Tuesday, December 29, 2009

So......What have I Missed?

Since my last blog on December 8th, I have helped co written  a few other pieces with colleagues of mine, but I needed to take a step back and really watch a few games on the Islanders. The last 10 games were significant because it has marked the halfway mark of the Islanders season. That's right folks, the Islanders have played in 40 games and it is still not January yet. I have seen some nice surprises in the last 10 games that had allowed the Islanders to finish 4-6. Kyle Okposo, despite only 1 goal, had 7 assists for 8 points. But it was Blake Comeau who emerged from the "healthy scratch" list to the first line and managed a respectable 3 goals, 3 assists for 6 points.  Others like Tavares and Moulson were okay, but noticeably absent the last few games. When you play 40 games and it is still December, you can let them slide every once in a while.

On the defensive side, in my opinion, the bright spot is Andrew MacDonald. The notion that he has the ability to play in the NHL and beat out Freddy Meyer for a spot, is something fans should be happy about. Both MacDonald and Hillen are showing that they could have a nice future on Long Island and that Garth Snow and Co. are making good choices in free agents and drafting....so far.

So now it's down to the heart of this blog. After 40 games, the Islanders are on pace for 76 points. For now, that is better than what most were predicting. What excites me is that I thought the Islanders should make 80 points their goal for this rebuilding season. What excites me more is that I believe that the Islanders will have a better second half then first without making any significant changes to the roster. The Islanders need to get a few players back and a few to improve to get the Islanders to finish the season with 80 points.

As the Islanders start the second "half" of the season, Kyle Okposo, John Tavares and Matt Moulson should not have to relied upon to carry this team. When Jeff Tambellini scores a goal, the Islanders are 2-0-2. The problem is Jeff has only scored in four games. A recent, resurgent Blake Comeau has the Islanders going 4-0, but has the same problem Tambellini has, not scoring in enough games.  When Trent Hunter scores, the Islanders have a 71 percent chance of getting at least one point. These three players must continue to or pick up there games for the Islanders and let the younger players develop at there own pace. If the younger players produce, it's only a bonus.

The return of Bergenheim will also play a contributing factor. When Sean scores a point, the Islanders are 7-2-2. I'll even include old man Doug Weight scoring and the Islanders are 3-1-1. If there could be a return of the defense getting on the goal-scoring sheet that seem to be shooting pucks into the Bermuda Triangle lately, it will certainly take less pressure off the goalies, but the goalies will be for another blog.

Here is the bottom line. The Islanders had a better than expected first half. I expect the Islanders to be better in the second half for various reasons and if anything else, will play major spoilers at the end of the year. If the Islanders can continue to play at a 75-80 point pace for the rest of the season, the Islanders second year of it's rebuild will be a success. However, if the Islanders surpass 80 points this season, it means that it only took Snow two years to get them back where they were when Bill Geurin was captain for the first time in his career and the Islanders finished with 79 points.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Islanders/Flyers Recap

I would like to thank Anthony Curatolo of www.crashthecrease.com, www.hockeyindependent.com
www.insidehockey.com and www.puckdrop.ca for teaming up with me to present to you with tonight's recap of the Islanders and Flyers game, plus our opinions of each teams future this year.

In an unfortunate turn of events for the New York Islanders, they had to face a team awaiting an explosion. The Islanders were sent into the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia tonight hoping to add to the collapse of the Flyers, however the Flyers had other things in mind.

What fans witnessed tonight was just how far apart each team is in experience. The Flyers dominated the Islanders in almost every way. They were physical, resilient, and intimidating. The Islanders did not come ready to play once again and they paid the price. Both of the teams star players showed up for the game, but the Flyers clearly have more stars and more importantly experience on their side. The Flyers also have gotten to the Islanders psyche, now winning a staggering 12 games in a row against there Atlantic Division rivals.

