Archive for the ‘New York Islanders’ Category

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New York Islanders GM Garth Snow paid far too great a price to land Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Giving up a first- and second-round pick in the draft is fine, but including Matt Moulson in the deal is evidence that Snow and the Islanders didn’t see the big picture.

Looking at their goal totals over the past four years, there’s not much difference between Vanek and Moulson. They are both the same age. They are both playing under a contract that will expire after the season. It’s fair to say Vanek is the more “skilled” player, but to portray Moulson as this garbage-collecting goal scorer whose numbers are entirely predicated on playing with John Tavares are exaggerated and unfair. Vanek and Moulson simply have different ways of putting the puck in the net, and both are really good at doing just that.

Sabres GM Darcy Regier has been arguably the worst GM in hockey over the past few years – the contracts of Tyler Myers and Ville Leino are evidence of that, along with extending Patrick Kaleta and adding John Scott in the pursuit of toughness that has submarined the team – but he deserves all of the credit here. It’s possible he’ll be able to flip Moulson for another first-round pick before the trade deadline. That’s a great haul for Vanek.

On just the face of the deal, that’s a lot to hand over to the Sabres for Vanek. There’s no guarantee Tavares and Vanek will work as well together as Tavares and Moulson have for four-plus seasons, and the least of the Islanders’ problems right now are goal scoring. They are among the worst defensive teams in the NHL, and Vanek isn’t contributing to that area.

But a deeper look shows the Islanders may have been bidding against themselves in what was a thin market for Vanek, only because of his hefty $7.1 million cap hit. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Kevin Connolly film Big Shot chronicles Dallas businessman John Spano and his purchase of the struggling New York Islanders in 1996. Spano appeared to be the franchise’s savior, swooping in to save the storied Islanders from the NHL’s basement with his perceived deep pockets, and a commitment to keep the team on Long Island.

The latest ESPN 30-for-30 documentary, which airs tonight (Tuesday, October 22 at 8pm/ET), is the series’ second run at a hockey story. Kings Ransom focused on the Edmonton Oilers 1988 trade that sent Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings was the first feature in the 30-for-30 film series.

Spano, as it would turn out, was too good to be true for the Islanders and their fans. The would-be owner forged numerous documents and lied his way into a fortune that never really existed. With his Dallas based rental company and country club friends, Spano had fooled bankers, investors, and then Islanders owner John Pickett into believing he had the resources to buy the hockey team.

“You run in the right circles and people just stop asking questions,” Spano tells director Connolly in a one-on-one interview in the film. This was the basis of the pseudo millionaire’s existence as someone who appeared to be in the position to purchase a hockey team for $165 million.

Big Shot is possibly the best entry in the 30-for-30 so far this year. It works very well as an informative look at one of the biggest financial scandals in recent memory involving a professional sports franchise. It’s not without its faults, but Connolly does a fairly good job of riding the line between fan and filmmaker.

The film’s finest moments are the historical bit on the Islanders and their four straight Stanley Cup victories from 1980-1983, and the points in the film where Mike Milbury and John Spano are interviewed. In particular, the segment which jumps back and forth between Spano and Milbury offering their opinions of each other makes for great viewing. Their mutual hatred of one another is almost chewable.

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You know nothing, Garth Snow. At least, about goaltenders. Which is pretty ironic, really. (Dave Sandford, Getty Images)

The Islanders making the playoffs this past season seems to have changed people’s opinions about Garth Snow significantly. At one point, Snow was a bit of a punchline. There were many reasons, starting with how he became the Islanders’ GM in the first place, getting hired the same day he retired from being an active player. Then, a couple months later, he signed Rick DiPietro to his ludicrous 15-year contract.

Even when he was named the executive of the year by Sports Illustrated in 2007 after less than a year on the job, no one took it particularly seriously: after all, what does Sports Illustrated know about hockey, really? Sure enough, the Islanders lapsed back into mediocrity and finished at or near the bottom of the league in five straight seasons.

But with success comes recognition and Snow’s masterful manipulation of the CBA and clever use of the waiver wire to navigate his way around one of the lowest internal budgets in the NHL while still icing a competitive team has garnered Snow praise from all corners.

There’s really only one issue: Snow can’t find a good goaltender.

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Party on, Garth Snow

"Party on, Wang"

“Party on, Wang”

Garth Snow was named the Executive of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2007, likely because he made three moves for big name players that eventually resulted in a New York Islanders playoff appearance in his first season.

