June 30, 2010

Bergenheim and Tambellini to be UFA's

On the eve of free agency, it’s become more clear what certain teams are looking for and what is out there. Teams had until Monday to qualify their restricted free agents or lose their rights, while Tuesday was the deadline to put players through waivers in order to buy them out during the NHL’s unlimited buyout window.

Needless to say, there were a couple of surprises from the Islanders standpoint.

The team opted not to offer qualifying offers to wingers Jeff Tambellini and Sean Bergenheim, meaning both will become unrestricted free agents after midnight on July 1st.

No one is surprised with Tambellini leaving as things have not worked out for him since he came here in 2006 along with Denis Grebeshkov in exchange for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel. More often than not, Tambellini found himself in the press box rather than on the ice.

Bergenheim is a different story however, as many felt that the Islanders would qualify him. It would have cost about $1 million to keep in around, and to be honest that wouldn’t have been prudent. The Islanders can get a comparable player for a little less and save some money to improve other areas.

Bergenheim was seen as an energy/defensive player, and at times he was exactly that. But more often than not, he would disappear for long stretches not only from the score sheet, but from the defensive side of things as well as he wouldn’t hit players as much, if at all. Occasionally, he would also take some bad offensive zone penalties. There could also be some other motivators here, such as the contract holdout in 2006 and the Islanders scratching him and putting him on the block at the trade deadline this season. The latter should have alerted people that he wasn’t in their long term plans and seen as a redundant part.

The other surprise to some, myself included, is that the Islanders did not put Brendan Witt through waivers as a precursor to a buyout. Many felt that after the team waived him and sent him to the minors last season that he would surely be gone, but as of right now that’s not happening. No one knows if this means we should be thinking about him when we take into account how many defenseman that the team could be looking to add, but it should be noted that after doing the same thing to winger Jon Sim last season, he did make the club this year after improving his game in the minors.

As far as their other unrestricted free agents go, the Islanders have only re-signed Doug Weight. Goalie Martin Biron, wingers Jon Sim, Richard Park and Tim Jackman and defenseman Freddy Meyer all will test the waters, meaning the Islanders will have some holes to fill if they choose to do so through trades or free agency, unless the truly feel some of the other prospects are ready to jump in next season.

While many folks already expected the Islanders to add at least one defenseman over the summer, there is an increased likelihood that they now look into wingers as well. Letting go of Bergenheim at that price could be an indication that the Islanders could do better for their money and upgrade a bit, rather than just bring in anyone for the sake of getting to the salary cap floor. So that is certainly one way to look at it.

Either way, things just got a little more interesting. Of course, we wish our best to both Jeff and Sean.

Soon to come: I’ve been working on my free-agent primer, with guys who I think could be realistic options for the Islanders to go after. Look for that a bit later in the day.



June 28, 2010

NYI FYI's 2010 Islanders Draft Review

Draft weekend has come and gone and teams, fans and analysts all begin to assess which teams made out well and which teams did not. You may even see some people give out grades for the draft. I have never been a fan of doing that, and I won’t be doing that here. It is impossible to grade a draft a few days after the fact when a small percentage of the players could be contributing within the next year or two.

What I will tell you, however, is that looking at it right now based on talent – which is all you can go by at this point – the Islanders had one of the strongest drafts, and are on many lists under the “draft winner” category.

Friday night started with the Islanders landing their guy at 5 as they made Nino Niederreiter the highest drafted Swiss player ever. Niederreiter was seen as a definite top-10 guy after his performance at the World Junior Championships, which included single handedly leading his Swiss team over the Russians. At 17 years old, he was one of the youngest players in the draft and is already listed at 6-2 and 201 lbs. After the pick was made, the boys on TSN praised the Islanders and Garth Snow for how they are rebuilding the team.

As of right now, I would say there is a decent shot that Niederreiter makes the Islanders roster next season. He has an NHL-ready body as of this point, and his well-rounded style of play is one that can be easily integrated on any of the lines, especially with the way the Islanders roll their offensive lines. However, another year playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL would not be a bad thing. Niederreiter will only turn 18 in September and despite his big size, could use a little more seasoning playing against players who are overall slightly older than he is. The Islanders certainly made a good pick here, and it will be interesting to see how they proceed with him and how he would fit in with any potential free agent deals or trades the Islanders could make over the summer.

