Posted on: February 7, 2012 7:32 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2012 8:04 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Frans Nielsen isn't the flashiest player on the New York Islanders roster, but he is probably one of their best and most valuable players, and he's going to be sticking around for the next few years.
On Tuesday night he reportedly signed a four-year contract worth $11 million according to TSN's Bob McKenzie. The contract carries a cap hit of $2.75 million per season, which is a pretty good deal for what Nielsen brings to the table every night for the Islanders.
The Islanders will officially announce the deal on Wednesday.
He is currently in the final year of a four-year contract that paid him $525,000 per season, and had he not signed a new contract before July 1 he would have been an unrestricted free agent, and probably an attractive one on the open market.
His raw numbers aren't going to blow you away, as he's scored just nine goals to go with 16 assists in 51 games this season (he's recorded 33, 38 and 44 points over the previous three years) but he plays a big, shutdown role for the Islanders and is usually counted on to match up with the oppositions top players in a defensive role and play in the tough situations that opens things up for the Islanders' top scoring line, centered by John Tavares.
He is also their top penalty killing forward, logging over two-minutes per game in shorthanded situations.
The Islanders now have Tavares, Nielsen, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo signed through the 2015-16 season.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: October 29, 2011 12:51 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 1:00 pm
By: Adam Gretz
This past week the folks at BusinessWeek put together a list of what they called the "smartest" spenders in sports. Simply put: the teams that spent the fewest amount of dollars per win.
In theory, it's an interesting premise, but it seemed to produce some very flawed results. For example, while the Nashville Predators topped their list, a team that definitely gets the most bang for its limited buck, some of the other teams in the top-10 included the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Thrashers, and New York Islanders. Were these teams smart about which players they signed, or were they simply not spending money on any players of any value? After all, when you think of front office efficiency the Pirates or Thrashers (now the Jets) probably aren't the first teams that come to mind.
The Islanders, on the other hand, are a little more intriguing. At least potentially.
A team in transition, stuck in a rebuild that's been going on for about five years now, The Islanders are probably not quite ready to return to the postseason this year. But they are building something interesting on Long Island, and do have quite a few bargains on their roster for this year and in the future. The quartet of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson, for example, are all signed through at least the 2013-14 season for a combined cap commitment of just around $14 million. I've said this before, but for all of the criticisms the Islanders front office has taken for handing out bad contracts in the past, those look to be examples of very smart spending going forward.
One of the often times most overlooked members of this Islanders team, and perhaps one of their biggest bargains this season at a cap hit of $525,000, the lowest on the team, is Frans Nielsen, their checking center that finished in the top-six in voting for the Selke Trophy last season as one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL. It's not uncommon for him to be one of their best players on any given night.
Usually playing on a line between the speedy Grabner and Okposo, Islanders coach Jack Capuano seems to use the trio in somewhat of a defensive role and more often than not sends them out there against the other teams top lines whenever he has a chance, especially during home games when his team has the last line change before faceoffs.
So far this season Nielsen's line has drawn regular assignments against players like Dany Heatley, Mikko Koivu and Devin Setoguchi from Minnesota, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan from the Rangers, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos from the Lightning, and Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg from the Panthers. Through the first eight games of the season the Islanders have allowed 14 goals during 5-on-5 play, and Nielsen has been on the ice for just three of them (two of them were scored by Stamkos in separate games, the other was a goal scored by Brandon Prust during a 5-2 Islanders win). If you're a believer in plus/minus, he's finished as a plus-player in each of the past two year on a team that's been outscored by 35 and 42 goals during the season while playing against the other teams best players.
Following a 3-2 shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Capuano told me he was probably their best player on the ice that night. It was a game that saw him score a goal, create two chances on two different penalty kills, block three shots, record a takeaway and win a couple of defensive zone faceoffs. And that's pretty much just another day at the office for him.
"He's played a strong game throughout the year for us," said Capuano. "Obviously the numbers haven't been there but he's been pretty strong for us."
He also referred to Nielsen as "dominant" and commented on how he's always positionally sound when he doesn't have the puck.
