It's time to lay these out before the Tavares/Hedman speculation goes into faster pussycat overdrive. Tough to pick "winners" after a 30th-place finish when only two players (Mark Streit and Richard Park) managed to play even 70 games. But we'll give it a shot.
I delayed writing this post when James Mirtle polled the SBN hockey blogs last week for their team-specific end-of-year awards -- mainly because I was busy but also because I thought it might be fun to reflect on my picks a few games later, after the season was officially over and no disaster befell any of my picks.
Well, I suppose it wasn't a disaster, but the amount of goals allowed in the final week of the season did no favors to any of these "recipients." Frans Nielsen went from +3 to -4 on the season in the final 12 games, and in Yann Danis' final 8 starts, he had three games with a sub-.800 save % and three more below .900.
Anyway here we are, and most of these "awards" remain pretty obvious, so I won't belabor the easy ones. But a few are worth debating -- and either way they're jumping off points for thinking about what the Islanders need next.
So without further ado, Lighthouse Hockey's first-ever Islanders-specific end-of-season awards. Let me know what you think:
Islanders Norris/Hart: Mark Streit
|2008-09 Mark Streit||74||16||40||56||6||62||10||1||1||1||150||10.7|
It will be interesting to see if Streit gets any low-placed votes in the real Norris competition. It's inconceivable for a last place team's best blueliner to win the trophy, but as the far and away best Islander this season and key cog to any of their victories, he deserves a look.
Streit played the most games, led the team in scoring, keyed the power play whenever it was running well, showed an increasing level of locker room leadership that has Bill Guerin saying he should be the next captain, and turned Bruno Gervais into a passable upper-pair defenseman. There's no contest here, other than guessing just how freaking lucky we are that Garth Snow inked him to an affordable long-term deal.
For the same reasons, Streit easily gets our team Hart nod.
Islanders Selke: Frans Nielsen
|2008-09 - Frans Nielsen||59||9||24||33||-4||18||3||1||2||0||101||8.9|
This is the one that might take some explaining -- both because of the controversial nature of defining a defensive forward and because Nielsen is still a bit under the radar.
But if you imagined a future where John Tavares is your #1 center and the increasingly Oates-like-passer Josh Bailey is your #2, then Frans Nielsen makes a damn fine #3. Nielsen continues to exude hockey sense mixed with a little offensive flair -- a great boost over the uncertain prospect we saw in limited time under Ted Nolan last season.
Some reasons for calling him our mini-Selke:
- His Corsi rating was second-highest on among Islanders team (behind only Trent Hunter) and he was one of only three full-time Islanders (Streit was the third) to actually finish "plus" in Corsi for the season, at 1.5. [What's Corsi? It's actually fairly simple -- basically shots-dependent +/- rather than goal-dependent, so it's both more data and less dependent on how good/bad your goalie is. Check this profile of the stat's namesake at FlamesNation for more.]
- Among Islanders forwards, Nielsen was tied for fourth in GF/GA per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, while not always playing with scoring forwards like those above him.
- Although Kyle Okposo is the most exciting penalty killer in terms of shorthanded chances and general irriation of opponents, Nielsen is far and above the best regular penalty killing forward in terms of +/- relative to the rest of the team. If you're not appreciating his hockey smarts, you might want to watch him more closely next season.
- He led the team in Penalty +/- at +12, taking only six penalties while drawing 18. (Yes, Brendan Witt was worst, taking 21 while drawing eight.)
In short, whether Nielsen increases his scoring output or not, the Islanders have a nice little gem on their hands who has been compared to Ulf Dahlen.
Islanders Calder: Kyle Okposo
|2008-09 - Kyle Okposo||65||18||21||39||-6||36||9||0||3||0||165||10.9|
Another no-brainer, Okposo had both more games and better stats than 2008 first-round pick Josh Bailey. Became the leading goal scorer after the trade of captain Bill Guerin. Okposo was likely helped by his trial run last season -- but also by Scott Gordon talking to him 15 games into this season to remind him that he should do more than just be happy to be here. As Gordon has said, the improvement was immediate. He's an exciting force out there who wants the puck and is hard to knock off of it. Unanimously, opposing observers praised two Islanders this season: Streit and Okposo.
