This week, my thoughts on the Islanders’ stadium issues, the Lightning’s new third jerseys, and Scott Niedermayer’s jersey retirement.
1. Islanders’ Stadium Decision
It’s been a very weird year for the New York Islanders. Before the season began, their captain and best player, John Tavares, left for Toronto in Free Agency. They ushered in a new General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, and a new Head Coach, Barry Trotz. Even with the shiny resumes of Lamoriello and Trotz, the Islanders had low expectations for this season. No one thought the Islanders would be in first place in the Metropolitan Division as of February 17. So much so that the Islanders and the league would need to figure out where they would play their home games in the playoffs.
The Islanders’ arena situation has been nothing short of a shit show lately. They moved from their long-time home, the Nassau Coliseum, in 2015 into the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Barclays Center wasn’t a great match for the team because it was too far from their fanbase on Long Island and the arena wasn’t built for hockey. Not happy with the Barclays Center, the Islanders finally decided to build a new arena in Belmont Park. They won’t be able to start playing there until the 2021-22 season.
Before they move into their new arena, the Islanders had to figure out where they would play the next three seasons. The decision was to play the majority of their games at the Barclays Center and 60 total games back in Nassau. I guess no one had figured out where they would play their playoff games because the league made that announcement this week. The league decided that the Islanders could play their first-round home games in Nassau and all later rounds in Brooklyn. The league’s reasoning for mandating the Islanders play the later rounds in Brooklyn was because they didn’t feel the Nassau Coliseum was up to par to host playoff hockey.
I really feel for Islanders fans, especially the majority of them that live on Long Island. I’m confused as to why the league didn’t help the team figure this out sooner. I’ve never seen a team play home games in multiple places in one season (not including weather/damage related incidents). Gary Bettman should have made a decision that the team would play in one place until the new arena is finished. It’s embarrassing that the league has to formally announce that the Nassau Coliseum, an arena that will host 60 games over a three-year span, isn’t good enough to host an NHL team. The league needs to get it together.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning’s Third Jerseys
For whatever reason, the Tampa Bay Lightning decided to debut their new, third jersey on Thursday. Why last Thursday? I’m not sure. I do know that they are not memorable. I have mixed feelings when teams dump their primary colors for a new jersey. For that to work, the jerseys have to be really unique and cool to have any staying power. These do not.
The jerseys are almost all black, a color that the Lightning don’t feature at all in their home and road uniforms. I would have liked to see the Lightning create a third jersey with the same color scheme and use an alternate logo, similar to what the Capitals do. I hope these jerseys don’t last and the Lightning stick with their classic blues.
3. Unloved Team: Montreal Canadiens
This week’s unloved team is the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal has been a team in flux for the past few years. They still have superstar goalie, Carey Price. But the rest of their roster has turned over significantly. Surprisingly, the Canadiens hold the first wild-card slot in the East right now. Their success is due to in large part to a few offseason acquisitions. The biggest was trading Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona for Max Domi. After posting 52 points as a rookie, Domi’s development looked to have stalled. He posted 38 points in his second season and 45 points in his third. Domi has 49 points this season and could break his career high this week. Montreal clearly got the better end of the deal as Galchenyuk has only scored 31 points this season.
Jonathan Drouin and Tomas Tatar have also been surprises this season. Drouin is enjoying the best season of his career and might finally live up to his lofty potential. He has scored 17 goals and notched 29 assists, good for second on the team. Tatar has also been solid this year after a poor stretch run with Vegas last season. He has 18 goals and 41 points.
Montreal’s success isn’t only due to great play by their forwards; they have had help from defenseman too. Jeff Petry is having a career year offensively, with 38 points through 58 games. Shea Weber (remember him?) has been solid in the games he has played. He has 21 points in 34 games and is a plus 15.
Last year was the worst season of Carey Price’s career. He posted career lows in GAA and save percentage. This year, he has rebounded, and is 23-15-5 with a 2.57 GAA, and a .916 save percentage. If Price continues his return to MVP form, Montreal has a real shot to build a great team around him.
My overall assessment of Montreal is that they are trending in the right direction. Their young players are developing and they are solid both offensively and defensively. If Carey Price can return to form the sky is the limit for this team!
4. Red-Hot Hawks
I was thinking about going to see the Blackhawks play the Blue Jackets on Saturday until I looked at the ticket prices. The cheapest ticket I could find was $70! I thought that was an exorbitant price to watch a team that wasn’t competing for a playoff spot this year, even for Chicago. That was until I looked at the standings. The Blackhawks are only three points behind Minnesota for the second wild-card spot in the West. They have put together an impressive run and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. A run that has been largely fueled by the play of their top two players, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Kane has been especially dominant during this stretch. He has scored 10 goals and 16 assists and is still riding a 17-game point streak. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a Hart Trophy finalist once again.
Toews has been great too. During this 10-game run, he has scored nine goals and seven assists. It was his hat-trick against the Capitals on January 20 that started this run and his OT goal against Vancouver that helped continue it. When Toews scores his next point, this season will be his highest point total since 2014-15.
5. Scott Niedermayer Jersey Retirement
I’m a big fan of jersey retirements. They are a huge honor and not something to be taken lightly. That’s why I hate it when teams like the Wild do dumb stuff, such as retiring the number “1” for their fans. I also hate it when teams use jersey retirement ceremonies as a promotion to get people to buy tickets. Yes, I know the NHL is a business and jersey retirement ceremonies put butts in seats. I still think a jersey retirement ceremony should be earned.
Yesterday, the Anaheim Ducks retired the number 27 for former captain Scott Niedermayer, who was one of the best defensemen of his generation and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He played 13 years of his 18-year career with the New Jersey Devils. It was in New Jersey where he won three Stanley Cups and a Norris Trophy. He played the last five years of his career in Anaheim, where he captained the Ducks to their first and only Stanley Cup while winning the Conn Smythe trophy.
I thought long and hard about it and I do like the Ducks retiring Niedermayer’s jersey because of what he accomplished when he was there. Sometimes I worry when teams retire the jersey of a player that was a clear icon on another team. Niedermayer obviously accomplished more in New Jersey than he did in Anaheim. I also worry that sometimes younger franchises retire jerseys more easily because there is less of a standard set by former players.
Niedermayer is an exception to both rules. In the five years in Anaheim, he played some of his best hockey. His three-highest scoring season were with the Ducks. He was a First Team All-Star twice and finished second in the Norris Trophy voting two times. Most importantly, he captained the Ducks to a Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe Trophy during the 2006-07 season.
Congrats to Scott Niedermayer on a well-earned jersey retirement and congrats for the Ducks for getting it right! ■
Blake Isaacs is a die-hard Red Wings fan that doesn’t go to as many games as he should. He is also a big fan of 7-Eleven Slurpeees, Chipotle, and all things Michigan State. Follow him on Twitter @bisaacs1995.