Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Thoughts on fight night

Call it what you will… selfish, arrogant, or just plain stupid… but Rick DiPietro’s decision to leave the crease Monday night was the right one. He didn’t do it for himself, he didn’t do it for glory (though his raised finger may suggest otherwise), and he certainly didn’t do it for the hell of it. He made the decision because Chris Simon was stuck fighting a man on each side of him (both established fighters) for the second time in the game and it needed to be addressed.

Granted, the fight with Montoya probably wasn’t necessary. But DP was challenged, even though Montoya appeared to think twice about his venture down the ice.

To the fans who suggest DP made a poor decision: Would you prefer he back down? Would this send the right signal to the Rangers and the rest of the league?

As for his concussion history, I would worry more about suffering one courtesy of a Sean Avery cheap shot or a Sheldon Souray blast to the mask. I’d take the chance any day to show that this team isn’t one to be pushed around.

Besides, DP added some much-needed spark to the Battle of New York, and, in doing so, gave Montoya the beating of his young career.

It will be interesting to see the lineup that the coaching staff puts together for Friday night at MSG. Ted Nolan’s comments suggest Simon will dress. The Rangers and Avery, who was absent from the lineup Monday, are ready to engage in more of the same. The big question is whether or not DiPietro is scratched in the interest of keeping him out of harm’s way with Mr. Avery in full-on cheap-shot mode.

On a side note, kudos to Islanders TV for covering the fights both in the highlights package and the replay of the game itself. On the contrary, the league’s video highlights provide further proof that the NHL likes to pretend that fighting either a) doesn’t happen or b) isn’t important enough to include in a four-minute highlights package.

Until Friday…

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pre-season projections

Welcome to The Fantasy Fancy, where each Islander player’s production will be regularly scrutinized over the course of the season, particularly in terms of fantasy hockey. This is not to say that I’ll solely be spitting out stats. As a lifelong Isles fan, I will not hesitate to offer critiques, as well as praise, for the team.

I'll get started with my thoughts on the off-season, followed by some early projections. In the coming days, I will give a player-by-player run down with stat predictions to assist you on your way to fantasy glory.

This summer saw one of the biggest turnovers in recent memory.

On the outs: Alexei Yashin (Russia), Jason Blake (Toronto), Ryan Smyth (Colorado), Viktor Kozlov (Washington), Richard Zednik (Florida), Arron Asham (New Jersey), Randy Robitaille (Russia), Tom Poti (Washington), Sean Hill (Minnesota)

Incoming: Bill Guerin, Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedotenko, Jon Sim, Josef Vasicek, Sean Bergenheim, Andy Sutton

Though the Isles may not have caught the biggest fish in the free agency pond, there's no denying the “culture change” Ted Nolan and co. can’t stop talking about. Gone are the defensively-inept Robitailles, Kozlovs, and Yashins. They will all be replaced by heart-and-soul players whose efforts will never be questioned.

Kudos to Garth Snow and the management team for not overpaying for several big-name free agents. Very few signings this year were worth the price tag. Many GMs opted for longer term deals in order to lower the cap hit (the average of the player’s salary over the term of the contract). But, the fact remains that the average salary is still inflated and the CBA is set to expire in just a few short years. Who knows what happens then? Snow has been careful not to sign players to expensive long-term deals. This is all part of both managing the CBA and securing the team’s immediate and long-term goals.

Free ‘C’

The one issue I had this summer was the team's decision to hastily hand over the 'C' to Bill Guerin. No doubt Guerin is a leader in any dressing room and fits the captain's mold. But Mike Sillinger and Brendan Witt, last year's alternate captains, proved their worth over the course of a single season and know the team and system inside and out. If anything, the team should have waited until training camp to give Guerin and his new teammates a chance to get accustomed before announcing its decision. One can only hope that Snow and Nolan conferred with Sillinger and Witt on the matter.

Projected lineup:

Extras:Simon (suspended five games); Bates (sidelined indefinitely)



Filling out the roster

On offense, Ted Nolan will be banking on career seasons from a host of players. Half of the forward group from the end of last season has been replaced, but much like last year, we should see a well-balanced attack from the top three lines.

Miroslav Satan needs to step his game up a notch or two, and this being the final year of his contract, there is added incentive. He hopes to duplicate his first season on Long Island, when he lit the lamp 35 times.

Bill Guerin should be good for 30+ goals, and Mike Comrie, as the number one center (also in the final and only year of his contract), is set for a reawakening. He should also fall in the 30-goal range.

If Ruslan Fedotenko can stay healthy and keep his spot on the top line, a 50-point campaign isn’t out of the question.

Mike Sillinger aims to pick up where left off last season, a 26-goal, 59-point campaign. Half of Sillinger’s goals came on special teams.

Jeff Tambellini is ready for a regular shift after averaging a little over seven minutes of ice time per game and sitting out most as a healthy scratch last season. If given the ice time he deserves, we could see 20 goals from the youngster.

Ditto Josef Vasicek, who is just hitting his stride at 27 years of age. The big center should be good for 50 points.

Trent Hunter will look to work on his consistency—-his clutch goals carried the team at times last season; other times he was invisible.

Free agent signee Jon Sim is hoping for a breakout year under a coach that suits his style. Sim has notched 17 goals in two straight seasons while working with limited ice time.

Sean Bergenheim is the dark horse of the group. Never lacking in effort, Bergenheim aims to prove to the Isles that he was worthy of the one-way deal he finally signed early this summer.

Andy Hilbert and Richard Park will fill out the roster before Chris Simon returns from his suspension. There will certainly be some healthy competition for 4th line ice time.

In all, three guys who could fall in the 30-40 goal range, six who will push 20+. Not bad for a team that lost four of its top six scorers this summer.

On the back end, the team shored up its defense corps with the signing of 6’6” 245 lb. Andy Sutton. Isles fans will be happy to know that Sutton has a history with long-time Islander nemesis Darcy Tucker. Two seasons ago, Sutton was suspended six games for plowing Tucker face-first into the boards, resulting in a bloody wound to his forehead.

The addition of Sutton gives the Isles a respectable top-four of Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, Marc Andre Bergeron and Sutton. Former Islander Bryan Berard will come to camp on a tryout basis, but, barring injury, there is no reason the '97 Calder winner won't make the team. Chris Campoli and Bruno Gervais will push for ice time while looking to hasten their development into top-end defenseman, though one will likely sit in the press box to start the season. Based on last year's performance, Gervais has the edge because of his defensive responsibility. Freddy Meyer will be the odd man out as the eighth defenseman. History suggests defensive ace Radek Martinek will go down with an injury at some point, opening the door for the ex-Flyer or one of Gervais and Campoli.

Of course, there’s not much to discuss about the men between the pipes. Rick DiPietro is expected to be fully recovered from off-season hip surgery. Wade Dubielewicz completed his feel-good story last year by signing his first one-way contract, securing his spot with the big club.

While the current roster appears to be set, the Isles are carrying two extra NHL-calibre forwards and, if Berard signs, eight defensemen. Could a pre-season deal be in the works? Stay tuned...

Until then, feel free to e-mail me at or post a comment. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts and will most definitely respond.