In many ways, the Nashville Predators and New York Islanders are two very similar organizations - "small markets", no big name players, and very little playoff success. There are, of course, stark differences, namely Nashville's insistence upon running things the right way, and the Islanders' consistent turmoil from the front office on down.
Either way, Music City isn't visited by the Islanders often, so I took the opportunity to have a conversation with Dominik, managing editor of SB Nation's Lighthouse Hockey, a website you should read whether or not the Islanders interest you.
After the jump, my questions, and Dominik's answers.
1. How much have the injuries to Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo contributed to the poor season so far?
Coaches and GMs and players can't use injuries as an excuse, but fans can. Especially injuries as devastating as those two. Streit was their #1 D and key to their powerplay. He was also a leader who many figured for captain material. James Wisniewski was brought in with the thought he would complement Streit on the powerplay rather than replace him. Now everyone's playing above their paygrade -- and treading water at best.
Okposo is the best all-around player of their young core, unless you include 26-year-old Frans Nielsen as "young." Okposo plays relentlessly every night and was likewise considered potential captain material. The Islanders lost their best winger and best D-man, and they're too thin to survive those hits.
2. There was a lot of surprise around the NHL when Garth Snow fired Scott Gordon - do you feel like that was the right call, or is it perhaps too soon to tell?
Ultimately I think it's too soon to tell. I was surprised they did it this soon -- and Snow was definitely hoping to build a lasting Poile/Trotz, Ruff-Regier type of relationship. Their play has changed slightly since the firing, but with no better results yet. The Isles were trying to build a team around Gordon's aggressive and -- when it worked -- entertaining style, but probably didn't have the horses to do that yet. There is some thought that Gordon didn't adjust to that reality. The reasons that support the firing are things you only hear whispers or inferences about: That Gordon wasn't flexible enough, that he was trying to force a style of play they didn't have the talent to match, that some players weren't responding. After 10 losses in a row, you do wonder when something's going to give, and you do know it's usually the coach.
3. What's been the brightest spot in an otherwise lackluster campaign?
It's a struggle to even answer this. I guess recently it's the play of Travis Hamonic, a 20-year-old 2nd-rounder in his first pro season. He was an emergency call-up after yet more injuries to the blueline (Andrew MacDonald, Milan Jurcina, Mike Mottau, Bruno Gervais, Jack Hillen have all missed significant time). But he's played well enough to stick around right now. He told me a year ago he aspires to be a Shea Weber type -- a guy who can do both special teams and hit hard. He won't be firing pucks straight through twine, but he figures to be a keeper.
4. Not a single player on the Isles with over 5 games played has a plus rating, and James Wisniewski leads them in points. Is there a sense of despair on Long Island, or is the rebuild coming along, just slowly?
A little of both, but the extended slump has definitely fueled more despair. I honestly never had much hope but for mild improvement this year -- before those injuries hit in preseason. But I also have patience with the rebuild, which given where they started (just a bankrupt cupboard from the Milbury years) I figured would be a full 3-5 years before we saw anything giving us major hope.
Snow said over the summer playoffs were the goal this year, but I think as a GM he has to say that for internal consumption and to move the needle in the locker room. You can't exactly set expectations as, "This is Year 3 in a 5-year process, and we know several of these guys won't prove good enough to survive till the good times." So realistically, health and luck would have had to be downright Colorado-ian for it to happen this year. The uncertainty over what venue the team will occupy in 2015 (when their lease expires, and when they *must* have a new building), and the silence of the owner on the matter adds to the despair. There is a fanbase here, but they've been through a lot, so it's going to take some serious progress and future certainty before they buy back in in meaningful numbers.
5. Finally, while you may not keep up with Nashville that well, what is the general opinion of the Predators amongst Islanders fans?
That is really tough to say. I follow both the Isles and Blues, so I keep an eye on both conferences, but I don't get the sense a lot of Isles fans do that. Some have a Western team like Colorado or Chicago. I think it "hurts" awareness that Nashville seems to produce strong previously unheard-of players each year, so people just know they're doing things right, but not sure of the details.
But I'd venture the astute Islanders fan -- and we have nothing but that at Lighthouse ;) -- would look at Isles revenues and look at Nashville and see a strong "small-market" model to follow in what Poile has done there.
Many thanks to Dominik for his time and excellent answers, and you can check out my answers to his questions about the Predators over at Lighthouse Hockey.