Sunday, January 20, 2013

Game 1: Devils 2, Islanders 1

A little late, but some thoughts on attending Opening Night:
 - Judging from the scene in the parking lot, it was as though hockey never left. I was in attendance at the last Opening Night, and even though it was much colder on this night, it was a similar scene. Lots of socialization and camaraderie among Islanders fans, which was great to see.
 - We intended to hit Champions for a pre-game dinner, but because of a long wait it didn't happen. Instead, we ended up joining some friends for a tailgate. We were quickly recruited for a game of flip cup, which was a lot of fun. Even though I barely knew anybody, I felt I was among friends.
 - Not sure how it came across on TV, but after the first stoppage everybody sort of stood up and applauded. Indeed, being at the game helped to sate the negative feelings of the lockout. It's like if your girlfriend does something to get you upset - you're much better off confronting the issue than staying at home and letting it fester. Being among fans really helped me to move on, and I'm sure many fans in attendance felt the same way.
 - The roar after the Hamonic goal was deafening. I hadn't heard the Coliseum so loud since the 2002 playoffs. Say what you want about the Coliseum, but I assure you that you won't hear that kind of roar in Brooklyn in two years.
 - Even though the Islanders lost, I still had a great time. I'm truly glad I got to attend and spend Opening Night with so many other diehard fans. I'll let other pundits critique the Isles' play - I'm just glad they're back.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Opening Night

In about an hour and half, I'll be leaving to go to Opening Night at Nassau Coliseum. I'm about as nervous for a game as I can ever recall being.

Why? Quite simply, I have very mixed feelings about hockey this year. While it's foolish to deprive myself of the enjoyment of the game I love, going back to the game right away convinces the NHL that I'm not mad about the lockout. It seems as though everybody is awash with glee because the NHL decided to return, but I'm still pissed that we lost half a season for absolutely no reason.

The public reaction seems to be what everyone suspected - pretty much no ramifications for the league and its players. Which is exactly why we'll be in this situation again eight years from now, just like we were eight years ago.

Hockey fans are extremely loyal people. We put up with endless insults from people who think "hockey is stupid" because they only like what ESPN tells them to like. We watch the NHL Network, even though many cable services only offer it as a premium channel. We visit Canadian websites and rely heavily on social media for our hockey fix, largely because the mainstream media in America doesn't consider hockey to be worth its time. To have all of that thrown in our faces is a little tough for me to swallow.

And yet... I'm going tonight. Willingly.

Is it easier to go when I'm offered a ticket from a friend as opposed to giving my money directly to the Islanders? Absolutely. But I'm swallowing my pride and embracing the NHL, and the Islanders, as they return from the dumbest, most unnecessary work stoppage in sports history.

Why? One simple reason. There are 106 Islanders home games left at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Yes, the move to Brooklyn will be wonderful for many reasons, but there will be no more parking lot tailgates, no more driving 15 minutes to get to the game, no more post-game dinners at Hooters. If I let the bureaucrats who wrought this lockout win, I deprive myself of all of these great things. And that would be a far greater tragedy than forcing myself to stay away out of principle.

Yeah, I'm still bitter. But I know I'll have a great time tonight, and I know I'll enjoy the hell out of this season. Maybe losing the NHL for half a season will help me to appreciate what little time we have left with the Islanders in their current form.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Going Home

The Islanders had a fairly dreadful trip to Florida, losing two games and not looking particularly competitive in either. Fortunately, they come home to meet some old friends in the Pittsburgh Penguins.

If you're into sports betting, the Islanders are considered underdogs, which makes sense to some degree. But no Islanders fan will forget the events of this past February. Regardless of where you stand on the fighting issue, you can't deny that the Islanders get a charge out of playing the Penguins. This has become a legitimate rivalry in every sense of the word, and we should be in for quite a game on Tuesday.

Familiarity breeds contempt, and nothing is better than a home-and-home between divisional rivals. Sure enough, the Isles and Penguins are slated to face off once again in Pittsburgh on Thursday. Hopefully the Islanders can continue their good home form while finally getting some points on the road, giving them the psychological edge over a hated rival.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fantasy Football

This post has nothing to do with the Islanders, the Rangers or hockey in general. However, I found it worth mentioning because it does have to do with me destroying Zach in fantasy football last week.

That's me, Favre Dollar Footlong, putting a beatdown on Zach's Squirting Arians. Prior to this game, we were both in first place in our respective divisions. Now, thanks to the strong efforts of Eli Manning and Felix Jones, I am at the top of our league. All bow to Favre Dollar Footlong!

First place. Just like the Jets. Just like the Islanders. Feels pretty good.

Friday, October 22, 2010

James Dolan Flunked Math in Private School...