With one of the smallest salary cap hits in the NHL this season, Nielsen is a tremendous bargain for the Islanders, but that could soon change as he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency following this season. And there should be no shortage of teams lining up to give him the rather large pay raise he's earned over the past three years if something doesn't get worked out with the Islanders. There's a ton of value in a matchup center that can chip in around 40 points (while playing a defensive role and being put into mostly defensive situations) and play Selke-caliber defense.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Adam Gretz, Brandon Prust, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, Florida Panthers, Frans Nielsen, Jack Capuano, John Tavares, Kris Versteeg, Kyle Okposo, Martin St. Louis, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders, Stephen Weiss, Steve Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
Posted on: September 27, 2011 6:08 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 6:12 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Since the NHL went it to its current divisional alignment with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey and both New York teams occupying the Atlantic Division it's pretty much been a three-team race at the top every year.
Since the 1998-99 season only three teams have managed to win the Atlantic outright -- New Jersey (seven times), Philadelphia (four times) and Pittsburgh (one time). The Rangers and Islanders have never won it, while only one of them, the Islanders during the 2001-02 season, has finished higher than third (second place).
Will it be one of the same three teams fighting for the top spot this season, or will one of the New York clubs find a way to win it for the first time under this current setup?
This year the division is loaded with story lines. The Flyers, the defending division champs, re-tooled their roster over the summer, while the Penguins may have to start the season without their best player -- and arguably the best player in the world -- as Sidney Crosby continues to recover from a concussion.
The Islanders look to be a team on the rise, while the Rangers landed the biggest free agent that hit the open market over the summer (of course they did). Meanwhile, the Devils look to build on the momentum of a strong second half and have to figure out what to do with Zach Parise, playing on a one-year deal, as he's eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Atlantic Division (in predicted order of finish):
Pittsburgh Penguins: Playing without Jordan Staal for the first half of the season and without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the second half of the season the Penguins still managed to finish tied for the top spot in the Atlantic last season with 106 points, losing in a tiebreaker to the Flyers. That's an impressive accomplishment given how the team is built around those three players. Malkin and Staal look to be ready to go this season, and assuming Crosby returns to his former self, the Penguins should have the personnel to not only finish on top of the division, but also make up for two straight early exits in the playoffs.
Strengths: How did the Penguins manage to stay competitive last season without their three best players for such a long period of time? An outstanding defense anchored by Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin. Combine the defense with the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson and the Penguins finished the regular season allowing the sixth fewest goals per game in the league. Even if Crosby isn't ready for the start of the season the Penguins still have excellent depth down the middle with Malkin, Staal and Mark Letestu, a nice two-way player that excels in the faceoff circle.
Weaknesses: When you have so much money invested down the middle (centers, defense and goaltending) it's going to be difficult to fill in talent on the wings. James Neal is supposed to be the goal-scoring winger they've been searching for, but he struggled in his debut season with the Penguins after coming over in a trade with Dallas. Steve Sullivan signed a one-year deal this summer and can still provide some offense, assuming he's able to stay on the ice.
The Penguins power play has been, well, pretty awful the past three years, even with the talent they're capable of putting on the ice. There are a lot of reasons they went out in the first round last year, and their 1-for-35 showing on the power play is at the top of the list.
New York Rangers: Surely you're not surprised that the biggest free agent available (Brad Richards) landed with the New York Rangers. Especially when said free agent has such a great track record playing for coach John Tortorella. The two spent a number of years together in Tampa Bay, including the 2003-04 season when the Lightning won their Stanley Cup, while Richards took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Still, a lot of their success will depend on how well Richards and Gaborik play together, and whether or not Gabork bounces back from a disappointing season a year ago.
Strengths: Henrik Lundqvist is as steady and durable as they come in the crease, and a goaltender that's capable of stealing a game by himself. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan bring a nice mix of skill and grit to the top lines.
Strong team defensively -- and Lundqivst certainly helps that -- even if their blue line, which is anchored by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, doesn't contain a single player over the age of 27.
Weaknesses: Speaking of Staal, he's still dealing with some symptoms as a result of a concussion he suffered at the end of last season, which is not a good thing. Gaborik, for all his skill and ability, is always one shift away from his next injury (and yes, that's technically true for every player, but Gaborik's career speaks for itself: he's played more than 65 games just five times in 10 years). Mediocre power play during the regular season that scored one goal in 19 attempts during their first-round playoff loss to the Capitals.
