Sunday, July 6, 2008

Blog Box-ing

As free agent signings have died down, and before we turn our attention back to baseball in the days ahead, I wanted to weigh in on the latest Islander drama.

Chris Botta, in his blog (, brought a lingering story to the front burner. In the rhetoric towards the end of last season, Islander coach Ted Nolan did not see eye to eye with Islander General Manager Garth Snow on player moves. The most public disagreement came in a radio interview on WFAN's "Mike and the Mad Dog" on March 6, 2008. Snow sounded surprised with Nolan's decision to start backup goalie Wade Dubielewicz over Rick DiPietro, who was just returning to the team after the death of his grandmother. Snow backed up DiPietro and has a good relationship with the franchise goaltender, but Nolan made the decision and Snow questioned him publicly. According to Botta, Nolan publicly complained to the press on a regular basis late in the season about the lack of NHL-ready players on the team after injuries ravaged the lineup and the lack of any personnel moves to improve the Islanders chances down the stretch.

Hockey, and sports in general, have some time-tested management strategies. The Islanders bucked that strategy when owner Charles Wang announced a management-by-committee approach, where the General Manager and Head Coach report directly to the owner. Player management and player use are discussed by committee. Snow and Nolan have not adapted well to this system.

Chain of command is important for several reasons in sports management. Ownership and upper management hire a coach for his expertise and ideas of changing a franchise around on an "X-and-O" or game-by-game basis. Ownership hires a GM for his expertise and ideas of changing a franchise with respect to personnel. Has Garth Snow ever coached? Has Ted Nolan ever been a GM? Yes, the owner has the final say, and the owner knows the concept of management, but what may have worked at a computer company will most likely fail in the arena of sports.

This concept is quickly going the way of the "College of Coaches", which was employed by the Chicago Cubs in 1961-62. Instead of having one manager, Cubs ownership decided to rotate eight managers throughout their organization. Players became confused. The team floundered. The concept has never been used since. The current state of the Islanders could be another reason why the "chain of command" works time and time again.

Snow makes the personnel decisions. Nolan makes the in-game decisions. If there are questions, the chain of command dictates Snow and Nolan hash it out, not in front of the owner and certainly not in front of the press or fans. Lack of communication led Nolan to publicly question Snow and Snow to sound astounded on a radio show when told who would start in goal. A large part of successful management is excellent communication. But, diplomacy is tougher to surface when the lines of communciation parallel to the top of the organization.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

NHL Free Agency (a.k.a. Christmas Morning)

July 1st marked Christmas Morning around the NHL. However, for the New York Islanders, it is normally a holiday we do not celebrate. We leave the milk and cookies and a note for Santa, and we have our tree decked out, but Santa never comes. The chimney is empty and no presents are left when we wake up the next morning.

In fact, last year, we woke up to find the milk, cookies, and Christmas tree gone at first light, as Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Tom Poti, and Viktor Kozlov bolted the first chance they got. This off-season, General Manager Garth Snow has kept expectations at a bare minimum, preaching the new, post-Mike Milbury mantra of building through the draft and promoting from within. It makes sense when you have Kyle Okposo waiting in the wings. It does not if you think Andy Hilbert belongs on the third line.

We barely put up the tree this year, electing to spare the tinsel and the ornate decorations around the house. But, Snow surprised us. He made a nice play for defenseman Mark Streit. Yes, he overpayed for the Swiss assassin, but a) we had the room under the cap and b) you have to overpay to convince most people to play here in the short-term. Snow followed up the Day One Streit surprise with the affordable signing of class-act Doug Weight to a one-year deal. Weight will be reunited with Bill Guerin in an attempt to recapture the magic of the 2006-07 season, where Guerin scored 28 goals with Weight riding shotgun. The deal (1 yr, $1.75 mil) is incentive-laden, as it should be.

However, the question is: are the Islanders done shopping this off-season? Snow is intimating that he is finished for all intents and purposes. I think he should make a couple other moves. The Islanders have 24 players under contract, and only 23 can be protected from the waiver draft before the season begins (remember the waiver draft in which we poached Chris Osgood in 2001?). EDIT: 17 of the 24 players currently signed are signed to one-way contracts (source: On The Islanders Beat blog by Greg Logan on, so no players have to be exposed to the waiver draft yet because the 7 players to qualifying offers may still be two-way deals, allowing the Isles to stash them at Bridgeport.