The ice is painted. The jerseys have patches sewn on the shoulders. The stores are filled with shirts. Even the beer cups have the New York Rangers 85th anniversary logo on it.

A couple of years too early, but indeed, the Rangers are fully immersed in celebrating the 85th anniversary of the hockey club. I wonder if this will go until their actual 8th anniversary. Seeing as there are lots of expensive renovations to do to Madison Square Garden, James Dolan and his gang can really milk this thing for all it’s worth.

In fact, the Rangers are either 83 or 84 years old, depending on how you look at it. See, the Rangers first year of hockey was in 1926. That makes 2010 technically the 84th year. However, a lockout destroyed the entire 2004-05 season (as we all vaguely remember), which brings us to the small but irrefutable fact that this is the New York Rangers’ 83rd season in the NHL.

I’ll help you with the math if you don’t believe me. Ten seasons in each of the 30s (1930-31 to 1939-40), 40s, 50, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s makes 70 seasons. Then there were 4 seasons in the 20s (26-27, 27-28, 28-29, 29-30) and the 2010-11 season makes 9 seasons so far in the 2000s.

I have a friend who I play golf with sometimes. He’ll kick the ball from the rough into the fairway - a good 15 years - and not count it as a stroke. If a putt lands within 6 feet of the hole, he’ll pick it up and say, “That’s a gimme.” But he won’t count the “gimme” stroke, just the one that landed before the hold. We call this “funny math” and it seems that’s what MSG is using.

To be honest, I’m even a little confused at how Madison Square Garden came up with this idea. I guess to the 2011-1926 is 85, which is true. But that’s also like celebrating your 1st birthday on January 1st of the next year, even if you’re born in December.

What’s funnier is that I haven’t even heard anybody question this logic. Someone should tell quintessential team player Marty Biron about it before he debuts that 85th anniversary helmet in November.

After all, I wouldn’t want Biron to be an unwitting part of a marketing ploy. I really like that guy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Point Blank Night

Chris Botta held his annual Point Blank Night at Social tonight, and The Rivalry was in attendance. Here are some notes from a quality evening...

 - Social is a pretty nice place. I'm a graduate student at Hofstra, so I always pass by it and dismiss it as an average Hofstra bar. Turns out it's not a bad place at all. I'd go back there again. However, I did not notice the requisite touch-screen machine with Photo Hunt that's present in every bar everywhere.

 - I arrived at Social around 7:50 or so. I had to take a midterm right before (it was harder than I thought, but I still did well) and so it was nice to head out and blow off some steam afterward. What was also nice was that the Islanders were already winning 1-0 when I got there. Sadly, I missed out on the complimentary shot after that goal.

 - The food was catered by Danny Gagnon, who was on a show called Top Chef that I've never heard of. I never got the appeal of these cooking shows. But this food was all kinds of awesome. Truly impressive stuff. And it was free!

 - I didn't even get a beer before Tampa Bay tied the game at 1-1. Bergenheim, of course. Where were those moves last year?!?!?

 - Social was pretty packed, and it was clear that the focus of the night was the Islanders game. A small TV showed the NLCS game, which was nice for those who are stuck with Cablevision and can't watch the series. Every other TV was on the Islanders game, and virtually every person in there was dressed in Islanders gear. Except for me, that is; I forgot to bring a change of clothes, so I was the d-bag in his shirt and tie from work earlier in the day.

 - I couldn't stay for the whole game because I'm married with kids and so I don't get to have any fun anymore. But before I left, Botta took the mic to thank everyone for coming. He also announced that Billy Jaffe was in attendance, which brought a large cheer from the crowd.

 - On my way out, I wanted to see if I could find Botta, but I couldn't do it. But then, I turned around and noticed two guys with bald spots watching the game. It was Botta and Jaffe at the same table, watching the game! My brother encouraged me to say hello, which I usually never do, but I wanted to say thanks to both of them for their contributions to my enjoyment of Islanders hockey. So I ran over there at a stoppage, apologized for interrupting, said my piece, shook both their hands, and got out of there. Both men were extremely gracious - Jaffe even got up out of his seat - and I came away liking both of them even more than I did before.

 - I wanted to share this story with Botta, but I didn't want to keep him. My mom used to work with his mom at North Shore-LIJ. When my mom bought me "Pride and Passion", the "official" Islanders coffee table book that Chris co-wrote, my copy ended up getting in Chris' hands so that it could get autographed by some Islanders. It came back to me some time later with Al Arbour's signature. I still have that book today, and much of it holds up pretty well. However, the full-page picture of Dan Plante, future Islanders scrub who was hailed as a cornerstone of the future, does not hold up very well.

