New York Islanders : Eyes Chats With Beat Writer Arthur Staple

With the New York Islanders return to relevance on the National Hockey League scene this season also comes a new sense of responsibility to report from a media perspective honestly and with journalistic integrity.

That applies to mainstream credentialed members of the hockey world and filters down just as crucially to team websites and bloggers alike. But I would argue there is no more important role in this than that of the beat writer.

The beat writer has the greatest responsibility to the team, organization and media outlet that employs him/her to report the news from purely that one perspective. They are granted access to travel with the team on road trips and have exclusive access to players and coaches.

It might not be the most glorious of jobs in the crowded world of careers that we find ourselves in, but I would argue that there is not a hockey fan alive that would not want to trade places with one of these artists of the keyboard.

Arthur Staple of New York Newsday is that man for the Islanders. Reporting objectively and honestly, he has led us into the world that often times is unseen, breaking news first and always being the authoritative figure that people reach out to on social media when searching for Islanders news that is credible and correct.

Why is a staple better than a paper clip? Well for one, it’s more sturdy and resistant to outside forces trying to undue its primary goal. Secondly, it makes for a better surname.

Eyes On Isles had a great opportunity to interview Arthur and get his opinion on a wide array of topics from a purely Islanders point of view.

But to start, how many of you even know how he began his career and ended up covering the Isles beat? I certainly didn’t and my first goal was to ask Art if he would tell us all at the same time briefly…..

A bit about me: I only started on the beat two seasons ago, though I was Newsday’s hockey columnist for two seasons before that, so I’ve been around the team for a few years. I’ve also covered high schools, college basketball, the Rangers and the Giants in my 14 years at Newsday. I went to Boston University, grew up in New York City (yes, as a Rangers fan, though that ended a long time ago)… My favorite road NHL arena is the Air Canada Center and I nearly broke Mike Emrick’s arm when I was 18 and doing stats for the old SportsChannel in Boston. Long story.

1. Do you foresee Nino Niederreiter’s departure as something of an error on the Islanders behalf? I’m thinking of past trades like Steve Thomas, Benoit Hogue, Pierre Turgeon, and Zdeno Chara. Will we all look back, shaking our heads in disgruntled disbelief, that the Isles let another great player get away?

I think the mistake was drafting him so high. I know he was that high on a lot of draft lists, but I get the feeling he was somewhat of a reach for the Islanders and Garth Snow was never quite sold on Nino as fitting the mold of the Isles first-round draft picks the last few years — good kids who are hard workers and not necessarily flashy. The Isles definitely botched Nino’s rookie year, but I think they were soured by some of his comments after that season was over. The organization under Snow is a bit old-fashioned: They want kids to earn their spots, no matter how highly touted they are, and the sort of griping from Nino’s camp is a pretty big sin for the organization.
Just looking at the Wild’s collection of homegrown young guys, Nino will have to really dazzle in their camp to earn a spot. If he does, that’s a great sign for him and could be an “uh oh” moment for Isles fans, because he’ll have realized what it takes to be a regular.

2. How would you rate the ‘power rankings’ in the Eastern Conference now that the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets are in the mix? Would you venture to say that the East is a much more tenuous situation if you’re the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and New Jersey Devils? 

Having the extra teams in the East will be rough, but there’s no coasting for the Isles regardless. Even that two-game slacking off at the end of last season cost them a better first-round matchup, so you’d think they would know you have to start strong and stay strong even over 82 games — there have certainly been enough lessons they’ve learned on that front.
I tend to think they’re in a good position in the Metropolitan Division — Columbus is a wild card, but Carolina and Washington are coming from having the worst division possibly in all of pro sports; those two teams won’t be used to what the old Atlantic Division brings night in and night out. To me, the Penguins and Rangers could be the class of the division, depending on the usual factors (health, etc.), but the Isles are right there in the next tier, ahead of Philly and the Devils right now in my book.

3. How much of what you saw in the Islanders this past season do you expect more of this upcoming season? Would you say that because most of the NHL was tuned into the Penguins series, players like Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey will be better defended at the onset, making it difficult for them to get off the ground? Or have Okposo and Bailey finally ‘arrived’?

I don’t think too many teams will be surprised by the Islanders, but then you’d hope Okposo and Bailey realize that they have to add a dimension to their games to keep opponents wary. It’s what John Tavares has done each year he’s been in the league. I get that very few have Tavares’ skill set, but every Islander can have his work ethic. Okposo and Bailey have to shed the “slow starter” label this season to really be considered players that opponents have to watch for.

