James O'Brien

John Tavares

Islanders’ biggest question: Will they finally make a deep run?

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The New York Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since they foiled Mario Lemieux’s quest for a three-peat.

In case that doesn’t provide you context (or if you’re a Penguins fan, memories of a bloodied Kevin Stevens), that came back in 1993.

Let’s skip the “insert list of historical events/amusing Geocities references since 1993” portion of the post and merely note that the Isles have seen seven first-round exits and 14 failed postseason bids since they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the 1993 Eastern Conference Final.

One would assume that Islanders fans have learned to be patient over the years, and GM Garth Snow’s steady approach is really starting to pay off, even if some fans might feel a little antsy.

“We have a lot of players that still have term on their contracts,” Snow told NHL.com recently. “We’re looking for our younger players to take another step in the right direction, guys like Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee … they’re all good, young players that had quality seasons and they’re just going to keep getting better.”

When you pour over the Islanders’ roster, it’s clear that the team boasts a little of everything. John Tavares is absolutely one of the best forwards in the league. Their defense may lack a Duncan Keith-type superstar, but Johnny Boychuk isn’t chopped liver. They may not have the most mainstream recognition, but Jaroslav Halak – Thomas Greiss ranks as one of the better goalie tandems in the NHL.

The possession stats were there, too, last season.

Just about every sign points to the Islanders possessing the tools to finally make a nice playoff run, now they just have to get there.

It could get a little messy if they provide an all-too-familiar feeling, albeit in a new building.

Under pressure: Jack Capuano

Jack Capuano
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If nothing else, it seems like New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano seems pretty comfortable on the hot seat.

Well, judging by PHT archives, it’s at least a common location. Let’s peer through the headlines over the past few years:

2014-15: After the season – “(Garth) Snow says Isles will stick with Capuano”; back in November – “Isles’ struggles putting heat on Capuano”

2013-14: After the season – “Snow says Capuano will be back as Isles coach”there were Peter Laviolette rumors, but Capuano wasn’t considered “the problem.” His struggles were testing Snow’s loyalties. Hey, but he had John Tavares’ faith.

2012-13: After the season – “Islanders will keep GM Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano”

2011-12: He got the fabled vote of confidence

Jeez, quite the pattern for a guy who was bumped up from interim head coach back in April 2011, right?

Even with the vultures swirling over Capuano after each season, Snow remains loyal. After the Islanders fell to the Washington Capitals in that tightly played Game 7, he (mostly) praised Capuano’s work to New York Newsday.

“Our coaches did a great job, whether it was preparing our players or with the communication between coaches and players, which was outstanding,” Snow said. “There were some aspects of our game, whether it was with our penalty-kill that struggled early on and became a strength for us by the end, or our power play, which was a strength at times early on and we didn’t have one in the playoffs. That’s an area of concern. We’ll analyze all different areas of our team and try to get better.”

The Islanders have come along nicely over the years, yet you have to wonder how long the leash might be if they don’t generate a deep postseason run in the near future.

Could 2015-16 be Capuano’s last chance?

Isles announce tryout invites, including Carkner (updated)

Matt Carkner, Ryane Clowe
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Sure, it’s not as exciting as the Pittsburgh Penguins handing Sergei Gonchar a tryout offer, but the New York Islanders’ announcement reminds us that we’re about to enter that fascinating stage of the offseason.

We’ll find out more names soon enough: who will need a strong training camp to earn an NHL gig?

The Islanders handed professional tryout contracts to Matt Carkner, Tyler Barnes and Parker Milner on Monday.

Carkner, 34, appeared in 22 games with the Islanders in 2012-13 and 53 in 2013-14, racking up 195 combined penalty minutes in that time.

The pictured pugilist fought four times in the AHL in 2014-15 and dropped the gloves on nine occasions in 2013-14 with the Islanders, according to Hockey Fights.

He received a one-game suspension back in 2012 for this altercation with Brian Boyle:

Barnes, 25, is an undrafted forward. He spent most of the 2014-15 in the ECHL. Milner, 24, is a goalie who also spent much of last season in the ECHL.

Update:

O, Dear: Russia fined $85K for skipping Canadian anthem

kovalchukgetty
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Remember when Russian hockey players stormed off the ice instead of sticking around for Canada’s national anthem after a drubbing at the 2015 World Hockey Championship? Apparently that gesture will come at a cost beyond making Matt Duchene really, really mad.

The IIHF fined the Russian Hockey Federation $85K (in the form of 80,000 Swiss francs) for those actions, pointing to an “unmistakable head gesture” from “the captain,” aka Ilya Kovalchuk.

(As you may remember, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and some other players did stay out for at least a portion of the ceremony, so it wasn’t necessarily a team-wide action.)

Here’s a portion of the release, which is soaked in somewhat amusing legalese:

The panel is of the opinion that the occurrences on the ice show that this is not a result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. The Russian players and officials left the ice after a short discussion between the Russian team captain and some Russian officials and the unmistakable head gesture of the captain. It was also noted that the Russian team and management should have been aware of the postgame/victory and closing ceremony procedure because of their vast experience with IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships. The open gate was irrelevant.

Therefore the violation of the IIHF Championship Regulations should be sanctioned by a fine as provided in Articles 5.1, 5.2 of the Disciplinary Code.

So the “oops” excuse didn’t work?

Here are the highlights from Canada’s 6-1 win:

This seems like a good time to share a couple extra sad/angry Kovalchuk photos:

source: AP
Via AP
source: Getty Images
Via Getty

Winnipeg Jets ’15-16 Outlook

Bryan Little
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As crucial as it was to make the playoffs for the first time since returning to Winnipeg, the 2015-16 season is even bigger for the Jets.

After years of frustration, management’s slow-and-steady approach showed serious returns, but the franchise is heading toward multiple forks in the road.

Let’s consider some of the big factors ahead.

Contract years for key players – Hockey fans can debate whether Dustin Byfuglien’s the biggest name on the Jets or not, but he’s the earth-shaking wild card. Andrew Ladd is the gritty, stable winger who might just be the polar opposite. They’ve been immensely important players in Winnipeg, but what does the future hold?

Aging core –  It’s easy to look at 21-year-old Jacob Trouba and 22-year-old Mark Scheifele and picture a bright future, especially with a generally well-regarded farm system.

For all the future talk, it’s a make-or-break season for the current crop of key players. Byfuglien is 30, Ladd is 29, Blake Wheeler is 28 and Bryan Little is 27.

Those core players aren’t ancient, but management probably needs to see them win some playoff games (or even series) to justify keeping the band together.

Goalie question – To especially weary Winnipegers, Ondrej Pavelec’s contract probably feels endless, and it does still have two years remaining. Management is sticking with Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson, which is a short-term gamble. Are they any closer to making a decision that reaches a little further?

***

The Jets have some big questions to answer next season, yet let’s not forget: Winnipeg hasn’t been home to an NHL team with this sort of potential for a long, long time.