By Brett Malamud
Wednesday is finally here! All day long, Dabuzzza will be bringing you the NHL coverage as we approach tonight’s games. If you missed the Metropolitan Division Preview, click here. If you missed the Atlantic Division Preview, click here. Now we move to the Western Conference. The Central division hopes to be a good battle all the way to the end. The Avalanche won the division last season, but it seems that almost everyone in the division has improved. Let’s take a look at this season’s Central Division:
Brett Malamud is a Computer Science Major at Binghamton University. He is the co-founder of dabuzzza.com. His favorite athletes are Derek Jeter and Todd Bertuzzi. You can follow him on twitter at @brettnyy
By Ryan Crawford
New York Islanders
Stick a fork in them because the Islanders are done. 12 points out with six teams to jump and 22 to play makes it virtually impossible to make a serious run. Throw in the injuries to Tavares and Nielsen and yesterday’s call ups of Strome, Lee and Halmo and it’s wait until next year for the talented but young and beat up Islanders. The top players available include:
Thomas Vanek- the best player on the market, Vanek can be had for a high-end prospect a mid level prospect and a first round pick. Can Garth Snow get that high a return is the question.
Andrew MacDonald- word on the street is a first round pick gets the top d-man on the trade market
Evgeni Nabokov- not mentioned often but with the team out and UFA pending, he could be cheap goalie insurance for somebody. Minnesota? St. Louis?
New York Rangers
The Rangers are in a tough spot. They are a playoff team with key players approaching UFA status.
Ryan Callahan- The team captain is looking for about 47 million over 7 years and the team is offering 30 over 5. Interested teams are rumored to include St. Louis (Anthony Stewart?), Tampa Bay (Martin St. Louis?), Buffalo for a long-term deal, Columbus and Toronto.
Dan Girardi- Also looking for more than the Rangers want to pay, he would be a prime chip if the Rangers make him available. Expect Boston, Toronto, Philly, Anaheim and Phoenix to be in the mix.
The team with the worst record in the league will make just about every veteran available. Three in particular are hot.
Ryan Miller- The top goalie on the market, the Sabres are looking to create a bidding war for his services. St. Louis heads the list of potential destinations but don’t count out Minnesota, Anaheim, San Jose or even Colorado.
Steve Ott- a gritty guy who could fit in with any of the top contenders. Boston, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Chicago and Tampa Bay head the list.
Matt Moulson- acquired early this season for Vanek, Moulson will be flipped at the deadline for more young assets. With scoring at a premium, expect Los Angeles, Ottawa, Montreal and possibly Detroit to be in play.
Mike Cammalleri– smaller scoring winger could be looked at by Pittsburgh, New Jersey or Los Angeles to provide some jump.
Shea Weber- probably won’t be moved at the deadline but could be a blockbuster if the right team comes calling with enough goodies. Philly and Edmonton are always mentioned but teams like Buffalo, Florida, Dallas and the New York Islanders have plenty to offer and more than enough cap space.
By Mike Basile
John Tavares- (29 GP, 11 G, 21 A, 32 Points, +/- -5) No question the best player on the team and keeps them in some games single handedly. Would like to see a few more big goals from the young kid, but can’t complain about Tavares. Grade: A-
Kyle Okposo– (29 GP, 8 G, 18 A, 26 Points, +/- -1) After a great playoffs last season, fans wondered how Okposo would play this season. No doubt he is a streaky player, but for the most part he has been good this season helping out the captain on the top line. Grade B+
Frans Nielsen– (29 GP, 10 G, 13 A, 23 Points, +/- – 5) Frans got off to a hot start and has cooled down of late overall his play has been above average for him this season. Playing with Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner has only hurt him. Grade B+
Josh Bailey (28 GP, 4 G, 6 A, 10 Points, +/- – 3) Josh Bailey has not scored a goal in over three weeks, and after starting the season off pretty well, many fans believed he was ready to break out. It seems the beginning of the season was a fluke and Josh Bailey has returned to being invisible on the ice. Grade C
Pierre Marc-Bouchard (27 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 9 Points, +/- -8) One of Garth’s off-season moves that did not pan out to what he wanted. With just 9 points in 27 games and a –8, he has not done much to help this struggling team. Grade C-
Thomas Vanek (13 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 9 points, +/- +3) Thomas Vanek and John Tavares are starting to develop some chemistry, but his lackluster defensive play frustrates many fans and that +3 will quickly drop if that continues. Grade B-