Philadelphia Flyers: Talk about a team that went through a transition this summer. When all was said and done the Flyers basically swapped Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Daniel Carcillo, Sean O'Donnell and Darroll Powe for Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Andreas Lilja and Max Talbot. Better? Worse? The same? Paul Holmgren and Flyers fans are about to find out.
Strengths: Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are excellent young forwards, and Van Riemsdyk could be ready to have a breakout season following his impressive postseason run from a year ago. Danny Briere is still around to be one of their leading offensive weapons.
In a bizarre twist, goaltending moves from an area weakness to one of their biggest strengths thanks to the offseason addition of Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes.
Weaknesses: Unfortunately, in order to improve their goaltending the Flyers had to make a series of moves that involved trading Richards and Carter, while also losing Leino to free agency. That's three of their top-five scorers from a year ago.
It's possible the addition of Bryzgalov, combined with the development of the young players and draft picks they acquired in the Richards and Carter deals, could allow this to allwork out for the better in the long run, but they may have taken a step back in the short-term.
Will Giroux and Briere be as productive now that they'll be facing the other teams best players in the absence of Richards and Carter?
Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen are both a year older, and Pronger's health was a big problem last season.
New Jersey Devils: When it comes to making coaching changes, no league seems to make more than the NHL, and within the NHL, no team seems to make more than the New Jersey Devils. After a summer-long saga involving their pursuit and eventual signing of Ilya Kovalchuk (who they acquired at the trade deadline of the previous season), the Devils had a disastrous start to last season, winning just nine of their first 31 games, resulting in the firing of head coach John MacLean.
Who did the Devils turn to at the point? Jacques Lemaire, naturally, for his third different stint with the team.
They finished with a 29-17-3 record under his watch and managed to stay in the playoff race longer than anybody could have expected following their awful start. Pete DeBoer takes over behind the bench this season, making him the 9th different coach to lead the team since the start of the 2000-01 season.
Strengths: The Devils should have a strong top-six once Travis Zajac returns, and they'll also benefit from the return of Zach Parise after he missedall but 13 games of last season. He's also playing on a one-year contract (perhaps a "show me" contract. As in, show me you're fully recovered and can once again be one of the top left wingers in the league before we sign you long-term).
As always, they finished with strong numbers defensively allowing just over 2.5 goals per game. Will they be as strong defensively without LeMaire running the ship?
Weaknesses: Who on the defense is going to provide some offense? No defenseman scored more than Andy Greene's 23 points a season ago. Adam Larsson, the Devils first-round pick in June, looks to have a ton of upside but some growing pains should be expected as a rookie.
Martin Brodeur is a Hall of Famer and one of the best goalies to ever play in the NHL, but he's clearly not the player he once was. And if the Devils do make it back to the playoffs, well, he's been pretty bad in two of his past three postseason appearances, while the Devils haven't made it out of the first round since 2006-07.
New York Islanders: The New York Islanders made headlines last season because of a massive on-ice brawl in early February. They should make headlines this season because they're an improving team that's going to compete for a playoff spot thanks to their impressive collection of young forwards, with the recently signed John Tavares leading the way.
The Islanders offseason didn't see them bring in anybody significant from outside the organization, unless you're counting on Brian Rolston returning to his 30-goal form from four years ago, but they are getting back their top defenseman, Mark Streit, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and that can be a huge addition to a team that's thin on the blue line.
Along with the return of Streit, a full-season for Kyle Okposo, an excellent two-way forward, will be a welcome addition as well.
Strengths: Definitely their forwards. They're young, they're productive, and many of them are signed long-term for what could be excellent value against the salary cap. The Islanders had eight different players score at least 10 goals last season, and seven of them are returning this season (the only one that isn't is Rob Schremp and his 10 goals).
Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, Tavares, Blake Comeau and P.A. Parenteau all scored at least 20 goals for the Islanders a year ago.
Frans Nielsen is one of the NHL's most underrated defensive forwards and showed last season he's also capable of chipping in some offense, scoring 13 goals. He finished sixth the voting for the Selke Trophy which goes to the NHL's best defensive forward.
Weaknesses: Even with the return of Streit, as well as the presence of emerging young defenseman Travis Hamonic, who looks like he's going to be quite a player, there is still a lot of questions about this team defensively and in goal, and in the end that could prove to be their downfall this season.
