, set career highs (as far as we can tell, some of the data is incomplete) in hits and blocked shots. He surpassed his former career high of seven blocked shots, set on March 2nd, 2010, against Chicago, by one. Along with the eight blocks were a solid five hits. He took four shots and would up a +1 on the night.

"It's been a rough go lately," a relieved MacDonald said after the game. "The important thing is that we got two points and something to build on."

They got the lead and eventually the two points by hammering three goals home in 99 seconds, the flurry beginning with about 5 minutes left to play in the first period. P.A. Parenteau, Blake Comeau, and Matt Moulson were the scorers.

The key to defeating a more talented Anaheim side, at least according to MacDonald, was being "strong on pucks and tying up [opponent's] sticks." Denying Anaheim's potent scorers shooting lanes was another winning approach the Isles took. Furthermore, he felt it was his best game since returning from a broken hand at the beginning of this month.

While MacDonald's Herculean effort earned him the second star of the game, the first standout on this night was goaltender rick DiPietro. DiPietro saved 30 pucks and stymied a late comeback attempt. It was a nice rebound after his last start, a game in which he and his teammates frittered away a lead against Atlanta.

***
News and notes:

- The Islanders broke a six game losing streak. The poor attendance continues, however, with an announced crowd of 7,659 in the house.

- Defenseman Milan Jurcina returned to action after being sidelined for 18 games with a hamstring injury. He logged 13:19 of ice time.

- Former Islander Jason Blake hurt his old team with his sixth goal of the season and an assist.

- The Islanders next take on Phoenix Saturday (12/18) evening, who lost to the New York Rangers 4-3 in overtime on Thursday.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Worst Season Ever?

Remember a while go when I asked if the Islanders were for real? At the time the team was 4-1-2 and off to a surprisingly hot start. Who could have known that the optimism expressed at that point in the season might wind up the high point of the year?

As an Islanders fan, I have lived through a lot. The Tommy Soderstrom era, for example. Butch Goring's coaching tenure (no, disrespect intended to Mr. Goring, who is a lovely man). Mike Milbury (as a coach and GM). And that's just relating to events on the ice.

I can't recall, however, a season shaping up as hopeless as this one. Staggering to believe, I know. After Monday (12/13) night's 5-0 whipping in Nashville, the Islanders have lost 20 of their last 21 games. Again, 'staggering' is the only word that comes to my mind. They sit last in the league with a pitiful 15 points to show for their effort. They are 21 points out of a playoff spot before the Christmas holiday. The New Jersey Devils, who have been equally inept this season, are the only team remotely close to the Islanders in the standings, in a league which gives teams points almost by accident. Unreal.

And the blame has been equally shared by all involved. Whether it's Rick DiPietro sleeping in goal one night, or the utter lack of offense, or Garth Snow saying he has no financial restraints while building a patchwork roster that says otherwise, or an owner who gives the appearance that he no longer wants to spend one more dime than he has to.

Of course injuries have devastated the roster. But they seem to every year on Long Island, and yet the team hasn't gone through a spell of hockey this awful in recent seasons.

I am usually an optimistic person. Sometimes unrealistically so. But this is getting ridiculous. I hope for improvement, of course, but right now I see no way for it to occur. On any front. And that includes the return to the ice of Kyle Okposo.

At this point I am only hopeful of a return to somewhat competitive hockey. And the entry draft in June.

***
News and Notes:

- Prospect Rhett Rakhshani made his Islanders debut, playing 11:44 and recording no shots on goal. He was drafted out of the University of Denver in 2006, 93 picks after the Islanders selected Okposo.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good News For Kyle

Some encouraging news emerged today, as Newsday's Katie Strang reported that Kyle Okposo skated in full gear today (12/4). While there is no date for his return yet, this is the best news the fanbase has received in a while.

It can't be emphasized enough how important Kyle's return to the undermanned Islanders will be, whenever it occurs. The team has scored a woeful 51 goals in 24 games, so any boost in offense will be greatly appreciated.

Stay with us as Kyle's return to the ice gets closer.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Isles See Seesaw Scrap Slip Away

Thursday (12/2) night featured several buzz-worthy match-ups in the sporting world; fans in places like Ottawa and Cleveland had circled the date months in advance to see former players return. The Islanders perhaps had anticipated the evening too, as a visit by the hated New York Rangers normally provides excitement on par with anything the three other major leagues can provide. Local fans, though, seemed to have a differing opinion as the game failed to sell out. Though the game was action-packed, nobody mistook it for great hockey. In the end, the Rangers slipped out of the building with two points, and the Isles slipped a bit further down the standings.

The Rangers blew out to an early two goal lead as Erik Christensen and Ryan Callahan put the puck past goalie Rick DiPietro. DiPietro, who had made it clear earlier in the day that he enjoys beating his team's archrivals, didn't get much help from his teammates in the first period. Most of the play was in the Islanders' defensive zone, and providing a team so many chances will kill you every time. That proved to be the case here too, though Zenon Konopka got a trickling puck past Marty Biron in the last minute of play to cut the Ranger lead in half.

Just as heavyweights Trevor Gillies and Derek Boogaard traded blows earlier, so too would their teams for the rest of the game. The Isles stung the Rangers with consecutive goals in the middle period, taking a 3-2 lead. Matt Moulson banked his 9th goal of the year, while Rob Schremp contributed his 3rd.

The Rangers weren't stunned for long, as they recovered and recaptured the lead thanks to Slovak star Marian Gaborik, after Brandon Prust had previously tied it.

"He's just a good player," DiPietro said of Gaborik later on. "You get opportunities like that...a guy's going to take advantage of it."

Gaborik certainly took advantage of his opportunities on this night, widening the Rangers' lead to 5-3 as the third period opened. Goals from Michael Grabner and Blake Comeau added to the craziness of the affair as the game was again tied, this time at 5 goals apiece.

Unfortunately while the details of the tying goal were still coming over the public address system, Gaborik scored again and hats came flying onto the ice surface. It was his 8th tally of the year, and Sean Avery's third assist of the night. The Islanders had about five and a half minutes to mount another comeback, but could not. 6-5 was the final, with Gaborik and Avery earning the game's first and second stars respectively.

Turnovers were key, Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano mentioned after the loss. "Both teams had opportunities. When it was 5-5 I felt pretty good about our chances," he added.

The Isles will have another shot at the Rangers, and they won't have to wait more than 24 hours. The two teams meet on Madison Square Garden ice on Friday (12/3) for the completion of the home-and-home series.

***
News and Notes:

- Travis Hamonic recorded his first NHL point in the game.

- Matt Martin and Mike Sauer fought after Gillies/Boogaard had set the tone earlier.

- Capuano announced that Dwayne Roloson will be Friday night's starting goalie.

- The Isles have taken only 5 of their last 32 possible points, and 15 over the entire season (5-13-5).

- 13,742 paid to see the game.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Streak Is Dead!

The New York Islanders woke up from their month-long nightmare on Friday (11/26) afternoon. The team had gone without a win in 14 straight games, one shy of the franchise record.

Rick DiPietro was in fine form as the Isles blanked the New Jersey Devils 2-0. Jesse Joensuu gave the Isles a lead that they would never relinquish just 1:32 into play. He was fed a beautiful pass from Frans Nielsen, scoring what might have been the Isles' prettiest goal of the season.

The Devils were punchless, though they tested Rick DiPietro 29 times. He turned aside all shot attempts and recorded his 16th career shutout.

Rob Schremp, whose name was mispronounced on ESPN's highlight package, netted the other goal for the boys in orange and blue.

Jack Capuano, who took the coaching helm during the streak, won his first game as an NHL head coach.

The Islanders now look forward to December 2nd and 3rd, when they play a home-and-home series against one of the few teams they have beaten this year, the New York Rangers.

***
News and Notes:

- Right wing Trent Hunter is out indefinitely after suffering a Grade III Medial collateral ligament tear.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hamonic's Here

I'm not going to lie. I liked Travis Hamonic a lot when I saw him over the summer. When I stood next to him I fully noticed how large he is. We're talking big ol' strapping farm boy big. A description for which, as a native of St. Malo, Manitoba (population: 1,100), he certainly qualifies.

I felt that Travis the man-child might have been ready for the NHL out of training camp, as I wrote here. The Islanders thought differently, but now short on defensemen after Mike Mottau's serious injury on Sunday, Hamonic has been called up.

Hamonic will get his first chance to show his skills at hockey's highest level on Wednesday (11/24) night against Columbus. I wish him a successful debut.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Save Our Ship!

