Summer in the City

islanders fansToday it’s a great pleasure to welcome a new writer – Scott Marcus. Scott will be covering the Isles for us over the upcoming season.  Good thing, too; if 2015 Isles are anything like 2014 Isles, we need to keep a close eye on them. We’ll do all the official introductions later, but you can follow him on the Twitter @ScottMarcus77 and on Instagram at Scott_Marcus.

Right now, Scott has compiled a lot of thoughts about the next version of the Islanders – what they need, and what they got so far this trade season. 

Take it away, Scott!

The New York Islanders are set to begin their first official summer as residents of NYC, all after an exciting season of renewed hope that the Isles may finally have located this mysterious and elusive “corner” where success apparently can be found hiding around the bend. Of course as fans, we’ve thought that perhaps they had located this mythical corner several times over the past 20 or so years, only to have our dreams shattered in a trash bin full of foul-smelling fish sticks, but this time there certainly does appear to be good reason for optimism.

What’s different than in years past?

1. The trifecta of the Islanders moving in to New York City, coupled with new ownership and the prospect that this team could legitimately win a cup within the next few years may have FINALLY gotten the Isles off of virtually every good players “Oh hell no” list (AKA: No trade list). I think that guys are going to WANT to come and play for the Isles now. The days of having to essentially bribe a player with an absurd contract to join this team are likely over, not that they ever spent that kind of money to begin with.

2. Speaking of spending money, the Islanders have two good things going for them now. First, their is ZERO chance this team is going to be a cap-floor team again anytime in the near future. Charles Wang made a legitimate effort when he first took over the Islanders to spend money and rejuvenate the team. The team of the early 2000’s was pretty good with Alexei Yashin, Chris Osgood, Michael Peca, etc… Who can forget the excitement of seeing the Old Barn come back to life against Toronto back in the playoffs?

I love watching the video for so many reasons. It was quiet literally the first time since Al Arbour retired that fans had a reason to hope and believe again. This team had quite literally just come through hell on Earth. John Spano, the Fisherman jersey, The Gluckstern/Milstein, and I forget the third guy ownership troika, the Coliseum nearly being condemned because of the neglect to the building, etc….. The energy of the place is just off the charts, and if you’ve ever attended a big game there, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Also, I love seeing that video for the shot of our GM to be on the bench (I remember shaking my head in amazement when our back-up goalie became our GM, incredible to think now in retrospect that this may have gone down as Charles Wang’s single greatest decision as owner of the NY Islanders.) Alas, this was not meant to be and the team would head back in the wilderness. The sad reality was that the team was hemorrhaging money. It simply wasn’t getting close to breaking even and eventually ownership took the easy way out. Stop spending and try to build cheaply through the draft. Well, we’ve now got several factors working in our favor. First, the strategy of building through the draft on the cheap was a slow and arduous process, but appears to have finally arrived. Second, you can add to that the new financial situation of the team and it’s favorable cap position……. well, let’s just say things are looking up. The second point on the money front is this, the contract to play at Barclays Center is pretty interesting/unusual. The Islanders are not renting space there as a traditional tenant might, in fact it is Barclays Center which is paying the team a flat fee to be residents. I think that this factor is far bigger than people realize. It will force a unique pressure on the team to spend in order to perform which I will expand upon a bit further down – because it very well could impact this next season specifically. Finally, the supplemental moves made over the past couple seasons by Garth Snow has left the team pretty damn solid as players go. There really are not many, if any critical holes in the roster which need to urgently be filled in order for the team to step up in to the ranks of true contenders. After the Pittsburgh series of two seasons ago, any fan knew that this team simply wasn’t ready to take the next step (it was fun to pretend though). The defense was mediocre, and the forward lines were not nearly as well-rounded as they are now. Most critical of all was the goalie situation. As much as I loved Nabby, he was no longer fit to be a starter for a full season. Hell, we didn’t even have a back-up. With the additions of Halak, Johnny Rocket, Leddy, Grabovski, Kulemin, this roster is very well rounded and appears to be lacking only a few pieces and experience.

Add it all up and the future is very bright.

So with another brilliant draft in the books and free agency underway, what moves might we expect the remainder of this off-season? Is there a big trade still to be made which might send us all into a state of delirium? Will the team stick to their long-term vision and let this very young team continue to mature – not mortgaging any of the future to win now?