However neither Ryan Smyth nor Richard Zednik, two of Snow’s acquisitions midseason, played another game for the Islanders. Marc-Andre Bergeron played 46 games in 2007-2008 before he was traded to Anaheim and the Islanders quickly sunk into 5th place in the Atlantic Division and stayed there for five consecutive seasons.

It was during those five seasons that the Islanders were a bit of a joke, and a lot of focus was placed on Snow and the 15-year contract that Rick DiPietro signed in the fall of 2006. Like in the case of Ilya Bryzgalov and Roberto Luongo, if that long term deal for a goaltender that was a massive failure in retrospect was the idea of the general manager, he’d be fired by now. I think during those years at the bottom of the Atlantic Division as Snow rebuilt the prospect system of the Islanders and tried to find players that would help him compete in 2012-onward, the futility of the team was symbolized by that DiPietro contract.

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(Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)

(Bruce Bennett, Getty Images)

One of the most stunning stories from the first round of the playoffs has been the performance of the New York Islanders, who tied up their series with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday with a 6-4 win. The Penguins were the prohibitive favourites to come out of the East this season after loading up at the trade deadline, adding Brendan Morrow and Jarome Iginla to an already stacked forward corps and beefing up their defence with the hulking Douglas Murray.

Meanwhile, you would think the Islanders would just be happy to be in the playoffs at all, having missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, finishing fifth in the Atlantic Division each time. Very few people even gave the Islanders a chance in this series, with most predicting that the Penguins would win in five games, since predicting a sweep is a little too bold.

But the Islanders have done more than just show up. They’ve surprised the Penguins with their speed and tenacity and reminded everyone why there are still question marks surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury. It’s the classic tale of David versus Goliath, if Goliath had awful goaltending.

What fascinates me is how these Islanders were constructed. They’re a team full of cast-offs and misfits cobbled together by a general manager under extremely limiting financial constraints.

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The Canadian Press called it a “surprising split“. The New York Times called the win “surprising“. Scott Burnside suggested that it was because “hard work sometimes trumps talent“.

Perhaps it is the hard work, but there is still a lot of talent on the Islanders roster. Their top six has four first-round picks. They have another first rounder on their third line centred by a player who has been an AHL scoring machine since 2006. There is a lot of skill, even if they aren’t all house-hold names. A couple more performances like they had in Game 2 or 3 of their series though, and maybe a few analysts will begin to credit the Islanders for being a real good hockey team. It’s not just a playoff thing—they’ve been good for a while.

Other than an ill-timed penalty against a deadly Penguins powerplay, the Islanders have out-played the Pens in this series. They out-shot Pittsburgh 31-20 at even strength in the third game and appeared to beat them in scoring chances. In three games, they have out-shot the Penguins 86-61 at even strength.

This shouldn’t have been surprising going in. The Islanders this season were 11th in Hockey Analysis’ Corsi Tied in the NHL and 11th in Behind the Net’s Fenwick Close. Pittsburgh in the same measures were 17th and 15th. The Islanders do have a significant five-on-five advantage that could have been easily picked up on coming in. Read the rest of this entry »

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There are a lot of highly-enjoyable storylines to follow during the playoff chase. During the Game 48-to-Game 82 stretch in a normal season, a couple of teams that don’t belong fall out of the chase (last season it happened to be the Minnesota Wild and the Toronto Maple Leafs) but this season there’s some added excitement because teams that specifically don’t belong are in the chase.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time in nine years—the playoff team with the worst shot differential numbers since the 2002 Montreal Canadiens, as per Elliotte Friedman at Hockey Night in Canada. The hockey blogosphere is abuzz with the success of the new-look Columbus Blue Jackets, or “New York Rangers West”, or quite simply “Lumbus” and as of Sunday night, they hold a slippery grip on the 8th spot.

The more games are played, as in, if there were a normal season, I think those two teams might fall out of the race. I’d be a little worried about the Anaheim Ducks. That being said, some math is being re-written this season. I wrote over at my PDO post on NHL Numbers last week that:

after 40 games or so games, we should expect just 5% of the teams in the league to be outside 1.025 or .975 (great work here by Snark SD). The actual number is 23%, as this is officially a silly season and has made an absolute mess of things.

So it’s not the low number of games that is keeping Anaheim and Toronto in the playoffs, Pittsburgh and Chicago picking up points like gangbusters, and Florida unable to make a save while the New Jersey Devils could become the best team to miss the postseason probably ever. There’s something else happening this season. Perhaps the short turnaround, the extra days off, the more four- and five-game weeks is giving an added boost to certain teams. Who knows.

I don’t like it. Let’s start the playoffs.

Hopefully the New York Islanders were in them.

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