Rick DiPietro is still signed through the 2020-21 season and has appeared in just 39 games over the past three years.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: 2011-12 Season Preview, Adam Gretz, Brad Richards, Brooks Orpik, Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Bryzgalov, Ilya Kovalchuk, John Tavares, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Kyle Okposo, Marian Gaborik, Mark Streit, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise
Posted on: September 27, 2011 10:06 am
Edited on: September 27, 2011 10:12 am
WE ARE THE CHAMPIANS: Brad Marchand was one of the Bruins that celebrated the Stanley Cup victory by going out and getting inked up. Too bad the tattoo artist couldn't spell champions correctly. One of his teammates soon spotted the typo and Marchand had it corrected, but not before some photos were taken. (ESPN Boston)
STAAL STAYS BEHIND: While the Rangers headed to Europe after last night's controversy-filled game against the Flyers to finish out the exhibition schedule before the regular season begins in Sweden, Marc Staal stayed behind. The alternate captain of the Blueshirts is dealing with post-concussion symptoms, but coach John Tortorella expects Staal will join the team later and play in the games that count. (NHL.com)
QUESTIONING OVECHKIN: Here's an interesting question posed by Neil Greenberg of Capitals Insider: Is Alex Ovechkin an elite scorer or just a good shooter? The conclusion after stasticals analysis -- with charts! -- is that Ovie isn't the most skilled shooter around, he just gets more off than anybody by a large margin. (Capitals Insider)
BOOGAARD GETS A SHOT: After Derek Boogaard's death this summer, brother Aaron Boogaard was doing a lot of the speaking for the family, including explaining how his brother never quite overcame an addition to painkillers. But Aaron plays the game, too, and the former Minnesota Wild draft pick is all set to join the team's AHL affiliate in Houston. (Star Tribune)
ANOTHER WAIVER WONDER: It was about this time a year ago Dale Tallon was attempting to send Michael Grabner to the Panthers' AHL affiliate through waivers only for the forward to be claimed by the Islanders. we know how that turned out. Now another promising Panthers is on the wire, Michael Repik. While he doesn't seem to have Grabner's promise, here's one person who can't forget the gift Tallon gave them last year and would like to take a shot. (Lighthouse Hockey)
LOMBARDI AWARD: After the more high-profile cases of players sitting out after concussions such as Sidney Crosby and David Perron is Matthew Lombardi. The former Predators player who was shipped to the Maple Leafs this offseason is doing much better and looks like he'll be playing for Toronto. Feel-good story of the year candidate? Perhaps says James Mirtle. (Globe and Mail)
ANYONE PUMPED UP YET? Came across this pump-up video for the Canucks this season. Surely they should have a lot of reason for optimism in Vancouver, but this video ... doesn't seem all that inpsiring. Set to Adele's Rolling in the Deep (which screams hockey) it mostly dwells on the Canucks losing to Boston, including Marchand punching Daniel Sedin. Excited?
Photo: ESPN Boston
Tags: Alex Ovechkin, Battle of the Blades, Boston Bruins, Brad Marchand, Brad Marchand Tattoo, Brian Stubits, Dale Tallon, Derek Boogaard, Florida Panthers, Marc Staal, Matthew Lombardi, Michael Grabner, Michael Repik, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals
Posted on: September 21, 2011 12:05 pm
Edited on: September 21, 2011 12:11 pm
We see it over and over again in sports. Player has a career year, player gets a fat new contract with new team, said player fails to live up to the new deal.
After an offseason of numerous exorbitant contracts, this description will likely apply to plenty of players this upcoming year. That includes the guy who received the biggest bounty on the first day of free agency, James Wisniewski.
Signed by the Columbus Blue Jackets for a robust six-year, $33 million, Wisniewski is the second-highest paid player on an annual basis on a team that includes Rick Nash and Jeff Carter. That's a lot of coin for a player who has one season on his resume worthy of such. In his defense it was last season, so he picked a good time for his best season.
But surely you can see the red flags here. Wisniewski would appear to be a prime target for a step-back season. Now it's possible that last season was the Wiz actually stepping into his prime, after all he is 27 years old now, the magical age in all sports. But when a guy scores 21 more points in a season higher than his previous career high, it is only fair to wonder if it can be repeated. Such a jump indicates likelihood to regress to the mean a little bit.
Throw in the fact that Wisniewski is coming to a new environment, joining players he has never played with before and in an organization that has not had much success to talk about and you have the making for much quieter year.