For the Islanders, there long road trip is almost over. There final stop is in Toronto tomorrow, where last time they played, Dwayne Roloson looked like a convicted criminal standing against a pole, hands tied behind his back, blind folded and ready to be shot with pucks by the Toronto players. The Islanders must put in a solid wining effort to finish on a strong note and enter there home stand with confidence, something that was severely lacking today against the Flyers.

From the Flyers end, it seemed as if part of the Laviolette system finally made it's way into the players. It seemed like an animal was trying to break out of a cage, and then tonight, success. Martin Biron was shelled between the pipes as the Flyers shot everything possible in his direction. Unfortunately for Biron, the refs and those teammates of his did not help. The tides have turned, so it seems, in Philadelphia where for the Islanders it is still a question of how much they lack the veteran presence to fill the void with the fine mix of youth that are currently on this roster.

It is not a lost year, for either team, with plenty of hockey left to play. For the Islanders it seems it is a lack of leadership. The talent is there, it's just the inability to bring that talent out without any mentors. Something that, after tonight, seems to be the exact opposite in Philadelphia. Chris Pronger, who has led teams across the continent, seems to have finally gotten into Mike Richards, the current Captain in Philadelphia, in a positive way. In what some questioned to be fear and intimidation within Richards due to Prongers arrival, seems to finally have been buried. Richards looks poised to lead this team in the right direction, and looks focused to wear his "C" with pride. With a teammate like Pronger to help guide the way, how could anyone not accept what Pronger will bring to this team? They shouldn't, and with Laviolette on board, they will not.

There is good news from the Islanders front. With each day that passes, it's a day that Andy Sutton and Doug Weight are closer to returning. Now Paul, with those returns, do you feel it will be enough veteran experience to help this team towards a playoff push? Or is it an overall learning year on the Island?

I will admit, 100%, that the future looks fantastic for the Islanders from a team perspective. Let's hope we can say the same for the geographical location when the time comes.

Andy Sutton has missed some time, but not a lot to make a huge difference. Andrew MacDonald has proven to the Islanders organization that he can play in the NHL, but with the early departure to the always injured Radek Martinek, the Islanders need more veteran experience on the defensive side sooner rather than later. Doug Weight has missed almost two-thirds of the season so far, so getting him back is like adding a free agent. Time will tell if the Islanders need more experience on the offensive side. Will they help with the playoff push? Definitely! Will those two get the Islanders into the playoffs: No.

This is without a doubt a learning year for the Islanders, but fans have to wait and see how far this current squad can go without major changes. They’re still growing as a team, and this long road trip may have been a blessing in disguise for them to build that chemistry and in essence a family. We have not seen their crescendo or their climax because they’re still building upwards. We may see it in a few weeks after they play a few at home so that Snow will have a great grasp of what needs to be improved on.

The future is very bright for this team. They’re not far away at all and could be very good spoilers by the end of this year.

Now Anthony, the Flyers heard you, and you were granted the firing of John Stevens. Emery is out for several weeks. What will it take for the Flyers to be tops in the Conference again?

I have called for the firing of Stevens more times then the amount of cups of coffee I have had this week. Unfortunately, I do not feel the Flyers will be able to climb over the likes of Washington and Pittsburgh. Not without a healthy and proven Ray Emery and a defensive core that wakes up.  They, like the Islanders, have a good make up of forward lines.  The Flyers have the better blue line and that is an area the Islanders will really need to improve on in order to make that push from a leadership and experience standpoint.

It's not so much the return of Emery that will be important compared to if Emery looks like he did during the first two to three weeks of the season upon his return or not.  If he returns and plays better then he has and the blame of an injury is the reason for his poor play I would have to say watch out.

That is something I feel the Islanders are a bit stronger at. They not only have a very good Dwayne Roloson, they are getting back an all-star goalie in Rick DiPietro.  Brian Boucher and Jonas Backlund does not compare to the tandem the Islanders are soon to get back.

It should be an interesting six weeks for the Flyers where it's a week or two of anticipation for the Islanders.  "DP" could bring forth a huge difference, just on a level of play from his presence back in the lock room alone. So there is no need to count either team out, despite the recent struggles of both teams but more-so the Flyers.