The Islanders took on the Florida Panthers tonight (11/20) looking to avoid deepening their winless streak to twelve games. Florida was the opponent, a team only 5 points up the standings from the bottom-dwelling Isles.

The Panthers came out firing early, testing goalie Dwanye Roloson. In fact, their first shot rang off Roli’s post. He allowed nothing, and the Isles steadied themselves.

Matt Moulson gave the home crowd something to cheer about, scoring on a blast at 13:07 of the first period.

Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last. Roloson allowed four second period goals (from Santorelli twice, Reasoner, and Weiss). The crowd of 9,157 rained boos down on the Isles as the period concluded.

Down by three goals entering the final stanza, the Isles tried to rectify their sad situtation. They fired 21 shots at Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun to no avail. Vokoun earned the second star of the game on the merit of his 39 total saves.

After the game the scene in the locker room was predictably downbeat. New coach Jack Capuano was willing to look at the mistakes as part of an adjustment period, but still found time to insist that making such errors are inexcusable. “We had a couple of passengers tonight.” He continued, “As we move forward they have to be held accountable.”

Roloson, who took his 9th consecutive loss, says that the team remains upbeat. I can’t imagine how he can say this, especially when he looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. I can’t (and wouldn’t) ask him if my hunch is right, but it’s not only in his body language, but in that of most of the players in the room too. Mark Eaton, who wasn’t especially talkative after the game, noted that their play had already cost one man his job.

Unfortunately there is no prospect of improvement on the horizon. Though scouts from other teams were in attendance, the current roster is in no shape to make a trade. And I can’t imagine franchises are too interested in any of the Islanders’ offensive pieces currently on the ice, save for perhaps tonight’s scorer (Moulson).

Even if Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit were healthy and available, would they make that much of an impact? The team has scored a second-from-worst 40 goals and has a –26 goal differential. While the Isles miss the pair, I can’t say that they’d be in contention for a playoff spot even at full strength.

The Islanders will have a chance to pick up their first win in 13 tries tomorrow night in Atlanta. I would like to see an offensive outburst and a win, but realistically I’m afraid it will be more of the same for this team in distress.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Coach, Same Result

The title of this post, while factual, is a bit misleading. The Islanders did not make Jack Capuano a winner in his National Hockey League debut on Wednesday (11/17), but things did looked different. Though they are now winless in 11 straight games and have only one "loser point" to show for their work, the effort looked better.

One change I noticed was a difference in John Tavares' play. He had time and space to maneuver in the offensive zone. He doesn't have the speed of a player like Steven Stamkos, who he is sometimes compared to due to their similar draft positions, but he has the talent to become an elite scorer. This was on display against Stamkos and his mates as Tavares netted the type of goal that needs to be the centerpiece of his game, cleaning up rebounds. It was his 7th of the year, tied with Matt Moulson, who also banked his own 7th goal of 2010 in the game.

The two strikes were far from enough offense, though, as the Islanders lost 4-2 to Tampa Bay. Taking penalties in the offensive zone and going dry on all four power play chances (including a major) will just not do.

The announcers claimed that the Islanders looked more relaxed since Scott Gordon's dismissal. This wasn't a jab at Gordon, but rather an explanation of a concerted attempt by the downtrodden Isles to get back to looking at hockey as a fun game. Some of that talk was also heard from the players in the post-game debriefings.

The cold facts are that no magic bullet exists for Capuano and his team right now. They are undermanned and lack very much scoring punch. As everyone also knows, the Islanders remain dead last in the league standings.

While things seemed markedly better for this game, the fact is that the franchise has a lot of work to do (both on and off the ice) to right the ship. Compiling the problem was that fewer people are in the crowd to notice any changes (8,025 on this night) these days. And most of that task lies with people other than Capuano.

It seems like we've been here before, doesn't it?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gordon Out, Capuano In as Head Coach

In a somewhat unsurprising move, this morning the Islanders fired Head Coach Scott Gordon. I say unsurprising because when a team loses 10 of their first 17 games (the last 10 in a row, mind you) changes need to be made. Brigdeport (AHL) head coach Jack Capuano will be the interim head coach.

I am struggling to say something that hasn't already been said elsewhere. I guess the feeling I come away with is that the change is mostly cosmetic. Sure, it's a new voice in the room, but under Capuano the roster will be the same, the system will be the same, and the culture will likely be the same. Capuano can't make Mark Streit or Kyle Okposo come back from injured reserve any quicker. He can't help Rick DiPietro regain his form, if that's even possible at this point, sooner. And he certainly can't draft new players to infuse the team with scoring.

Capuano was Kyle's first (and only) head coach in the American Hockey League. Most of the current home grown Islanders have played for him. Those who haven't are certainly familiar with Capuano from this preseason's camps and scrimmages, which now seem light years in the past. Maybe a new voice in the dressing room is exactly what the Islanders need to reclaim their season. I'm just not sure how different it is.

As for Gordon, he'll stay in the organization as an assistant to the General Manager. That move seems to be en vogue these days in sports -- giving the guy you've just fired a different role. I can't say I understand it other than for financial reasons. Sometimes it's best to just cut ties and move on.

Before you think I am being too harsh on Gordon, let me say that I and seemingly everyone who is around the team likes him. He is as normal and down to earth as someone in his position can be. However in the National Hockey League, like in any other business, you win or you're out. For Gordon, a coaching record of 64-94-23 (.417) over 2-plus seasons was not good enough.

Capuano will get his first shot at a win on Wednesday (11/17) night.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Westward Hole!

In what must be the quickest swing of fortune and fan emotion in the history of sports, the New York Islanders have gone from the top of their conference to the bottom. And it took fewer than three calendar weeks.

The Isles, who haven't even had a lead in any of the contests, have lost eight games in a row. It may get worse before it gets better, too, since the team will take on San Jose and Los Angeles before the week is through. Those squads are a lot better than the Anaheim team the Isles were shut out (1-0) by on Wednesday (11/10) night.

I was worried (and warned by other writers earlier this season) that goals might be hard to come by this season for the Islanders. The injury to Kyle Okposo only compounded the fear. But after a while a team has to play the hand they're dealt and find a way to at least compete each night. It looks right now as if the will to play, let alone win, has evaporated. The home announcers said as much after the broadcast.

I don't have the answers on how to turn this around. Fans, who tend to overreact, are calling for the ouster of Head Coach Scott Gordon. I don't believe that would change much with this team. Especially if he is just replaced by one of his assistants.

What I do know is that when you outplay, outshoot, and are given six power play chances against a team that played the previous night, you should be able to score at least a lone goal. The Islanders didn't, and now run the risk of returning home from California on a ten game losing streak.

Is it time to push the 'panic' button and make changes to the roster? I don't know. Would playing still-developing players like Travis Hamonic and/or Calvin DeHaan at the NHL level change things on defense? How do you add goals to an anemic offense?

If the Islanders want to climb out of their hole, they'll need to address these issues, and quickly.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Isles Making A Habit of Losing By Five

Fresh off a 6-1 drubbing in Philadelphia last weekend, the Islanders headed down to Carolina looking to right their ship. Unfortunately, after a lackluster performance it seems as if they only succeeded in taking on more water.

The Carolina Hurricanes came into the tilt with the same number of points as the Islanders, but the teams looked vastly different on the ice. As every fan knows, the Islanders have been decimated by injuries, but there is simply no good reason to lose 7-2 to a middle-of-the-pack team like Carolina.

After a hot start to the season, the Islanders have lost five games in a row. And it has been a team effort. The goaltending, especially that of Rick DiPietro, has been poor. The defense has been poor. The scoring hasn't been nearly enough. General effort on the ice has looked lackadaisical. And so on.

In his post game television interview, a clearly frustrated Coach Scott Gordon said he has spoken with individual players about this malaise. He believes that lessons should have already been learned. The breaks out of the defensive zone and play away from the puck have been some of the sources of concern for him.

He did sound one tone of optimism, though, in that the Isles will have another chance to make things right tomorrow night (11/4) in Ottawa. He felt that was better than a long layoff with players stewing over the losing streak.

Let's hope things improve, because the season is still young and far from a lost cause. But the excitement that surrounded their hot start has all but vanished.

***
News and notes:

- Michael Grabner and P.A. Parenteau were the scorers for the Islanders, each netting their third goals of the season.

- Rob Schremp returned from an injury that had sidelined him for the team's first 11 games. He saw 13:14 of ice time and was a -4 in the game.

- Goaltender Dwayne Roloson is expected to start the game in Ottawa. Roloson holds a 2.40 Goals Against Average this season, while Rick DiPietro has allowed 13 goals over his last two starts.