 - I got home in time to see the end of the third period and the overtime, in which the Islanders scored a much-debated goal to win the game. Watching the game on MSG Plus 2 in standard definition was a rude awakening as to how life will change when I switch to Verizon FiOS next month and say goodbye to Islanders HD games forever. On a night like tonight, it was very inconvenient, especially when it came to judging the merits of the game-winning goal. Butch Goring claimed it "clearly" went in, which I guess is why he was calling the game and Billy Jaffe was drinking beers at Social. Either way, it's an Islanders win, and I'll definitely take it.

 - One last note on tonight. As Jaffe himself might say about himself, here's a guy who was canned by the Islanders just months ago. And yet, he came out to watch his former team play. He came to an event hosted by Chris Botta, who was let go as an Islanders-sanctioned blogger more than a year ago, but continues to blog about the team. On color commentary was Butch Goring, a former player who was unceremoniously dumped by the Islanders as coach in 2001, yet still sticks around on Islanders telecasts. Three men who have every right to be bitter towards the Islanders organization, but who have willingly stuck around. Does this happen elsewhere, in other cities for other teams? I don't think so.

I guess you could say the same about Islanders fans. For all of the crap we fans give the Islanders, we've all stuck around. Things might finally be starting to turn the corner with this team, and we all deserve to take pride in that. On this night, seeing the scene at Social, and even seeing some spurned people show their loyalties, it made me very proud to be an Islanders fan.

The Enforcer...

If Derek Boogaard doesn't do one of these two things tonight against Toronto, he literally has no purpose being on the New York Rangers' roster:
  1. Make life hell for Colby Armstrong by either pummeling him in a fight or delivering fierce body checks to him every single time he's on the ice.
  2. Hit Phil Kessel or Kris Versteeg or Luke Schenn so hard that no Toronto player wants to have the puck all night.
Last time the Leafs and Rangers met, last Friday, Armstrong boarded Gaborik. The no-suspension hit from behind left Gaborik out for the better part of a month. Only one player - Sean Avery - stepped up on his teammate's behalf.

What did $1.6M (for 4 years!) Boogaard do? Nothing. He did nothing in his 5 minutes and 29 seconds of ice time.

When he was signed, they quoted his size (6'7", 265 lbs.) and protective nature (after all, he played with Gaborik in Minnesota) as the reason for throwing him more years and more money than Colton Orr wanted. Well, 3 games into his Ranger career, and he failed to protect Gaborik from an injury.

If he doesn't respond tonight, then you might as well buy him out tomorrow, because no team will be afraid to take liberties with Gaborik or Henrik Lundqvist if they know there is nobody to answer to.

Oh, and if he fights Colton Orr tonight? Buy him out tomorrow. There's no need for one tough guy to fight another tough guy. Boogaard should hit Armstrong as hard as he can as often as possible for the illegal hit on Gaborik, or he should hit Toronto's young stars as hard and as often as possible to send a message.

Take out mine, we'll take out yours.

After all, why is he being paid?

Monday, October 11, 2010

After Two Games...

The Islanders season is just 125 minutes old, and a ton has already happened. Three points out of four? Not bad. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Let's review this young season after two games...

 - Injuries: They happen. Do they knock out your three best players before the end of the first period of your first game? Not really. But the Islanders should be used to fighting back from injuries. These Islanders cannot use the injuries to Mark Streit, Kyle Okposo and John Tavares as an excuse. I don't care what the front office says about rebuilding; this year has to be the year the Islanders go to the playoffs.

(Just a quick note about Tavares... I've suffered from four concussions that I know about. The most recent was in 2007 in a car accident; it was also the only one that prompted me to see a doctor or even stop what I was doing. As it happens, I can't recall a week over the past two years when I haven't had a migraine. Coincidence? I think not. After watching the Mets nearly kill Ryan Church and Jason Bay in recent years, please Islanders, I beg of you, do not rush John Tavares back.)

 - Rick DiPietro: Couldn't be happier that Ricky is back among the active and healthy. His first two games have been a bit spotty, but this is what happens when you've played roughly a dozen games in the past two years. It takes a while to play the game in an ultra-competitive setting. I'm willing to spot him the occasional bad goal, especially as he gets his bearings back. 

Of course, his rust hasn't stopped people on the comment boards and forums from proclaiming DP as the Antichrist. Do you people even realize how easy it would have been for Rick DiPietro to quit? How can you not admire someone who fights back like that? Nevermind that DP signed his future to this team at a time when they had just brought Garth Snow in as GM and nobody wanted anything to do with the Islanders. Me, I gladly welcome DiPietro back, and I look forward to seeing him return to form.

