December 14, 2007

12/14/07 - Where Are They Now? -- Islanders Free Agents 2007

The 2007 NHL offseason was one of the most tumultuous summers any hockey fan could endure. The new CBA, just two years old, is still being adjusted to and learned by GMs and organizations around the league. Across the board, every team faced some roster shake up, and the Islanders were no exception.

But the free agency splash rippled out and subsided just in time for the '07-'08 season to start. By October, the Islanders were a totally different team, losing six of their top ten scorers to free agency, and replacing them with a mix of young and old faces from around the league. This new team has gone on to beat all the "expert" analysis and is in striking distance of the division lead, despite a recent scoring drought.

But as the season heads to the halfway mark, how have the ex-Isles been with their new teams this season? I asked some fellow NHL bloggers to give an inside perspective on the former Islanders' performances so far this year.

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Jason Blake - Toronto Maple Leafs
By far, one of the most popular Islanders players in 2006-'07 was Jason Blake, who led the team in both goals and points. After his breakout season, however, the team and Jason couldn't come to terms on a new contract, and he was headed for Toronto. Fellow hockey blogger Michael Forbes from the Bitter Leaf Fan Page offered a look into what Leafs Nation expected from Blakey, and how he has been living up to those expectations.

"Before the signing, I didn’t know a great deal about Blake," said Forbes. "At $4M a year, all agreed that the salary was decent, but the five years term was way too long. Not many fans expect a repeat of his 40 goal season, but most expect him to net 25 to 30 this year."

Right before the season Blake had seemed poised to lead the Leafs as he had led the Isles. "The pre-season seemed to hold some promise. Blake and Sundin lit the lamp, the coach was confident, the players seemed gung ho. Then came Blake’s cancer scare."

In early October, Jason Blake announced that he has a chronic form of leukemia. His particular cancer is highly treatable, and according to Blake, "[the cancer] will not impact my ability to live my life as I otherwise would, and will not affect my ability to perform at my highest level."

"I hate to say it, but I think Blake’s health issues have buffered him or at least sheltered him somewhat from criticism for his performance to date. His performance (or lack thereof) has also been overshadowed by larger issues with the Leafs," added Forbes. Just as the Islanders have been shuffling lines to find production, the Leafs tried to find Blake a new place on a new line. It worked.

"By the 25 game mark, Blake’s goal production was dropping faster than a bungee jumping David Diehl, and coach Maurice moved him off the top line to a unit with Kyle Wellwood and Darcy Tucker/Mark Bell. Since being moved to the second line, Blake’s production has gone way up. He’s potted a few goals and picked up even more helpers, good enough for 3rd on the Leafs in scoring. His offensive output came just in time as many were starting to question the signing."

Forbes concludes that, "given the price and term of his contract and the fact that team management sold Blake as the first line scoring winger, it’s probably a good thing that his health concerns have sheltered Blake somewhat from the usual off-ice media nonsense. He seems to have found a much better home on the second line and I hope Blake can continue to contribute, stay healthy, and have a good run the rest of the season."

We for the Islanders couldn't agree more. Jason treated us well, and we can only hope for the best for him in Toronto. Currently, he's on pace for 13 goals and 42 points this year. Be sure to check out Forbes' Bitter Leaf Fan Page for more commentary on Blake and the Leafs.

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Ryan Smyth - Colorado Avalanche
When the Is
landers acquired Oilers hero Ryan Smyth at the trade deadline, it was the talk of the league. What many saw as a shame for Edmonton (and for that matter, all of Canada), us Long Islanders saw a trump card for the 2007 playoffs. On our drive to the post-season, Smyth added everything we had hoped for-- leadership, grit, points. But the market for Smyth was huge at the end of the season, and keeping him on the Island would prove to be a tremendous challenge. Despite being offered a huge contract to stay, Smyth chose to accept a lesser offer in Denver. Colorado Avalanche blogger David Driscoll-Carignan (inthecheapseats.com) tells the story from an Avs fan's perspective:

"Smyth is a guy many Avs fans have coveted for a while. When the extension talks with Edmonton ended with him getting traded, we all marked July 1st on the calendar. He seemed like a perfect fit for the team - we play a lot behind the net and he would have been a perfect addition for that system. Plus, he adds a lot of leadership and grit - we had plenty of the former, but none of the latter. We also had a ton of cap room. It seemed like a perfect marriage."

Thanks, David. It seemed just lik
e that for us, too. (Just kidding.)

This year, Smyth is playing comfortably in Colorado, and is on pace for 26 goals and 66 points. "So far, it's worked out well. He has [25] points. That's solid enough, but, in typical Smyth fashion, he's been involved in many goals he didn't get a point on, either from screens, near deflections, or just generally being a pain in the ass in front of the goalie. He's mostly played with Sakic on the first line, but has also spent time on the 2nd line with Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk. I actually think this is the better line for him, but he's still been solid,"
Driscoll-Carignan said.

Interestingly enough, the one thing that seems to be holding Smyth back in Colorado is something that the Islanders have in spades: a point shot. As Driscoll-Carignan points out, "there is one thing that's holding him back a little bit on Colorado. None of our defensemen have a really great slapshot, so his effectiveness standing in front of the net and deflecting point shots on the powerplay is diminished a bit." You can't help but wonder how effective the Islanders PP could be with Bergeron and Berard shooting at the slot with Smyth setting up shop. (Sigh.)

The verdict, according to David? "All in all, we're quite happy to have him - he seems to be worth the money." Well put. But would he have been worth slightly more money? That's just something for us Islanders fans to ponder and lament. Check out the latest on Smyth and the Avs at David's blog: inthecheapseats.com.

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Tom Poti / Victor Kozlov - Washington Capitals
Two of the Islanders' biggest factors last season left as a duo to the Washington Capitals. Defenseman Tom Poti and forward Victor Kozlov found new homes in America's Capital after Isles' management decided not to give in to inflated salary demands. Unfortunately, our Capitals friends over at Japers' Rink couldn't be reached for comment, but we can still look at the facts and figures
with a neutral view.

Tom Poti has been well known for his point shot, and has worked the PP effectively for years. It's strange, then, that he has yet to net a goal all year. His +/- has also slipped a bit, and is on pace for -15 by the end of the season. At his rate, he will garner 27 assists, and, well... zero goals.


Kozlov, on the other hand, has made his own space on the Capitals, coming in at 4th on the team in overall points, with 15 assists and 3 goals. At that rate, he'll have 48 points at the end of the season. That is slightly less than he earned last year on the Isles (51), but on a slumping Capitals team, that is nothing to shake a stick at.

In all, the Capitals did well in picking clean the NY teams, adding their number-2 scorer in Michael Nylander from the Rangers.

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And who could forget our old friend Alexei Yashin... our token under-achieving all-star.

That old boy is doing well in the Russian Super League, coming in 22nd in league scoring with 24 points.

It appears he's making friends, too. This video has surfaced of him making acquantances with Anton Belov. (Yash is number 19, which is the number he originally wanted here in the US, but was retired (Trottier), so he took 79 because it was similar.)





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Thanks for reading, and let's go Islanders!

December 6, 2007

12/06/07 - Free Fall

Well, the Islanders are doing... terribly. Go figure the last game I can see on TV this year is another depressing loss to the B's. Anyway, I wanted to quickly assure everyone that I'm still here -- working through the last weeks of the Fall semester -- and I'm now working on a collaborative piece with other NHL bloggers. It should be ready soon, so check back sometime next week for the scoop.