- Carolina center Jonathan Matsumoto scored the first two goals of his NHL career.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

No News On Okposo Return

Normally I wouldn't post something that adds no value to this site, but I am aware people are thirsty for information. I have noticed that the most searched item on the Internet with regards to Kyle Okposo is news on his injury and a date for his return from it.

As it stands now, we must go with the information the Islanders have issued, which is, frankly, very little. We know it was a shoulder injury, surgery was performed on it in Cleveland, and Kyle was expected to be out until December.

While it is the team's policy to forbid Kyle from speaking to the media while he is on Injured Reserve, he has attended several home games. His arm has been immobilized in a sling when he has been seen, and that's about it.

As soon as anything further is learned, it will be posted here. I apologize for the non-revealing nature of this post, but there really is nothing new to report. If you had missed any of the details of the Kyle saga so far this season, then I hope you found this brief recap helpful.

***
UPDATED:
It has come to my attention that Kyle will be the in-studio guest on MSG Network's Hockey Night Live at 9:30 PM tonight (10/30). Hopefully we will learn more about his return.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

'El Nino' Blows Off The Island

This afternoon the New York Islanders announced that 2010 first round draft pick Nino Niederreiter will return to Portland after nine games in the National Hockey League.

There has been plenty of speculation in the last few days over how to handle the 18 year-old Swiss native. His play was solid but not the type of performance that would make management believe he is, at least at this time, an everyday NHL player. He recorded one goal and and one assist during his nine game stint.

Niederreiter will take his skills to the Western Hockey League, where he can develop for the season without the worry of his NHL service time clock ticking.

Though I rarely share my personal opinions on roster moves in this space, I feel it is the right move returning 'El Nino,' as the fans have named him. I always like bringing prospects along slowly. His time in the WHL should only help his development.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting to Know Mr. Snow, Part Two

"I'm just so excited about where we are as a team."

That was Garth Snow's proclamation to me just over one month ago when I took part in a preseason 'blogger's round table' with the general manager of the New York Islanders. He was excited and ready to see the team that he built perform on the ice. Now in his fifth season in a role that he had been suddenly thrust into during the tumultuous summer of 2006, Snow seemed at ease discussing a range of topics with those in attendance that afternoon.

"When I was in college the reason why I was motivated to get my degree and my Master's Degree was that I wasn't sure [if] I was going to be a pro hockey player," Snow revealed. He eventually became one, though, having been selected 114th overall in the 1987 draft by Quebec. He went on to a fairly accomplished career, as it would turn out, spending twelve seasons in the NHL and winning 135 games.

But to hear him tell it, becoming a general manager, assistant GM, college coach, or even a college athletic director were roles that he envisioned for himself when his playing days were through. "Those were the things that intrigued me if I didn't make it to the NHL."

Snow says he doesn't miss playing, but adds an exception. "I miss the feeling of taking your equipment off after you've just won a game. And that bond you have inside the locker room." He continued, "You go on the road and steal two points. It's just a great feeling celebrating on the other team's ice. Or the intensity of playoff hockey."

The group asked him several questions about this year's team and his approach on improving it further. During his tenure Snow has built a reputation as a shrewd deal maker and master of the "scrap heap" find.

He pledges to do "whatever is allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement" to improve the Islanders, including targeting other team's restricted free agents.

On the subject of trades, he told the group that he only judges potential ones on the impact it has for his club. He's not willing to "mortgage the future" at the trading deadline, as he put it. And he plans on keeping the Islanders' young core together with contract extensions in the near future.

Despite living in an age of intrusive and constant media, especially with the rise of social media, Snow still does things the old fashioned way. He's not a Twitter user, and keeps information such as potential draft picks within a very small circle. He claims that only he and Charles Wang knew of the impeding pick of John Tavares minutes before the selection was made. It was also that kind of secrecy that allowed the team to trade down in the previous year's draft and select center Josh Bailey.

While the Isles have hit some very large injury potholes since our talk, the team is still outperforming what most so-called "experts" predicted. And that is by design. He lauded the merits of captain Doug Weight, saying that Weight handles many team issues that never make it out of the locker room. And Snow personally discusses contract issues and training camp invitations with players and/or their agents, citing three examples (Richard Park, Andy Hilbert, and Jon Sim) from the previous summer. He explained the reasoning behind each decision and his need for payroll flexibility. So if you were wondering if Snow is hands-on, I think you have your answer.

But according to Snow, how long he and head coach Scott Gordon coach stay in their current jobs all comes down to winning.

"We obviously have a passionate fan base," said Snow. "Fans that live and die [for] this team. Our goal is to obviously make the playoffs and once you get in to compete for a Stanley Cup."

He is confident that he has the Islanders on the right path. He used Bailey's growth as a player as an example of the greater team maturation that has taken place right before his (and the fans') eyes. "I think [they're] going to be a fun team to watch. It's a good mix of skill, speed, and toughness. But at the end of the day you've got to win."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Are the Islanders For Real?

I'm going to keep this post a bit shorter than normal, but I would really welcome fan feedback on this issue. This evening I was lucky enough to watch the Islanders defeat Tampa Bay in overtime with fellow blogger John Zadrozny of Yes! Islanders.

During the course of the game, and again during the extremely long video review of the game winning goal, John and I got into a debate. And this is what being a fan is about, in essence. We were just two guys, sitting in a pub somewhere, watching a team we love, and having a disagreement. Make no mistake, we both want the team to succeed and make us proud; we just look at the season from different perspectives.

The Islanders currently sit atop the Eastern Conference with 10 points. We are both elated. But the question is thus: How many games need to pass until we can accurately say that the Islanders are "for real?"

Of course, your definition might vary from ours. To some of you that might mean being a playoff team. To others it might mean finishing above .500 even if falling short of the top eight.

The coach and others have insisted that the goal this year is to make the playoffs. In my book, any team that considers itself playoff worthy, perhaps solid enough to stage an early round upset, even, is definitely "real."

The way they are playing now, with no clear scoring leader and a team of lunch pail "no names" (at least by NHL marketing standards), I'm inclined to think that they can succeed. I would like to see them keep it up for at least 20 games before I declare them "for real." Author and 'Hockey Insider' columnist Brad Kurtzberg agrees with my take. At the 1/4 pole, if they're still on their current points pace, he declares the Islanders legitimate.

John disagrees, though. He would like to see a sustained level of play for nearly 40 games. Half of a season.

So, fans, what's your take? Will the Isles cool off and begin their slide down the standings in a few games (like we've come to expect in the past)? Will they sustain this trend of squeaking points out almost every night? And how long must they keep up their act before you're ready to declare that they're back as a threat in the East?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jurcina. Who Knew?

Prior to Saturday night’s (10/16) game against the Colorado Avalanche, Milan Jurcina’s high water mark for goals in a season was six. And that was in his rookie campaign with Boston back in 2005-2006.

The great news for the Islanders and their fans was that he scored one-third of that total against Colorado’s Craig Anderson on this night, leading the Islanders to an important win and a pair of big points.

The Isles, who banked only one of a possible four points on their short road trip to Washington and Pittsburgh, needed a convincing win to reassure their fans (and perhaps themselves) that the hard work they have been putting in really does pay off.

After an opening period rife with scoring chances for both sides, especially a few that could have been converted by the Islanders, the score stood deadlocked at 0-0 and the shots on goals were fairly even as well. The distribution favored Colorado, but only slightly at 9-7.

It took a shorthanded goal, and by defenseman Milan Jurcina at that, but the Islanders led 1-0 at the 13:06 mark of the second. Coach Scott Gordon had been unhappy with the way the Islanders had been performing in the period up until that point, but the strike was just what they needed. Josh Bailey, who added 13 pounds in the offseason, most of it seemingly muscle, assisted on the goal.

Just five more minutes passed before “Rocket” Jurcina (as the venerable Stan Fischler named him after the game) struck again, this time from a very tough angle. Suddenly, and somewhat unexpectedly, the Isles held a two goal margin. According to Jurcina, this was his first two goal game on his ledger since he performed the feat 4 seasons prior with the Bruins.

Bailey, not content with just an assist, lit the lamp 59 seconds later and suddenly it was the Avalanche feeling buried. The Islanders seemed to be on their way to an easy victory courtesy of the quick 3 goal outburst and spotless play in net from Dwayne Roloson.

Chris Stewart, who sparred with Zenon Konopka just 5 seconds into the game, got one back for the visitors at 2:19 in the 3rd. New York General Manager Garth Snow's newest acquisition, Michael Grabner, soon payed dividends though, ballooning the lead back up to three goals with his first goal as a member of the franchise.