 - Offense: Love it. In fact, from now on, when I do my online betting, I'm taking the over in every Islanders game. This team can score, and the power play is red-hot. Let's not forget this outburst has come without the Islanders' top three point scorers from last year. The big stories are the emergence of Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey as big-game players. While the odds of Comeau and Bailey producing at this level for the duration of the season are long indeed, both players should be counted on for at least 20 goals each in 2010-11.

 - The Wisniewski Incident: This is one of those stories, that quite frankly, wouldn't even be an issue if the Internet didn't exist. An isolated incident becomes a huge story because YouTube can quickly spread around the "offensive" action, and the blogosphere, talking heads and Twitter people can debate the issue ad nauseum. The other side of the issue, of course, is that people wouldn't feel the need to debate the possible consequences so fervently if the NHL actually used consistency when disciplining wrongdoers, but that's a different story altogether.

What does Wisniewski deserve? One game. Let's face it, the incident was hardly incendiary, but the NHL has to establish a precedent when it comes to on-ice conduct that doesn't involve maiming someone. The whole "first-time offender" argument won't save Wisniewski, as the NHL simply must make him a sacrificial lamb so that players won't think they can get away with these actions. You could argue that Sean Avery is implicit in this incident, but you have to know he's going to try to get under your skin, so you shouldn't do anything stupid. Like, you know, simulating a BJ right in front of a referee.

 - New Goal Song: For those who haven't heard, the Islanders players have requested a change to their goal song. The request was made at the behest of Zenon Konopka, who chose a song called "Live is Life" by Opus. While I enjoy the irony of a player with six career goals spurring the charge to change the team goal song, and I don't particularly care for the new song - I'm also a huge Pennywise fan - at least the Islanders are trying to do something different. That's always a good thing as you try to establish your own identity. The subtext to all of this is that these Islanders are a unified team. They're on the same page, both on and off the ice. You can't ask for more than that.

 - Low Attendance: I'm not surprised. Before the season started, I wrote that the Islanders were drastically increasing expectations when they drastically increased their ticket prices. Right now, Long Island sees the Islanders as the sad-sack team they've always been. The only thing that can change this perception is by winning. A lot.

One thing we can't forget is that virtually all of Long Island - and everywhere else, for that matter - is broke. Zach is fond of saying that Long Island is a great place to live if you have money. For those of us who don't, though, it's not so easy. Personally, I can't see myself getting to the Coliseum even once this year, and that's with two jobs. I'm far from the only one in this predicament. Dee Karl echoed many of these sentiments earlier today. The Islanders are going to have to do something about these ticket prices or else face seeing many, many empty seats.

One last thing about attendance. Whose bright idea was it to schedule a rivalry game on Columbus Day?!? This is a day that's usually targeted towards families, who generally don't want to buy tickets to what may be a fight-filled game. It's also not really ideal for working adults, many of whom didn't have today off, myself included. Just a disaster all-around. When the fans of two teams can't fill up your arena, somebody screwed up big-time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

2010-11 Predictions

Yesterday, Zach cited my proficiency at pre-season predictions (nice alliteration). I managed to beat out "experts" like Eklund and E.J. Hradek, which is going on my resume ASAP. After a nice little celebration, which consisted of merely a smile and a fist pump, I submit my predictions for 2010-11. Just a note for purposes of full disclosure, I went on a nice five-month break from everything that relates to hockey. If these predictions make no sense, I'd cite that as a reason. Of course, if these predictions do come true, forget I said anything.

EASTERN CONFERENCE
1) Washington
2) New Jersey
3) Boston
4) Pittsburgh
5) NY Rangers
6) Montreal
7) Tampa Bay
8) Toronto
9) Philadelphia
10) Buffalo
11) NY Islanders
12) Atlanta
13) Ottawa
14) Carolina
15) Florida

WESTERN CONFERENCE
1) San Jose
2) Detroit
3) Vancouver
4) Chicago
5) Los Angeles
6) Colorado
7) Nashville
8) St. Louis
9) Edmonton
10) Columbus
11) Calgary
12) Anaheim
13) Phoenix
14) Dallas
15) Minnesota