The Islanders had made it clear in the first round that size and high-end skill up front was a key weakness that they wanted to address in this draft. The Islanders had two picks in the 2nd round; 35th and 58th overall. They packaged both picks and moved them to the Chicago Blackhawks for the 30th and final pick in the 1st round and took big center Brock Nelson. Nelson, at 6-3 and 205 lbs, was one of the top high school players in the country last year, playing at Warrod High School in Minnesota. Nelson certainly looked a little lighter than 205 lbs, but there is no doubt that he has some filling out to do and can potentially be a big shutdown center in the future.

The Islanders have slightly higher hopes for Nelson and believe that he is a top 6 talent. The general consensus out there is that he could be a sleeper pick, and it appears to be good value for the end of the 1st round. There were a number of teams interested in Nelson at the beginning of the second round, so the Islanders felt he would not be there at 35 and jumped up to grab him. Nelson was ranked as the 25th best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, and 26th by the International Scouting Service.

Nelson will attend the University of North Dakota in the fall.

Many fans were happy to see the Islanders move back into the first round, but had hopes that the team would take a chance on the very talented yet very troubled winger Kirill Kabanov. With no picks in the 2nd round, it appeared that another team would benefit from this talented player falling so far.

Kabanov fell, and fell and just when you thought his time had come, he fell some more. The Islanders turn came up and Kabanov was still sitting there. They selected him with the 65th overall pick, and captured the headlines for day two.

When people have asked me what I thought about the Islanders draft, I tell them how much I loved it and rave about this pick. I usually get the question “Why are you so excited about a 3rd round pick?”

For those of you who don’t already know, let me explain to you the riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma that is Kirill Kabanov.

In the summer of 2009, Kabanov was said to be a top-3 pick, only behind Taylor Hall (who did stay at the top) and Cam Fowler (who was still ranked in the top 5 but fell to 12th for whatever reason). By the time mid-term rankings came out, Central Scouting had him as the 15th North American skater, and by the finals rankings Kabanov dropped all the way to 31st. ISS had him at 4th in November, only to see him fall all the way to 45 by their final rankings.

So what’s the deal? Many people look at his name and say “ah, Russian factor.” But it’s slightly different and much more complex than that.

Kabanov played only 22 games this season with the Moncton Wildcats, having injured his wrist early in the season. One rumor going around was that with his time off, he was constantly getting tattoos. Another rumor going around is that his teammates in Moncton didn't care for him too much. After he came back from his injury, he saw his ice time dwindle, and when he was a healthy scratch in the playoffs he requested to be transferred back to Russia for the U-18 World Championships. Shortly after that, he was kicked off the team because of “behavioral issues.” Kabanov couldn’t play in the KHL, since he is currently banned from the league stemming from a contract dispute there.

Now, after all of that, two different teams and four different agents, Kabanov is an Islander. One of those former agents said that Kabanov’s father sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong, and is a big reason why the youngster is the way he is.

He showed us a different side during his press conferences after getting picked, and reiterated his stance that he does not want to return to Russia. He went as far as to seek out a TSN camera that was filming his presser, looked into the lens and told Islanders fans that he wanted to tear out pages from his passport and send it to them to show them he was serious about not going back, if that’s what it took. He did this same thing at the NHL draft combine in late May during his interview with Chris Botta.

Kabanov tried to dispel all of the other rumors surrounding him as well. “That I’m drinking, that I'm a rock-and-roller, that all my body is covered in tattoos. That’s not true, just a couple. People say I'm bad like the devil, but I'm good like an angel.”

It remains to be seen what happens, but the Islanders got a top 5 talent in the draft here at this spot. There is a slight chance he can make the big club, depending on what happens in training camp. He has said he is open to returning to Moncton, but no one knows for sure if they would welcome him back. Moncton’s head coach, Danny Flynn, was one of Ted Nolan’s assistants during the playoff season of 2006-2007 before he left to take that head coaching job. So there is a connection there which could make it easy for Moncton to welcome him back. Garth Snow has made it clear that they are going to talk to Kabanov about rules and guidelines of being an Islander, so here’s hoping that he can turn it around and start a new book rather than a new chapter, as Kabanov himself put it.

