Sunday, November 3, 2013

Two Big Wins And Okposo Passes 200!

Just when it looked as if the New York Islanders were slipping back into their old (i.e. bad) habits, they secured two huge wins.

After the clatter over the controversial Thomas Vanek trade died down, the Isles went back to work on the ice. Despite trailing by two goals at two different times on the road in Ottawa, New York secured an important victory on Friday (11/1) night.

Besting Ottawa in the shootout not only did wonders for the team in standings, but also gave them a psychological boost.

It was the first night that the newly acquired Vanek looked comfortable on the top line and in a new system, and it also settled fears among some fans that Garth Snow's bold transaction would fail.

Fast forward to Saturday (11/2) night, when the Isles battled both the Boston Bruins and a vocal minority of fans rooting for the visiting team in their own arena.

Jack Capuano decided to rest his usual starting goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov, in favor of young Kevin Poulin.

It's a move that Jack needs to make more often, and without trepidation.

Poulin has been solid when called upon, and he was again on this night, deflecting 26 of Boston's 27 shots in a 3-1 regulation win.

Both John Tavares and Vanek scored in the contest, with Vanek first setting up Tavares' goal at 6:15 of the second period. Vanek's goal, incidentally, was his 500th point in the National Hockey League, so congratulations to him.

Congratulations are also in order for Kyle Okposo, who assisted on all three of the night's goals (Andrew MacDonald scored the 'sandwich' goal). He surpassed the 200 NHL point plateau, and his 13 assists this season leave him in third place in the league in that category.

Unlike so many games in the past against the Bruins and Senators, what turned these games in favor of the Isles was a complete defensive effort and a high number of shots on goal. The latter was especially true against Ottawa, when they peppered Robin Lehner with 57 shots.

With Lubomir Visnovsky sitting out, the Isles had been lacking somewhat on defense. They have certainly picked up their game of late, though, and need to continue doing so.

It will be back to the grind on Tuesday (11/5), as the Isles visit our nation's capital. Washington sits just a solitary point behind the Islanders for second place in the Metropolitan Division, so it will be no time to let off the gas pedal.

They will, however, have a few days to savor this weekend's conquests and celebrate some individual achievements. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Isles Acquire Vanek, But At What Price?

The news came out late on Sunday night, an unusual time for National Hockey League transactions. The Islanders had made a trade with the Buffalo Sabres, acquiring forward Thomas Vanek for forward Matt Moulson, the Isles first pick in 2014, and the Isles second pick in 2015.

My initial reaction was glee. Garth Snow, who for years had sat idly by due to financial, roster, and club performance restraints while other teams had improved, had pulled the trigger on a massive deal.

They were trading away Matt Moulson, which, forgive me for being crude, sucked -- but the Islanders were vastly improving the team. Or so I thought.

I looked a little bit closer at the numbers and the deal as a whole. I still believe the team improved, but I'm kind of torn about it.

On paper Moulson and Vanek's production may be similar, but the games aren't played on paper. He is a much more physically gifted player. I've seen him in person. He sticks out on the ice. His scoring will be more consistent than Moulson's; I am fairly sure of that.

He'll be playing with John Tavares; his production should improve on that account alone.

I am not at all worried that Vanek will suddenly stop producing, or that he is in decline as a player.

I do have a few concerns about the deal, as well as the fact that other team weaknesses (defense and goaltending) were not addressed.

The downside of the deal is threefold: Similarity of age, contract, and the draft picks.

I, like several others on the internet, thought Vanek was much younger than Matt Moulson. He isn't. They're both 29, with Vanek being a few months younger. So they didn't get much younger, though both players are still in their respective primes.

Secondly, giving up draft picks stings a bit. Sure, picks are picks. You could get a bust or a bargain. As one NHL general manager once told a friend of mine, you don't know about a prospect for five years after he has been selected.

There's another aspect to this, though, which works slightly in the Isles' favor. The picks aren't expected to be worth as much as in past years. Meaning that if next year's pick they just sent to Buffalo is in the top 10, this season on Long Island has gone *horribly* wrong.

