Isles midseason report

With the Isles 41th game approaching Thursday night against the Edmonton Oilers, this seems like as good a time as ever to evaluate everybody’s favorite Long Island franchise based on their play so far this season. Lets start:


From the preseason, we all knew that the Isles could compete in an Eastern Conference that sports some of the best, and some of the worst teams in the NHL. But seeing the team immediately respond to 55 year old (don’t quote me on that) rookie coach Steve Stirling. We could all tell from the start that he’d be a treasure in tough times.

The icelanders hot start spilled over to the beginning of the season, and I personally think that the top thing about the isles this season is that they’ve managed to stay in contention all season. They are in the same position they were in last year, but unlike with Peter Laviolette, Steve Stirling believes in 4 lines, so it should be a lot easier to hold up down the stretch.

Other general highlights:

-Garth Snow stepping in and winning like he did last year

-Trent Hunter being named NHL rookie of the month

-Slick Rick DiPietro making a beautiful save with Kenny Jonsson’s stick to force overtime (Rico’s got the skills to pay the bills–he just might be a year or two away before he can be truly great)


I’d say the the 7 game losing streak qualifies as a lowlight. A really ugly losing streak. Also, the annoying habit that the isles have to win 3 against good teams, and lose 2 against bad ones.

Other lowlights:

-Alexei Yashin’s lacerated forearm was pretty ugly…

-So was Mark Parrish’s ankle sprain, just when he was starting to play well.

-Rick DiPietro getting the starting job and losing it was a slap to the face for Mad Mike.

-Speaking of Mad Mike, talk that he could get fired was another lowlight.

-I can’t forget when so Leafs fans actually thought that the Isles could trade Michael Peca to them, for none other than…Darcy Tucker. You have to be really dumb to believe that one–and many isles fans were.

Player Grades:

Enough of this Highlight/Lowlight stuff. The isles have been way too up and down for that. Let’s cut right to the good stuff: Grading. Because of injuriese, I’m only gonna grade those who have gotten a significant amount of playing time this year (sorry Mattias Wienhandl, but you’re where I’ll make the cut.) Let’s go:

The Forwards

Michael Peca: The captain. His *new* Lucky 7’s line with Sean Bates and Trent Hunter have starred. Too bad Peca can’t get in on any of the goal scoring. He’s just proving Buffalo fans right every day. But still, he’s been the key to Trent Hunter’s success. Therefore: B

Trent Hunter: The rookie. Has shown an amazing ability to change a game with his pinpoint shot and long reach. He has scored more goals than any other rookie in the league (and is second in points to Michael Ryder) His defensive game is incredibly solid as well. Toss in the fact that he’s been one of the only consistant Isles, has a 15-10-25, and he’s a rookie, and you have yourself the one and only: A

Sean Bates: The role player. Works hard on both ends, forechecks, invaluable on the penalty kill. He seems to have caught Mike Peca syndrome as of late, though–he’s getting chances, but can’t get the goals to go in. Still, a solid guy who’s got 24 points. He gets a: B+

Alexei Yashin: The star. He’s done what Alexei Yashin does best this year, score some goals, get some assists, be inspiring at times. 12 goals and 12 assists isn’t bad for somebody who’s been injured and has had some really streaky line mates. I would venture to guess that Oleg Kvasha and Mariusz Czerkawski couldn’t be as good without him. But I pin responsiblility for the powerplay squarely on his ‘A’, and that just hasn’t been there. So…: B+

Oleg Kvasha: The mystery box. Reach in and pull out either a fast, physical force who has the presence to get tips and the shot to score goals. Other nights he is truly a waste of space. This season he’s been better though, and has actually been consistent enough to get PP time. A solid 23 point output is good enough to score him a: B

Mariusz Czerkawski: The not-so-surprising surprise. At the beginning of the year, Mariusz could do no wrong. Now he can. His torrid start has considerably cooled, and we’re now seeing more of the AHL Czerkawski than the NYI Mariusz we know and love up here. Still, nobody could have expected better from him, but as of now he is totally non-consequential, and his poor D has actually cost the isles some games. But a strong statistical year scores him a: B

Mark Parrish: The streakster. Mark had a slow start, picked it up, fell off, and then was better than ever, then sprained his ankle due to crappy Nassau Colliseum ice (please build a new arena, Mr. Wang!). His numbers were just starting to get respectable, and he was becoming a marked player for the other teams defense. But now he will be out for a long, long time. 13 goals will earn you a: B