Of last season’s roster, a few guys of note could either be back or on the move still in my opinion:

Lubomir Visnovsky: Personally, I would like to see him return. Yes, he’s older and doesn’t have many seasons left in the tank. But can you honestly say with any degree of confidence that Reinhardt or Pulock is ready to replace him? The Islanders cannot afford to gamble with one of the kids in the top-six this coming season. They are going to need to earn their way in, and the team needs an established player until they do. I think Lubo makes the most sense. I’ve watched his play closely, and the guy still has speed, he clearly has smarts, has a great shot and is a skilled powerplay guy, and finally, Thomas Hickey seems to play better when they are together (I wish that wasn’t the case, but it really is like Jekyll & Hyde when they play together vs. separate). One of my favorite moments this past season was after game-4 against the Caps when Lubo was awarded one of the three stars of the game. The joy on his face when he came out and thanked the fans while skating that lap in the arena was really pretty wonderful. He’s been a very solid Islander, and should he still want to go, I think he’s earned his spot. The team seems to be indicating “No” to Lubo, but recall, they’ve done that with players before as well. I think we may see him back, I hope so.
Brian Strait: Please, for the love of god, make him go away. There is no reason on this Earth why Brian Strait should have started as many games as he did last season. He is simply awful, and I cringe anytime I see him on the ice. I suppose that’s mean of me to say, but this guy is definitely my least favorite Islander. He must be giving it to somebody but good to be getting gifted this much playing time. I suppose I’m only adding this here to vent my frustration, because it’s fairly obvious he wont be leaving the Isles anytime soon.
Josh Bailey: Bailey is on this list only because he is a potential trading chip in my opinion (even if no noise is being made on that front). I know that I am very much in the minority on this, but I actually like Bailey and think he is a very good player. Sure, he doesn’t shoot nearly enough and when he does, often seems tentative. But, there are so many other factors at play. He is quite good at setting up his teammates, works very hard and effectively in the corners and virtually always benefits whichever line he plays on. I’d like to see him back on the third line playing alongside Frans and Kulemin or Grabbo personally.
Michael Grabner: The Gremlin probably needs to go. His speed is intoxicating, but his inability to stay healthy and also to finish plays is maddening. I have this sneaking suspicion that he could return to form on another team, which would suck for us, but he just doesn’t seem to fit on this team anymore with the number of forwards we have. I tend to suspect that a team would take a chance on him and that he is our most easily tradable asset. I could see him going for either a draft pick, or perhaps in a package deal which brings a player of considerable significance to the Isles.

As for possible big name additions out there, not much left other than Patrick Sharp.

First, let’s collectively thank God that Phil Kessel was not traded to the NY Islanders. Yes, his talent is spectacular, but can he possibly be worth the potential of blowing up our locker room? Does Jack Capuano seem like the kind of coach who can handle Phil Kessel when others couldn’t? Do we want even a portion of that contract hanging over our heads the next 7 years? Pittsburgh can enjoy his services over the next 7 years – all while there team lives in salary cap hell with no defense to speak of and an inability to fix the problem due to their contract issues.

Patrick Sharp: Chicago is not necessarily in a position of strength as regards this trade, and the rest of the league knows it. If the Islanders get in on this, it would likely be much like last season, very late in the game. I could actually see this one happening as the Islanders can easily provide solid prospects, a 2017 pick, and a current/cheap top-six forward. I don’t think it’s going to cost that much frankly (at least compared to what people expect today). The Isles can also easily absorb the cap hit – so this is one worth watching.

Martin St. Louis: On the one hand, he doesn’t seem to fit the Isles mold. On the other hand, his skill set (even as it diminishes) is without question appealing. He strikes me as an interesting 1-year contract candidate while someone like MDC continues to get ready to take that next step up the big club. Still – who would he supplant amongst the current batch of forwards? Who would you sit in favor of St. Louis? The more I think of it, the less it seems to make sense. But I have to admit, the idea of a veteran forward with his level of playoff experience is very appealing and could prove an excellent resource for this group next season. (Update: A moot point, he just announced his retirement today. That takes care of that.)

As for in-bound players, other than restocking the Sound Tigers, we have a new back-up goalie. Thomas Greiss, previously of the Penguins was signed yesterday to a 2-year deal. He played 20 games last year with a 9-6-3 record, .908 save percentage, and a 2.59 GAA. Eh, I would have preferred Neuvirth personally, especially as he signed a similar contract with the Flyers. He seemed to have more upside and probably would have been a better option were we to run in to any serious issues with Jaro next season.

Alright, finally, who’s back:

Thomas Hickey signed this week. 3-year deal worth 6.6 million. I like it, he may not be a fan-favorite, but he is steady and reliable and just fine as a 5/6 D-guy. Who were we replacing him with anyway?

Anders Lee also signed this week! 4-years, 15 million smackeroos. This does make me very happy, first you can’t spell Islanders without A-N-D-E-R-S. Second, I really love his play. Third, during the fisherman jersey game this year I had the opportunity to watch warm-ups from the penalty box. Most interesting moment was actually watching Jaro stretch and do some moves in front of the box. Damn that man has powerful legs, you don’t realize how those goalies move until you see it up close like that. Anyway, at one point Anders Lee slides on over to the box, picks up a puck with his stick, and I kid you not, looks right at me and signals “hey, you want it?” and I’m like looking around and like “who me?” and he’s like “yeah, you want it” and I nod my head yes and he flips the puck over at me. My mind of course ran to all the wrong places with this over the next several weeks, but what fun it has been, and what intoxicating eyes! Anyway, so glad he’s back 🙂

Anders Lee - Brad Penner - USA Today Sports

So, what’s most likely to happen the remainder of this summer?

