Wednesday, October 22, 2008

This Frontier is now Lighthouse Hockey

Thanks again to those of you who shared your thoughts and condolences over the past couple of weeks. Without overplaying the violin here, you should know that as I checked email for business and estate-arrangement affairs, it was cool to see your sentiments come in. Cool to be reminded of hockey, too.

Dealing with my father's passing postponed what I had planned for the opening of the new season: A move, one more time, to a good home. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago -- and now that I've caught up on the season's opening games -- this little "Islander Frontier" blogspot hereby morphs into Lighthouse Hockey, a site on the SB Nation blog network.

There's an intro post here, with bio stuff you may have read before.

There's a welcome fanpost here, which goes in more detail about the features and ease of use that make it worth creating a (free!) SB Nation account.

I'm really excited about the move. I've always enjoyed the SB Nation format for other sports teams I follow (accept my apologies for the Wainwright/Beltran strikeout), and I wanted there to be one for the Islanders. SB Nation generally has a reliable function and clean design, and the easy user template allows not only comments but also live game interaction and visiting writer/fan Fanposts.

Thanks again to everyone for following along and chiming in here and at the old site. And if you'll bear with me for one last move and bookmark change, I encourage you to check Lighthouse Hockey out. That's where I'll be. Drop by, leave a comment or fanpost when the mood strikes you. Maybe chime in on the other SB Nation NHL team blogs when we play them, and of course (for you bloggers) link back to your spot(s) in the Islanders blogosphere.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Life interrupts

Sorry for going silent right as the Islanders' season is about to begin, what with all the storylines to follow on the Island and around the league, but life (and death) has intervened. My father passed away this week in his native Czech Republic, after a couple of years of declining health. He is of course who got me into hockey -- and, inadvertently, got me into the Islanders when he let me watch the Stanley Cup finals as a tyke.

Naturally I'm turning to those affairs and family grieving at the moment, so I didn't want to launch the new site without knowing whether I'll be available to post content. As it stands, I'll certainly miss the weekend's games (though DVR is set!) and hopefully resurface next week.

Best wishes and health to all your parents -- and you new parents -- out there. And Go Islanders!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Young Bailey is in

Such is the word. Roster moves through the rest of the organization are here.

Congratulations to the kid. I view this as an evaluation move. (But if you say PR move, I won't fight you on it.) What I mean is, Josh Bailey has shown enough in camp to warrant evaluation. Unfortunately, he hurt his hand (hand? maybe. Club no like injury info. Stop ask questions.), so his evaluation time in game situations was limited.

But with center Mike Sillinger still on injured reserve, and with two other bodies on that list creating space on the 23-man roster, it doesn't hurt to have Bailey around. They've got nine games, after all, before they burn up a year of his rights.

It's worth noting, by the way, that's nine games played. Not games on the schedule. So they can bring him along slowly, sit him if they think he's tired or he needs a game in the press box or they need to dress a pugilist. That way even when he's not playing, he's learning to be an NHLer. Soaking up the proverbial locker room wisdom. (On that note, can you imagine the difference between an 19-year-old doing this on Long Island vs., say, the insanity of Toronto or Montreal?)

The Blues did this with young David Perron last year, not deciding to definitely keep him (i.e. dress him for his 10th game) in the NHL until deep into November.

Some fans will tell you the Blues strung Perron along. Others -- and veteran players, too -- will say they needed to bring him along slowly because he had some maturity and "know your place, rookie" issues.

So will Bailey still be with the Islanders in December? Again, I still doubt it. But that's just an odds-based guess based on age, need, and scouting reports. I haven't seen anything of him (thank you, untelevised preseason games), and the Isles have only seen him enough to know they want to see a little more and get a better idea.

Lucky for us, that's what the next 10 or so games are for. Anyone out there betting he'll be on the team all season long?