The Islanders picked another physical forward, Jason Clark with their other 3rd rounder, 82nd overall. Clark spent last season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s High School, an excellent one for hockey. There he scored 23 goals and 23 assists for 46 points. I immediately liked this pick as soon as I saw he had attended that school. Upon further review, he seems to have the makeup as someone who can be another physical forward on one of the checking lines. He has decent size at 6-1, 180 lbs, but obviously needs to and will put on weight as he continues to develop.

Clark has committed to the University of Wisconsin.

The Islanders traded away their 4th round pick, but with their 5th pick, 125th overall, they selected defenseman Tony DeHart. This pick is a bit interesting, as DeHart is viewed as an over-ager. He turned 20 in March, and even played in the AHL this past season, albeit for two games with the Springfield Falcons.

DeHart started the year with the Oshawa Generals. There, the 6-2, 187 pound blueliner was partnered with 2009 Islanders 1st round draft pick Calvin de Haan up until de Haan suffered a shoulder injury. From that point, DeHart elevated his game and really proved to be a force. He finished with 10 goals and 30 assists, and provided some excellent defensive play all year round for the Generals.

Since it was the 5th round, I like the fact the Islanders targeted someone who looks like he is a late bloomer. The fact that he has playing experience with one of the Islanders top defensive prospects factored into this decision a bit as I’m sure the Islanders had a good look at him while scouting de Haan. The fact he played in the AHL on a tryout last season helped his cause as well.

The Islanders will most likely extend a contract to DeHart to play for Bridgeport for the upcoming season, just as they did with defenseman Anton Klementyev last season, who they also selected in the 5th round. Klementyev eventually got into one game with the Isles last season.

The Islanders finished off their draft by selecting small, yet quick goalie Cody Rosen in the 7th round, 185th overall. Rosen was a freshman at Clarkson University last season, and has not played much. For a 7th round pick, it’s not that big of a deal. He will continue to develop at school and the Islanders will see where he is three years from now. Perhaps he turns into a decent prospect and a fallback should one of Poulin or Koskinen fail. Other than that, there’s not much out there on this guy. We’ll see down the road what the Islanders found, or didn’t find here.

The Islanders have said that this is the last time they hope they will have a high draft pick. It appears that as of this moment, the prospect cupboard is deep and has some good talent mixed in as well.

In just a few short days, the free agency period will open. If the team mixes in a couple of solid free agents, they can easily make the playoffs at the very least next season. As I mentioned earlier, it remains to be seen if any of the players from this draft will be on the roster, but they certainly shouldn’t be holding a spot for any of them. It should be a wild next couple of days as rumors heat up.


June 26, 2010

Isles take Niederreiter 5th, Nelson 30th

The fans that attended the Islanders draft party were filled with so much anticipation yesterday, waiting to see who the next top young player would be as the team continues along with their rebuild. While there were a number of good players, there was one player that most fans had their eyes on, and that was defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

"I want Gudbranson," said Islanders fan Matt Fernando. The three fans that he was with, Carey Haber, Brett Schneider and Adam Cohen all agreed. "But I'd be fine with anyone, as long as they don't take (Vladimir) Tarasenko...and they have to stay at five," Haber added.

All four wanted the Islanders to trade up to add a player later in the 1st round. At the very least, those wishes did end up coming true. But more on that a little later.

The draft party was full of things to do, with games, balloon animals, locker room tours and an obstacle course. About five minutes before the draft began, they showed pictures of their new road jerseys on the score board, and they introduced Trevor Gillies, Matt Moulson and John Tavares who were all sporting the jerseys, which were later raffled off. All three received loud standing ovations from the 2,000 fans in attendance. "It almost brought tears to my eyes," Gillies said about the support from the fans that he got, keeping in mind he came up relatively late in the season and got chance to be a regular in the NHL at 31.

The players love the new jerseys, and talked about how it brings the team back to the late 80's and early 90's. This is something that a majority of fans have been clamoring for since the team originally changed their uniforms in the late 90's.