Tomorrow night at the ACC the Islanders will need to stand tall in front of Roloson and make sure to not let the Leafs bring forth the shooting barrage again.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Martin Biron Trade Rumors

For the last month, there have been rumors of goaltender Martin Biron being dealt after Islanders All-Star goalie Rick DiPietro returns to action. Ever since an announcement was made here that DiPietro would return in mid December, people had been asking me if trading Biron was a possibility before Christmas. Before I go any further, I wanted to know who was interested in Biron, and what could he bring back. After talking to a lot of people who love the rumor industry, I took the three teams who were mentioned the most. They were the following: Detroit Red Wings, L.A. Kings and the Buffalo Sabres. Surprised? You shouldn't be, there the same three teams that have been rumored for the last two months, but this is what the Islanders are currently working with.

So what could the Islanders get out of any of those teams? I did my own research and I asked around for some help on trade values of certain players. This is what I came up with. Despite having a better save percentage (big influence in trading for goalies by the way)  than both Chris Osgood and Jonathan Quick, Biron would be there backup. There is no question that Martin would be Ryan Millers backup. So even if Biron can pull together a few more wins, he will still be considered a backup for this season. What do these three trading partners have in common? Young defensive prospects, similar to a Matt Moulson situation, a player who has NHL potential but no room on there respective teams.

Now trade rumors are really just for fans to stay interested all year long with there favorite team, so after researching certain players, I simply asked 20 die hard and extremely knowledgeable fans (Thank you Anthony) from each team if they would like to trade a certain prospect from their farm team for Biron. Here were the results: Detroit fans would rather give the Islanders a second or third rounder; L.A said yes to the deal, and Buffalo fans were an eager yes.

I had more detail, but I as I had a few proofread my work to see if the blog was actually legit, I was asked to hold off on the blog for a few days because it might get longer. Never having a "source" in my life, I took this person by their word, and held off. A few days later, Larry Brooks wrote here that Garth Snow has permission to increase pay roll for a run at the playoffs. Now that changed everything and the rumors got worse over the next day while  people play GM and trading players, picks so that everything looked good on paper and gave their favorite team a chance at the playoffs.

This is what Islanders fans should know before trading anybody. Without DP in the lineup and taking into account the winning percentage of the Islanders record at home (5 more games at home than away for the remainder of the season), the Islanders are on pace for 85 points. Now if the Islanders forwards can actually score for DP like they do for Roloson and earn an extra point here and there, the Islanders will probably flirt with 90 points. Mind you, that's without trading anybody.....90 points.

I asked around if the Islanders should be trading now? I was answered with an emphatic no!!   To make the point clearer, a day later I read this quote from Lyle Richardson of Spector's Hockey.

The salary cap prohibits struggling teams from making any significant early season roster changes like trades. Forget about the nonsense floating around the internet about "big moves", the last one which happened before the holiday trade freeze was four years ago today (the Joe Thornton trade). What trades that do happen are usually relatively minor deals involving the exchange of equal salaries (last week's Latendresse-for-Pouliot trade).  
So Islanders fans as you begin this December, here are some things to know:

Biron will not be traded until DP has played a few games (like 10) and there are no recurring injuries to him or Roloson.
Biron could fetch a 3rd or 2nd rounder no matter what time in the season, or a decent prospect stated above.
If there are players traded, it won't be until mid-January at the earliest.
There has been enough scouting in their own organization to know that if certain players are traded from the Islanders, they earned it.

For now, enjoy the games and the rumors, just don't jump ahead to the future, enjoy your present.

Update: I was asked to add Colorado to that mix now.  According to Anthony Curatolo of Crash the Crease & The Hockey Guys,  Colorado has ZERO faith in Budaj (hence Anderson getting ALL the starts) and they have plenty to move.  If it's a bit bigger from the Isles end, it could be a perfect scenario.

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