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.


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.