Colorado scored one more before the final horn blew, but John Tavares sealed the victory for New York with an empty netter. For Tavares, it was his first goal of the season. He returned after a two game absence from a mild concussion, insisting that he felt fine on the ice.

“It was huge. We needed something like that,” first-star Jurcina said after the win.

His brief analysis was dead on, as the win propelled the Isles to the top of their division at 2-1-2, though it is a bit early to be concerned with standings. Points are points, though, and any they pick up now will be fewer that they’ll need to scrap for later in the season. If the Islanders are serious about making the playoffs this year, and all the talk in the locker room echoes that sentiment, then this was a vital victory for the team from Uniondale.

Next up for the Isles: They head out of town for games against Toronto, both Florida teams, and Montreal. Only one more home game is on the horizon in October for the Islanders, 10/29 against the Canadiens.

***
News and Notes:

- Kyle Okposo was present, shoulder in a sling, at tonight’s home game. He was unavailable for comment, though.

- Trent Hunter was scratched from this one as he recovers from a foot injury he suffered earlier in the week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nino Nets His First But Isles Fall

The outcome for the New York Islanders was a familiar one on Wednesday (10/13) night; another close contest decided by one goal against the Washington Capitals. While the final score was disappointing, several areas of the Isles' effort were impressive and/or improving. Rather than dwelling on the negatives (like a late Blake Comeau penalty that led to Washington's game winning goal), let's look at the positives.

Obviously the story of the night for New York was Nino Niederreiter's first NHL goal. It came off of a handsome pass from Doug Weight and gave the Isles an early and unexpected lead just 3:14 into the game. History was made too, as Nino became the youngest Islander to score a goal in franchise history.

Video does a much better job than I can of describing the 18 year-old's goal and the emotions that followed, so I'll just let you have a look below (courtesy of the NY Islanders):



Another pleasant surprise was the quickness of newcomer Michael Grabner. The Islanders have been missing a winger with real breakaway speed that can penetrate opposing defenses. Grabner, who had the secondary assist on Nino's goal, may be that guy. Though he played only 13:17 in this one, I felt that Grabner brought an element of excitement to the Isles' offense that it sorely needed. It will be interesting to see if Grabner is allotted further duties while the Isles are missing some important forwards.

What can be said about goaltender Dwayne Roloson that hasn't been already? Fresh off his 41st birthday, "Rolie" kept the Isles in the game the entire night against a team with tremendous scoring capability. Though Alex Ovechkin eventually solved him on a screened shot and then later a deflected one, kudos to Dwayne for helping an undermanned squad hang in against the Caps for 56 minutes. Roloson saved 24 shots in his first assignment of the season. The Islanders had their chances to make him a winner on this evening, but it didn't happen.

Finally, with James "The Wiz" Wisniewski out for a gesture that surely everyone has seen by now, the defense outperformed my expectations. Milan Jurcina and Mike Mottau stepped up admirably on the blue line, while returnees Jack Hillen and Andy MacDonald were solid as usual. It should also be noted that Jurcina and MacDonald feature cannon-like shots. I'll keep an eye on how the coaches choose to use each man's skill set in the future.

The Isles will move on to play a Pittsburgh team that has struggled out of the gate (1-3-0). Friday (10/15) will provide Islanders fans and players with their first look not only at the Penguins, but also their brand new Consol Energy Center. We'll see if New York can add to Pittsburgh's early season misery.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Isles Soldier On Despite Setbacks

Another year of Islanders hockey has arrived, and by now everyone knows about the preseason setbacks suffered by the club. Despite injuries to vital pieces Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit, and Rob Schremp, the Islanders must attempt to stay afloat in the standings despite their sudden and unexpected predicament.

Tonight (10/9) the curtain came up on the 2010-2011 season, and despite the pessimism from traditional media outlets I am staying positive. It’s the only way to be as a fan of this franchise. Our day will come. I am sure of it.

That said, the Islanders faced a fairly tough assignment for their first test, the Dallas Stars. The Stars, fresh off a win in New Jersey on Friday night, are somewhat of a non-traditional opening night opponent for the Islanders.

At 7 PM, the crowd was rollicking and ready to welcome in a new season of hockey. Rick DiPietro received one of the biggest roars of approval during pregame introductions. They cheered again when New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, sporting a white Billy Smith sweater, dropped the ceremonial puck to start the season.

Dallas committed back-to-back penalties early on; both were killed off. However when Blake Comeau was sent of for boarding soon after, the Stars wasted no time capitalizing on their chance and sending the Isles to a 1-0 deficit.

Stephane Robidas added another Dallas goal at 11:56 of the first period and the proverbial air seemed to come out of the crowd. After the break the Isles came out and made some really good chances for themselves, but neither Matt Moulson nor Josh Bailey could convert either into a goal.

However, the Isles struck back with a power play goal of their own at 6:21 in the second. New acquisition James Wisniewski blasted the puck in from the point to slice the Dallas lead in half. However another newcomer, P.A. Parenteau, made a costly error while handling the puck that allowed Dallas to bump their lead back up to 2 goals.

Penalties continued to be the theme as the Isles soon found themselves on a 5-on-3 advantage. The venerable captain, Doug Weight, looking spry, netted his first goal of the season to cut Dallas’ lead to 3-2. The Islanders then traded goals and found themselves down 4-3 with 10 minutes left in the game.

Then something happened that likely wouldn’t have happened in past years. On a late powerplay, with the crowd roaring, the Islanders tied the game at 4 goals apiece. Matt Moulson, who netted 30 last season, got the equalizer. They had a chance to win in regulation when Robidas went off for a delay of game infraction, but nothing came of it. Overtime or a shootout would decide this one.

Though the Isles were unable to score in the shootout and Rick DiPietro allowed a Mike Ribiero goal, the talk was very positive from the Islanders all around. Coach Scott Gordon was pleased with the efforts of rookie Nino Niederreiter and a healthy Doug Weight. I also checked in with newcomer P.A. Parenteau who said that the crowd was great and he was initially nervous, but happy with his first game as a New York Islander.

My take? The game might be a harbinger of things to come for this squad that is still learning on the fly. While it was disappointing that they were nearly buried in an early hole, I really admire the fight and scrap that they showed. Just seeing the team tie the game late was a thrilling change; I really felt they were going to win, in fact. Outshooting your opponent 47-22 for an entire game never hurts either. I hope that keeps up.

That will likely be the theme this year. Another season of early struggles, but learning on the go how to both entertain and win when the odds are stacked against them.

***
News and notes:

- John Tavares left the game with a mild concussion. There was no further information available from team officials or the coach.

- Kyle Okposo remains in New York, not Minnesota, as he and Mark Streit begin their arduous trips down the road back from shoulder injuries.

- Nino Niederreiter's family made the trip from Switzerland to see his first NHL game. I only wish he had scored in front of them.

- Lastly, Scott Gordon would not commit to playing either DiPietro or Roloson for Monday's matinee against the Rangers. My guess would be that he'll go with Roloson.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Quick Notes From A Saturday Night

While I couldn't attend the Islanders' preseason game on Saturday night (10/2) in Nassau due to a prior commitment, I did manage to scrape together a few notes and thoughts:

- Of utmost importance to readers of this site, Kyle Okposo had successful surgery on his injured shoulder, reports Newsday's Katie Strang. When a timetable for his return becomes known we will post it here.

- In a similar vein, the same doctor performed surgery on fellow assistant captain Mark Streit in Cleveland. Word is that Streit's procedure also went well, though he is expected to return later in the season than Kyle, perhaps February.

- The Islanders defeated the New Jersey Devils in the aforementioned home exhibition by a 2-1 score. Rick DiPietro was solid in goal, saving 25 of the 26 shots he faced. Also returning to the ice was Doug Weight, the team's captain. Josh Bailey and Blake Comeau netted the goals for the winning side.

- Goalie Manny Legace didn't fare as well in the split squad game in Quebec City. The Islanders' "B" team was steamrolled 7-2 by Montreal. Nino Niederreiter was slashed on the leg in this game and left the ice. No word yet on the severity of his injury.

- The Islanders issued a release announcing that Rob Figren, Kevin Poulin, Anton Klementyev and Tony Romano had been reassigned to the minor league Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Also of note, Dustin Kohn was placed on waivers.

- Lastly, the regular season opens just one week from now on Saturday, October 9th. My goal from that night onward is to function less as a news aggregator, but to give you all the vital storylines, images, and opinions from this critical season of New York Islanders hockey.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Okposo Out Indefinitely, Surgery Required

The team has just issued a terse statement on the status of Kyle Okposo:

"The New York Islanders have announced that forward Kyle Okposo has an injured right shoulder that requires surgery and will keep him out indefinitely."