I do think the Islanders are going to make a big move this summer. Mostly because of the Barclays Center contract. I felt that way last summer for the same reason, and it certainly panned out as expected. Remember, Barclays is paying a LOT of money for the Islanders to play in Brooklyn. It came out earlier this year that the venue was being looked at for a potential purchase – but the Islanders contract was of concern to the possible suitors. Apparently the risk of Barclays Center losing money on this deal is fairly significant if those reports are to be believed. The only way to minimize that risk is to make sure those seats are filled and that interest in the team is high. Getting off to a good start is critical, and without a doubt the only way to do so is to have a legitimate contender in the building, and one cannot overlook the impact a big signing or trade can have at generating interest/headlines in a product which is what this building sells. With the Nets a likely mess next season, this amplifies the importance of the Islanders having a successful first season. The pressures on this team are new, it’s no longer a question of survival, it’s now a question of making an impact which generates interest in the team in a new, highly competitive market. For that reason alone, I expect the Isles to make another big move before this season gets underway.

As for a relatively quiet free agency for us thus far this season, Arthur Staple rightly, and repeatedly had to remind Isles fans this past week on Twitter that the Islanders do not tend to spend up to the cap ceiling, they have an internal budget. It’s really a testament to the turn-around in fortunes of this team that we can so easily forget that. But he is so right, and it really does pay to stop and ponder what cap-space for contracts this year means a few years down the road. It is fairly obvious that Garth Snow is not going to blow up his long-term strategy for this team and ruin his ability to meet salary obligations 3-5 years from now by signing up to the cap for immediate benefit this season. I tend to think those internal budget numbers are going to be in flux these first few seasons of new ownership and tenancy in Barclays Center, but Art’s point is well taken.

In other news:

1. John Spano is going back to prison for ten years. What a fascinating little conman this guy is. He’s almost like a Woody Allen movie character, kind of reminds me of Zelig.

Barclays Center Roof - Chris Ryan - The Architect's Newspaper2. Work on the new Islanders locker room at the Barclays Center is underway.

3. The Blue & White Scrimmage will take place at Barclays Center on July 8th at 7pm. A great opportunity to feel a part of the hockey world again, get a look at Michael Dal Colle, Joshua Ho-Sang, and the other prospects making their way up the depth charts. It will also be a good opportunity to get a look at the seating arrangement at the Barclays Center if you haven’t already done so. This is well worth the trip as your seat location is probably more critical in this building than in any other in the NHL. Tickets are only $10 and it’s hockey in July, what’s not to love?

4. If you are thinking about signing up for full-season tickets and don’t want to spend a small fortune to sit in the lower bowl, then you had better move fast. If I’m reading this availability chart right, the upper bowl looks as if it is getting close to being sold out. I just signed up for mine officially and it appeared as if there were perhaps 100 seats left in the upper bowl in reasonable locations. Barclays did announce this past week that they had passed the 8,000 season-ticket subscriber threshold. An intriguing mix of City and Island fans will be found in that building next year for certain.

5. If you haven’t seen the roof on Barclay’s Center recently, it’s a site to behold. The pic at the top of this post was actually shot from the roof, and here is another view of the Green Roof. I’ve seen it in person, and it’s quite impressive. BC Roof - Atlantic Yards Webcam

6. According to Arthur Staple of Newsday, John Tavares will not be on the cover of NHL ’16

7. Also, on the NHL ’16 front, Sparky the Dragon will be there as will the Yes! Yes! Yes! goal chant. I am wondering however which arena will be used. The renders on NHL ’15 of the arenas were very impressive, and the Coliseum looked just about perfect. I’m wondering how they would use Barclays and get the building accurately rendered based upon two pre-season games played there thus far. Heck, the banners didn’t even go up until very recently.

Sparky - Sam Hodgson - NY Times8. Oh yeah, and on the issue of banners; A major thumbs-down to Barclays Center for their decision to not hang the Division and Conference championship banners earned by the Islanders at Barclays Center. As fans, it is going to be important to us not to feel like second class citizens in our own building, and seeing those banners meant a lot. It told the history of this team, and frankly they were damn impressive to see in all their glory at the Coliseum. I hope this ends up being reconsidered. Perhaps it will, but only if the fans make noise about it.

On a personal note, if this post is up and showing on the PuckBuddys site, then first let me thank Craig and Doug for the opportunity to write on their site. I find it really exciting to write about this upcoming season for the Isles as it is such a season of transition for the team. It’s also so fantastic to connect with a fellow community of Gay hockey fans and I hope to find out there are a few Isles fans who will say hello. Some of the info I’ve covered here is pretty standard news that any self-respect Isles fan may already know, but as a first post I wanted to cover everything – so forgive me any “yeah, we already knew that” moments please 🙂

Any feedback on this post would be greatly appreciated so that if I have the opportunity to post here again, I can perfect my own writing process (this is my first attempt at writing about hockey – so forgive my style. I write as an observer and as a fan, I’m certainly no expert).

Finally…… is it October yet???

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