The Islanders play in Atlanta tonight (meanwhile, Rhett Rakhshani rakhed up four points in the AHL All-Star Game last night). Jack Capuano described the significance of the remaining schedule for coaches and players:
"We have 33 games left to see what we can do here to motivate guys and how we play. For the players, there are a lot of teams that are watching and our management is watching. There are a lot of people watching our guys. So it’s a very important stretch for everyone."
Indeed. On that note, I polled our Lighthouse Hockey staffers for their thoughts on the first half, and what to look for in the final 33. The first answer was unanimous, but dissension broke out after that. A few commenters took yesterday's schedule overview/power rankings post to offer their thoughts and hopes for the second half. This post is a good opportunity to continue that, either using the roundtable questions below or expounding on your own questions. So agree, differ or quibble at your leisure...
1. Who was your biggest surprise of the 1st half?
David Hanssen: Michael Grabner. Another gem pick-up on the waiver wire by Garth. Who knows what his long term role with the team is, but he's been the perfect even strength foil on Frans' wing. Considering he usually gets under 14 minutes a game as well, his production has been very good for someone Florida gave up on.
Keith Quinn: Grabner. Not only is he scoring (mostly at even strength), he seems like a great team guy, pro-media, accessible and funny. His performance in the fastest skater may help to get the Isles some positive press for a change. Snow continues to make some excellent decisions with his waiver pick-ups. Honorable mention to P.A. Parenteau.
Doug (IslesOfficial): The speed demon himself: Michael Grabner. How do you quantify a waiver wire pick up that has 15 goals and is the fastest skater in the entire league? To paraphrase Frans Nielsen, Grabner's had about 20 breakaways that he HAS NOT scored on. Imagine if he pots those. He'd have 35 goals on a team in the bottom 3 of the league. Certainly not a bad thing considering the boy is only 23. Garth Snow deserves a pat on the back for being astute enough to pick up Dale Tallon's table scraps.
Nearly tied with Grabner for biggest surprise would have to be Travis Hamonic. During the Rookie Camp and at the beginning of training camp, Travis was very confident that despite there being 6 NHL d-men already on the team he was ready to make the jump and make an impact. Even though he didn't crack the lineup for opening night, his subsequent call-up and success at the NHL level is the quintessential affirmation of the scouting staff's ability to pick elite talent.
mikb: Michael Grabner. Remember, this guy got tossed from Western Canada to sunny South Florida and then, waived, is picked up by a franchise slowly recovering after a long, tough time - one whose reputation has yet to catch up to reality within the hockey media - and he not only plays terrific hockey, he becomes a big part of the team and a favorite personality. He could have sulked; instead he played. He's turned himself into a really big part of the turnaround in what could have been a totally lost season.
WebBard: It would have to be Grabner. Two teams don't give up on a first rounder for no reason. I can't believe that all the Panthers wanted for Keith Ballard was a first rounder and a Vet who averages 20-30 points a season.
Michael Schuerlein (Islesblogger): I am going to stick with the popular pick and say Grabner.
When Grabs was picked up on waivers, the only thing I knew about him was that he was a former first round selection and he was YOUNG. When I read a little about him, I realized that he was one of the players dealt to Florida at the draft - I remember hearing his name live! (I don't recall what I was doing - likely staring off into space or yelling something over to Greg Wyshinski as I mashed away at my keyboard and furiously Tweeted randomness).
As an Islanders fan I briefly panicked (when he was claimed) because two teams had already given up on this player. But then I remembered Garth Snow's track record for such claims and thought he was worth the shot. Oh, but then I saw him skate...
He's got speed, he's young and he has the skill to be a great player with the New York Islanders. At the tender age of 23 years old, he has time to grow both physically and mentally. Like Doug said, he's missed on some breakaways, but imagine if he finds his scoring touch?
2. Who was your biggest disappointment?
David Hanssen: The injuries. Man, this whole snake-bitten thing is getting old especially on the blueline. An NHL team should never have to dress Dylan Reese but with significant time out from Streit, Mottau, Eaton, Jurcina and MacDonald, that's going to happen. There's hope on the horizon, but now it sucks and sucks mightily.
