Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tearful Weight Terminates His Playing Career

In a ceremony filled with tears, laughs, and nostalgia, Doug Weight announced his retirement as an NHL player on Thursday. Flanked by Islanders General Manager Garth Snow and team owner Charles Wang on a dais, Weight read a prepared statement but at times was overcome with emotion. His family, former teammates from several franchises, and a large amount of Islanders staff were on hand to join the Islanders captain for his "day of celebration."

While his playing days are over, it was revealed that Doug will stay with the Islanders as an assistant coach and special advisor to the General Manager. In a career filled with many high points, he noted that he regretted not being healthy enough to perform at a high standard for the Isles. He stated many times during the day, though, that he believes he has plenty to offer the team in a non-playing role.

Having watched Weight on the ice for many years, I knew what kind of player he was. While he often wasn't the most offensively talented piece on many of his teams (not to take away from a 1033 point career), you can see why he was a captain for two franchises. It's more than having a "presence" in a room, as Garth Snow put it. The man reeks of class.

The thing that most struck me was that even though his greatest achievements came in places other than New York, he acts and talks as if he had played on Long Island for 15 years. He and his family have made the Island their permanent home. His donations to local charities were highlighted. And most of all, he is a revered figure by young Isles such as John Tavares and Matt Moulson, who were on hand. It's hard to believe that he played only 107 games an Islander.

Despite being 40 years old, Weight called himself "green" with respect to management and coaching, and admitted that he has a lot to learn. Though he felt blessed to lift the Cup (with Carolina in 2006), he speaks in a manner that tells you he is eager to do it again. Unfortunately, his body will no longer allow it on the ice. But he noted that he is hopeful of repeating the scene "on the other side of the boards," as he put it.

So on this day congratulations, and thank you, to Doug Weight. I join a legion of hockey fans today in appreciation of his career.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kyle Signs For Five

The next player to be featured in my "Signs For Five" series is Kyle Okposo. You'll surely remember that just less then two weeks ago Michael Grabner signed a long term deal. On the heels of this news, Islanders' General Manager Garth Snow today made another bold and swift move to lock up one of his young star players. Kyle Okposo signed a new five year deal as well.

The official word came from the Islanders this afternoon. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

With Doug Weight's retirement expected to be announced tomorrow, speculation has begun over who will assume the duties as team captain. Mark Streit is a very worthy candidate. Kyle's name could be another in the mix. I know from speaking with him many times over the past few years that he would be honored and humbled at even the suggestion of it.

It goes without saying that today's move is right not only for Okposo, but for the Islanders, the fans, and the future of this team. There is no player working harder to restore the franchise to glory than Kyle.

If I learn anything further this evening, you can be sure that it will be posted here.

Please visit this site tomorrow when I have some thoughts following Doug Weight's announcement at Nassau Coliseum. Thanks for reading, as always.

Update: Newsday's Islanders beat writer Katie Strang recently tweeted with details of Kyle's new contract.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Draft One Month Away!

It hasn't been my intention to let so much time elapse between posts. Goodness knows there has been a lot of news surrounding the Islanders, including a pretty important arena vote scheduled to take place on August 1st.

While the aforementioned date is important, there's another important date coming up before it. I have my calendar circled on the date exactly one month from today. It's one of my favorite days in the sports year: the NHL entry draft.

Having attended the draft in the past, I can tell you that it somewhat makes up for a poor season on the ice. I experienced the nervous anticipation, terror, and absolute jubilation that led up to the 2009 selection of John Tavares. And that was only in the hour leading up to the selection.

It's an important day for the franchise. It's the culmination of months of hard work by the scouting staff and hundreds of collective days of travel. And it shapes franchises. Perhaps not immediately, but it does. For better and worse.

This year, in case you haven't heard, the Islanders will make their first selection from the 5 spot. And much like in the past few years, save perhaps for the Tavares pick, I have no idea how Garth Snow is going to use the pick.

I've been going over the mock draft lists. Some of my fellow bloggers have their own. I have gravitated toward this one recently. I like it because it provides a prospect's statistics and a short biography in an easy-to-use format. I'm not sure that their guesses will be accurate, but then again whose routinely are?

What I do know is what I want out of this draft, and it's different than most years. That the Isles should select the player available whom they feel has the most talent goes without saying. I am a big believer that talent trumps character. I think the selection of Kirill Kabanov will eventually bear that out.

But I think I'd also like the player selected this year to be a bit of a character, in the mold of a Kabanov or a Michael Grabner. A kid who will help forge the identity of this Islanders team. A counterbalance to the no-nonsense approach of players like Tavares and Josh Bailey.

With the impending departure of Zenon Konopka, I feel the Islanders are losing a bit of their personality. I believe it is to the team's detriment.

I'm not saying they need a Sean Avery in the locker room. Far from it. Just someone who, down the line, of course, could be another "face" of the Islanders. It would certainly make this team even more fun for us all to watch and root for in the future.

Maybe they'll pick him on June 24th. I know I'll be watching.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Grabner Signs For Five

As the New York Islanders chase the franchise's fifth Stanley Cup in the coming years, they have now identified another one of the players who will be joining the pursuit.

Despite the calendar reading Friday the 13th, five was the lucky number of the day for the Isles and winger Michael Grabner. "Grabs," as he's affectionately known by fans and teammates, signed a 5-year contract for a reported $15 million.

It's great news not only for Grabner, who has had quite a whirlwind year that included 34 goals as a rookie and the birth of a son, but for Islanders fans.

It also signals that General Manager Garth Snow (and, by extension, owner Charles Wang) is committed to not only identifying the pieces that will help build a championship caliber team, but holding on to them.

Even if Grabner is unable to repeat his 2010-2011 goal performance in the coming years, we must collectively remember that he's only 23 years old. His speed and his skill will certainly help those players around him to increase their scoring opportunities.

It's a very reasonable deal for both sides. At about $3 million per season, the deal is in line with the contract extension fellow top scorer Matt Moulson received earlier this year.

The Islanders didn't have to make this move today. After all, Grabner was only coming into restricted free agency. But I'm glad they did.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nino Advances to the Championship

Nino Niederreiter will play for a championship in 2010-2011. His Portland Winterhawks (Western Hockey League) defeated Spokane on Monday night by a 6-3 score and won their conference final four games to two. In the victory, Nino scored the final goal of the game to go along with an earlier assist.

Beginning on Friday night, Portland will take on Kootenay for the right to raise the Ed Chynoweth Cup. For Nino, it will hopefully give him a chance to experience and play under the pressure of truly meaningful games before he becomes a full-time NHL player. Nearly everyone I have spoken with expects that next step to come in October, 2011.

Niederreiter has had little trouble handling pressure to this point. As you'll recall, he followed a nine game NHL stint with a 70 point (41-29-70) regular season for Portland. Nino has been a major contributor in the playoff run that followed, scoring 8 goals and 15 assists in the sixteen games that ensued. He'll get at least four more games, we now know. If he maintains this pace, he'll likely finish as the WHL's playoff points leader.

Congratulations to Nino. It would be nice for his many fans, myself included, to see him win the Cup. But it will be infinitely nicer to see him donning the blue and orange sweater next season and scoring goals as the Islanders' newest young winger.

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