Frontier News ... to the Lighthouse We Go
By the way ... I've referenced this a couple times, but now I can confirm it: Blogging-wise, I'm on the move one last time. I'm setting up a new site, called "Lighthouse Hockey" (Frontier is so ... last year). It will be on SportsBlog Nation (, a network of team blogs in all sports, featuring a usability and interactive format that I like very much. If you haven't visited SBNation blogs before, you should check it out, as they probably have sites covering other teams you love. And later this week, they'll have one that covers the Islanders, too.

More to come on that front as I dodge a pile of work on my desk.

Isles end preseason with question marks

First off, thoughts are with Chris Lee, removed from the ice on a stretcher tonight after being checked from behind by Rotislav Olesz. Lee was conscious and had movement in his extremities when he was taken off.

As for the game, a 6-0 loss to the Panthers ... yikes. Granted, it was the closeout of a preseason road trip, as well as the third game in four nights, but the Islanders didn't dress a patsy lineup of fill-ins, either -- although the top three defensemen were not in the lineup. Also, Lee's injury -- which you could understand sucking the air out of even a playoff game -- didn't happen until midway through the third, so it's not like the Isles were on autopilot for the whole game while their thoughts were with a friend.

First-rounder Josh Bailey returned to the lineup, playing 17+ minutes without registering a shot. And Rick DiPietro, facing live action for the first time in six months, shook the rust off for 60 minutes, although Bill Guerin says he wasn't worried about any of the goals DiPietro let up, and Botta described his play as strong.

Nonetheless, the Isles have closed out preseason play with some intriguing questions:

Is Josh Bailey ready for the big time?
Almost assuredly not, but perhaps they'll keep him around for a little more experience before shipping him to juniors for grooming. That's no disappointment, though. The kid impressed with his character and effort and won himself a contract. He's done nothing to cast doubt on GM Garth Snow's decision at the draft.

(Speaking of Bailey, Bob McKenzie notes that this year it looks like the top 5 picks from this summer will start the season on NHL rosters -- for the first time since 1990. What a class and what a sign, perhaps, of the ascendancy of youth in this league. As graybeard Doug Weight and others noted in Newsday the other day, this is ultimately a good thing: Players with skill are coming in more prepared than ever before, raising the level of play for the league.)

Will DiPietro be ready for the workload he wants right off the bat?
Considering his lack of work after finally being cleared to play, I wouldn't bet on it. On top of that, it's simply unwise to push a rehabbing guy that hard, that soon. Frankly, I'll be upset if he is carrying a 2007-08-like workload early on. This is the 15-year-deal guy here; we need to think long term. In my book, we're lucky if he's in passable form in his first regular season start. I wouldn't push it by giving him back-to-back season-opening starts like he wants.

Have the Islanders picked up Scott Gordon's system enough, given the compressed preseason timeline?
This is an interesting one. Ken at Islanders Outsider addressed this issue last week, after the Devils shutout (before the Isles beat the Devils in the return game):
The result only concerns me as a symptom of a larger problem—that the combination of a shortened training camp, a pile of injuries, and a new system to learn are conspiring to keep the Islanders from hitting their stride in time for the start of the season.

It really seems as though the team will have turn on like a switch in order to hit the ground running next Friday in New Jersey. With only three preseason games remaining, we hardly have a well oiled machine here. Maybe those three games will be sufficient to get enough players reasonably fit and comfortable with each other and the system. But, right now, I feel like they need more time.
Now that those three games have passed, I still wouldn't bet on the team being fully up to "overspeed" (sorry, bad pun), given their scoring struggles in preseason, which closed with another shutout. But, on the nights when they've been on their game, the reports have been encouraging. So we'll take some solace in that.

* * *
At this point, the beginning of the season looks like it will be a mixed bag, with nights where they tease us with what Gordon's system can do, interrupted by other nights that betray real growing pains. Considering where we were this summer, in coachless limbo, I can stomach that.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What, the season already began?

With the Islanders not beginning real play until Friday -- although Rick DiPietro's preseason debut intrigues -- it would have been fun to spend all week chuckling, "Heh, the Rangers are 0-2 before our season even begins." But no, the Short Island Smurfs' opening overseas series was with the bizarrely constructed Lightning. So 0-2 wasn't going to happen. Dammit.