CONFERENCE FINALS
Washington over NY Rangers
Detroit over Chicago

CUP FINAL
Detroit over Washington in 6

FEARLESS PREDICTIONS
Picking the right teams to finish in the right spots is the easy part of prognostication. The far more difficult (and fun) proposition is to predict the events of the season. As I see it, the season will include the following elements...
 - A big-name coach will be fired before November 15. My prediction: John Tortorella.
 - An unheralded team will come out of nowhere to start red-hot, defying "experts". Last year, it was Phoenix and Colorado. This year, I pick Tampa Bay and St. Louis.
 - The league's new blind-side hits rule will prove itself to be woefully ineffective, resulting in at least one suspension in the league's first month.
 - Islanders fans will pine for Billy Jaffe by the time the first period ends tonight. Fans will also proclaim the new radio deal with Hofstra as "bush-league" and clamor for the return of the simulcast before ever hearing a game on the radio.
 - None of the agonizing decisions and heated debates over who should be the 23rd man on an NHL roster will amount to anything.
 - This year's Winter Classic will draw the highest ratings and interest levels the NHL has ever seen.
 - The Islanders-Rangers rivalry will finally receive a shot in the arm, with at least one big fight or controversial incident helping these games reach their potential.
 - Doug Weight and Dwayne Roloson will be traded at the trade deadline.
 - The Islanders will get off to a slow start, but nobody will question the bizarre split-squad games as a potential reason why.
 - Rick DiPietro will finally make it through a season in perfect health.
 - Henrik Lundqvist will finally get to go on a ridiculous playoff run.
 - Ilya Kovalchuk will win the Hart Trophy.
 - The Jack Adams Award will go to a first-year coach who makes a big difference. I predict Guy Boucher of Tampa Bay.
 - At least one team will unveil a new retro third jersey that will end up replacing their current uniforms next year.
 - The NHL will re-sign with NBC, but will take its cable package to TBS.
 - Bad officiating and inconsistent discipline will become a huge issue yet again, this time playing a significant role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rex Ryan and Paradigm Shifts

Word from the Islanders is that Rex Ryan will be dropping the puck at tomorrow night's opening faceoff. A great move, to be sure - the Jets are red-hot, and Ryan is arguably the most popular coach in New York right now. As a Jets fan, I love it. But I can't help but feel like there's more to this story than meets the eye.

Most people confuse Rex Ryan's bluster as sheer arrogance, but that's not entirely the case. He talks a lot, but with a very specific goal - to change the culture of his team. Being a Jets fan has always meant failure, being let down at the worst possible moment and never winning the big game. Rex Ryan was smart enough to realize the team's - and the fans' - entire outlook had to change. When he said he wasn't here to kiss Bill Belichick's rings, it wasn't a shot at a rival team. It was a clear message to the players and fans that the Jets should view themselves as the Patriots' equals. When he unveiled his playoff itinerary that went all the way up to the Jets' eventual visit to the White House, he wanted everyone to believe the Jets had a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl. He encouraged fans and players alike to visualize the ultimate outcome in their minds and consider it a distinct possibility.

To say Rex Ryan's methods have worked is a gross understatement. When I watched the Jets play the Colts in the AFC Championship Game in January, I truly believed the Jets could and would win. The possibility of losing didn't even enter my thoughts. That was NEVER the case before. In years prior, I kept my guard up, knowing the Jets would eventually snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But no more. Today, the Jets are considered a winning organization; the stigma of countless losing seasons and crushing defeats is virtually non-existent.

So, then, is it a coincidence that Rex Ryan is dropping the puck on Opening Night? Not in the least. He turned the Jets fanbase from hapless lamenters into rabid fans who believe their team should win each week. This is exactly the kind of paradigm shift the Islanders desperately need. True, it won't happen just by having a local coach drop a puck before a game. But Rex Ryan has proven that it can be done, and don't think for a second he won't address the Islanders and tell them they can change their organization as well.

Tomorrow night, as the puck is dropped, each player, coach and fan should look at Rex Ryan tomorrow night and say to themselves, "Hey, we can turn this thing around." After all, it took Rex Ryan just a year and a half to transform the Jets in his image. Who's to say the Islanders can't do the same thing?

Looking Back at Predictions...

Every year, I compile the preseason predictions of both writers on this site as well as 3 or 4 other predictions. Last year, I only gathered 5 of them. Besides Bryan and me, I collected Yahoo’s hockey blogger Puck Daddy’s, Eklund from HockeyBuzz.com, and the TSN.ca, who puts together a consensus each year after averaging out their reporters’ picks.

Two straight years, Eklund has been the winner. In the 2008-09 season, however, Islanders’ writer Bryan was nipping on his heels, losing by only 1 points (28-27). I ended with the line, Hey, much like his Islanders, there's always next year.

I was awful last year, scoring only 19 points and coming in 6th out of 6th place.

This year, the most popular pick was Pittsburgh to come in 4th, which they did. Everyone thought Boston would win the Northeast (they didn’t) and everyone thought Carolina would make the playoffs (they didn’t). Lesson learned: don’t always base predictions on last year’s efforts.

The scoring is as follows: 1 point for predicting a team to either make or miss the playoffs, and 2 points for correctly guessing the final conference standing of a team.

