Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exciting Times in Islander Country: New "Areener", Weight, Okposo and More

My, have things changed since this cartoon was printed...

Before I get into anything else, I just wanted to begin by apologizing for my nine-day disappearance from the blogosphere. School does come first, and I had to focus on my final exams during that stretch. 

I'm pleased to announce that NYI Faceoff Circle is back at full-strength, now that the semester has concluded. You can, once again, rely on the site for what's promised at the top of the screen—Daily coverage of everything your New York Islanders.

Shifting back to hockey....

These are, indeed, exciting times for Islander fans, as well as for Long Island (and, in particular, Nassau County) residents. 

From the moment it was announced, one of the largest concerns about this "areener" (read: arena) proposal was the uncertainty that Nassau Legislators would view it in high-regard.

As was the case in Seattle with the Sonics, if the Legislature does not think something's important, it's not likely they'll endorse a vote for it.

I think those fears have been put to rest. Based on the proceedings of Tuesday's public hearing, it's fair to say that, for the most part, the Legislature recognizes the importance of re-developing the Coliseum (and the rest of the Nassau Hub) and keeping the Islanders here.

Legislator Schmitt said that he "expects" the legislature to authorize the referendum for Aug 1, which would be exactly what Charles Wang and the Islanders need to happen, and what Chris Botta of Islanders Point Blank believes would be a slam dunk win.

According to the bylaws, the issue is allowed to remain on the table for a seven-day period, so the matter will be formally settled on May 31. 

Between the amount of money the County, as well as local businesses, would lose if the Coliseum were to be abandoned by its primary tenant, and the necessary creation of jobs for the unemployed, most realized that, simply put, this thing needs to get built. 

Obviously, a more extensive overview of the plan, in terms of both its financial and physical components, needs to be released. Doing so will be crucial in getting the full-support of these legislators, not to mention, a significant percentage of Nassau residents, who, barring a setback, will head to the polls to vote on the $400 million bond. 

While far from a done deal, things do look brighter for the Islanders and their fans, both on and off the ice. 

An NHL salary cap increase, of up to $63.5 million, is widely-expected to occur. The Islanders, who are about as close to the cap floor as a team can possibly get, will HAVE to spend money, in order to avoid falling below the league's required minimum. 

This summer's UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent) class is a strong one, featuring the likes of Brad Richards, Kevin Bieksa, Andrei Markov, Tomas Kaberle, Alex Tanguay, Jussi Jokinen, Christian Ehroff, Erik Cole and John Madden, just to throw some of the names out there.

For a better look at some of the top free agents, and where I think they'll go, I wrote an article on Bleacher Report that I think you'll find interesting. 

The Islanders also have some RFA's (Restricted Free Agents) to re-sign.

Two players are no longer RFA's, because each has a new 5-year contract with the team. I am, of course, referring to Michael Grabner (who was signed nearly two weeks ago) and Kyle Okposo, who accepted a new deal with the Isles yesterday. 

What is interesting to note, however, is that, while both Grabner and Okposo were signed for the same amount of years (five), Grabner, who has been in the organization for a grand total of 233 days, received a $15 million deal, while Okposo, who was drafted by the Islanders in 2006, got a tad less ($14 million). 

Does the slight difference of $1 million have any significance? It probably doesn't, but you might say that the Isles think Grabner's upside is slightly higher than Okposo's, which is a bit ironic, considering they're both from the same draft class (2006), and the Isles chose Kyle 7th overall, while Grabs was available (he went 14th overall, to the Vancouver Canucks).

It's possible that Okposo becomes the next captain of the Islanders, though there are some other potential candidates. For more on that, click here.

That position is open, because Doug Weight announced his retirement this morning.

In an emotional goodbye, Weight stated that he was thankful to the Islanders organization, and that he only wished he could have stayed healthy and contributed more than he did. Isles owner Charles Wang, who jokingly fired a shot at Weight for entering the league with the Rangers, praised the former team captain, stating that he had a "Hall of Fame career, both on and off the ice."

Wang explained just how much Weight's presence helped the younger players on the team, including John Tavares. If you don't think veteran leadership is important, ask Tavares if he agrees with you. 

Isles GM Garth Snow announced that Weight will remain with the team, as an assistant coach and assistant to the General Manager.

All in all, things are looking up for the New York Islanders and their fans, and we can only hope that this team continues to trend upward. 

Comments are welcome.


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