What a great beginning to this season, wouldn't you say?

I'll have more on this situation as we learn the details.

UPDATE (3:20PM): According to Newsday's Katie Strang via Twitter, Kyle has a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The report also says that he may be back by December.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Disturbing Injury News

It didn't look good when defenseman Mark Streit left the Nassau Coliseum ice hunched over on Saturday afternoon, and now it appears that Islanders fans' worst fears have come true. Although there hasn't been an official announcement yet from the team, Newsday's Katie Strang posted this disturbing piece of news on Twitter. Streit will miss a significant portion of the season, a huge blow to the defensive corps.

Additionally, Strang reports that Kyle Okposo will have another specialist look at his shoulder tomorrow. Hopefully Kyle and the team are being overly cautious, but this is somewhat discouraging news for a team snakebitten by injuries in recent seasons.

Lastly, and perhaps only marginally related to team health, the Islanders announced that they are inviting five players to camp on tryout bids.

Dean McAmmond, Manny Legace, Anders Eriksson, Krys Kolanos, and Joel Martin will get shots at earning jobs with New York.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Who Gets Hurt In A Scrimmage?

Mark Streit does, apparently. While the Islanders don't yet know if there is a legitimate cause for concern or not, Streit did leave today's Blue versus White scrimmage with an apparent shoulder injury. Streit fell awkwardly into the boards after a check from behind from Matt Moulson. Coach Scott Gordon said that more information won't be known until tomorrow (9/26) or Monday.

In other injury news, Kyle Okposo was seen sitting among the crowd of 2,000 or so sporting shorts and his Minnesota Twins hat. Rob Figren was also seen in the seats nursing his ailing foot. Also missing, but unseen, was recovering captain Doug Weight.

Rick DiPietro was also doing his best to injure himself (we kid), at one point belly-flopping towards the boards while chasing down a loose puck. He also got into a bit of a scrum with Jon Sim, though the goalie described the action as a "love tap." At the end of the day Rick mentioned that 11 AM was an odd time to play hockey, but said he was no worse for wear after the event. That's good to hear.

The white team emerged the victor after a makeshift "overtime" skills competition, 5-4. The coach thought the day's event served the team well heading into their pre-season games, though he did not go into much further detail.

More news on the Weight situation as it unfolds.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Getting to Know Mr. Snow

This afternoon I had the great privilege of participating in the first (and hopefully not the final) "roundtable discussion" with Islanders management. Dee Karl, Tony Stabile, and I were guests of General Manager Garth Snow. There were no guidelines set or any off-topic areas to be avoided. There have never been any such rules, nor are we ever fed potential story lines by those who oversee the Blog Box. Just so you know.

I bring this up because just hours prior to our meeting with Garth emerged the unsettling news that prospect Kirill Kabanov had again been late to a team practice. While potential discipline for Kabanov falls entirely within the jurisdiction of the coaching staff, as far as I know, it does lead me into a convenient segue on a topic that I broached with Mr. Snow.

I was eager to discover how involved he is in the drafting process, since the success or failure of picks like Kabanov reflect directly on his reputation as a General Manager.

"I'm always hands-on in regards to the meetings with the scouting staff," Snow told the group. "If I don't get a chance to see a player first-hand [then] I'll see him though video." He continued in greater detail explaining the process, insisting that the communication he has with the team's regional scouts is the quintessence of the drafting process. "I go right to the [scout] that's seen [the player] twenty, thirty times."

He characterized the time leading up to the draft and the event itself as "fun." He noted that while it's an unrealistic goal, "every team wants to get every pick right," and that's his goal as well. Furthermore, he feels that he and his staff need to be especially correct about first round picks, due to their high value and ability to alter a franchise's course. By "correct" he meant in assessing both their talent and attitude.

Which brings us back to today's events.

While neither Garth nor any team officials commented on Kirill Kabanov's situation, it doesn't take much cognitive ability to realize that the Islanders are extremely upset with the young man. Garth, when speaking on other topics unrelated directly to drafting, stressed more than once how important the character of the men on the teams he builds is to him. He encapsulated that sentiment by sharing a motto of sorts: "Good people can do great things. And I believe that."

This past July I interviwed Kabanov for the first time. By now you all know his basic story: A 1st-round hockey talent that fell in the draft due to off-ice issues. In my brief assessment of him I noted how Kirill charmed the media, saying the right things. If you read the entire piece, though, I wondered if he was really as genuine as he wished to appear.

While Kabanov hasn't committed unforgivable transgressions, I am beginning to believe that my initial "read" of him was accurate. His actions are speaking for him, and not well. On the bright side, though, as fans, many of us are forgiving. Hopefully for his sake, Garth Snow's, and the team's, his youth works in his favor and not against him. He still has time to correct his immaturity and learn from this camp experience.

***

With respect to Garth Snow, this is only the first of many topics that were covered during the roundtable chat. There will be other installments following this one on various subjects. Garth was generous enough to give us about an hour of his time (and almost as much recorded audio!), so we still have a lot to cover.

Hopefully I'll see some of you at Saturday (9/25) morning's scrimmage. Don't be afraid to stop, say hello, and talk Islanders hockey with me!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Some News From Media Day

While prior commitments didn't allow me to join the New York Islanders at today's media day, there was an announcement made a few moments ago. The Islanders have signed Swiss winger Nino Niederreiter to an entry-level deal.

The Islanders are obviously high on the 18-year old Niederreiter, whom you will recall was the team's 1st round draft selection (5th overall) this June. Many fans and media are speculating that the signing is a precursor to Niederreiter making the NHL squad out of training camp.

View the Islanders' full version of the announcement here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Checking In From Rookie Camp

Rookie camp is underway on Long Island, as Scott Gordon and his coaches take up the first task of their 2010-2011 NHL season. Specifically, it's the task of evaluating and teaching some of the heralded young talent that General Manager Garth Snow has stockpiled for the team over the last few seasons.

Gordon, who shared some post-skate thoughts with the few of us in attendance, said that this week is about giving the rookies a chance to display their talents. "Every player has his own special abilities and it's important that they show those," the coach declared. He went on to say that he wasn't overly concerned with this group's mistakes, realizing that they are inexperienced and aren't really expected to perform as a team.

"An opportunity is put in front of them. What they do with it ultimately rests in their hands." He summarized his role nicely, saying, "As a coach you try to teach; your objective is to give the players a game plan that allows them to be successful. Along the way you try to have a little fun with it."

I'm not sure if the players would agree with that last sentiment, though, as we saw a few instances of Gordon taking players to task on the ice. Kirill Kabanov's Day 1 tardiness earned him some extra sprint skating after the session, and more than a few times Gordon halted drills with his whistle to correct players on their positioning.

While we didn't recognize all of the names on the ice, we did all keep our eyes glued to Calvin DeHaan, goalie Mikko Koskinen, Travis Hamonic, Nino Niederreiter, and the aforementioned Kabanov, who sported a bright orange sweater.

We are also happy to report that Calvin DeHaan said he is fully recovered from last season's injury, and is undeterred by the defensive logjam ahead of him on the Islanders depth chart. He mentioned that he has been working on his strength and conditioning with coach Jesse Demers for the last four weeks. DeHaan will be heading to Boston tomorrow when the Isles' prospects play a game against their Bruins counterparts at the TD Garden.

Stay with us for more camp news and views later this week.

Scott Gordon, (Bridgeport head coach) Jack Capuano, and the Isles coaching staff impart their wisdom upon the youngsters.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

So Close You Can Smell It

As the title implies, the days are getting shorter and hockey season is nearly upon us again.

But first a few notes to our loyal readers: we haven't fallen off the face of the Earth. We're still here, and are primed to give you more frequent and deeper coverage than ever before.

The Blog Box, with new leadership and the continued blessing of the New York Islanders franchise, rolls on into its fourth season this autumn. Opening Night may not be until October, but we're ready to deliver news and views from training camp, which begins in just a few short days.

Most of the players have arrived on Long Island, ready for another dose of Coach Scott Gordon's tutelage. For a few of the boys it will be their first camp with the Islanders, so we hope to hear from them first. We'll also catch up with Doug Weight, Kyle, and anyone else who'll grant us a few minutes of their time.

While we're not here to paint a completely rosy picture, we must say that many people we've been in contact with expect bigger things from the young Isles this season. We're excited, and we hope our forthcoming stories will encourage you to be too.