4. Your thoughts on Evgeni Nabokov’s return: smart move, in your opinion? Do you foresee the veteran netminder, in light of this ‘second’ chance, pick up his game and help the Islanders get to the postseason and make waves thereafter?

Given that the Isles signed Nabokov at 12:00:01 on free agency’s first day, it seemed both sides were anxious for a reunion; now, seeing that the goaltender market is basically nonexistent, I think the Isles would certainly be able to bring in another skilled veteran to compete for a job in training camp. We’ll see if they do.
The organization wants to see if Kevin Poulin or Anders Nilsson can handle a decent NHL workload; if neither one can pull out a job in camp and Nabokov wins the No. 1 job by default, I don’t see that as beneficial. Nabokov is a great presence in the room and on the ice, but he has a lot to erase from the postseason.

5. A lot of good things have been said about Tavares from the day he was drafted in 2009. Because I’m normally hesitant to assume any draft pick will live up to the media-driven hype, it’s been amazing to see him jump from juniors to the NHL and lead a basement-dwelling team towards national prominence. Did you ever think Tavares would be the franchise savior this team needed? Or was there part of you that thought he’d be doomed to toil away in obscurity on Long Island?

I’m not as fatalistic as some when it comes to the Islanders — as an aside, it does bother me when some of my writer colleagues dump on the Islanders; it’s lazy, and making a public record of mocking a team in a league you cover is a) dumb and b) always remembered by someone — so I never thought Tavares committing to the Isles was some sort of sacrifice. He’s a pro and a student of the game, so he knows you don’t get to give it a couple years’ worth of effort for a lousy team and then give up.
I will say he’s one of the hardest-working young players around. And not just with the game. He works on interviews, he thinks about what he’s going to say and he understands his teammates follow his lead. That’s pretty impressive for a 22-year-old in any walk of life. It’s easy to say we all saw it back when he was an 18-year-old, but the fire was always there and it’s impressive to see how Tavares has channeled it.

6. Snow has been a bit of a punchline in NHL circles, although not to those who understand the type of financial constraints he’s been working under as set forth by Wang. In your opinion, is he deserving of more recognition as a savvy GM? He’s drafted well, made smart trades and seems to understand that locking up “character” guys and franchise cornerstones is desirable to spending money just for the sake of it. What do you think is preventing him from being viewed as one of the better GMs in the league?

As I mentioned above, the Isles have a certain perception around the league, and that hampers how everyone is viewed. Winning is what changes that, and they are starting to be better in that area. Snow isn’t a real media-friendly guy either and I think he prefers to work in relative anonymity. But yes, I agree he’s done an above-average job with this team, particularly this summer. I know many fans wanted an elite goaltender and a few elite scorers, but the priority was getting the core guys signed long-term and that was accomplished. There are still a few big names available as well, so we’ll see if Snow sneaks in a couple August additions.

7. Realistically, what do you see this team doing in the next five years? All of their young guys are under contract for the foreseeable future, and basically every player seems to have bought into the family atmosphere in Uniondale. Is a Stanley Cup (or two) a reasonable goal for this group of players? Is there a “just happy to be here” feel to the team now? Or are they hungry to take the next step?

I think the “just happy to be here” thing disappeared last season. There was a real sense of failure after the playoff loss; plenty of guys were saying diplomatic things, but especially among the young core, guys were gutted because they knew they could have won. We haven’t seen an Islanders team like that before; we’ve seen various Cup-winning veterans imported to try and drag the young guys to respectability, and that never worked. Now, you may see a team that’s being carried by the younger guys, which was the plan all along. That may make a huge difference.
As for Stanley Cups, that I can’t say. I think they need a long-term solution in goal to get to that level, but I don’t see them dropping back to previous low levels.

8. Being the beat writer for the Isles, you’ve seen more “bad” than “good” in recent years, although the franchise is certainly heading in the right direction as Snow’s rebuild is finally coming to fruition. With the type of access you’ve had to the team, did you ever think that the organization would have the type of momentum it has now? The fans have always had the “glory years” to cling to, but it seems like the future is all anyone wants to talk about now. What’s the excitement level in the locker room like?

Every team’s front office and coaching staff believes they can win, but I think even Snow knew it would take time, especially after drafting Tavares. To get the players to believe takes a lot of patience and, as I said above, the young guys have to go through it to truly believe it. So I think the attitude is different inside the room; there should be some more confidence there, and you never know where that can lead.

 

I would like to take a moment to personally thank Arthur for being so gracious and answering all of our questions so candidly. We really appreciate the time he took out of his summer break to provide us with this terrific insight.

 

-AG (@tazman19)

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