Keith Quinn: The Wiz, hands down. I know our 3rd line has been erratic, and folks here have some problems with them, but they are young and have always been streaky. I had some high hopes for the man, but Anaheim Calling advertised James Wisniewski perfectly, except for the fact that they thought we would love his hitting and his abrasive edge and protection of teammates. He showed very little of any of those. The Wiz had about 4 plays that were memorable to me, and one got him suspended. Sure he had a bunch of points, but most were hollow.
Doug (IslesOfficial): For someone who started the first handful of games with 7 points and looking like a total rockstar, Josh Bailey has certainly fallen to Earth a bit. I don't want to bash on Bails too much as he's always treated everyone around him with respect and is a great teammate, but since his demotion/call-up it seems as though he's allowing his linemates (Blake Comeau and Rob Schremp Hockey) to dictate how he approaches the game. Without a doubt, Josh is a playmaker and has not been working hard enough to get to the puck first in the offensive zone and/or back-checking hard enough on the defensive end. It's either time to break up his line or throw him back at center to get him more involved. If he doesn't pick it up, I'll have to consider this a lost season of development for the young forward.
mikb: James Wisniewski. Sort of an anti-Grabner, actually. Not that he played terribly, but he was not the defenseman that the fans, the team, or even he was expecting.
WebBard: This is tough, offensively I'd have to say Blake Comeau. Even though he's tied for second in scoring with PA Parenteau, while Parenteau helps JT play better, Comeau seems to be weighing down Josh Bailey with his play. Comeau should finish the season with more points then last (again) but it'll be interesting to see if the Isles can't upgrade on him.
Honorable Mention: James Wisniewski, Mark Eaton, Mike Mottau. Eaton is a guy that Pittsburgh Penguins fans gush about, apparently for no reason, Mottau was at least playing through injury, and Wiz was probably asked to do too much. Still, it seems like one of the few offseason mistakes was taking all three of these guys and letting Freddy Meyer IV leave. Mottau and Eaton still have next season to prove what they can do, but it's not looking pretty.
Michael Schuerlein (Islesblogger): Without a doubt James Wisniewski. I interviewed James over the summer and he really talked the talk. I thought Garth Snow had done it again, by stealing Wiz for a third rounder. He looked like he would jump out of the gate paired with Streit in the intra-squad scrimmage - but we know what happened there.
As much as The Wiz started scoring on the power play, his offense fizzled, he amassed a horrible plus/minus and was just a lethargic liability on the ice. I felt he waited WAY too long to shoot the puck and just looked out of place without a supporting cast around him. I'm glad he's found success up in Montreal, I just don't envy him once (and they will) Les Habitants turn on him.
3. The Islanders are in 29th overall, with 37 points (2 over NJD, 1 below EDM, 5 below OTT). What place do they finish in overall, and about how many points?
Hanssen: 28th, somewhere between 70-75 points.
Quinn: I do think the Isles will go on a bit of a run toward the end of the season as their injuries heal and they start to gel. That being said, that run will leave them in 25th place with 82 pts.
Doug: We're Islanders fans. WHO CARES?! I just want them to compete and not look like a complete AHL team out there. If they win a few and keep the team-building going then I consider that to be a successful season. I say they finish in the bottom 3 with around 75 points.
mikb: I think they get to 65 points, and pass one of the teams ahead of them.
WebBard: Same as last year, anywhere from 27th to 25th. Hopefully they can get into the 70s point wise again.
Schuerlein: Well, realistically it depends on the health of our veteran defense and Rick DiPietro. Should some of the injured d-men return in Streit and Jurcina - I think it's possible to steal points in 15-18 games here down the stretch, leaving the Islanders towards the front to middle of the bottom five. It's tough to predict that type of stuff with so many variables I'm afraid.
Dominik: I'll give them 33 more points in 33 remaining games, for 70 on the year and 27th place.