The top three went as expected, with Hall and Seguin going one and two, while the Panthers proved the rumors to be true with them taking Gudbranson 3rd overall. It was at this point that Islanders fans stopped what they were doing to focus on the Blue Jackets. When GM Scott Howson announced the pick as center Ryan Johansen, there was a considerable rise from the Coliseum faithful with many thinking Cam Fowler was on the way. Some fans began to chant his name as the NHL Draft feed went into a commercial break.

When they returned and showed the Isles draft table, the fans began to cheer again up until the time Garth Snow went up to the podium. Expecting Cam Fowler, there was definitely a deflated feel when the GM announced the selection of winger Nino Niederreiter, which you can see in the video.

I want to make some things clear here with this pick. It is in no way a bad pick. Sure, many mock drafts had Niederreiter (I have the spelling down already!) going later in the top 10, but this was a player that was generally in the 6-8 area. Niederreiter would not have lasted past the Lightning at 6, so trading back would have been bad here.

The rumor going around the Coliseum last night was that the Islanders wanted Gudbranson. That's believable as many teams were interested. However, as Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reported, Johansen was the Islanders other target.  I would imagine that the plan was to trade down and take Johansen or Niederreiter. Once Johansen was taken, I think Snow realized that all bets were off and rather than risking trading back and loosing out on Niederreiter to Tampa, Carolina or whoever took that 5th pick, they went with the guy they wanted. Tampa GM Steve Yzerman was going to take a forward regardless, and ended up with winger Brett Connolly, who's ranking has been clouded because of injury issues.

As the draft went on, and Fowler and Brandon Gormley continued to fall, people became more accepting of the Islanders decision. "I was a little surprised at first, I thought we would take a defenseman. But (Niederreiter) is big and can score, and we need scoring. We need defenseman too, so we'll see what happens," said long time Islanders fan Steve Smith.

Dave, another long time Islanders fan said that the Islanders did very well with Gudbranson no longer on the board. "I thought we would trade down like we did in 2008 to take (Josh Bailey). But we got a forward who's big and can score, and that is a desperate need. Those two other defensemen haven't even been picked yet."

Fowler fell to Anaheim at 12th, while Gormley was taken 13th by the Coyotes. There's a reason that both of these highly regarded blueliners fell so far past many different GMs; what that reason is remains to be seen. There is no reason to think that the Islanders made a bad pick here.

Chicago had the last pick in the first round, 30th overall. The Islanders traded both the 35th and 58th picks to take big center Brock Nelson, who was a top high school player in Minnesota last year. He is someone who could end up being a big shutdown center a few years down the road. While the Islanders do have many centers in the organization, size is definitely an issue down the middle and they addressed that with this pick.

Both John Tavares and Matt Moulson were excited about the pick. Tavares never played against Niederreiter, but did watch him in the world juniors and took note of his performance. It will be nice down the road when Nino does come up that Tavares will have someone with size to be on one side of him. That has been an organizational need for quite some time, and it's good that the Islanders finally addressed it. I respect the fact that to fill that need, they used their judgement and took their guy at that spot as he wasn't far from getting selected. Kudos to Snow and assistant GM Ryan Jankowski for that.

Here's the Tavares interview in it's entirety after the Islanders made their pick. He had some good things to say, and seems to really like Niederreiters style of play. It should be fun to see him develop.

The teams will go through rounds 2-7 today. I'll wait until that is all over with to come out with the recap for the rest of the Islanders draft picks. Hopefully they can do what they have been pretty good at thus far - finding gems in the later rounds.


June 25, 2010

Islanders Draft Preview

The day we have been waiting for since April is finally here! That's right folks, it's draft day. Today we'll find out which of these young kids the Islanders had their eyes on and were the most impressed with after extensive interviews. The Islanders brought a number of kids in, even some ranked much lower than the slot where they are picking.

During our last podcast, Sean was very surprised with my prediction of Cam Fowler being there for the taking at 5. There have been a number of moves since then, which could affect how the top of the draft goes. So, here is how I see things shaking out:

1. Edmonton Oilers - Taylor Hall. No questions here. Hall is undoubtedly the top player in this draft, and has been seen as the number one for almost two years now.