Islanders fans have hungered for a team to be proud of, and the page may finally be turning on the rebuild. The Blog Box is also changing, though you won't notice it here. We, the bloggers, are taking our cues from people with a real vision of what the Blog Box can be, which is a refreshing and positive change. Expect more interactivity and videos, for sure. We may even have a special treat for you by the middle of next week.

To our new readers, thank you for choosing Okposo Net. To those of you who have been with us a while, thank you as well, and please stick with us for what promises to be another exciting campaign.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kyle Bats With the Minnesota Twins

Kyle Okposo checked in with Islanders TV recently when they filmed a fun, short clip of him taking batting practice with the Minnesota Twins. Kyle, as most of you know, is originally from St. Paul, Minnesota and has told me many times that he is a big Twins fan.

The Twins, currently in first place in their division, let Kyle take some batting practice swings against manager Ron Gardenhire. The clip, which can be seen here, also shows Kyle meeting some of his hometown baseball heroes, such as Joe Mauer. It looks like it was a fun day for all involved.

As I am also a big baseball fan (the Twins being one of my favorite teams), it is only right that I offer an opinion on Kyle's baseball 'skills':

My crude MLB scouting report on Kyle Okposo (20-80 scale): Batting: 70, Throwing: 20. I think he'd better stick to hockey. :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Will Travis Hamonic Make the Team?

"I definitely feel ready." - Travis Hamonic

With each passing day we get closer to September and training camp, and while most people are not yet thinking about hockey, I am. Though I love summer weather and all of the outdoor activities that come with it, I look forward to getting back ice-side and seeing young players compete for jobs with our Islanders.

And one positional battle that I'm especially looking forward to seeing involves young defenseman Travis Hamonic.

If you recall, Hamonic was drafted during the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry draft in Ottawa, Ontario. At draft time he measured in at 6'2" and 215 pounds, but told us this summer that he was specifically trying to bulk up.

"I’m going to continue to put on a couple more pounds of muscle mass and grow and get stronger and get fitter in the weight room," he said after his Long Island Blue vs. Orange scrimmage appearance. He mentioned that he would be spending time in Winnipeg this summer skating with pros in order to prepare himself for the coming preseason camp.

"It's going to be all mindset and physical set," Hamonic continued. "I've got to make sure that I come in knowing that I have an opportunity to make the team. The coaching staff is definitely going to do what they feel is right with me and I'm going to do it with a smile on my face."

Hamonic went on to further make his case by saying "I've had a lot of success in Juniors," but now that he's 20 years old "things have changed from last year" and it's time to "turn a page" into professional hockey.

Well, Hamonic did turn a page of sorts this spring when the Islanders inked him to a 3-year entry level pro contract. So the Islanders are obviously happy with his development to this point, but while the ink was drying on the paperwork they went out and radically reshaped their defense. So the question to be asked is not if Hamonic can make the team out of camp, but will he?

Most of the projections I have seen put Travis as an eventual top 4 defenseman. But with the signings of Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina, and the trade for James Wisniewski it seems as if Travis is bound to get squeezed down the depth chart, if not out of the picture for this season completely. With a healthy Radek Martinek back and Mark Streit going nowhere, I'm also wondering what will come of the Hillen/MacDonald/Gervais battle for the last spots on D.

So, is Hamonic destined for Bridgeport (AHL) this season? Well, if he looks as improved in camp as he did on both sides of the puck in the scrimmage, it will be tough to ship him out. If there are a flurry of early injuries at the NHL level then he'll definitely be in the mix. But I think even if he comes out and knocks everyone's socks off this preseason, the Islanders will still be hard pressed to move him ahead of their veterans. In a fact, a mandatory year of pro development at Bridgeport may already be the plan for the 20-year old, as far as we know. And this is why I love the preseason. Because the only way we're going to know is by letting it all shake out next month.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Let's Learn More About Brock Nelson

When we last saw Brock Nelson, he had taken part in the Islanders summer Orange-Blue scrimmage and was preparing for World Juniors evaluation camp. We had a chance to speak with Brock after his Long Island appearance and get his thoughts on a few things, and we have an update on his recent performance.

If you remember, the Islanders selected Nelson with the final pick (30th) in the first round back in June's entry draft. Admittedly, we didn't know much about the young centerman at the time.

Currently enrolled at the University of North Dakota and already taking summer classes, Brock first told us about his draft day experience. He mentioned that it was a bit of a surprise and an honor for the Isles to move up and snatch him in the first round. Nearing the end of Day 1, he and his family expected to hear Brock's name called on the second day of the draft, but felt elated when they heard the New York Islanders select him just before the end of the round.

It was equally thrilling for Brock to get the chance to play in an NHL arena (at the scrimmage) just weeks removed from high school, though he admitted that he didn't get to speak very much with the Islanders coaching staff or some of their young stars. He did speak a bit about his congratulatory phone call from Kyle Okposo, who just wished him the best and told Brock to have fun at this time in his life.

With regards to the scrimmage itself, we can happily report that Brock did not look out of place, but noted that the one area he wishes to improve is his overall strength. He knows that the NHL game is much faster than anything he has experienced to this point in his career. He was also sure to praise Long Island and its fans; always a good move in our book. He mentioned the prospect fishing trip and their Mets game as two of the week's highlights.

More recently Brock has shined at the World Junior development camp in an attempt to make that squad in December. His 2 goal, 1 assist (in 3 games) performance in Lake Placid apparently impressed both the USA coaching staff and that of the Islanders. The talk now is of how much an asset his large frame may be to the Isles in the future. He told us that he models his game after Anze Kopitar's; not a bad player to emulate.

As the summer drags on, we'll have a few more tidbits from other prospects who participated in the scrimmage. Come September and October Okposo Net expects to bring you greater and more frequent access to Islanders players and prospects unlike ever before. We are getting very excited about the coming season, and we hope you are too.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Garth Listens to Us

It was just mere days ago that we implored general manager Garth Snow to pick up the pace on the trade front. Well, tonight (7/30) he listened, acquiring defenseman James Wisniewski from Anaheim for a conditional third round draft pick in 2011. It's a small price to pay for improving the blueline corps, and we applaud Garth.

Looking at the numbers, last season Wisniewski netted 3 goals and 27 assists. Looking back over his last 3 NHL campaigns, if he remains healthy he appears to be good for around a 30 point season with a few goals sprinkled into that total. Furthermore, word on J.W. (sorry, we're getting tired of typing his surname) is that he can actually play defense. In the team-issued press release regarding the deal, Garth Snow was quick to point out that Wisniewski brings an "added element of toughness" to the team.

It remains to be seen what this means for one of the other Islanders d-men, most likely Bruno Gervais. Will there be another transaction to follow in order to solve the sudden logjam? We await Garth's next move.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Follow Up: Perception Is Reality

Rather than just bemoaning the current state of the Islanders (hey, it's what we do best), we should have taken another step and suggested some ways to improve. Well, our good friend Rob McGowan of the The Hockey Writers has just done that. Please check out his newest piece at once.

As stated yesterday, we too would have liked to have seen Alex Frolov come to the Island. We agree with Rob's initial suggestions, but would stay away from Paul Kariya. Remember, McGowan is referring only to currently available free agents. In any event, take a few moments to read and share your thoughts with Rob.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Perception Is Reality

The New York Islanders are having a fairly good summer, though you wouldn't know it if you talked to many of their fans this offseason. Garth Snow set out to improve his team's spotty defense; he added free agents Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina to help. It is also expected that at least one of team's highly touted defensive prospects will see time in Uniondale during the upcoming season. Garth addressed team toughness a bit by adding "Big Z" to the mix. (At least they'll have someone watching the prized forwards' backs this season, if nothing else). The team also retained 30-goal scorer Matt Moulson's services without having to endure a messy arbitration hearing. The affable winger received a one year deal worth $2.45 million. Sounds good, right?

But to hear many Islanders fans speak, the offseason has been one of loss and management buffoonery. Exiled from the club over the last three months have been former great Bryan Trottier, assistant general manager Ryan Jankowski, and broadcaster (and all around good guy) Billy Jaffe. Whether these forced departures were executed based on merit, economics, or who-know-what else, the timing of each was like a monthly slap in the face to the team's loyal fans.

As if that wasn't bad enough, there was the entire Ilya Kovalchuk sideshow that the Islanders somehow drew themselves into. Rumors circulated that the Isles were a bidder for his services, then had made an offer, then had done nothing at all. Fans, desperate for a magic bullet, lapped up these stories each day. It all amounted to nothing. The Islanders would have been better served to have never made a peep about Kovalchuk.