4. Given that position, who will they draft in June?
Hanssen: Top 3 pick, man if they're not in a position to pick Adam Larsson, I don't know what to do. I don't like Landeskog and I just don't think Courtier, or Nugent-Hopkins are worth a top 3 pick. I like Joel Armia of Assat in Finland, but at top 3 he might be a bit of a stretch there.
Quinn: I'm no draft guru, but given where I think the Isles will finish, the pick won't be worth spending. I think they will either trade it with a player as a package for an impact veteran, or trade back and pick Hamilton or another big project D man.
Doug: I'd have to go with either Sean Couterier or Gabriel Landeskog. Both are sizable forwards with good hands and speed. Another piece of the puzzle that will push guys like Blake Comeau to maybe play with a little heart.
mikb: Tough one. Larsson will probably come off the board first or second. I think they have their choice of Landeskog or Nugent-Hopkins, and take Landeskog.
WebBard: With it being a weak draft, I still wouldn't be surprised if they packaged the pick for a player or traded down. There's a lot of flexibility as they seemed to trade a lot of the picks last season for picks this year.
Schuerlein: Tavares needs all the help he can get, but at the same time the Islanders sorely need a number one defenseman. That said, you never know when Garth will pull the trigger on a veteran or young defenseman (See Ty Wishart) so I'd be looking for a Sean Couterier or Gabriel Landeskog if they grab a forward - or Adam Larsson on D.
Dominik: Just as all defensemen are inhuman destroyers of fun, all prospects are just snot-nosed kids until they're scoring goals, preferably for the Isles. So Larsson, I guess.
5. Of the following players, who will still be Islanders in December 2011? Blake Comeau, P.A. Parenteau, Rob Schremp, Radek Martinek
Hanssen: Schremp and PA. Comeau is gone this off season and I can honestly see Martinek going back to the Czech Republic at the end of the season. Remember, he will be 35 at the start of next season and he might just want to call it a career in the NHL and go back and play at home the rest of his career.
Quinn: Will or should? I think there is a very good chance that all of these guys will be back with PA Parenteau being the most likely (if it's up to the Isles). Schremp and Comeau will be going toe to toe the rest of the season for the crown of must frustrating Islander...loser leaves. Radek "when healthy" Martinek should be signed for depth, as long as finances allow, but he should have bonuses at 40, 50 & 60 games. I say give him 2 billion if he gets to 70, because it will never happen!
Doug: Of those who know me, The Blake Comeau Experiment has come to an end in my opinion. I say sell high while he's scoring goals and cut ties to a player who really isn't part of the core group.
mikb: In order of likelihood of staying: Martinek, Comeau, Parenteau, and Schremp. I think the Isles will be loyal and find a way to keep Radek if he's affordable, and let him retire an Islander. Comeau represents an investment, and I don't see them cutting bait just yet. Parenteau has the edge over Schremp in that he's a wing (a thinner position), and Schremp not only doesn't want to play wing, but can sometimes go missing in his own end. Yes, it's not his game - but it needs to be if he's going to stay.
WebBard: Martinek had better be back, the Islanders can never have enough defenseman. Parenteau seems to have a good thing going with JT. It'll be interesting to see what they do long term with KO back. Schremp is probably on the fence, but I'd be surprised if they didn't bring him back. Comeau hopefully is traded, but they might bring him back just because he continues to improve his point totals.
Schuerlein: You really ask some tough questions, Dom! Depending on who is signed as a UFA, Martinek may be extended. I've seen enough of him the last few years to know he's a heck of a lot better for the Islanders than Bruno Gervais and Dylan Reese. Schremp needs work, but I am not sure the Isles are ready to end the experiment, Parenteau is likely gone - we cannot have him paired with Tavares anymore. Comeau I would say gets another shot as well.
6. On that note, will this trade deadline be active for Garth Snow, or has he already fired his bullets in Roloson and Wisniewski?
Hanssen: I can see him doing some minor moves, like if someone showed interest in Hillen or Comeau for the right price. Maybe some minor shuffling down in Bridgeport to improve their chances of making the playoffs.