So it's not as if Garth is giving up the next John Tavares. At least we hope.

Now here's the kicker, and potential deal breaker (or maker).

Vanek, like Moulson, is set to be a free agent at the end of the season. To top it off, Vanek makes $2.5 million more than Moulson this season. If Mr. Snow can't convince Vanek to stay on the Island, then this deal becomes a potential disaster.

Mets fans, remember how the Mike Piazza trade went down back in 1998? It worked out in the end, but for a long while it looked as if Piazza was headed out of town after his trade to New York.

That's what we're looking at here, in hockey form, if Vanek accepts a huge contract from some team other than the Islanders next July.

We'd better hope the Austrian likes playing with Messrs. Tavares and Grabner.

After all this, though, I still like the deal. It was a bold stroke and signaled to the league that the Isles are trying serious about winning in 2014.

I think and hope the deal will work out. If not, as someone said elsewhere, heads may roll.

News and notes (Vanek edition):

- Thomas Vanek joins the Islanders with 497 career points, all with Buffalo.

- Vanek played his collegiate hockey at University of Minnesota, Kyle Okposo's alma mater (oh, you thought I had forgotten about him?)

-Vanek becomes the second native Austrian on the Islanders' roster (Michael Grabner).

- Moulson leaves the Islanders with 223 points. He had been the leading active goal scorer (118). That honor now falls to John Tavares (116).

- Best of luck to Matt Moulson, who you should already be following on Twitter at @MMoulson.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Off And Running!

Apologies are in order. For the two weeks,, the website that hosts this page, has been rather balky. I haven't been able to update statistics, author new stories, or save my work at certain times. It has been quite frustrating, especially right as the National Hockey season began.

What I won't apologize for, however, is the bold (some may say reckless) prediction that I made on Twitter (@RealKenDick) stating the New York Islanders will finish in second place this season. I believe they have the talent to compete with everyone in the Metropolitan Division except Pittsburgh.

So far, the early returns have been positive.  The Isles have swept up five of their first six possible points this season, and have held a lead in every game.

While John Tavares' 250th career point was largely overlooked during the Isles' 3-2 shootout loss to Columbus, what hasn't been missed is his hot start.

After Tuesday (10/8) night's 6-1 drubbing of Phoenix, in which the newly minted captain netted two goals, 'JT' has 4 points in three games.

Yet he's only third on his squad in scoring.

That's because the Josh Bailey-Frans Nielsen-Michael Grabner line has been on fire early on.

Bailey, who I believe took a massive step forward in his development at the end of last season, scored a goal supplied by his mates that was so beautiful you just have to watch it.

The trio has accumulated 15 points, Grabner leading the way with six of them.

Helping the effort last evening were Matt Donovan, Brock Nelson, and newcomer Peter Regin, all of whom scored their first points as Islanders (Regin had previously played for the Ottawa Senators).

The defense was reliable, and Evgeni Nabokov has jump started his 2013-2014 season by recording a 1.89 Goal Against Average. Not bad for a 38-year-old.

If the team can continue to keep up this effort, I am going to (for once) look very smart.

The challenge will get a little tougher for the Islanders, as their next games take them to Chicago and Nashville.

For now, though, the Isles are off to their best start since the '01-'02 season, and have gotten out of the gate as well as could have been expected.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Gearing Up For Hockey!

With the season closing for both New York area baseball teams, we sports fans once again turn our attention to the world of hockey. Many of us struggled to get through a summer which began with a scrappy and determined New York Islanders team suffering a playoff exit to the hated Pittsburgh Penguins.

If we're at all lucky, and I think we Isles fans will be, the 2013 playoff ride was just a taste of things to come. This team's window of opportunity is just opening, I feel, and hopefully the Islanders can close a few other team's windows this coming spring.

Back to the here and now, however, and admittedly I have been out of the loop for the second half of the summer. Having been in Minnesota (a.k.a. Okposo-land) for part of it, I missed a lot of the off-season news. I also missed the exhibition game that was played in Brooklyn, though I heard it mostly went well.