Arron Asham: The poor man’s Jeremy Roenick. He’s one of the islanders more consistent forwards, and is a great forechecker. He can also score some (6-7-13) but he loses his touch way too much. He is physical, but doesn’t take penalties, but his -1 makes me think that maybe he should. Arron registers a: B-

Dave Scatchard: The irreplaceable. Scatch proved that he is the most invaluable player on the entire team by getting injured and missing the first 19 games with a shoulder injury. I can’t find the actual stat, but let’s just say that he came back sometime around the end of the huge losing slide, and the isles have taken off since his return. Coming off a career year, he makes everybody around him (see: Jason Blake) so much better. Despite only playing 20 games, I give Scatch a: B

Jason Blake: The asshole. Just to be clear, he’s the kind of ass you love if you have him, and you hate if you don’t. Last season he drew more penalties than anybody in the league while scoring a career high in goals, because his scrappy style of play and his lack of fear to hit somebody twice his size makes you want to hit him. This season is has been no different. His energy on the ice makes the whole team better, and he can also score critical goals (12-13-25). He’s really taken off since being put back with Dave Scatchard. Have this Jason, you deserve it: A-

Justin Papineau: The investment. The isladners basically traded Chris Osgood for Papineau last season. We all loved Ozzie. But we wanted Papineau, and we got our man after a long negotiation process which Mad Mike actually won! But the 23 year old youngster has yet to pay off, with a 1-3-4 this season over 28 games. Patience is the key with him–now that Yashin and Parrish are out, he’s beginning to get quality chances for the first time now that his ATOI (8:02) is beginning to rise. But for now, even though I like your style, you’ll only get a: C

Justin Mapletoft: The spacefiller. Mapletoft is pretty much like Papineau in that he’s a future investment who’s no Trent Hunter, but could end up being a key player for the isles in the future. But for now, somebody’s gotta play the 4th line, and Steve Stirling is very familiar and trusting of the 22 year old he coached at Bridgeport. For doing nothing of consequence to change my mind either way, I give you a: C

Eric Godard: The boxer. The last forward on to be graded, Godard is good at what he does. Punching people. He is actually quickly gaining a reputation as being one of the best fighters in the NHL. The isles think they can teach him to score, but they probably can’t. But for being a good boxer, but doing nothing else of consequence: C+

The Defense

Adrian Aucoin: The workhorse. I’m going to go on the record saying that Adrian Aucoin is the most underrated defenseman in the NHL. He leads the league in +/-, is 5th in average time on ice, and is still consistantly shut out of the allstar game, or an allstar contract. This season he has been at his best, and he has a ridiculous home +/- of 22! His offensive numbers should be higher though, and his road game could use some sharpening. But still, you’re near the head of the class with a: A-

Roman Hamrlik: The complete package. Theoretically Hammer can score, defend, rake in +/-, and anything else you could possibly ask for. But this season, his numbers are only average, and he has yet to register a goal, very dissapointing for the reigning all-star. But lost in his offensive struggles is some great defense. That earns you a: B

Janne Ninimaa: The enigma. Janne should be Roman Hamrlik jr. And since his aquisition during the stretch playoff run, he has done a solid job. He’s very coachable according to Stirling, scores (3-9-12) and seems like he genuinly wants to win on Long Island. So why can’t he break through and become a star? Still, he’s been good. Solid 2-way play gets him a: B

Kenny Jonsson: The insurance fraud. Kenny continues to excell working in the Isles “big 4,” with a solid +/- (11) and strong defense all throughout the year. He’s remarkable on the 2 on 1. In fact, he’s been so solid all-around, there is no knock on him. And even though he’s appeared in all 40 games this season, every big hit sends him down cluthing his head. I just can’t help but wonder how much money the team loses if he gets another concussion. But, anyway: B+

Eric Cairns: The rally monkey. I give Cairns this name not to mock him, but actually to commend him. He’s become less of a bruiser, and more of a defenseman. He now only drops the gloves when he needs to pummel somebody into the ice to give his team a boost. Steve Stirling has worked very hard with him this season, and Eric has worked equally to improve his game. He may never make it a “big 5”, but he’s certainly doing his part to help the isles win. Nice job: B

Radek Martinek: The madness of Mike. Radek Martinek is what gives Mike Milbury that air of self-assuredness that makes most hate him. An 8th round pick in 1999, Mad Mike loves to parade him around as another “big 5” type defender. He’s always just a little bit away. And this year is no different. He’s had solid numbers (2-3-5 in 26 games) and is a solid puck handler in his own zone, but again, injuries are holding him back. Also, his -7 isn’t pretty on a team with a +26. I sometimes wonder if Sven Butenshcon is closer to breaking into Stirling’s system at this point: B-