What could help Wisniewski replicate his 51 points from a season ago with the Canadiens would be getting a lot of ice time, especially on the power play, with Rick Nash and Jeff Carter. Depending on how quickly they jell up front could impact Wisniewski's play and numbers. He'll certainly share the ice with the two high- scoring forwards a bit, but the more (probably) the better.
Now is as good a time as any to explain the rationale here, because it always gets misunderstood. This is no way to say that Wisniewski or any of the other players below will have bad years. That isn't the object one bit. It's simply players who might see a regression. Think of it this way: If a player is great and he regresses, he can still be very good. That fit Alexander Ovechkin last season, despite still being one of the best players in the league, it can't be argued he didn't have as strong a season last year. Now, on to the ...
Michael Grabner/Taylor Hall/Logan Couture/Jeff Skinner/Tyler Seguin/Brad Marchand: We're just throwing all of last season's top rookies into one category and labeling this one the "sophomore slump" group. Chances are one of them won't continue to blossom or match their rookie outputs. If I had to pick one, it would be Grabner of the Islanders.
Teemu Selanne, Ducks: The guy is a wonder, recording more than a point per game last season with the Ducks at 40 years old. But his offseason knee surgery and subsequent wait to see if he'd be ready to go (and advanced age) would seem to indicate a player who doesn't seem likely to keep up his pace. Just playing the odds on this one. Then again, we are talking about Selanne here.
Danny Briere, Flyers: Somebody is likely going to suffer a setback in Philadelphia with the absence of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, and Briere would be my best guess. He posted 34 goals and 34 assists last season, his highest point total in since 2007-08 and he's no spring chicken any more as he will turn 34 years old on the Flyers' opening day.
Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres: He is coming off a season where he posted 14 goals and 36 assists along with a plus-19. That in and of itself is tough to repeat. My colleague Adam Gretz wrote about the prospect of replacing Ehrhoff in Vancouver, noting that he was a bit protected. Now he will still be surrounded by a very good team in Buffalo, but it's looking like he will be paired with Jordan Leopold, the second defensive pairing behind Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr. It's going to be very tough to replicate his excellent last two seasons.
Michal Neuvirth, Capitals: This is the gamble the Caps are taking by bringing in Tomas Vokoun. Neuvirth was very solid last season, posting a 27-12-4 record with a 2.45 GAA and .914 save percentage. They are risking him taking a step back in his growth as a player by relegating him to backup minutes, not to mention the possibility of a hit to the psyche of bringing in another goaltender and naming him the starter soon after the acquisition.
Sean Bergenheim, Panthers: He had the best season of his career with the Lightning a season ago, scoring 14 goals and 15 assists through 80 regular-season games. Where he drew plenty of attention for himself, though, was in the playoffs when he had nine goals for the Bolts. Coming up with the Islanders there had been plenty of hope and potential for Bergenheim, so perhaps he's just starting to break out. I'm expecting a point total in the low 20s, like his numbers in the days on the Island.
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: 2011-12 Season Preview, Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Brad Marchand, Brian Stubits, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Christian Ehrhoff, Columbus Blue Jackets, Danny Briere, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, James Wisniewski, Jeff Skinner, Logan Couture, Michael Grabner, Michal Neuvirth, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, Sean Bergenheim, Taylor Hall, Teemu Selanne, Tyler Seguin, Washington Capitals
Posted on: September 14, 2011 4:28 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 1:18 pm
By: Adam Gretz
After reports surfaced on Wednesday morning that the New York Islanders and their young star, John Tavares, were closing in on a new long-term contract extension, the two sides came to an agreement on a six-year deal. The team made the announcement with Tavares on Thursday.
The contract will pay the 20-year-old forward $33 million, according to ESPN's Pierre Lebrun and TSN's Darren Dreger.
"I believe in this organization and this hockey team," Tavares said.
Tavares was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and over his first two years with the Islanders has scored 53 goals to go with 68 assists in 161 games. His 67 points this past season led the Islanders, and were 14 points more than the No. 2 scorer on the roster, forward Matt Moulson.
