Some random notes, followed by a review of Garth Snow's must-read comments to Greg Logan about the state of the Islanders...
- While the league has hyped Patrick Roy's number retirement all week, I'm far more moved by #17 being honored in Toronto (Why are they on the same day, exactly?). For one, Roy has long gotten his due in many ways, including the Hall of Fame hoopla. But players like Clark -- who are great but not in the Hall of Fame (largely to playing so hard his body went on strike), and who capture the hearts of fans with something beyond technical skill and (warranted) cocky confidence -- those are the kinds of legends that make grown men cry as they pass stories on to their kids. Pension Plan Puppets and friends in the house of Leaf worship are naturally giddy (and finding the room suddenly dusty).
Clark was only briefly on a very poor Islanders team -- and I can't bear to leave the logo he wore unaltered -- but man, the team struggles had zilch to do with him: 58GP, 24G, 19A. When the Thomas/Clark/Lemieux three-way went down, I cannot describe how thrilled I was that Clark, and not Claude, would be an Islander. Long before that, Clark was simply a beast in the 1980s Norris Division battles I watched from St. Louis. Like Patrick (and every division's) rivalries back then, you simply hated -- hated -- the other teams' stars. But Clark's no-nonsense ferocity was merely feared, respected and (quietly) admired.
- Great bit with 6'8" Mitch Fritz's callup to the Isles: He'll get to see his "little" brother Luke (only 6'6", 300) in the Grey Cup in Montreal.
- The Canadiens' power play is still struggling without Mark Streit. Meanwhile, GM Bob Gainey is again chasing the guy Clark was first dealt for.
- While Brendan Witt returns to the lineup tonight, Mike Sillinger returns to action in a rehab stint with Bridgeport. Quoth Sillinger, 37: "Do I feel great? I don't think I'll ever feel great anymore. But I feel good." Getting old sucks.
Finally, Greg Logan reports quite a bit of Garth Snow's thoughts on the club's philosophy and direction thus far. They bear further examination:
On the type of player the team now wants for Scott Gordon's system:
"Hockey sense, skill, speed, but to tell you the truth, in this system, I don't think speed plays as big a role as hockey sense does. There are players on this team who don't skate that fast, but they play fast and that's the result of having a good hockey mind more than it is quick feet."
Nice goal, if you can properly scout it. But it is true of Gordon's system. Prime example: Trent Hunter, who's no speedster but who oozes hockey sense and is off to a very nice start indeed.
Lots on the team's direction and individual performance so far:
"I think we're headed in the right direction, and we're just going to get better as the season goes on and as players gain confidence in this system. I think we're on the right track. The games we played well, whether it was 40 minutes or 60 minutes, it was because we executed Scott's system. When we deviated from the system is when we had lapses in our game. It's clear as day when you watch video."
It's the party line, but I have to say I agree. Before this three-game win streak, you could see game-by-game progress in the Isles' adaptation of a single, cohesive style. The question was when they would get there -- and stick with it for 60 minutes. Now the question is if they can sustain it, and if it wears them out (or provides that as an excuse) in the coming 6 games in 9 days.
"I think the great part of our organization now is that both teams are playing the same system, and the communication between Scott and Jack [Capuano, Sound Tigers coach] has been great. Jack is working not only with Blake [Comeau, buried in Bridgeport after a nice season last year] but with everyone in Bridgeport to get the system down. That should lead to a seamless transition when a player gets called up."
Hallelujah. Any holdouts -- in national media, mostly -- can stop crying about Ted Nolan now.
"I know Jeff [Tambellini]'s frustrated that he doesn't have a goal yet. I'm sure it's wearing on him, but he's done a lot of positives in the games he's played. Look at his linemates. Trent Hunter and Frans Nielsen have had terrific starts, and Jeff Tambellini has played on that line. He's helping his linemates by getting in on the forecheck and putting pressure on the defenseman to make a quicker decision with the puck. Hey, Jeff knows he's here to score goals."
Says the guy who signed Tambellini to a multi-year, one-way deal. I agree Tambellini has done some positive things, but those are starting to look like the positive things of a "responsible forward" rather than a goalscorer. Still, I'll wait till the New Year to form my own judgment.
On center Frans Nielsen: "I see him becoming more and more confident. He's been terrific in the last three games we've won. He's got great vision, and he's a solid two-way player. Obviously, he's fast, and he makes his linemates better."
Yes, yes, yes! What a revelation Nielsen has been. His confidence has seemed to grow this year with his playing time. He keeps making plays that surprise you. Fantasy owners, take note.
On Mike Comrie, who has struggled with the system and in bouncing back from summer hip surgery:
"It's probably more difficult, not just for Mike, but for a lot of the older guys. This is a new approach to hockey. The biggest obstacle with a system like this is getting the older players to buy in because they're used to playing a certain way. I think Mike probably is battling his injury that he had surgery on. It's been a tough obstacle for him to overcome the rehab and getting back to feeling the way he felt at the beginning of last year."
In other words: "Buyer Beware" to any club who's hoping to poach the UFA Comrie. Alternatively: "No really, you want him, he's just not healthy -- yet."
On the possibility of trades involving veterans in the final year of their deals, such as Comrie, Sillinger, Guerin and Weight: "It's too far in advance to give you a concrete answer. The performance of the older players will determine whether or not they're Islanders next year or the year after. We'll see."
I'm most intrigued by how this one will play out. I think it's safe to say that, even if the Isles are in the hunt, they won't be -- or shouldn't be -- buyers at the trade deadline. But Weight has sounded clearly tired of being a late-season rental. And Guerin seems to have sincerely chosen Long Island as his career's final resting place. While the thrill of the Cup chase can intoxicate, I wonder if either would actually be amenable to a deal at the deadline. And if not, I wonder if: a) Snow would defy their wishes, and b) if that would deter future veteran stopgap free agents from coming here.