Instead, that record is the other way around, and resurrected Bolts coach Barry Melrose is already climbing uphill. Better yet, after spending like top-heavy drunken Hollywood owners this summer -- can't you just wait until Jerry Bruckheimer buys and moves the Las Vegas Predatory Lenders and makes a Belfour-ian "bazillion dollars!" offer to buy Crosby, Malkin, and Whitney? -- already the club wants to "upgrade its blueline and shed salary."

Melrose laid into his team in many colorful ways after the defeats:
"We don't compete. Until that changes, we're going to have trouble."
Ouch! I don't know if I've ever heard a coach sound like that (click the preceding link for more quotes and inspirational gimmicks) after 120 minutes of the season. Should be a fun year.

Please, Please, Protect the Goalies
Something disturbing I noticed from tonight's game highlights: Two occasions where the puck carrier crashed the crease at high speed (once each for Lundqvist and Kolzig). This cannot keep happening.

(Warning: Islander Frontier crusade No. 7 incoming...)

Now, I know you need to "go to the net" with or without the puck in this sport. That is canonical. But with rule enforcement the way it is now, skaters are allowed to carry themselves at high speed toward the net without being impeded (hooked, chop-blocked, whatever) yet are not penalized when they go out of control and hit the goalie.

That's not right. If the goalie is standing his ground, in his crease, he shouldn't have to worry about a guy torpedoing his knee, head, or other valued anatomical real estate. If you're skating, you oughta be allowed to skate unimpeded, yes, except by legal check or by the goaltender's already established position!

Likewise, if you have the ability to get to the net with speed, rule enforcement ought to require you to avoid the goaltender -- or at least be penalized for it (Or perhaps old-school style: Be administered a thorough compensatory beating while the refs look the other way and call no instigator. I'm flexible on this. But some standard needs to be set and enforced).

It's not about discouraging crashing the net; only about reasonably protecting the health of the most important player on most teams. The way the game is played now, it's too much of an injury risk, and I'm under the impression it's also against the rules. There needs to be a deterrent.

Unless they allow the goalies to check (and be checked by) opposing players ... Hmmmm ...

A Word about Howard
Finally, I don't want to give this much attention or its own separate post, because it's pure tripe. And Drive for Five already addressed it judiciously. But when Newsday said it was increasing coverage of the Islanders, I didn't imagine that meant message-board-worthy effluvia like the "column" (rant? frat boy taunt?) turned in by one Johnette Howard.

She (I assume the "-ette" suffix implies female gender, but it's not worth the bother to check) has drawn or requested the assignment of compiling random rips at not only the Islanders club but also its fans. Seriously? This is worthy of print? I enjoy -- and try to offer -- constructive criticism of the club when appropriate. Which is why my jaw continued descending as I read each line: I kept thinking there would be a point. Kept thinking I would encounter a reason for the column other than stirring up reaction. I reached the end without finding either.

It's not just the inciteful tone, with its naked, desperate appeals for reader reaction, but also the poor construction and baseless critiques. The criticism didn't even sting, it just bewildered. Came across so vacuous and amateur. I guess this is Newsday's way of trying to cheaply drum up more readers ("Piss them off and they'll flood the comment forums with page views!"). But for me, it just confirms that I won't miss anything by skipping over every piece except Logan or Strang's.

Friday, October 3, 2008

New scores

I subscribe to the school of thought that, absent the television presence and cultural significance of other major U.S. sports, the NHL must-must-MUST keep nurturing its fanbase through constant innovation and service to its addicted fans via the Weberrific world of Sportsfan 2.0.

One small part of that involves making the league site and all team sites -- despite MSG's own individualized ambitions -- an excellent, informative, full-service destination for fans.

