New York Islanders : Breaking It All Down


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It would be a total disservice to all of our readers to sugar coat what has gone on with the New York Islanders lately. We here at Eyes On Isles have always maintained a ‘cautious optimism’ when it comes to discussing this team and its play on the ice. But there is just not much to be optimistic about now and nobody, whether it be within the organization or watching from the outside, can deny that.

Coming off a 6 game first round playoff loss in the spring of 2013 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, there were varying degrees of expectations that were set before the beginning of a full 82 game season in 2013-14. The fans quickly thought the rebuild was over and this team was ready for the next step. Some experts within the hockey media did as well. Others, like myself, cautioned this team was still not ready to take the next step towards becoming a perennial contender in the Eastern conference.

Whichever side of the fence you chose to stand on, nobody could have come close to predicting what the results have been however through the morning of December 6. And the statistics and place in the standings do the play and effort on the ice justice.

  • 8-16-5 (29th overall in the NHL, 7 points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres: 9 points and 5 teams out of playoff position in Metropolitan division)
  • 3-10-0 on the road, including 8 straight losses.
  • 5 regulation wins in 29 games
  • 20th in goals per game (2.5), 29th in goals against (3.4), 20th on the power play (16.5%) and 30th in penalty killing (70%)
  • 4-11-2 in their last 17 games – have not won in regulation since November 12 (3-1 over Nashville).
  • Michael Grabner : 0 goals in 28 games, Josh Bailey : 0 goals and 2 assists in 16 games, Pierre-Marc Bouchard : 3-2-5 in 16 games, Peter Regin: not a single point in 17 games.

Respected Islanders journalist B.D Gallof last night tweeted a very ominous statistic as the Islanders prepared for their latest loss, 5-1 to the St.Louis Blues.

So there you have it laid out before your own eyes how difficult of a road this is for New York to even think about making the playoffs as an 8th seed in the Eastern conference. With games remaining on this current trip against the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes the road certainly does not get any smoother in the near future.

The biggest questions that remain to be answered however is ‘Why is this team struggling so mightily?’ and ‘Who do we point the finger at?’ because as we all know, in today’s society, you just have to point a finger at someone and assign blame. If you take that as ‘snarky’ and sarcastic, you are probably correct but for the purposes of this article, I will play along.

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The Players

Simply put this is where I place the bulk of the responsibility. The current roster players are so much better than their current play and effort on the ice would show.

As mentioned above, secondary scoring fell off the face of the map with Grabner and Bailey failing to produce at even modest levels. The play of new acquisitions Bouchard, Regin and Cal Clutterbuck have done little to nothing to remedy that issue. Frans Nielsen, who started the season red-hot offensively, looks tired and worn out already, producing 3-5-8 in his last 17 games.

Who would have ever thought we would even be discussing the offense at this point? Supposedly the Islanders most trusted area of strength, it has been doomed by an ineffective breakout and soft perimeter play in the offensive zone not to mention a seemingly unwilling attitude to stand in front of the opposing goaltender.

Captain John Tavares has struggled with his new-found responsibilities and failed to be a difference maker that a player of his stature should be more often. Kyle Okposo has had flashes, yes, but his stats cloud a larger problem of too many shifts taken off and mirror the overall inconsistency of the entire club.

The only line that is producing consistent play and any offensive zone presence is the 4th unit of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Colin McDonald. When your last line is your best in all three zones, you are not going to win too many hockey games. The problem here is that none of the three are gifted enough offensively to put the puck where it needs to go the most; the back of the net.

The injury to Lubomir Visnovsky has hurt more than most realize as he was a calming veteran influence as well as being the quarterback on the power play and primary puck mover out of the defensive zone. Andrew MacDonald has been forced to transform himself from an 18-20 minute capable blueliner into a 30 minute top pairing player that just does not suit his abilities. Matt Donovan was made into a scapegoat in my opinion, having 2 of his best games of the season out of 3 before being sent to Bridgeport to allow Matt Carkner and Radek Martinek to stay on the Islanders roster. Both of those players would more than likely not be playing on many other NHL rosters at this point.

In goal, I really don’t see how you could expect any more than we have seen out of Kevin Poulin and Anders Nilsson. Forced to face a barrage of outstanding quality scoring chances from the slot, they have performed admirably and quite possibly could be our tandem of the future, given a better defensive effort in front of them.

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Most of the Islanders fanbase wants to see a change at the head coaching position. We have long-held our stance here at Eyes On Isles opposing this notion but now see it as not only inevitable but a much-needed show of force to a roster that does not seem to understand the implications of failing at the National Hockey League level.

Jack Capuano is not a rookie or inexperienced coach anymore. Now in his fourth season as the bench boss, the struggles in November each of his years makes for better reading than a copy of a Stephen King novel {pick any one, the man is a pure genius}.

Capuano is a great man, a passionate one who wants to succeed in the worst way possible. He goes out of his way to be polite to just about everyone he encounters. If you don’t think this pains him to see what his team is going through, you just don’t get it and no explaining or justifying from me is going to get through to you. But at the end of the day, it’s all about winning and losing and nothing more when you are being paid large sums of money and are in such a high-profile position within any sports organization.