Let's not forget that the Islanders still have two full seasons left to play at the old barn in Nassau, and with the new area a mere 15 miles away (consider the alternatives that were once being discussed other than Uniondale), I think as time goes on there will be some "forgive and forget" among the fanbase.

I understand your collective frustrations, but I know many Quebec, Atlanta, and Hartford fans that would have accepted keeping their beloved teams within yelling distance. So we'll just have to move forward.

Furthermore, it's on the Islanders to fill these coming two seasons with lasting memories. To achieve that goal, however, Islanders management still has some pretty important roster decisions to determine before the opening game on October 4th.

As you know, the notable pieces added this off-season were forwards Cal Clutterbuck (traded for Nino Niederreiter) and Pierre-Marc Bouchard. More notably, some big names have departed, such as Rick DiPietro (contract bought out), former captain Mark Streit (signed with Philadelphia), and 35-point scorer Brad Boyes (free agent).

The "kids" are going to be tested by fire, it seems, even though they're not really kids anymore. In fact, players like John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson (who will be playing for a contract this season), and others need to earnestly show us what we've all been waiting for. Not next year, but now.

We the fans are asking for consistent efforts every night, and winning hockey. Anything less will be a failure in my book. And yes, a playoff berth should be the bare minimum for this team to achieve.

As for those roster decisions, it is looking more and more like Brock Nelson will make this team. But what about highly touted prospect Ryan Strome? He's the one guy I saw during this summer's prospect scrimmage who looked heads and shoulders above the other players, if you will.

Another question mark will be how big of a role Kevin Poulin will play in goal. Head Coach Jack Capuano can't possibly ride Evgeni Nabokov for 85% of the team's games like he did last season. Or can he?

Major strides were made last season on defense, and I think that squad will be fine, despite the only real veteran presence being 37-year old Lubomir Visnovsky. With 800+ NHL games under his belt, he's not done just yet. Those around him may be young and short on experience, but they have looked very good when called upon.

I never put too much stock into preseason records. How many times have we seen a team go 5-1 or so in the preseason only to fall on their faces when the games count? And it's true in every sport. So throw the Isles' 2-4 record right in the dustbin where it belongs.

More telling, at least to me, are the bookmakers who are giving this team a real shot at contention for the first time in years.

They're rarely wrong, and if their analysis is to be believed the Islanders are right around a 12/1 shot to win the Eastern Conference. That's right, a decent, though by no means strong chance to play in the Stanley Cup Finals!

Well, there's a lot of work to be done before that dream can be realized, though the same bookies believe our Islanders should be in the mix for second place in their newly realigned division. Yes, my friends, behind Pittsburgh for sure but right alongside Washington and the New York Rangers talent-wise.

Wouldn't it be sweet to finish ahead of those guys for the first time in a while?

I'll leave you with that thought.

Enjoy the final 2 preseason games, and I'll see you on October 4th.

As always, thanks for reading.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Introducing: Viktor Crus Rydberg

Each year the New York Islanders hold a mid-summer prospect camp on Long Island. The format consists of a week's worth of drills and instruction from the top team's coaches, all while bringing the young men to the Island to become familiar with the area, the facilities, and their fellow prospects.

There is also some fun downtime for the guys as well, as the team usually makes at least one excursion to a local Major League Baseball game or goes on a fishing trip.

The week's events are capped off by the annual prospect scrimmage and skills competition, which takes place at Nassau Coliseum and is open to Islanders fans. Many attend as a respite from the heat and a chance to think about ice hockey on a July evening.

On Thursday night (7/11), the media and fans got to see a a fun and family friendly event featuring many of the team's recent draft picks. Many of the younger fans went home with player autographs as well.

Most people on hand agreed that top prospect Ryan Strome had the best night. He's playing on a different level than many of his camp mates, and he celebrated his 20th birthday by scoring a goal and two assists.

Many other players looked good as well, some who, like Strome, have a chance to make the Islanders roster this autumn, including Brock Nelson and Griffin Reinhart.