Michael Grabner (26 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 Points, +/- -5) Michael Grabner has not scored since opening night, and continues to frustrate fans, as he gets at least one opportunity to score every night. He is normally good on the PK to make up for that, but I cannot even give him that this season. Grade D
Brock Nelson (19 GP, 3 G, 5 A, 8 points, +/- -6) One of the most consistent players on the Islanders and all he gets is a healthy scratch. The young kid showed he could play with Tavares and works hard every night. Grade B +
Casey Cizikas (29 GP, 3 G, 4 A, 7 Points, +/- – 3) Casey is a great 4th line center, he works hard every night and gets rewarded with the occasional goal and has great ice vision. Grade B-
Cal Clutterbuck (23 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 Points, +/- -4) Another player who is doing his job this year. I would definitely like to see him more on the score sheet, but he throws the body around and wins many physical battles. Grade C
Peter Regin (28 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 Points, +/- -4) Who is this guy? And why is he still on the team? He barely played in Ottawa for a reason. Grade D
Matt Martin (29 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 points, +/- -3) Matt Martin is an extremely smart hockey player and throws his body around for fun. He has taken some bad penalties this year that have surprised me and knowing that he is a smart player is unacceptable. Grade C+
Eric Boulton (6 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 Points, +/- +3) Never thought I would say this, but Eric Boulton has been good in the games he has played this season. I love that he is a +3, which shows that good things happen when he is on the ice. It would be unfair for me to grade him on only 6 games though.
Colin McDonald (22 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 Points, +/- -10) Colin is an upbeat player and a big fan favorite, but he is just not an NHL player. – 10 is a stat that tells me that when he is on the ice I have to be scared at all times. Grade D
Andrew MacDonald (29 GP, 3 G, 8 A, 11 Points, +/- – 6) Andrew Macdonald is not having the best year to be quite honest, but that is because Capuano is trying to make him things that he is not! He is not a quarterback on the power play, he is not a 1 or 2 defensemen and should not be playing 26 minutes a night. I may get some criticism for this, but MacDonald plays hard every night and is a big part of this team. Grade B
Travis Hamonic (29 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 6 points, +/- -6) Travis is also being too heavily relied on this season and the fatigue is showing. I believe Hamonic should be a + defensemen every season, but this year’s being overworked is hurting his game. Grade C+
Matt Donovan (22 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 points, +/- – 5) Matt Donovan has been exactly what I expected. Gets involved in the offensive rush and helps out offensively, but makes rookie mistakes on the defensive end all too often. Grade C
Thomas Hickey (29 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 Points, +/- – 3) Gives up his body for the team game in and game out and works very very hard. The mistakes he makes show to be costly and has to cut down on those with the defense slacking big time. Grade C
Matt Carkner (23 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 Points, +/- – 7) All the hate on Matt Carkner from the fans is totally understandable. He is paid to play defense and constantly gets caught pinching when he has no offensive ability and is a – 7. Grade D
Radek Martinek (10 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 Points, +/- -1) Radek is doing exactly what the Islanders needed him to. He plays sound defensively when they need him to. Sure he makes some mistakes, but with the defense they have, he has showed some solid veteran play. Grade B-
Lubomir Visnovsky (8 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 points, +/- +3) It is no secret that this team is hurting without their best all-around defenseman. Their power play was ranked in the top 5 when they had Visnovsky and now without him it is in the bottom 10 of the league. I will grade him by saying COME BACK!
Aaron Ness (12 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 Points, +/- – 7) The young kid has come in and to be honest, has not done much for this team. He is just too small and every game gets bullied around in front of the net. Grade C-
Brian Strait (9 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 Point, +/- – 2) With the defense playing like they are, I would love for Strait to come back just for some hope that maybe he can help us out.
Calvin De Haan (3 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Points, +/- -1) Not much to say only playing 3 games so far this season, but overall, I do like what I see from the young man who has been injury plagued.