Quinn: I don't think Snow will be too active. I can see some free agent signings for Bridgeport or minor deals for depth, but unless some team makes a bonehead move, most of our players are worth more to us now than the return we could get.
Doug: Any activity might happen with the aforementioned players but I think the team that restarts on Tuesday after the All-Star break will be the team that finishes (with the addition or not of Mark Streit) the season.
mikb: I'd be surprised to see any major moves. We don't really have vets that other teams would want right now. I don't think he'd get all that much for some of the younger enigmas, not worth it to move them.
WebBard: He probably fired his bullets in Rollie and Wiz, but there's enough guys on the team with expiring contracts that he might be active.
Schuerlein: By signing Moulson to a three year contract extension, Snow has taken one of his final chips off the table. The Isles just don't too many other players that will interest a contender, unless they are blown away with an offer for Konopka I doubt that he's moved. He's become a leader with Weight all but retired. Maybe they deal Gillies for a spare fifth rounder?
Dominik: His shiny bullets are gone, but I don't think he's completely done. I figure something minor will exchange hands at the deadline. Or if they decide they don't want to qualify an RFA, they'll dangle him like Bergenheim last March.
7. In 46 games, John Tavares has 18 goals, 18 assists, 36 points. Assuming health, what will his final 2010-11 figures be?
Hanssen: 30-35 goals, 25-30 assists for a 55-65 point total. Not Stamkos second year numbers, but pretty good considering the talent surrounding him.
Quinn: Seriously? I'll not be responsible for hurting John Tavares...your move Dom.
Doug: Really strong and fairly consistent season from JT. I think he's worth 30 goals and somewhere in the range of 35 assists for a total of 65 points. He's made so many great strides in strength (upper and lower body) and faceoffs that I'm more psyched that he's truly begun to round out into a complete player, that I have no doubt the scoring will pick up with greater frequency next year and beyond because of the space he's creating for himself.
mikb: I think he finishes 33-43-76. Unless I assume Islanders health, in which case he'll finish with 14 concussions and 12 teeth. NOTE - THIS IS NOT A PR*JECTI*N.
WebBard: Really hoping he can hit 70 points by the end of the season. Of course I'm biased because I had predicted him reaching 71, I had also predicted the team finishing with 97 points. I think 71 considering his linemates is a pretty good total for his second year.
Schuerlein: I'm no mathlete - but I will play it safe here and say 32 goals 36 assists for 68 points. That's an increase of 12 goals and 6 assists over last season for those keeping score at home.
Dominik: I'm already in trouble for asking what looks an awful lot like a pr*j*cti*n question, so I cannot in good conscience answer it.
8. The Matt Moulson contract at 3 years, $9.4 million: Better or worse than you expected? And too much/too long, or just right?
Hanssen: Moulson's contract is about what I expected. I like the length too, three years is just right in case he winds up going all Mark Parrish at 29-30 years old and sees a significant drop in his performance.
Quinn: Perfect! I think Matty Mo gave us a bit of a discount, and Snow gave him a bit of a longer term than he's comfortable with. But I love it for both sides.
Doug: I swear to everything that is holy, had they traded Matt away I would have personally marched my ass down to the Executive Offices and demanded why. There is no better teammate than Matt Moulson. Snow should be extremely proud of himself for picking Moulson up via free agency two years ago and then completing the perfect contract extension based on Matt's performance. For those who haven't realized, the reason the contract is not longer is due to the fact that the lease with Nassau County for the Coliseum ends after the 2014-2015 season. No matter. This is right guy in the right place and on the right team.
mikb: Better than expected, and just right. A+ move for the team.
WebBard: I was all for whatever it took to sign him, so I'm happily content. Hopefully the team is good enough by the time he's an FA again that he wants to stick with a winner. Remember, his brother in law is Johnathon Quick.
Schuerlein: Better than I had expected. I knew Moulson was due a raise, we didn't overpay by any means and kept a happy player, happy. That's a win in my book.
Dominik: Better than expected. Each side risked a bit and gained a bit. Sort of how it's supposed to work.