The $5.5 million cap hit will be the highest average salary on the Islanders roster, and will be about $2 million less than the deal 2008 No. 1 overall pick Steven Stamkos signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this summer (and for good reason). Still, if Tavares continues to develop as he has over the first two years of his career this deal could prove to be a bargain for the Islanders to get their franchise player secured for such a price. Part of it is paying for potential, but with a player like Tavares, who has already shown he can play at a high level at such a young age, there has to be confidence that he will continue to develop.
With Tavares signed for the long haul, the Islanders have managed to secure four of their top young forwards for what appear to be cap-friendly contracts.
Moulson, who is coming off his second consecutive 30-goal season, is signed through the 2013-14 season at an annual salary of $3.1 million, while 34-goal scorer Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo are both signed through the 2014-15 season for a combined cap hit of $5.8 million. Garth Snow and the Islanders take a lot of heat, but if these guys develop as they should he'll have managed to set his team up quite well in terms of his young talent and what they're counting against the salary cap.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: September 12, 2011 5:33 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 5:50 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The New Jersey Devils announced on Monday that they will be bringing in three free agents on tryout contracts for training camp, including an old friend that was a part of their top line during their Stanley Cup winning season back in 2000.
Petr Sykora, Steve Bernier and Anton Stralman are the players that will be getting a look with the Devils, with Sykora's name being the one that will stand out given his history with the club. Not only was he the Devils' first-round draft pick in 1995, he ended up scoring 145 of his 302 career goals as a member of the Devils over parts of seven seasons, and also helped to form their top-scoring line, along with Jason Arnott and Patrik Elias, during their Stanley Cup victory over the Dallas Stars at the start of the decade.
The 35-year-old Sykora did not play in the NHL last season, having spent the year in Russia playing for Dynamo Minsk of the KHL, scoring eight goals in 28 games. He also spent some time playing in the Czech Republic. His last NHL appearance was with the Minnesota Wild during the 2009-10 campaign where he scored two goals in 14 games before being sidelined with a concussion. He was eventually released.
Bernier, a former first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks, has been a member of four different teams (San Jose, Buffalo, Vancouver and Florida) since entering the NHL during the 2005-06 season, and has scored 76 goals in 385 games. He was traded to Florida from Vancouver prior to last season, along with Michael Grabner and a first-round pick, in exchange for defenseman Keith Ballard.
In what has turned out to be a rather dubious decision in hindsight, the Panthers kept Bernier and ended up placing Grabner on waivers before the start of the regular season in an effort to demote him to the minor leagues. The result: Bernier scored five goals for Florida in 68 games while Grabner went on to blossom after being claimed by the New York Islanders, scoring 34 goals in what proved to be a breakout season for the speedy forward.
Stralman, a defenseman with a bit of an offensive game, spent the past two years with the Columbus Blue Jackets and managed to produce some respectable offensive numbers from the blue line, scoring seven goals to go with 45 assists in 124 games. The Devils are definitely in need of some offensive punch from their defense. During the 2010-11 season, for example, Andy Greene led all of their rearguards in scoring with just 23 points, while no other defenseman on the roster managed to tally more than the 18 points Stralman put up with the Blue Jackets.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: August 19, 2011 6:00 pm
Edited on: August 19, 2011 6:05 pm
By: Adam Gretz and Brian Stubits
Even though they've struggled in recent years, the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders were the two most dominant teams in the NHL during the 1980s. Adam Gretz and Brian Stubits debate which one of these franchises with promising young talent returns to glory first.
Adam Gretz: The Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders were the two most dominant teams of the 1980s. How dominant? Between 1980 and 1990 they combined to win nine of the 11 Stanley Cups, with Edmonton winning five (and owning the last half of the decade) and the Islanders winning four (and owning the first half of the decade). Recently the two teams have fallen on some tougher times. Both teams are looking for new buildings, and postseason success has been few and far between, as have actual trips to the postseason. The Islanders haven't won a playoff series since 1993 with only four playoff appearances since then, while Edmonton, outside of its Stanley Cup Final trip in 2005-06, hasn't advanced past the first round since 1998.
I don't think, at this point, either one of these teams are a playoff team right now, but which one do you think returns to glory first? Or is closest?
Brian Stubits: I'm not convinced the Islanders aren't a playoff team this year. They will be in contention to the end is my guess at this point. I am really liking the nucleus they are putting together. As for Edmonton, I don't see a team that's ready to battle for the playoffs yet. In their rebuilding phases, I think the Isles are ahead of the Oilers, as you would expect considering they had a slight head start in the bad seasons department.