Islanders Vezina: Yann Danis
|2008-09 Yann Danis||31||1760||10||17||3||1||84||2.86||933||849||.910||2|
|2008-09 Joey MacDonald||49||2792||14||26||6||7||157||3.37||1584||1427||.901||1|
Haha, now that's funny. There was a period where Danis -- who couldn't seemed to buy a start from Gordon early in the season -- carried the reins and had Gordon talking about him playing "like a #1." At the same time, it's worth noting Gordon repeatedly said what they were missing this season was a "real #1" in Rick DiPietro -- and I don't think that was just excuses.
Danis at times was brilliant; hell, Joey MacDonald at times was brilliant (Joey's November and his 40-save shutout in Detroit come to mind). But particularly in the waning weeks, when you figure both were making their last arguments for NHL contracts, both disappointed.
Still, Danis had the better stats, the better overall performances, and looked observationally to be the more capable goalie. By default, he gets the nod here.
'Good Guy' Award: Doug Weight
This isn't my nomination -- it's that of the Islanders media scrum (which is Newsday's Greg Logan and ... who, exactly?). But I agree with it so much, I wanted to mention it again here. As Logan explained it:
To say that Doug Weight "gets it" in terms of media relations is an understatement. There actually are lots of "good guys" on this Islanders team and throughout the NHL in general. It's a sport in which the athletes understand their responsibility to promote the game and their franchise. But Weight especially recognizes the importance of the media as a connection to the interests of the fans, which is why he is so deserving of this award.
So freaking true. Shout it from the rooftops. If only GM Garth Snow "got it" pertaining to this part of the job. We fans are your constituents and your revenue. We depend on information and trust. Our continued support depends on you maintaining a level of credibility both in on-ice actions and in off-ice promotion and communication. The less of what you say that seems credible or forthright, the sillier we feel for spending time and money supporting what you do. Don't abuse us. Tell it like it is. We can handle it.
In the latest instance, Snow declines (again) to discuss the specifics of the health of franchise goalie Rick DiPietro -- the guy we're supposed to subscribe to hitching our hopes for the next 12 years. This is understandably a touchy subject for Snow -- but it's also a touchy subject for fans. We're supposed to not worry that he was recently seen on crutches, we're supposed to believe he'll be skating in August, and we're supposed to believe that by training camp he'll be ready. I don't give a damn if it's uncertain (it is) when he'll be ready again -- just let us know, up front.
Yashin Memorial Scapegoat Award: Mike Comrie
|2008-09 - Mike Comrie||63||10||17||27||-15||32||2||0||1||0||121||8.3|
(Stats are combined Ottawa/Long Island)
To the guy who had off-season hip surgery and rarely looked right nor interested afterward. Part of it was the rehab, I'm sure. But part of it was the tepid level of interest that fans are used to seeing from Comrie. It's true that it's harsh to criticize a player who underperforms while playing through injured. But it's also true that when a player insists he's fine and keeps playing on, we take him at his word and judge him accordingly.
Apparently some celebrity girl he dates made his time here worthwhile. Meh, in my book, leave Hollywood to Hollywood, and hockey to hockey.
McCabe 'One Who Got Away' Award: Chris Campoli
|2008 - Chris Campoli||76||11||19||30||-16||55||2||1||4||1||91||12.1|
(Combined Ottawa/Long Island stats)
We'd been through so much together, watching Campoli and Bruno grow up as undersized Islanders blueliners. They weren't the future, exactly, but they were the fun-to-have, competent present.
But Campoli tired of being overlooked for Streit, Weight and -- most recently -- Okposo on the power play point. He became a "bad apple" in Gordon's words. He asked out. We don't sorely miss him yet, but he did fine finishing out the season in Ottawa. I'm sure he'll hurt us one day, if only just a little.
New Villain Award: New Jersey's Mike Mottau
For taking out Nielsen and disrupting his development, on a night when Nielsen was the best Islander on the ice. Fans and Islanders announcers still call for some form of frontier justice for Mottau, but I'm not sure they're ever going to get it.
There you have it. If you made it this far, you really are a glutton for Islanders hockey. Nothing earth-shattering, but not much can be expected out of a 30th-place season other than some bright spots like Streit, Okposo and Nieslen.
Comments? Disagreements? Thoughts on who will deserve these nods next year? We're all ears...