After the game I had a chance to chat with one of the lesser known standouts, newly drafted forward Viktor Crus Rydberg.

The Växjö, Sweden native, who is one day away from being exactly 20 years my junior (oh, joy), was drafted by the Isles in the 5th round (pick 136) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.

He spoke of how he was not in attendance when his name was announced inside New Jersey's Prudential Center (he was flying home from Minnesota at the time), but he was thrilled to learn he had been selected.

"I stopped looking at the draft when it was number 135, and then the Islanders drafted me at number 136," he said with a laugh. He said upon hearing the news in transit in Amsterdam, he felt great.


Viktor knows he has a very long road ahead of him if he plans on playing in the NHL. He said he has at least two seasons forthcoming in Plymouth (OHL), but on this night he dazzled the 5,000 or so Coliseum fans with a superb shootout move during the skills competition.

He said he has practiced the move since age 15, though he hadn't been afforded many opportunities to showcase it.

"This time was the best."

In order to move forward as a prospect, he said he "need[s] to play physically hard. I need to be better for every game. I need to be better and better every day." He mentioned focusing on his skating and explosiveness.

Asked about what he thought about his first visit to Long Island, he said very simply, "I think it's awesome. It's just great."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Draft Day Is Here!

Today is the National Hockey League's 2013 Entry Draft! It's always a day filled with intrigue, trades, and fast-breaking news. Stay with us here all day as the picks come in and the transactions are confirmed.

The first pick will take place shortly after 3 P.M. EDT, and the New York Islanders will pick first at #15.

As it stands now, the Isles will select at:

(Round 1) 15: RYAN PULOCK (D) Brandon Wheat Kings
(Round 3) 70: EAMON McADAM (G) Waterloo Black Hawks
(Round 3) 76: TAYLOR CAMMARATA (C) Waterloo Black Hawks
(Round 4) 106: STEPHON WILLIAMS (G) Minnesota State-Mankato
(Round 5) 136: VIKTOR CRUS-RYDBERG (C) Linkoping
(Round 6) 166: ALAN QUINE (C) Belleville Bulls
(Round 7) 196: KYLE BURROUGHS (D) Regina Pats

UPDATE: Nino Niederreiter has been traded to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck and the 70th pick (Round 3) in the draft.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

O Captain! My Captain!

With the Stanley Cup Finals beginning this evening, I decided to get back into hockey mode after a brief hiatus. As you all undoubtedly know, though they battled admirably, the Islanders fell short of this year's Finals.

The "good" news, however, is that the team that sent them packing, the Pittsburgh Penguins, also failed in their quest for hockey's ultimate prize.

The news came out today that the Islanders, fresh off their best season in six years, had traded impending unrestricted free agent Mark Streit.

The move basically concedes that at age 35, coming off a five year contract, Streit's salary demands were going to be too unpalatable for Islanders General Manager Garth Snow.

It is with some sadness and a hefty amount of respect and appreciation that I bid the former Isles captain farewell, and thank him for his years of service. He was always a gentleman in the locker room even after very tough losses and always willing to talk to the media.

Rather than lose him to free agency for nothing in return, Philadelphia agreed to trade for the Swiss defenseman, sending Shane Harper and a 2014 fourth round draft pick to New York.

For the Islanders, it means the end of an era but the beginning of a new one, as nearly everyone expects that John Tavares will be named the 14th captain in franchise history.

With this move Garth Snow has clearly try to start the summer off right, and you can start your summer off right as well by joining the Isles at their annual draft party at Nassau Coliseum.

All seven rounds of the entry draft will take place on Sunday, June 30th, in New Jersey. If you aren't crossing the Hudson River to be there live, why not cross Hempstead Turnpike and get into the air conditioning, as the Isles continue to add to their young core?

If you can't do that either, rest assured that I'll have all the picks as they are selected right on this page.

I wish you all a good summer and will have news/free agent signings if and when they happen.

Congratulations to those of you who have recently graduated, and I look forward to sharing another season of Islanders hockey with you in September! Have a great summer!

As always, thanks for reading!