Sunday, January 7, 2007

A Familiar January?

That was an exciting week for the Isles, wasn't it boys and girls? It's starting to feel a lot like, well, January of years past for the guys in blue and orange. When you start looking ahead to pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in 4 more weeks.

Not to sound overly negative, but I attended the Isles game at the RBC Center in Raleigh last night and it was not pretty. The team had trouble connecting on even one pass at a time, the defense looked confused when setting up to move the puck out of their own zone, often leaving the puck for a teammate who was no longer there. During commercial breaks, they pittered around the bench area with their heads down, demeanor in the toilet. The team looked out of sync all night and has for the past several games. DP was sub-par and new D-man Freddy Meyer looked small and played small as the Islanders continued its downward spiral.

A few weeks ago, the Isles looked to be buyers at the trade deadline and probably jettisoned York and Zhitnik to use the $5 mil towards that end. But now, with the conference packed tightly with playoff spot wanna bees, the Isles sit precariously close to the edge, a week or two away from switching from buyer to seller at the deadline. And my take is that the Isles desperately need to buy now in order to avoid selling later. But as the losing continues and with the deadline a long way away, the price may be steeper than the Isles want to pay.

Let's face it, this team as currently constructed, is barely playoff caliber and certainly will not win the Cup. So do you trade away kids to get a solid second line center, and then hypothetically make it to the second round before being eliminated? For many teams, the answer would be a solid 'no'. But the Islanders' situation is different. Islanders' owner Wang knows that the Isles fan base is eroding. He has had to run several ticket promotions to get people in the door. After the Summer of Discontent with the Neil Smith saga, blah blah blah, and Mike Milbury for years before that, Islanders fans have had enough of losing and a 2nd round playoff run might be enough to bring the fans back.

I still think Tampa would be a good trading partner as they are in the same boat as the Isles right now and have several star millionaires on the roster. But the latest rumor emanating from TB says that the team really wants to keep St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Richards - and will only be willing to part with Fedotenko and/or Prospal, the latter of which had a public blow out with coach Tortorella this week.

I think the Isles will likely try and swing a middle of the road move for one of these two players, most likely Prospal who is a center, but won't give up any kids with the exception of maybe Sean Bergenheim, who held out for more money and was blacklisted for the season by Wang when he came back begging to be forgiven. Personally, I'd like to see Wang forgive Bergenheim and bring him right into the starting lineup. He is fast, tough and can score. Would a TB or similar move be enough to make the playoffs? We will probably find out soon.

If the deal is made and the Isles are not in contention by the trade deadline, look for Simon, Hunter, Bates and Robitaille to be shipped off the Island for a box of Cracker Jacks. And look for Nilsson, Comeau, and Tambellini to be brought up with the chance to stick for good. By the way, Franz Nielsen played his first game in the bigs last night for the Isles and looked very, very good. He was around the puck all night, in position all of the time, and almost scored. I think this kid has a solid future as a second line winger.

Well, we have the Rangers on Tuesday at MSG. While the Isles have been successful there this season, the Islanders' psyche is now as low as the Rangers' psyche was when we beat them there. I am worried about this game. The Rangers are up and down but would like nothing more than to pound the Isles at home for a measure of revenge.

One last thing, although the Isles won a couple of games after the York/Zhitnik trades, is it possible that these two guys brought more to the table than we all thought? York didn't seem to do much of anything on the ice and Zhitnik looked slower and slower by the game - yet the Isles are 2-6 since the trades. Could those two guys have added that much of a positive influence to the room chemistry? Hmmm...

See ya next week.

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