So at first glance, the relaunch of a "new" looks good. Of first priority to me: Making the stats machine ever richer and easier to navigate. They've done that. Just because the nature of our sport doesn't allow players' on-ice performance and situations to be placed in tidy slots the way baseball players are in sabermetrics, doesn't mean this info isn't rich and useful for the fans.

But the NHL has long sat upon a treasure chest of stats information without making it so easy to access. (Remember when the league stopped publishing blocked shots totals for fear they gave players a negotiating tool because they were unreliable?). Just this summer, when the Isles inked Doug Weight, I was trying to get a sober picture of the kind of ice time (not just minutes, but what kind of minutes and against whom) that he received last season in Anaheim, vs. in St. Louis. We knew Weight's role diminished considerably in his move from the Blues to the Ducks, but we didn't know by just how much.

That info was retrievable to an extent, but limited and requiring a lot of jotting down notes. His season stats page did not distinguish what ice time came with what team, so I had to go game-by-game to tally a picture -- when a simple, old print media function would have laid out a line of ALL of his stats with the Blues on one line, with ALL of his Duck stats on the other.

Happy to say that the new version of makes retrieving things like Weight's average time-of-ice breakdown as a Duck only much easier. That's so niiice.

The relaunch of has several other features like fan interactivity that are important, business-wise, even if they are of little interest to me. Accessing schedules and TV tables, finally, is as easy and intuitive as it should be. It's all a good sign that, in this department, the league knows very well what it is doing.

Is it "a watershed moment in hockey history?" That may be too much hyperbole. But "the most immersive hockey experience on the Web today?" Well yeah, actually, I think it is. Bravo.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Notes from the injury circus

*Stuart Smalley stares into the mirror...*

"Today is a new day. Today I am taking a new approach. Today I will look at the New York Islanders Hockey Club L.P.'s interpretation of the NHL's injury disclosure policy not as fuel for frustration, but as fodder for entertainment. Because darn it, this season has some fun in store. New coach and new prospects. No reason to let Big Brother's paranoia ruin it."

For those who are tired of this subject, I apologize for repeatedly harping on it. (In on-ice news, it's looking increasingly likely that old friends Miro Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko will draw the plum assignment of flanking Sidney Crosby.) But honestly, this injury reporting circus is just starting to get entertaining. Consider:

- The Isles, already with 7 NHL one-way contracts on the blueline, pick up another off waivers from the Rangers
- Two of them, Chris Campoli and Andy Sutton, are known to have injuries "below the head" and have not seen the ice in days
- The Islanders circulated a copy of the NHL injury disclosure policy to reporters, in a petty display of "So nyah."
- The only paper that covers them regularly, Newsday, has increased its reporter presence during preseason -- counter to industry trend -- meaning there are that many more bodies digging for info AND meaning the club is welcoming this additional coverage with a big "It's none of your business." Ha!
- Meanwhile, former PR head Chris Botta, mutually parted at the end of last season, is invited back to cover the team via blog with a veteran insider's perspective. Which means every time he shows up around the building(s), there are how many old friends and former colleagues willing to share a bit of info here and there?
- Amid all this, whoever is calling the shots on this issue (Garth "keep it in the family" Snow?) thinks it is both a good idea and feasible to hide injury information.

That, my friends, is how you cook up a recipe where in one corner, Botta is breaking the news that Sutton actually had surgery on his hand -- Botta suspects out for six weeks -- and Campoli's "good" shoulder is being re-evaluated. In another corner, Newsday's Greg Logan -- who broached the Isles' injury info dysfunction at multiple times last season -- considers this information and suspects (because what else can he do, given the tight lips?) that the announcement of first-round pick Josh Bailey's contract today may be in part timed to counteract the bad injury news.

But what injury news? The club doesn't disclose injury news, because it doesn't have to! ("Nyah nyah. Pthppt!") On that note, Logan also squeezed out of a club spokesman that the club "may have an announcement in the next day or two about its injured players."

We wait in joyful hope.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Captain, My Keeper?