To top it all off, a further indignation was suffered today when Alexander Frolov signed with the New York Rangers. Your opinion may differ, but we think the winger would have been the perfect addition to the young Isles squad. We love good players coming off of a down year, and Frolov fit a need for the Isles. He would have beefed up the scoring from the left side, and he would have come fairly cheaply (he signed for 1 year/$3 million). But now he's with the Islanders' archrival.

The truth of the matter is that Garth Snow has been patient and mostly done what he has promised. But this upcoming season is the one where it is all supposed to come together. Scott Gordon will enter the third and final season of his coaching contract, and the fans are expecting a playoff birth. The promise of 'potential' can only take you so far before people expect results. And we are fast approaching that time.

Say what you will about how fickle and pessimistic the fans can be, but the harsh reality is that it has been almost 20 years since they have had something go berserk (in a good way) over. As one fan told us, the team has essentially become the "Los Angeles Clippers of the NHL." Ouch.

Maybe Garth Snow needs to snap us all back to reality and tell us to stop living in the past, much the way Nick Saban did with Alabama's college football program. But he can have the same effect without saying anything at all. He needs to again deliver a transformative transaction. Have a moment that will not only change the roster of the team, but the culture around it. We understand he doesn't want to lose his way with the rebuild. But he also noted that he would make intelligent signings (which he has) and trades to augment the process. On the last point, he has come up a bit short.

Perhaps it's too late for it to happen this offseason, but we're a long way from the start of 2010-2011 playoff hockey. Until the Islanders secure their spot, the negative perceptions, whether fair or not, will continue to be the reality on Long Island.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Curious Case of Kirill Kabanov

Most of the talk following the successful Blue versus Orange scrimmage last week has centered around young prospect Kirill Kabanov. We had a few minutes alone with Kabanov after the scrimmage and asked him about his life leading up to his selection. He shed some light on what it's like to grow up playing hockey in post-Soviet Russia, as well as his desire to make the NHL. While he can at most times be charming and engaging, there still seems to be an impish side to him lying just beneath the surface.

The impression that most people took away from his performance last Saturday night - and it was a performance - is that Kabanov is a uniquely talented showman. He loved being the center of attention, it seemed, and wanted to give the people what they paid to see. He tried shootout moves that dazzled, even if ultimately failing to put the puck in the net. But Kirill must know by now that hope is a plentiful commodity these days on the Nassau ice, and Kabanov did his best to add his brand of fuel to the speculative fire.

Afterward, Kabanov told us that practices in Russia can be a toil. Up at 6 AM, 4 hours on the ice a day before a full day of school, sometimes even waiting at the rink to practice. And that's before you factor in Moscow's traffic, which he said might mean another 3 or 4 hours per day in a car.

But since he has been a child his coaches have reared him on the dream of becoming an NHL player. Pressed for examples of his favorite players, he named two in Valeri Kharlamov and Ilya Kovalchuk; one a fine product of the old Soviet system and the latter a modern-day great. His commitment to his rigorous schedule and belief in reaching his goal seems genuine, contrary to the pre-draft cautionary tales that were as much associated with his name as his talent.

However, when confronted directly on that unsavory topic, Kabanov tried to deflect by half-heartedly saying things like "Sure, I'll do my best" and insisting that he really is, after all, a "good boy."

At this point in his development he has said all the right things about the Islanders, the fans, and New York. He went so far as to pledge that by this time next year he'll have a map of Long Island tattooed over his heart. One wonders, though, if this is genuine affection or just flattery.

You hope that for the sake of the young man and his team that it is all legitimate, because it would be a real shame if he wound up the NHL's version of 'Nook LaLoosh'. There is no question from the brief sample we saw that the talent on the ice is real. Does Kabanov have the complete package, including the maturity, to become a star? Time will tell.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Subtle Change to Okposo Net

The cloak of anonymity is being lifted from Okposo Net! From this point forward, author pseudonyms will no longer be used. When this blog began several years ago, we felt it was important to protect the identities of the bloggers on the site for several reasons. However, these perceived dangers never materialized, so today we're lifting the veil of secrecy. Hopefully this move will also encourage more readers to comment and interact with us.

Speaking of interacting, we hope we'll see some of you at the prospect scrimmage tonight at Nassau Coliseum. We'll be there, so stop and say hello if you're so inclined.

--Ken

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Prospect Mini Camp Underway

Longtime readers of this site know that in addition to bringing you constant news about Kyle Okposo and his teammates, we're always keen on sharing some of the overlooked stories too. Whether it was interviewing Shuhei Kuji last year or talking F1 racing with Sean Bergenheim, it has always been a treat and a challenge to find stories that folks may not have heard.

You also might have noticed along the way that we love seeing and discussing the up and coming young Islanders. Prospect mini camp has always been one of our favorite events in to attend, which is why we were dismayed when we found out that our schedule didn't allow us to cover the camp this summer. The mini camp is always a chance for our editor, Ken, to both unearth some interesting angles and routinely embarrass himself in front of prospects as he attempts to speak their native tongue, whether it be Japanese, Russian, or English.

And this year two of the most intriguing prospects this season happen to come from Russia, Kirill Petrov and Kirill Kabanov.

Let's begin with Kabanov, as his name is probably fresher in everyone's minds. The 17 year old (he'll turn 18 on July 16th) Muscovite was selected in the 2010 NHL draft in the 3rd round. Almost everyone regarded the pick as a "low-risk, high reward" selection for the Islanders. At one time, there was talk of Kabanov being a first round pick, perhaps even #1 overall. Well, it didn't happen for the young Russian, as he developed a reputation of being difficult, having his commitment to teams and work ethic questioned, and rumors pervaded of him spending more time in tattoo parlors than on the ice. (For anyone who is interested in confirming that the young man's body is not "covered in tattoos," you can see some of them midway through this YouTube video. The clip actually makes him seem pretty normal, but rumors have a way of snowballing, we suppose).

Kabanov is using mini camp week to dispel these myths and show his talent, and initial reports that we've read are all positive.

Along with Kabanov at the camp this week is the other half of "The Kirills," Mr. Petrov. The story surrounding him was not so much his attitude, but whether or not he was willing and able to play in the US. Currently signed with Ak Bars Kazan of the Russian KHL, Petrov has made it clear to the team that he is dedicated to one day becoming an Islander. He is willing to take on the challenge, whatever it entails for him, including 'paying his dues' in the minors. That's refreshing to hear, if he stays true to that course.

The only thing Islanders fans want to see right now is the rebuild progress steadily, and for the Russian duo to perhaps be part of it. Not only for the success of the young men and the team, but to reassure people that the scouting department and management of the club really do know what they are doing.

In addition to 'The Kirills,' there are scores of other stories that usually emerge from mini camp. Since we can't be there, we advise you to check the official team site's daily mini camp blog and our sister sites in the Blog Box (linked on the right side of our main page).

Lastly, for those of you interested in seeing the youngsters for yourselves, a prospect scrimmage and skills competition will be open to the public on Saturday (7/10) night. Tickets to the event and information can be found here. We wish all of the prospects luck in their journey to become New York Islanders.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Isles Add Bruiser Konopka

While the Islanders haven't added much scoring punch to their lineup, they added some punch of the traditional variety by signing Zenon Konopka moments ago.

Konopka is a tough 4th line center who is basically known for doing things like this. With 265 penalty minutes last season for Tampa Bay, he certainly adds an element of toughness that the fans have been clamoring for.

Not yet addressed, however, is the Isles' dire need to improve their team speed and scoring ability. None of the four signings, save perhaps Jurcina, comes with a shot good enough to score regularly. While there are some big names still available, it remains to be seen if the Islanders make a pitch to sign a top 6 forward or are content to sit on the sidelines.

Here's Some News

Contrary to reports, apparently Garth Snow did not leave the office early for the long holiday weekend. A flurry of signings came in on Friday afternoon, with the Isles inking Mark Eaton, P.A. Parenteau, and Milan Jurcina to new deals.

At 33, Eaton is the most battle tested veteran of the trio and figures to have the greatest impact for the Isles next season. We will update with the terms of the deals when we receive the information. If any other moves are made, we'll of course have them too.

UPDATE: Eaton signs a two year deal for $2.5 million per season. Parenteau's and Jurcina's deals are of the one year variety, with Jurcina set to make $1 million and P.A. a cool $600,000.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Free Agency Opens Tomorrow

In case you were unsure about the date, the NHL's free agency period opens tomorrow, July 1st. General Manager Garth Snow will have some work to do this off-season, as his Islanders will look to bulk up their defense, as well as trying to improve other areas. Hopefully Garth can find some nice value forwards too, as the team has been woefully lacking in left-side scoring over the past few seasons (though Matt Moulson's breakout campaign last year was a delightful surprise). Overall team speed may need to be addressed too.