2. Boston Bruins (from Toronto) - Tyler Seguin. This one was a bit tough. The Bruins offense struggled mightily last year, and their recent acquisition of winger Nathan Horton from Florida helps them big time in that department. However, Seguin is a rare breed- a right handed center who has shown he can shoot the puck just as well as he can dish it off. While he sort of moved up big time this year due to a huge sophomore year in the OHL, Boston should have no second thoughts of drafting him. They will finally find their replacement for Phil Kessel.

3. Florida Panthers - Brett Connolly. This is where many people get surprised, but not me. Most are projecting Florida to go with a defenseman here. After dealing Horton, the team needs some offensive superstars up front. Connolly gives the team explosiveness up front they have not seen since Pavel Bure. Hip injuries derailed Connolly for much of this season as he only appeared in 16 regular season games for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. It speaks volumes that even after that, hes still in top 5 territory. The hip issues are still lingering over his head as we go into the draft, but if hes healthy this will be one of the Panthers best draft picks in their history.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets - Erik Gudbranson. Columbus has made no secret they want to go defense here. While they could really use a center, they seem to be one of the teams discussing trading for Jeff Carter or Jason Spezza. Gudbranson, still just 18, is already 6'4" and 200 lbs. Many feel that his potential is the highest of the top three defensemen, however due to a lack of offensive ability many aren't too sure if he'll ever hit it. Regardless, the Blue Jackets will get a behemoth of a player, and one who forwards will fear facing for a long time.

5. New York Islanders - Cam Fowler. Yes, I'm sticking by my prediction of Fowler to the Islanders. There seems to be a thought for some analysts that his stock has slipped slightly, for whatever reason. Fowler at 5 is a steal. He is definitely the best player available at this spot, though Gudbranson and Brandon Gormley are not far behind. Despite talk of Gormley being the most complete and smarter player, the skill that Fowler has already will be too good for them to pass up here.

So that's my take on the top 5 and what will happen up to our pick. I would not be upset with any of the top 3 defenseman putting on an Isles new road jersey tonight. I think many will agree with that, as well as with the idea that the first player will be a defenseman.

The Islanders have two picks each in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the draft, and could try to move up back into the first round to take someone they see falling who they have high on their draft board. I'm not sure for who or what. The Islanders are very high on centers Ryan Johansen and Alex Burmistrov, but I would be surprised if they are both there after the 10th pick. If they are we are getting into trade up territory, and the Islanders would be a team to watch.

Also, look for the Krill Kabanov nose dive. The winger was once touted as a top-3 pick for this draft, but when mid-season problems arose in Moncton, Kabanov went home to Russia to "prepare for the world junior championships." It was at those world juniors where Kabanov was stripped of this captaincy of Team Russia, which was then given to Islanders prospect Kirill Petrov. If Kabanov slips all the way to the 2nd round, keep an eye on him because some team will get one heck of a talent. The Islanders like him and have been talking to him. If he's there at 35, don't be surprised if they grab him if they haven't traded that pick by that point.

I'm very excited to announce that I will be a part of the media tonight at the draft party. I'm not sure how everything will work, or what kind of coverage I will have for you guys, but definitely keep checking here in the event that I will be real-time blogging the events (again, no promises). We'll see how this goes, it should be a lot of fun!

Enjoy the draft tonight, 7PM on Versus!


June 24, 2010

Byfuglien dealt to Thrashers; how are the NYI affected?

For those of you who missed it last night, a huge 9-player trade went down between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Atlanta Thrashers. Forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Akim Aliu, and defenseman Brent Sopel were all sent to Atlanta in return for the 24th and 54th overall picks in the upcoming draft, as well as forwards Marty Reasoner, Joey Crabb and Jeremy Morin.

Quite a surprise to see the Blackhawks deal Byfuglien so soon after the playoff run he just had, however we knew the Blackhawks were going to shed salary. We just figured they'd do it in other areas first. The reported asking price for Big Buff, who will make $3 million next season, was a 1st round pick and a prospect. One of the stumbling blocks in past deals for the Hawks was that they tried to get any team interested in their players to take Sopel and his $2.3 million as well.

So how does this affect the Islanders? Earlier in the week, Chris Botta made his case for the Islanders to make a trade with the Hawks for Kris Versteeg. Many felt he would be available as the thought was when it came to the core, the Hawks considered Byfuglien and Patrick Sharp part of that and Versteeg as a complementary player.