Gretz: I think the Islanders might be closer (or more likely) to simply earning a playoff spot this season because the Eastern Conference is probably a bit easier for them to potentially sneak in than the Western Conference is for Edmonton. But I still like Edmonton's group of forwards and think, at this point, they have a bit more upside, especially with back-to-back No. 1 overall picks in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Hall looks like he's on his way to being a player, and assuming Nugent-Hopkins becomes the player he's expected to become, that's quite a core. Add in players Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi and, heck, even an older (relatively speaking, as he's still only 28) player like Ales Hemsky who is close to a point-per-game player when he's healthy (and that always seems to be the key for him) and that's an impressive group. You win with impact players, and Edmonton has quite a few impact players up front.
Stubits: We think they have impact players. Hall and Nugent-Hopkins have a long way to go to get to that level. I agree, it looks like the Oilers are future impact players, but there are no guarantees of that, especially seeing as though Nugent-Hopkins hasn't skated in an NHL game yet. Don't forget the Islanders have been drafting high, including getting the No. 1 spot themselves in recent years. John Tavares is showing he too has a bright future ahead of him, leading the team in points last season with 67. The Isles had six players total more than any Oiler, who were led by Jordan Eberle at 43 points. But New York has a trio of 30-goal scorers now (well, 29-plus) in Tavares (29 last season), Michael Grabner (34 goals) and Matt Moulson (31). Plus, the organization feels like they drafted a winner in Ryan Strome earlier this summer. I know you remember his skills, Adam, considering this post you put up. There is impact on the island, too.
Gretz: Yes, potential impact, that's obviously what I meant. I mean, a lot of this is talking about upside and projection because both teams are dealing with potential and question marks. The one thing I will say is both teams seem to have some concerns on the back end with their defense and goaltending. The Islanders are locked into Rick DiPietro for what seems like forever, while the Oilers have Nikolai Khabibulin and a bunch of question marks behind him. Devan Dubynk was a first-round pick back in 2004, and had a solid sophomore campaign last season, but no matter which guy is between the pipes, the defense in front of them is going to struggle this year. It needs a serious upgrade.
Again, I don't expect the Oilers to be a playoff team this season (in fact, they'll probably be near the bottom of the conference again, which could lead to another potential impact player in the 2012 draft, which will only help the future -- and yes, eventually you want to stop picking at the top of the draft), but that's not really what I'm looking for here: I'm looking at which team becomes a true contender for the Stanley Cup, not just simply making the playoffs, and I just think their core group of forwards offers a bit more potential and upside and the ability to help turn a franchise around than the Islanders core.
Stubits: I think you might be underrating the Islanders' organizational depth. In July, puckprospectus.com proclaimed the Islanders the second best in talent in the system, highlighting Kiril Kabonov and Matt Donovan in addition to recent draft picks Strome and Scott Mayfield. I understand the concerns in net, but this is a team that has one luxury: it has three goaltenders on the payroll that there's a decent chance one of them can be good enough to play behind an improving and maturing defense.
The team's biggest obstacle right now isn't cultivating talent, it's being appealing to free agents. A team can usually build the core of it's franchise through the draft, but it's the final free-agent and trade pieces that put a team over the top. Until the Isles get their arena situation squared away, that won't happen. Nobody wants to make a commitment to an organization that they don't know its whereabouts in four years. The sooner they can resolve this issue, the better, because I believe they have a very nice foundation at this point to win. As already stated, I think the Islanders will be a borderline playoff team this year, and by following logic they grow from there. It's a very young roster. That's why I like them to get back to that elite level first, they should continue to grow together and I think there are some very talented prospects in there.
Gretz: Yes, the Islanders certainly have a strong group, and you may be right that I'm underrating what they have, but I guess at the end of the day, for me, it simply comes down to thinking the Oilers players (particularly Hall and Nugent-Hopkins as top overall picks) have a bit more upside, and we've seen with other teams how much of an impact two young players like that can make. Granted, they need the complementary players around them and an upgrade on defense, but I still really like what Edmonton is building up front and the potential they have. Maybe not this year, but soon.
Stubits: Not that I have any reason to whatsoever, but I feel like Garth Snow has built himself a solid enough core. It's shocking to type that. I guess we'll find out in a couple of years.
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