It's a bit odd, but whatever. Maybe it works for the Canucks, despite the bad omen that immediately followed. And maybe I'll feel differently in a year. But at this point, if Bill Guerin does not play beyond this year, I really hope the Islanders don't do what the Canucks did and name their franchise goalie captain. Of course, if it did happen, it would only continue the odd fate intersections involving these two highly touted Islander draftees.

You can argue that by presence and by contract, Rick DiPietro is the team leader anyway, so why not name him so? But I'm partial to a little more balance and distribution of the leadership. The importance of your goalie -- now matter how rich, how decorated, how skilled -- goes without saying. DiPietro's particularly so. I don't think he needs the added honor of being "named" captain, particularly when league rules prevent him from wearing the "C" and thus require an awkward alternate arragenemnt.

But maybe I just fear change.

Elsewhere in the Island Future

Tonight is the one and only preseason game on actual home ice. With live video/audio scarce to non-existent throughout this preseason, Botta and the BlogBoxers should be all over it with recaps, if not live blogs. Plenty to look for in tonight's home unveiling of Flash Gordon's system, although it turns out waiver claim Thomas Pock will not make his debut, and first-rounder Josh Bailey is an injury scratch, likely sentencing him back to junior. Alas.

Meanwhile, Adam at Growing Up with the Isles has another in his series of prospect updates. This one's on offensive defenseman Mark Katic, a 2007 third-rounder.

The blogger ascendency continues

First lest the title be misleading, let me disclaim that I have zero interest in the bloggers-vs.-print reporter war that embroils MLB coverage and often erupts in every other sport, including hockey. My first priority is good information and enjoyable writing, period. It can arrive in a glass bottle on the shore, for all I care (actually, that'd be kinda nice).

That said, as eulogies continue to surface over the latest bad news for NHL print coverage in the U.S., it once again illuminates the growing role bloggers will have in how we NHL fans get our info fix. The news of further dropped coverage in L.A. and Palm Beach also stands in such unusual contrast to Newsday's recent decision (post-Cablevision takeover, naturally) to ramp up coverage.

*begins violin music*
I'm a newspaper junkie, wed to the ritual of the morning paper. So I will always nostalgically mourn its passing from central importance in our culture. But in the big picture, the shift in sports coverage is not nearly as significant as the dwindling budget and reach that print news departments have for covering (and uncovering) the issues that really matter in society -- the audits of politicians and public companies, the local investigations, the poring over raw source materials.

But that's a topic for another day, in another forum. Despite our gripes, in many ways, hockey fans' access has never been better. The best "print" reporters (and pubs) are paid or allowed to blog as well as file their daily print stories. The NHL's cup of blogging enthusiasm runneth over. Of the key assets print reporters bring -- budget and access to real-time player/coach reactions -- at least the latter is becoming more available to online writers, too -- paid or not.

So it is that you can go to the Islanders homepage and find banners for the BlogBox as well as Chris Botta's blog which, with his insight and access, is something akin to the way MLB has full-time reporters for each of its team's sites. Despite the economics of coverage that is altering output and reader habits, I'd say things are looking up.

Some Season Previews

On that note, one of the challenges of this "new" world is information overload: How best do you find, select and digest the info that works for you? With considerable legwork, FrankD over at Pensburgh polled his favorite bloggers from each team for their season previews or responses to his questions. How are the Pens dealing with Gonchar's loss? What do Lightning fans see from their owner revolution? Can anyone on the Rangers blueline hit? Some interesting thoughts he's collected over there, all before my Hockey News arrived in the mail ...

Yours truly is also included in the team previews. My Isles write-up there is aimed toward the non-follower of the Isles, but I'll add this caveat here: Since I answered Frank's questions a couple weeks ago, we've obviously learned much more about Scott Gordon. Also, to clarify, my sentence on Tambellini was to confess that I'd already written him off once (last season, when he seemed to lack confidence and was shown none by Ted Nolan) -- not to say that I've written off his chances this year. Obviously, the opportunity he is about to get this year will define Tambellini's career trajectory, and I'm looking forward to it.