5th Place - NYHockeyRivalry.com’s Zach
As is becoming tradition, I came in dead last again. My only two correct spots were the Conference winners, Washington and San Jose. As it turns out, the Rangers, Carolina, and Atlanta didn’t make the playoffs. Buffalo, who I thought would end 14th in the East, came in 3rd. In the West, I only guessed 3 playoff teams correctly (SJ, Detroit, Chicago). Apparently, Calgary and Minnesota weren’t as good as I thought they would be.
16 points

2nd Places - Puck Daddy, Eklund, TSN
All 3 outlets each scored the same amount of points.

Puck Daddy had a great Eastern Conference with just one mistake: Carolina in the playoffs and Ottawa out.

Eklund, the two-time reigning champion, make a crucial error in picking his favorite team - the Flyers - to win the Atlantic, when in reality they snuck into the playoffs.

TSN picked the Rangers and Carolina to make the playoffs, leaving out actual playoff teams Ottawa and Buffalo.
23 points

1st Place - NYHockeyRivalry.com’s Bryan
Bryan correctly predicted the Eastern playoff teams except for one mistake: putting the Rangers in instead of Buffalo. He correctly guessed the Penguins coming in 4th, the Flyers in 7th, and the Islanders in 13th. He did have Washington and NJ winning their divisions like they did, but had the order messed up.

In the West, he not only guessed every eventual division winner, he guessed them in order (San Jose, Chicago, Vancouver). So, in total, he got 5 of 6 division winners correct in the NHL. He also correctly guessed Detroit in 5th in the West, making the 7 correct picks a new record!

Nice job, Bryan. Looks like next year could be this year,
27 points

I also have to give credit to ESPN's John Buccigross and Barry Melrose. Buccigross predicted Philadelphia beating Chicago in the Finals, while Melrose actually predicted the eventual result, Chicago beating the Flyers for the Stanley Cup.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mid-Life Crisis: The Psyche of the New York Islanders

Earlier today, Zach - who made his triumphant return earlier today - sent me a text informing me that the Islanders turned 38 years old today. He also suggested that perhaps they're going through a mid-life crisis right now and that may explain why they're getting younger. While I'm sure their motives for their youth movement are simply to create the best team possible, as evidenced by the Blackhawks, Capitals and Penguins in recent years, Zach has a pretty good point.

You probably know some people who peaked a little too early in life. You know the kind of person I'm talking about - the prom king, the high school quarterback, the head cheerleader. They had the world at their fingertips in their early years, but now they ring up groceries or drive UPS trucks. If you were to meet one of these people now for the first time, you'd be cordial, but you'd be underwhelmed, maybe even a bit condescending. After all, you don't end up like that without screwing up somewhere.

The New York Islanders fit this mold. Many younger fans can never recall a time when the club was even competitive, let alone dominant. Hockey fans in New York are either born into rooting for the Islanders, or they grow up pitying the Islanders. And yeah, you could say the Islanders have been going through a mid-life crisis for some time. For a very long time, you had the constant parading of former greats - the virtual equivalent of a 30-year-old gas attendant wearing his high school football jersey to work. "Hey, remember what I used to be?" Sadly, we don't.

Today, the Islanders are firmly entrenched in a battle against Father Time. They're the balding guy who purchases a Mustang and buys a vanity license plate in order to feel and look young. They're the mom who wears the same clothes as her teenage daughter. Looking back at what once was, struggling to find modern-day relevancy. You could make the argument that reverting to the classic blue uniforms is the same type of thing - reinventing the team didn't work, so let's simply stick with what once worked.

Thirty-eight years is a long time. Too young to be classic and historic, too old to be new and cutting-edge. What's the answer - the RIGHT answer? Reconcile the past with the present. Create a new image in the same vein as the old one, but updated to meet modern times. Reach out to the loyalists for support, but make new fans at the same time.

That's what the Islanders are doing. And they're doing a great job.

You have to admit that it's not easy to do what the Islanders are trying to do. Like many of us, they've gotten stale and need to recharge, to recreate the Islanders image. You see it in publications all over North America. Nobody expects anything out of the Islanders in 2010-11, and why should they? The Islanders were bottom-five in points and attendance last year. Two of their three best players are out for the foreseeable future. Plus, the team is always fighting the perception of being a joke. But widespread organizational change takes time, and this is no different.

What will become of this Islanders team? Will they emulate the example of the Blackhawks and Penguins, rebuilding through the draft and eventually becoming champions? Or will they be more like the Edmonton Oilers, who have been rebuilding for the past twenty years? It's tough to say. But you get the impression that the Islanders have identified their issues and are trying to address them, just like the mid-life crisis crowd or anyone else stuck in a rut. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to simply survive, to just ride it out and hope for the best. We can't say if the Islanders will be a playoff team this year, but at least they're trying to get better the right way. And that's a hell of a lot better than clinging to the glory days or, worse, shipping the team off to Hamilton or Kansas City.