Evgeni Nabakov (14 GP, 5-5-3, 3.30 GAA, save % .892) Since the playoffs last season, Nabby has lost all trust from Islander fans and after a recent groin injury fans are not to optimistic about him coming back and being the Nabby that led this team to the playoffs. Grade D
Kevin Poulin (13 GP, 3-10-0, 3.24 GAA, save % .887) I can’t blame Kevin Poulin for having bad statistics with the defense they have, but he has let up some soft goals in big situations that make me question our goalie of the future. Grade C
Anders Nillson (4 GP, 0-1-2, 3.26 GAA, save % .883) Anders played very well against two of the best offenses in the NHL (Penguins and Capitals). I will try to be optimistic about the giant goaltender who I think has some talent.
Overall Team Grade (29 GP, 8-16-5, 21 points) After making the playoffs last season there were high expectations for this hockey club, but with some injuries and lack luster play, this team has found itself in the basement to begin this season. The only good sign is that they do have time to bounce back with an 82 game season this year! Grade C-
Mike Basile is a sophomore at York College Of Pennsylvania. He is a huge sports fan, and when it comes to hockey maybe considered a little obsessive. Giving insight on the Islanders and all things hockey. You can follow him on twitter at @mikeybasile1
By Mike Basile
I don’t think many, if any, Islanders fans were complaining when they acquired Thomas Vanek from Buffalo. He is a great scorer that will fit great with Tavares! The question is, did it really address the issues the Islanders are having? The two main issues in my opinion are quite obvious, defense and goaltending. By acquiring Vanek, they did bolster up the scoring and power play, but with the Isles already averaging three goals a game, was that really necessary?
The defense has been lackluster to say the least all year. The top pair, made up of defensemen Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald, is a combined -7. Granted those two will be found on the ice for almost half the game, your top defensive pair has to be setting the tone for the others. The team allows on average 3.2 goals a game, which is a whopping 27th in the NHL. Don’t you worry Islander fans it only gets better from here, right? Oh wait, I forgot their penalty kill was 28th in the league at 75 percent. The mistakes this team makes are repetitive and consequential. The Islanders have gone a very inconsistent 1-4-1 in games after previous game victories. Bad passes in the defensive and neutral zone have shown to be costly, as well as having defensemen out of position and losing battles in front of the net. Unlucky, but still repetitive are broken sticks and fanning on shots that turn in to odd man rushes. Finally, the one that gets me like no other…… LOSING BATTLES IN THE CORNER! Ladies and gentleman that is all will power in that corner and losing over half of those is going to cause trouble.
A high point of last year has turned in to a scary 2 minutes this season. The penalty kill has been atrocious (to say it nicely). The fact that teams score on 25 percent of their power plays is killer to a team. For a successful penalty kill the team has to be at least over 80 percent and watching them play it seems like the Islanders are a long way from that. In their most recent game against Washington, the Islanders killed 2/6 power plays and if that is not bad enough, I would say over 90 percent of power play time was spent in the Islanders’ zone. If you cannot clear the puck, your opponent will score goals. It is that simple.
It would not be fair if I only blamed the defense, especially with a starting goalie whose save percentage is under 90 percent. Cue Evgeni Nabokov, who since the playoffs last season has been a slouch for this team to say the least. With his save percentage at .897, he ranks an abysmal 37th among NHL goalies. Even if you do not watch hockey, I think you would agree that this team needs a change back there. What about his goals against? That has to be better right? Yeah!! He ranks 37th in the league with a 3.18 goals against average. Now we ask the question “who is the backup” and that is Kevin Poulin, who has yet to get a fair chance on the Island. With two out of three solid outings against two quality teams in Chicago and Boston, I am definitely giving this kid more nods!
The question at hand is: what can the Islanders do? Here is my solution. First things first, do not panic! It is still early in the season and they have Visnovsky, who is still injured and will come back soon and help the defense. Another quick solution is to part ways with Matt Carkner, as he has been nothing but a liability. I would go out and sign Corey Potter off waivers for a cheap price and play him with Donovan over Carkner. As for the goalie problem, I would start giving Poulin more starts over Nabby and if that doesn’t work, it is time for a shakeup in goal.
Mike Basile is a sophomore at York College Of Pennsylvania. He is a huge Sports fan, and when it comes to hockey maybe considered a little obsessive. Giving insight on the Islanders and all things hockey. You can follow him on twitter @mikeybasile1