9. Complete the following statements: Doug Weight is so old, _______. Michael Grabner is so fast, ________.
Hanssen: Doug Weight is so old, his idea of a composite stick is an Atl-Atl
Michael Grabner is so fast, Usain Bolt wants tips on how to be that fast.
Quinn: Doug Weight is so old, he retired 3 months ago.
Michael Grabner is so fast, he didn't have to draft behind Taylor Hall's teeth to win fastest skater.
Doug: Doug Weight is so old, Old Man Winter decided to punish Long Island for Doug's impersonation of him at a cheesy sweater Christmas party with more snow than we've seen in more than a decade.
Michael Grabner is so fast, he was able to get me Chinese from downtown Shanghai, stop a meteor from hitting the Earth and still have enough time and energy left to beat that goofy-looking bastard Taylor Hall in a fastest skating contest not once, but twice at the Super Skills Competition at the RBC Center in Raleigh Saturday night.
mikb: Doug Weight is so old, he still thinks talking pictures are just a fad.
Michael Grabner is so fast, he accidentally went back in time during warmups and picked up an assist on Bossy's 500th goal.
WebBard: Doug Weight is so old, he remembers when real cowboys roamed the plains
Michael Grabner is so fast, he laughs during his breakaway chances
Schuerlein: Doug Weight is so old, even his back still uses Sherwood PMP 5030.
Michael Grabner is so fast, that's not pixelation - the cameras are just too slow to record Grabner in real-time.
Dominik: Doug Weight is so old, he was alive when you began reading this post.
Michael Grabner is so fast, he makes Lacey Underall look like the biggest prude in Caddyshack.
10. Finally, what question did I leave out? (Now answer it.)
Hanssen: Scott Gordon or Jack Capuano and Why?
His answer: Cap. He's shown flexibility in his system that Gordon didn't and I think he's on to something using video and advanced statistics in his teaching and strategy. I think he has the potential to be a very good NHL coach long term. Sorry Gordo.
Quinn: What do you think is responsible for our injury problems both here and at Bridgeport over the last 2-3 seasons?
His answer: I really have no idea, but I can't help but feel like the training/medical/conditioning staff needs a once over. This can't be just poor luck anymore. Bring in a shaman immediately, and if things don't improve, we'll know!
Doug: Is time to hand over the captaincy to either Mark Streit or Kyle Okposo considering Doug Weight's absence on the ice these past two seasons?
His answer:It's been that time since Dougie got here. Teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins have handed the captaincy to players in their early 20's and they've both managed to win Stanley Cups. Not solely based on the captains but it certainly helped to know that there was at least a chance the captain would be on the ice for more than 53 games a season. I think Kyle Okposo has earned his stripes as a young leader of this team and should be bestowed with the captaincy at either the end of this season or the beginning of training camp in September.
mikb: How long does it take for Kevin Poulin to take over the starting goaltending job?
His answer: ... I say that, barring injury, he won't do it next year, but in 2012-13, he is going to be ready to challenge, and by the year after, he will surpass DiPietro, regardless of whether he regains his pre-injury form.
WebBard: Should Islander fans expect a playoff team next year?
His answer: If the team can stay healthy, pick up a scoring winger, along with the continued improvement of MacDonald/Hamonic and competent play of Eaton/Mottau, then they should be good enough for at least 8th seed. I just don't think the two teams fighting for the 8th seed right now (Atlanta, Carolina) are that much better then the Isles.
Michael Schuerlein: For the second time in three seasons, the Islanders lead the league in man games lost to injury. Is it the result of bad luck or something more? What can be done to move past this?
His answer: I know the obvious and easy thing here is to blame the training staff, but I don't think that's the problem. It all boils down to the way a player conditions himself in the off season and WHO he works out with when not with the training staff. Having worked with Jesse Demers personally this summer, he's way too thorough to overwork a players joints and muscles. Perhaps mandating what a player does in the off season SHOULD help....or perhaps the team just needs an exorcism.
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Dominik: Since I, uh, did ask the other nine questions, I won't be adding any more. Thanks to everyone for taking the time for this -- both writers and readers. Readers, weigh in on any of the above.