Predictions...

Well, I haven't written anything since March on here, and it's 7:16 on the morning of the NHL's first games. In less than 5 hours, the puck will drop in Helsinki between two great teams - Derek Boogaard's former team (the Minnesota Wild) and Bobby Sanguenetti's current team (the Carolina Hurricanes, and yes, he made the NHL team).

Predictions - the best and worst part of October. Everyone is normally wrong, but they're fun to debate anyway. So, here we go...

Eastern Conference
1. Washington Capitals
2. New Jersey Devils
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Buffalo Sabres
6. NY Rangers
7. Tampa Bay Lightning
8. Philadelphia Flyers
9. Atlanta Thrashers
10. Boston Bruins
11. NY Islanders
12. Carolina Hurricanes
13. Florida Panthers
14. Ottawa Senators
15. Montreal Canadiens

Notes: The Rangers missed the playoffs by 1 point yet improved a lot over the offseason. They got a better backup goalie than they had (Martin Biron is in fact better than any combination of Chad Johnson and Matt Zaba and Steve Valiquette) and Alex Frolov is going to add much more offense than Aaron Voros.

Tampa Bay has a great forward line up including Lecavilier, Stamkos, St. Louis, Ryan Malone, and Steve Downie. With Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund on the blue line and competent goaltending in Dan Ellis and Mike Smith, they should take make the playoffs, edging out a much improved Chicago Blackha err, Atlanta Thrashers team.

In the Northeast, I can't see an aging Ottawa team with questionable goaltending making the playoffs again. Yes, Sergei Gonchar is good, but I think he'll fall apart without Crosby and Malkin on the same PP unit. And Toronto might be unstoppable. The best defense in the NHL (Beauchemin, Kaberle, Komisarek, Lebda, Phaneuf, Schenn), solid goaltending (Giguere, Gustavsson), and a much improved offense featuring Colby Armstrong, Kris Versteeg, and a healthy Phil Kessel. The Leafs... will... be... very... good.

And I don't think Florida will - or should - ever make the playoffs again. Send that stupid team to Canada already!

Western Conference
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. San Jose Sharks
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Chicago Blackhawks
5. Phoenix Coyotes
6. Los Angeles Kings
7. Colorado Avalance
8. St. Louis Blues
9. Nashville Predators
10. Edmonton Oilers
11. Calgary Flames
12. Columbus Blue Jackets
13. Anaheim Ducks
14. Minnesota Wild
15. Dallas Stars

Notes: Vancouver should win the division because they have the best goaltending of the top contenders. I mean, I guess Chicago would (with Marty Turco) if I were writing predictions for 2003-04. With Raffi Torres, Manny Malhotra, and Dan Hamhuis, the Canucks improved under-the-radar, but all 3 are great additions.

I think the East is a lot stronger this year. The top 5 teams in the West are good, but all have their flaws. Is Detroit getting too old (and Mike Modano is not an injection of youth)? Does San Jose, LA, or Chicago have the goaltending?

Does LA have the offense? They'll need better years from Dustin Brown and Ryan Smyth and a breakout year from Wayne Simmonds. Alex Ponikarovsky replaces Frolov, but can he?

Edmonton, while not a playoff team yet, is building something with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajarvi. Tom Renney will be great there.

Anaheim must be content being middle-of-the-road. All they did was sign 3 marginally good defenseman (Paul Mara, who I love; Toni Lydman; and Andy Sutton, whose best years are far behind him). Dallas, the same (whose less bad, Kari Lehtonen or Andrew Raycroft?).

Playoffs
Washinton vs. Pittsburgh in the East
Canucks vs. Sharks in the West

Washington vs. Vancouver in the Finals
Washington winning

I know it's cheesy to pick your Conference Winners to play each other in the Finals, but that's why I picked them both #1 I guess. To be honest, I can completely see Vancouver stumbling in the playoffs, but they do have a very good team, and when Alex Burrows is back from injury in early-November, they'll be even better.

Enjoy the season, ladies & gentleman. Here's hoping the Islanders and Rangers both improve, both over last season and from the beginning of this one to the end.

Hart Trophy: Ilya Kovalchuk, NJ
Conn Smythe: Alex Ovechkin, WAS
Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty, LA
Vezina Trophy: Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo, or Henrik Lundqvist (oh, hell, Martin Brodeur is probably going to be given it anyway)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Setbacks and Opportunities

The Islanders haven't even played a pre-season game yet, and they already have injury problems.