Sven Butenschon: The exception. Sorry Mattias Wienhandl. I know you’ve played one more game than Sven has. But he makes the arguement about who will end up with the final defense spot at the end of the season. He has worked extensively with Stirling at Bridgeport, and has been incredibly comprable to Radek Martinek, but in half the games. His puck handling in his own zone could be an issue, though. Keep on truckin’ Sven: C+

The Goalies

Rick DiPietro: Rico started hot, but then the isles blind faith in him turned rotten, and they pulled him out just in time to avoid falling out of the playoff race. His numbers (7-8-1, 2.46 GAA) are not pretty, but could be worse. As I said earlier, he is very talented, but is still not quite there: C+

Garth Snow: Snowy has done an admirable job splitting time with DiPietro, and has pulled out a record above .500 (12-10-2, 2.6 GAA). But sadly, most of his success has come in spurts, helping to prove that goaltender by commitee work very well. And you wondered how a team with such high grades could be the 7th seed: B-

The Coaching Staff

Steve Stirling did a great thing by hiring Kurt Fraser as his primary assistant. The man who couldn’t handle the godawful Thrashers is now doing quite the job trying to replace the beloved Greg Cronin (now coaching at Bridgeport and just a year away from an NHL job.) This team has been through thick and thin, and Stirlling has held the clubhouse together, something that Peter Laviolette has not been able to do, and is now poised for a strong second half. Good work: B+

My prediction for the Isles is this: They will make the playoffs, go for a decent run, and die when they meet a true power (Ottowa again, maybe Philly–NJ they can beat.) This is a team that I see as being just a year away. They have a tough young nucleus–if they can stay healthy, then they have quite a future.

11 Responses to Isles midseason report

  1. nskerr says:

    I have to agree with most of the things you said. The Isles are a team that has a lot of talent, but it is the type of talent that only emerges when the team works hard. They are low on “natural ability.” This is why they are streaky. There is no one that scores like Iginla, or is automatic like Brodeur. All of them have to work hard as a unit to be successful. This streak they were on until recently showed what they can do by playing a team game and playing it hard. They beat Toronto, NJ (3 times, 1 OTL), Philly, Atlanta, DC on the road, and Tampa.

    They lost 7 in a row when they didn’t work.

    My concern is with the injuries to two goal scorers, the Isles now must rely on a rookie sensation, Peca who is having trouble scoring, Blake who is starting to heat up, Bates who is having problems and Scatchard who hasn’t come back as strong from his shoulder injury as all had hoped.

    On D, I disagree. Hamrlik is physical but his shot sucks. He misses the net too often. Niinimaa should be better. He tries to get cute and gives up the puck a lot. Aucoin is awesome. Jonsson is unbelievable as well. Martinek is starting to regain his form from 2 years ago before the knee injury. Cairns fills out the roster and does a good job for a limited role.

    DiPietro has been a disappointment. He still seem immature. He makes a lot of mistakes, plays the puck to often and gives it away causing problems for the D. Snow on the otherhand has been real good. Even over the last few where the Isles haven’t won, he isn’t allowing more than 3 goals a game. That gives the Isles a shot. The Isles got a tie giving up 3, lost 3-2 and lost 1-0. I’ll take my chances with those numbers.

    As far as coaching, I think Stirling has done a good job in general, but I’m not a fan of the constant line changes. The lucky 7’s has played well recently and the team seems to have gelled by staying together as a unit. I do like the fact that no matter who the player is, if he fuck’s up, he is benched. Stirling benched DiPietro during a game when he took a stupid penalty that led to a powerplay goal. The Isles went onto win the game. That is what they were missing under Laviolette.

    If the Isles can hang in there until Yashin and Parrish get back, I think they will make the playoffs. If they start to falter, I think Milbury will need to make a move to get more scoring. That probably will mean Hamrlik goes to either Tampa for Lecavalier or to Buffalo for Satan.

    The next few games will be key. If the Isles can right the ship and beat Edmonton and the Rangers whom they play twice in the next week, they should be in decent shape. If they start losing and fall out of the 8th spot, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Milbury pushes the trade button.

  2. Treva says:

    The isles have to be my favorite east coast team. Should they make it to the playoffs (i think they should but without yashin and parish… they did it last year, can they repeat?) I think they have the right mix to go deep in the playoffs. They have excellent grit and one of the best checking forward groups in the league (Peca, Blake, and Scatch).

    (I hate to admit it, but tucker is looking like a better offensive player than Peca. Tuck is usually more offensive, but i am talking hockey here)

    Why did you give everyone B’s??

