Thursday, August 11, 2011

One-On-One With Billy Jaffe: Nabby, Bailey, Playoffs and More

I had the opportunity to speak with former Isles color-man Billy Jaffe about his time working with the Islanders, the team's moves in the draft, free agency, and his thoughts about the upcoming season:

DF: You spent four seasons on Long Island doing color-commentary alongside Howie Rose. What were your first impressions of this Islander team and did you enjoy your time here? 

BJ: I enjoyed my time working for MSG tremendously, working with Howie. I had a real nice time working with the New York Islanders. I had a great experience doing those telecasts. The Islanders were a team that was really re-identifying itself. If you remember, they were trying to figure out who would lead them. They had brought in Ted Nolan to coach, players like Tom Poti, Mike Sillinger, Brendan Witt and so on. It was a team that wanted to make the playoffs and make a statement. They were trying to work in some younger players too. 

DF: What were some of your favorite moments from your time with the Isles?

BJ: One game that always stands out is that shootout the first year, at the end of '06-'07, when Wade Dubiliewicz made the lightsaber-type save on Sergei Brylin of the Devils to help the Islanders into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That was just an emotional game for everyone. I remember when John Madden scored with no time left, I kind of let out an "oh no, you've got to be kidding me!" I also remember Dwayne Roloson's 58 save performance in Toronto. That was one of the better goaltending exhibitions I've ever seen in a regular season. I was so amazed with how well he played, it was very impressive. 

DF: The Islanders selected Ryan Strome 5th overall at the NHL Entry Draft. What did you think of the pick, was it the right one?

BJ: From everything I've read and the people I've talked to, it was the right choice. I haven't seen him play in person, but I know people do think very highly of him. You always need depth up front, and Strome seems to add another piece to that depth puzzle for them. 

DF: Do you think there are still holes that need to be patched up? What's left to be done? 

The Isles have certainly taken care of goaltending succession plans with Poulin, Koskinen and Nilsson. With their defense, you can always use more high-end defensemen. They feel that with Travis (Hamonic), Andrew (MacDonald) and Calvin de Haan, they've got that kind of covered.

They also need depth up front. You look at teams like Boston, the teams that have won the Cup recently, you see what guys like Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi, even Rich Peverley can do, how they step up. Good teams have two good lines, great teams have three good lines. With Reasoner and Rolston, the Islanders have added two good character guys, which could definitely help them down the stretch.  

The Islanders are still a team that's developing. They have money to spend to reach the cap floor, they need another top-four defenseman. If they could get that, it would be phenomenal. I'm sure management would like to do that. They still need a little more size up front. Now, they get an element of size with Niederreiter, but do they have enough? That's a question too.  

Definitely a better team, no question about it. It's obvious they need to stay healthy. Also, you can't fall in love with your players too much. You want to give them a chance, no question, but if you have the chance to get a better player, absolutely go out and do it. 

DF: It's getting a bit crowded between the pipes. What do you make of this whole Nabakov situation, and what do you see happening with that position? 

BJ: I guess it kind of does muddy the waters. Nabakov did not exactly have a great season last year. How good is he going to be this year, will he be inspired to come in and play as well as his reputation is. I'm not convinced that he is the answer for this team. He played around 22 games last year, and while he's a good goalie, I don't think he's a star.

Maybe you let DiPietro and Montoya play it out, and maybe it'll be a good thing to have Nabakov pushing those two in camp. It's just an interesting scenario. Can DiPietro play 60 games, can he do it? You're going to want that question answered sooner or later. So maybe you keep three goalies on the roster for now. 

Is Montoya better, even than what he showed last season, now that he has a little more confidence. And you've got to let your younger goalie prospects play in the minors. You're not going to send Nabakov down, because he won't clear waivers. Plenty of teams see him as a solid (and cheap) backup. And if you send Montoya down, doesn't that defeat the purpose? 

DF: What are your expectations for John Tavares heading into his third season? Is he ready to become a superstar, as we've seen with guys like Toews and Stamkos? 

BJ: Sure. He's a potential special player. John proved last year he could get better. He has many more gears to kick-in on. If he continues to improve his skating, he'll continue to get to that better level. The more he gets players around him, when you have people like Blake Comeau, who scored over 20 goals, Grabner, and so on. That's when he'll really blossom. He has the will, he wants to succeed, that's for sure. People want him to explode onto the scene like Stamkos, well Stamkos had some special players around him, and maybe the best setter-up in the game in Martin St. Louis. 

DF: You've seen Josh Bailey play since the beginning of his NHL career. Do you think he was rushed?

BJ: In hindsight 20-20, Bailey was rushed, no question about it. It's hard sometimes, for organizations that have struggled, to send him down because back then, there wasn't anything to feel good about with this team. It was a complete rebuild, they had traded down twice to get him and they still got their man. There was definitely some "we're going to show you and prove to you how good he is" kind of mentality.

Josh has to look at himself too though. His effort at times has been inconsistent. The question is, is that because he's yet to mature or is it something the player needs to address. There's probably an element of both in there. Everyone develops at their own pace. Blake Comeau just had his breakout year, and he's a few years older than Bailey. Josh still needs time, he still needs some more seasoning. He has elements to his game that are very impressive and sometimes he's frustrating because he won't be involved and won't be noticeable. 

DF: Would you trade him?

BJ: That's a hard question to answer unless I know what the deal is. If he's a player you don't feel will develop in your system and you're getting someone back that you think will help, I'd trade him. Or, maybe you just send him down to the AHL for the year. If you can develop him more and prove that he's not a fourth-line center, then you can trade him when his value's higher by the time Ryan Strome's ready to crack the roster. I don't see the Islanders giving up on him right now, but there might be a deal that comes around where you simply have to include him. 

DF: At the end of the day, do you feel this team has the pieces to make the playoffs? 

BJ: I think they can, but it's going to be tough. I'm not convinced that they're done dealing. They'll try and make a move or two before the season, they have to monetarily and they can cherry-pick some things as training camp rolls around. This is definitely a better team, a healthier team. There's a lot of speed and a lot of smarts on this team. They get Mark Streit back, which makes their defense an awful lot better. But how well does Mike Mottau come back, does he stay healthy. That could stabilize the defense as well. Looking at the Eastern Conference though, there are still a handful of teams that are better than the Islanders. They're going to have to have a lot go right for them, the Eastern Conference is tight. 

Comments are welcome.


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