Mark Streit: Shoulder surgery, out for 6 months.

Kyle Okposo: Shoulder surgery, out for 2 months.

That's 100-120 man games lost to injury, and the season is still two weeks away. Feel free to insert your own joke about how Rick DiPietro's inevitable injury will cause those numbers to skyrocket.

If you're the Islanders, you might think about ratcheting expectations down a little bit. But you can you do that when your ticket prices are at an all-time high? Like it or not, injuries to your two best players don't make it okay to miss the playoffs again. Instead, the Islanders will need players - both the big names and the unknown ones - to step up.

These injuries to Streit and Okposo are devastating, but they also provide a tremendous opportunity to guys like Calvin de Haan, Nino Niederreiter, Travis Hamonic and countless others, including the newly-acquired Mike Mottau. These players now have the chance to step up and make a significant impact on the big club. It's also an opportunity for players like John Tavares and Josh Bailey to take a more active role in the leadership of this club.

Feel free to wallow a bit - after all, a 2010 without Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo is hardly what you expected. But life goes on, and so do the Islanders' playoff chances - and the expectations that they'll be significantly better than the draft lottery. The lost production and leadership of Streit and Okposo has to come from somewhere, and it'll be very interesting and exciting to see who steps up.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Great Expectations

One of my favorite things about being an Islanders fan is that I've never really been let down by the team. Sure, the team has done plenty to embarrass me and my fellow fans. But the truth is, I've never expected anything from the Islanders. I was born into Islanders fandom, and someday I'll die an Islanders fan. The team has been pretty terrible for virtually my entire life, and that's fine by me. Quite frankly, I'm just happy that the Islanders are still playing on Long Island at this point.

While I'm a devoted fan, I welcome the fact that I generally know what I'm getting with the Islanders, even if it's not the best of results. It's a hell of a lot better than watching the Mets spend a gazillion dollars each off-season, jack ticket prices up in anticipation of a big season, only to have the season end in heartbreak or, in the past two seasons, apathy. And it's a lot better than watching my beloved Jets, lovably pitiful for much of my life, become the league's most hated team and one that leads the league in arrests and penalties. The Islanders don't expose me to these potential pratfalls. As loyal Islanders fans, we know we're going to watch some good games, we know we're going to see some young players develop... and we also know that, come April, we can go ahead and make other plans.

Or can we?

The Islanders released their single-game ticket prices recently, and... well, so much for my plans to take my daughter to her first Islanders game. A decent seat in the 300s will run you anywhere from $65 to $75, and if you want to go down the to the lower bowl, you're looking at upwards of $95. Those seats at the top of the Coliseum, with the aluminum floor that's fun to bang on, but prevents you from seeing the scoreboard? $35 per ticket. That's a lot of money. In fact, the Islanders' prices are quite similar to what the New Jersey Devils charge for their individual game tickets; in the case of premium games, the Islanders actually charge more.

Therein lies the dilemma. The Devils have a right to charge a hefty price for their tickets. They play in a state-of-the-art palace, and they've been to the playoffs in all but one of the past 20 seasons. Yes, they've won just two playoff series since winning the Cup in 2003, but they've also, you know, been consistently very good, to the tune of 95 or more points every year since 1996-97.

To say the Islanders haven't been as successful would be quite the understatement. This is a team that...

 - Has been in the lottery for each of the past three years
 - Has won two playoff series in the past 23 years
 - Has won three playoff games since 2002
 - Has only had one player break the 25-goal plateau in the past three years
 - Has never even come close to signing a big-name free agent

I could go on forever, but you get the idea. The point is, the Devils have proven that they're worth paying money to see (not that Devils fans would ever show up at games or anything). The Islanders, on the other hand, continue to sell us on the "future", something we've been hearing for fifteen years now. So you'll have to forgive me and many others for our skepticism. You can't substantially raise ticket prices based on what may happen. At some point, there has to be tangible proof that the team has turned the corner.

This is the quandary the Islanders face in 2010-11. For the past three years, Garth Snow has preached patience to the Islanders fanbase. For three years, fans have complied. But now that ticket prices have reached a level comparable with those of perennial Cup contenders, there's a certain expectation that goes with those prices. The draft lottery is not going to get it done this year, not when fans are paying an average of $75 a ticket. The absolute minimum expectation for the New York Islanders has to be the playoffs.

Are the playoffs within the realm of possibility? Absolutely. The Islanders have spent a long time maturing and preparing to make a move, and this very well could be the year it all comes together. But if it's not, the Islanders will have some explaining to do. The fans this year will expect a winner, not yet another rebuilding year - and at the prices the Islanders are charging, the fans are entitled to a significant return on their investment.