Here are my suggestions:

1) One more top-six forward. Coming into the off-season, we needed a playmaking center (Weight) and a finisher to play among the top-two lines. Snow has to fit this into the overall "building from within" plan, but a short-term deal for a veteran or a trade for an under-30 building block would be a huge win. But, even with the rebuilding plan, someone has to score and the organizational depth does not exist to compete nightly without some more outside help. Cap space can be a commodity in trade as the season approaches, so this may not happen right now. Outside of Okposo and possibly Rick DiPietro, is anyone really untouchable right now?

2) Get Team Tough(er). Coach Ted Nolan is all about grittiness, but the Islanders are not team tough. There are quite a few UFAs who were available this off-season who are "shift disturbers". Teams can no longer carry one-dimensional pugilists, but guys who get under the other team's skin, like Sean Avery (signed by Dallas), Bobby Holik (signed by New Jersey), and Daniel Carcillo (RFA) could be (or could have been) had. Georges Laraque is still out there and would be a deterrent for the liberties taken against our club for the last few years. Carcillo may not be worth an offer sheet, knowing his penchant for taking dumb penalties and flying off the handle.

3) Take a shot at a young RFA. The Islanders have set themselves up well. They have cap space to burn, a lot of draft picks made in a stacked draft, and the determination to stay young and improve. They can afford to let loose with some draft picks. How about making a play for Jay Bouwmeester ( He is a franchise d-man and it would cost the Isles some serious first-round picks in the next 3 years. But, would any of those future first-rounders measure up to Bouwmeester (12 and 15 goals in his last two seasons)? Plus, J-Bow has had 389 games of NHL experience at the young age of 24 and has received some instruction from the color analyst for the Florida Panthers...Denis Potvin. Other RFAs listed in the top 50 Free Agents by The Hockey News (July 1, 2008 issue) have mostly signed with their previously-contracted club (Shea Weber, Corey Perry, Mike Green, Jeff Carter, Andrei Kostitsyn), but there has not been a single word on Bouwmeester. Could this be in Snow's plans?

Whether the Islanders continue to "kick the tires" for any of the other free agents this off-season, you have to like what Snow has done this year. He has truly learned from last year that Islander fans need Christmas in July instead of picking off the leftovers in August.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What to expect from Random Musings...?

Hello and thanks for stopping by. Well, what can you expect from this blog? Mainly, it is a blog about sports, specifically, baseball, hockey, and football. But, if it catches my eye, ear, or, if something smells fishy, my nose, I will offer my two cents.

I am a 31-year-old computer consultant who would love to transition to sportswriting. But, knowing how much that job pays, I am looking to win the lottery first. I am from New Jersey and my rooting interests are with some New York teams, while other New York teams make my blood boil. My family is from Long Island, so I root for teams that play, or used to play, east of Manhattan: Mets, Islanders, Jets. I also have brothers (and sisters) in arms in Boston, so I also hold the Red Sox, Bruins, and Patriots dear. I also like the Devils for the same reason I like the Sox: we have a common enemy (Rangers and Yankees, respectively).

Essentially, my goals are to root my team to victory, stick around through good times and bad, and take solace in the little victories in life because, hey, anyone can root for a perennially good team, but what is the use if you cannot appreciate the journey? The Yankees? They are good just about every year, but the expectations are so high that they have to win just to satisfy the fans. But, for my Mets, the memories from those relatively fewer victories keep me coming back for more punishment, er, more hope.

Unlike Mark McGwire, I like talking about the past and give current stories an historical perspective. I have watched sports intently for over 20 years and I have researched quite a bit of what I missed before that. But, like McGwire, I like to keep it positive and upbeat, just minus the blinders.

Opinions and (clean) spirited debate are welcome. Also, I would love to make this blog interactive. If there is something going on in the world of sports that you want me to chime in on, please ask (

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