The two things most accurately pointed to when it comes to Capuano’s latest decisions are the lineup choice to keep inserting struggling Bouchard and Regin into the lineup over rookie Brock Nelson, who not only passes the ‘eye-test’ {Credit to Eyes own Shane Blackburn} but also the Fenwick and Corsi advanced statistic test. The Isles are simply a better team with him in the lineup over the aforementioned two.

The other is what I pointed to on the Dump and Chase Podcast and that is a stubbornness that exists to keep playing a system that is not working with the current personnel. With the struggles we have seen on the blueline, pre but mostly post injuries, New York is constantly allowing teams way too much freedom in the neutral zone, allowing them to attack at will with speed. The aggressive forecheck system that worked so well at the end of last season is not sustainable with the lineup being placed on the ice. Why not switch to a 1-1-3 and attempt to clog up that area of the ice causing you so many problems? These are professional athletes and they need to be able to make adjustments such as that on the fly as the need arises.

Christian Arnold, a great friend to me personally in my first year in the press box and NY Hockey Journal Isles writer, described it to me another way. ‘Every coach has a shelf life. There are no Al Arbour‘s or Scotty Bowman’s anymore. Maybe that is what we are seeing when it is referenced that the team might have ‘quit’ on Capuano’.

As much as I do not believe in mid-season coaching changes and wonder where #islestwitter will place the blame if it does not work (and there is a better than 50/50 shot it won’t) there just might not be any other option left at this point. Candidates to succeed Capuano could be Peter Laviolette, Guy Boucher and Ron Wilson.

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This is where it gets the most debatable and misguided in my opinion, especially when it comes to social media. Garth Snow has not been the perfect general manager. I would be remiss though to not ask you to tell me who has that does not reside in Detroit, Michigan or Newark, New Jersey. There could be an argument for and against just about everyone else.

Everyone remembers the carnage that was put forth upon this organization from former boss Mike Milbury. There is not an Islanders fan that could forget. Snow has had to start literally from scratch to undue all of those past mistakes and that takes not only time but effort. Those who think Snow is sitting on his couch watching ‘Golden Girls’ re-runs during this slide are just angry, frustrated…….and outright wrong.

The trade market is extremely expensive as we have not only seen but heard. First, second and maybe even third defenseman are simply not made available by other clubs at any cost. That is why Snow has gone to great lengths to rebuild Bridgeport and stock them with the likes of Donovan, Ryan Pulock, Griffin Reinhart, Scott Mayfield, Andrey Pedan and others. We are just now seeing the full-time effects of Aaron Ness and Calvin deHaan.

At the forward position, drafting John Tavares was a no-brainer and he simply cannot get any due credit for that. Travis Hamonic, Casey Cizikas, Kevin Poulin and Donovan have been some of the very late draft finds by Snow in addition to taking chances on waiver acquisitions that prior to this season, have worked out very well.

The injuries to Visnovsky and Brian Strait could not have been predicted or anticipated. As far as not upgrading over the off-season, let’s quickly review who was available among the unrestricted free agents in July of 2013 and changed teams when the bell rung to open silly season.

Keith Ballard, Rob Scuderi, Andrew Ference, Aaron Johnson, Mike Komisarek, Mike Mottau, Jeff Schultz, Matt Gilroy, Joe Corvo, Douglas Murray, Ron Hainsey, Ryan Whitney.

See any names standing out this year for their new clubs that would have made a large enough impact on the current Islanders situation?

Snow felt he had depth in Donovan and deHaan and possibly overvalued Thomas Hickey and Strait slightly. Nobody on that list was coming in and replacing the loss of Mark Streit, who ALL Islanders fans (if you need to be reminded) would not have paid the money he got from the Philadelphia Flyers.

Where are all the fans now that just a few months ago were applauding Snow for signing Hamonic and Bailey to below market average deals to keep them on Long Island long-term? Is there really any argument that the current contract being played out by Tavares is not the best in hockey?  Has he not been smart to avoid locking up struggling Andrew MacDonald yet?

If you want to point a finger at Snow, I will join you in terms of the goaltending issue. But only a half raised one at that. It has been confirmed he offered Nino Niederreiter to the Vancouver Canucks for Cory Schneider. If he would have offered the 15th overall selection also, given how deep the Islanders are on defense in the system, I think that trade gets done. BUT, it still would not have fixed the Islanders problems in terms of overall team defensive breakdowns.

It also needs to be said that the wish to play on Long Island, from any free agent or trade candidate, is still not high at the present moment in time. Christian Erhoff anybody?

I will close out by addressing this one last bit very quickly about management. I have never met Charles Wang and don’t know what kind of kool-aid some keep referring to us drinking. I like kool-aid however and seem to be missing out on something much more grand.

The reason your Islanders are only moving 23 miles away to Barclays Center in 2015-16 and not Kansas City or Quebec is because of him. Whatever the losses he has taken from owing this franchise, it’s his money, not yours. Would you keep throwing more money into an investment that is in the red every year? Or try to turn that revenue stream around to black before investing again?

Sell you say? Buy high and sell low is not the way to good business my friends. Bottom line, we here at Eyes On Isles are not on Wang’s staff nor are we even around him for any length of time to comment accurately on his daily business life or dealings. And neither are you.

This team on the ice is good enough to not be in the situation they are in at the current moment. Whether you want to put that on the players, the coaching staff or both, that is where the greatest responsibility lies.