While the Hawks still need to cut more salary, they are expected to either move or bury goalie Cristobal Huet and his $5.6 million per for the next two years in the minors. Once that happens, the chances of Versteeg moving will be lower, but not completely out of the question. The team still needs to sign valuable restricted free-agents Antti Niemi, Jack Skille and Andrew Ladd, as well as Brent Seabrook after next season.

If I'm the Islanders I still go after him, obviously. He brings many elements that are currently lacking, and there is still work to be done in Chicago. If Garth Snow wasn't on the phone with the Hawks by now, he should give them a call soon before the need to trade Versteeg lessens and the asking price goes up.

Given the many factors that point to the Islanders being one of the better fits for Versteeg, there is no reason not to keep trying. While he's not the biggest guy in the world, he is a 20-goal scorer, which is something Snow said he would look into in the offseason. The free agent crop isn't the greatest when it comes to finding guys in this mold, who also fit the system.

All hope is not lost on a trade, but it is very fair to say that the chances took a slight blow last night.

June 23, 2010

We're back! Summer Notes

It’s been a while, but we have decided to bring this back now that we have all of the radio show/podcast things working and running smoothly. We didn’t neglect the blog, we were just trying to find the right time to incorporate it back into our plan and now that we have some down time after our first few months in our new studio with our own (working!) equipment, it has saved us a lot more time. We’re hoping this time around will be much better and easier. I know I’ve personally written for a college newspaper for a year, which can also go a long way in making this blog much more bearable for you guys.

Sean and I recently made a podcast that can be found here. In our latest recording we cover two hours worth of Islanders related news and rumors such as the Doug Weight re-signing, Garth Snow’s comments from his recent NHL Live appearance and address some of the rumors surrounding an Islanders partnership with Queens. We also discussed the Stanley Cup Finals, as well as rumors on some big name players who might be on the move and draft related news. It’s worth a listen (figures we’d say that). Be sure to download both parts as we had to split the show up.

Here’s what else we got in the works for you:

Next up: Obviously, the next big thing that we are planning to cover is the draft. We do plan on making a draft recap show as we have always done once everything is done this weekend. We’re planning to do a recording early next week. We’ll have more on that when we get closer to that time. Tomorrow, you can expect a little preview that I plan on writing with my predictions for the weekend (hint – Sean was surprised at how strongly I felt that Brett Connolly would be drafted 3rd overall by Florida, and yesterday’s trade of Nathan Horton to Boston helps my case, not that I’m getting my head in the clouds or anything, despite what Sean would say).

Free Agency Special: As we have done the last few years, we’ll also be doing our free agency special. This year, however, will be even better. We’ve extended the show by one hour as it will now run from 12PM-4PM to hopefully cover a good part of the rush of rumors and signings. For those of you who are able to, we really hope that you’ll be able to join us as we have a great group of guests for you to enjoy. So far, we have:

Chris Botta, of Islanders Point Blank and senior NHL writer for FanHouse
Kevin Allen, NHL writer for USA Today
Curtis Zupke, Anaheim Ducks beat writer for the Orange County Register
Michael Boone, writer for Habs Inside/Out for the Montreal Gazette
Dennis Vaske, former New York Islanders defenseman, 1990-1998
Andy Strickland, hockey analyst on 1380 ESPN in St. Louis and blogger for Hockey Buzz

Pretty good list, and we’re excited about speaking with all of them. We’ll be able to cover a couple of different angles here, such as free agency from a player’s perspective after a lengthy stay with one team, as well as professional views and rumors from around the league.

Notice that we’ve changed some of the links on the sidebar since you have last seen us. We’ll continue to do so over the next couple of weeks as we find sites that fans would be interested in.

Finally, if you wish to provide some input on anything, feel free to leave a comment here on the blog or send an e-mail to nyifyi@gmail.com (note that we did away with the separate e-mail addresses for each of us). We check that e-mail address frequently, so do not hesitate to send us anything. Also, for those of you with Facebook, please make sure you become a fan of ours, and for those of you on Twitter, follow us here.

That’s all for now, but remember to come back tomorrow as I will post my draft preview!