While we all wait on the team's minor league prospects to develop, many fans feel that making the playoffs in 2010-2011 should and can be a realistic goal for the team. With a deep free agent class about to set off a spending frenzy, we'll be watching and hoping that Garth is active in the coming days. If he is, we'll have the news right here as soon as any deals are confirmed.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Complete Islanders 2010 Draft Results

The Islanders' final 2010 haul looks like this:

(Round 1) 5th Overall - NINO NIEDERREITER (W)
(Round 1) 30th Overall - BROCK NELSON (C)
(Round 3) 65th Overall - KIRILL KABANOV (LW)
(Round 3) 82nd Overall - JASON CLARK (LW/C)
(Round 5) 125th Overall - TONY DeHART (D)
(Round 7) 185th Overall - CODY ROSEN (G)

Isles Select Kirill Kabanov in 3rd Round

After trading both of their 2nd round picks to move up, the Islanders' first move on Day 2 was an interesting one. They selected Russian winger Kirill Kabanov at #65 (3rd round). Kabanov is projected as being a top-notch talent with maturity issues.

The move is another swing for the fences by Garth Snow, as we've seen in past seasons. It's definitely a low-risk, high-reward selection for the team.

You can view Kabanov's statistics here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Insider's Look at Updates and Upgrades

One of the nice aspects of the annual New York Islanders Draft Party is the 'behind the scenes' arena tour they give the public on draft night. The fans are allowed access to the team tunnels, changing room, trainer's room, and Hall of Fame area in the hallway.

Most of these areas are routinely ignored by the media and bloggers. For us they are just spaces in which to conduct player interviews and for speaking with members of Islanders management. For fans, though, especially younger ones, seeing these spaces can be a treat.

Since it was open we availed ourselves of the chance to go on the tour (minus the annoyingly long line) and saw what's new and improved in the arena's bowels. Many of the upgrades shown below have taken place since mid-April, the end of last season. And though most of the changes were slight, we're glad we roamed around. We snapped some photos and added some (hopefully) informative descriptions next to each. Click on any of the images to make them larger.


In case you haven't heard, the Islanders will be going back to their classic style sweaters next season. Here are the *great looking* home blues laid out in the dressing room.





Here is this blog's namesake modeling the new white road version on the arena scoreboard during the draft party.







As the players enter, they are greeted by a magnetic board on which the current standings are updated each day. We can only hope that this is an accurate prediction of the 2010-2011 Eastern Conference standings!








A new "Smart" board has replaced the old whiteboard to assist coaches in the player's dressing room.







The team has updated the "honors" board in the hallway immediately outside of the Isles' dressing room. Not shown are the nine plaques on the wall to the right which list the accomplishments of each member of the Islanders Hall of Fame.





Hopefully the team will need to update this dressing room display in the near future. We've been saying that for a while now, though. Maybe our recent drafts have brought us closer to that reality.

What We Know About Brock Nelson

To this point (nearly 11:30 PM in the Eastern time zone), we know this much about Islanders' first rounder Brock Nelson:

- He is listed at 6'3" tall and weighs 205 pounds. Plays center.
- Hails from Warroad, Minnesota, a small town (population 1,722) that's actually farther north than International Falls. (Have a look at a Google Map here).
- Is slated to attend University of North Dakota.
- Has already spoken by phone with Kyle Okposo.

In our book, he's off to a great start!

Islanders Make Trade, Select #30

Just when we thought the shop had closed for the night, Garth Snow turns out Day 1's lights with one of his patented draft pick swaps.

The Islanders trade their two second round picks to Chicago (numbers 35 and 58 overall) for the final pick in the first round (#30), and select center Brock Nelson.

Nelson is a Minnesota high schooler who measures in at 6'3" and 205 pounds. We will post his pre-draft statistics they become available.

Live from the Draft Party

We will bring you the news as it happens. As of right now, the Islanders are due to pick fifth. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Edmonton has chosen Taylor Hall at #1 and we expect Tyler Seguin has gone at #2 to Boston. But we're only really concerned with the Isles. And we'll update again with their pick.

UPDATE #2: Isles are on the clock. Columbus just took Ryan Johansen at #4.

DRAFT PICK: Swiss winger Nino Niederreitter is the selection. There was some crowd grumbling, as most fans expected Cam Fowler (eventually taken #12 by Anaheim) to be the man.

By 9 PM, the draft party has mostly emptied out and the Isles will pick again tomorrow at #35 overall. Comments and questions are welcomed below.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

...And the Regular Season Schedule Too

The regular season schedule is now available, as per the Islanders' official website.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Draft, Draft Party, and Preseason Schedule Announced!

This is a quick reminder that on Friday (6/25) evening at 7 PM EDT the 2010 NHL Entry Draft will be taking place. Unfortunately Okposo Net will not be traveling to Los Angeles to witness the selections live, but we will be live at the Nassau Coliseum draft party to bring you the Isles' pick as it comes in.

Speaking of the party, if you don't already have your free ticket(s) reserved (and why wouldn't you?) please head over to this link and reserve them now. Like we said, they're free, and it's a fun way to spend part of your Friday night.

In other news, the team announced their preseason schedule today. They'll be playing at various locations mentioned in the release, which is nice for some of our out-of-town fans.

We look forward to seeing you on Friday as the Islanders take another step in their building process. And no, we have no idea what Garth might do or who the team might select. That alone should be reason enough to show up at the Coliseum!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One-on-One With Kyle Okposo

While we've been dormant for a while, our friends in the blogosphere have been hard at work. One friend in particular, Rob McGowan of The Hockey Writers, submitted this terrific interview with Kyle from earlier today. Rob asks Kyle about various subjects, including his experience with the US team in Europe, his summer plans, and who he's pulling for in the Stanley Cup Finals. It's a nice piece, especially at this time of year when the only talk surrounding the Isles is that of the upcoming entry draft later this month. Enjoy it, and many thanks to Rob for allowing us to share it with you.

Friday, May 7, 2010

IIHF World Championships Underway

Kyle participated in the opening game of the 74th IIHF World Championship in Germany tonight (5/7). The game, which took place in a football (soccer) stadium in Gelsenkirchen, saw a crowd of 77,803! It set a new world record for ice hockey attendance, and we'll have to ask Kyle about the experience when he returns to the States. He played over 20 minutes, but didn't record a point. Germany beat the United States 2-1 in overtime.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Islanders Will Pick 5th

There was no change in the draft lottery order, as it remained purely by inverse standings order tonight (4/13). The Islanders finished with 79 points on the season, 5th from bottom. The Edmonton Oilers, the league's worst team, will have the #1 overall selection.

The NHL entry draft will take place in Los Angeles on June 25–26, 2010.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another Season Completed

While the Islanders won't be going to the playoffs this season, it was a season of important strides. After finishing with a league worst 61 points in 2008-2009, the Isles improved by 18 points in the standings. They also claimed a 30 goal scorer in Matt Moulson, and had two other young players (John Tavares and Kyle Okposo) finish with over 50 points. And even with all of these promising things, they will still hold the likely 5th overall selection in this summer's entry draft, another chance to add young talent to the team.

Coach Scott Gordon was in a talkative mood after Sunday evening's (4/11) game, the final one of the season. While the Isles lost to Pittsburgh by a 6-5 score in overtime, the coach seemed upbeat about the future, as he should be. He claimed to be comfortable with the level of familiarity he has now established with his players, something he never had in his freshman season. He was also pleased that certain players such as Matt Moulson, had been rewarded for their hard work right out of training camp.

As for Kyle, his 3 points (1 G, 2 A) on Sunday pushed him past the 50 point threshold for the first time in his career. He finishes 2009-2010 with 19 goals and 33 assists in 80 games. Watching him all season, though, makes you feel as if his 52 points could have easily been 60 or 65 with a little better luck. However 52 is nothing to sneeze at and we fully expect for Kyle to improve on that number next season as his game continues to mature.

Finally, while he may not win the league's top rookie award, John Tavares had a heck of season (24 goals and 30 assists for 54 points). Look for his scoring to become even more consistent next season as well.

Over the summer the Islanders will have work to do. Gordon rightfully pointed out that the team has several expiring contracts that will need to be dealt with, and the coach mentioned that he hopes his squad will have a little more size next season.

We wish the Islanders players and staff a healthy offseason and hope that 2010-2011 is finally the year when the franchise reclaims its place among the league's elite teams.