  3. The_Conductor says:

    What team are you rating here? A’s and B’s and a couple C’s. Common now, there not that good.

    I believe 6 teams ahead of them…

    I think just maybe you take another look at the player and compare them not only to each other but to the rest of the league

    Trent Hunter is the only one on this team that I think deserves an A.

  4. devfanman4 says:

    A month ago I would’ve laughed if you said the Isles could beat the Devils in the playoffs. But the Devils are looking worse and the Isles are looking better. There’s a smaller talent gap between the teams now compared to the one in the recent past.

  5. GeniushockeyKID says:

    i’ve always thought if snow’s gaa was a little more consistant he’d be a good starter. as for sterling, the only thing i liked about him becoming the new head coach was the fact that the isles have a lot of talented young players (dipietro, hunter, papineu, mapletoft) and maybe since he coached them in bridgeport well enough for them to move up he could inspire them. also, SHAKE UP THE FIRST LINE!(when yashin returns) how bout this Blake-Yashin-Hunter. and dont say their all right hand shots cuz i know and they have no left handed shots on the team besides kavasha and bates who are both inconsistant.

  6. GeniushockeyKID says:

    by left handed shots i meant left wingers

  7. Kashin says:

    Great job as usual.

    – I know you dont hate Milbury but for most Isles the highlight would be seeing him being fired.

    – Agree on Peca= needs to score some goals.

    – Hunter= ROY. Most importantly win it or not he needs to keep up consistently.

    -Bates= He was bad last game but he doesnt have those that often.

    – Very happy with Yashin’s perfomance. Not his health. Was on pace for an all-star year.

    -Chow has been great, came out of his funk, but he cant carry the load they need another winger in the meantime.

    – Kvasha is still Kvasha.

    -Parrish was hot before he was injured but he has always been inconsitent.

    – Asham has been okay.

    – Scatchard and Blake are essential for this team. 2 most underrated players.

    – Pappaneu is a disapointment. He should be were hunter is now.

    – Godard tonight will take on Larouque. Up and coming fighter.

    – Aucoin is an A best player on the team.

    – Jonnson is having a great defensive year and his offense is finnally coming along this year.

    – Hamr is a disapointement and he is gone. He is a C-. I think Sterling should play himn with Niniimma since that is the reason why he is here. To be a pair for Hamr.

    – Niniimma has been good. Needs to be better on PP.

    -Marti and Sven have been lower then average. Butenschon will be there for the end of the year not Martinek.

    – DP will be fine this year and for the future but for now snow is the man.

    – I think they are a playoff team. They just need to be consistentaly good down the stretch unlike last year.

  8. Beckfan5 says:

    DAMN! Your pretty hard up for a team thats only 2 games over .500, is 5-10-3-1 on the road, 21 in the league on the PP, 25 on the road, theyve been shut out SIX times in 40 games (thats once every 6.6 games), 20 on the PK, 17 in GA. Yes they have 19 wins,BUT, they also have 17 losses, 18 if you count the OT loss they have. Their winning pct. is .525.

    So for the 22 players you ranked, you gave at least a B- or BETTER! to 17 of those players.

    Dude youve got to be a little more realistic when it comes to gradeing your team and not so bias. I can only imagine what you would rate the Devils if you were a fan of them?

  9. kidhenry1 says:

    I know that just reading this you may think that I’m some stupid Isles fanboy who doesn’t realize that they are only 2 games over .500. But trust me, I do.

    I tried to subtly point it out in my Garth Snow grades. Nskerr said it best in that the overall numbers are good, and the isles live and die on their momentum, preparation, and work ethic. That is why so many people got high grades. Because in losses, everybody is crappy, so it’s hard to pin the blame on one guy and give him an F.

    Also, I admit that when I looked over what I wrote for Hamrlik, I was quite soft. I didn’t take enough into account that it is also his responsibility to run the PP. His excellent defensive play should be recognized, though. I would change that to a: B-

  10. Kashin says:

    im not sure about the d. H had too many turnovers that lead to breakaways and goals.

  11. Beckfan5 says:

    So basicly what your saying is that when the team wins, they win as a whole and everyone plays good. BUT, when they loose, they loose as a whole and everyone played like shit? Well for a .500 team, souldnt most of the A rated players be at about B- abd the B players be at about C?

    Your porkin this team way too much.

    And for a guy whos “running the powerplay”, he’s doing a pretty shity job of it. How many goals does he have? 0 . Thats right 0. And hes only a plus 5. He should maybe be about a C at best.

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