As the offseason torpor drags along and the SBN hockey editors are left largely waiting for something (ANYTHING!) to happen, the powers that be decided to pair us off and force us to talk to each other à la Sartre's Huis-Clos. My initial response to this homework assignment went something like this, but then they told me they were assigning me Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey, and I thought, 'alright, Dom's cool; I'll do it just this once.'
You can float over to Lighthouse Hockey to see my answers to his questions, but join me after the jump as Dom and I discuss the Islanders' dynasty days, California players, what he might think of as a good Ducks/Isles trade and my obligatory college hockey question...
The Ducks now employ Pete Peeters as their goaltending consultant. I'm sure you remember him as the schmuck famously posterized by Nystrom for the Isles' Stanley Cup win in 1980. What are your recollections of that moment, and despite two stellar seasons in a checkered career, are you surprised that Peeters still gets work in a teaching capacity?
Amusingly "Pete Peeters" means more to me as that guy on '80s hockey cards about whom I remember thinking, "If his parents were going to do that to him, why not go all the way and name him Peeter Peeters?" It was only after he was a Bruin that I realized he was the victim of Nystrom's goal. Bobby Ny's goal happened before I was old enough to know what my dad was putting me in front of the TV for. My earliest Islanders memories that I can confidently attest to are the final two Cups and the 1984 finals loss to Edmonton. (There was a time when I thought that the Islanders were supposed to be in the finals every year, and all good teams dressed in blue and orange.) All that the number of average goalies like Peeters with work today tells me is, I guess you do a lot of observing and thinking when you're not great at the position.
As for 1980, without personal memories to call my own -- and I should also add that I'm not from Long Island and was led to follow the team from afar by my St. Louis Blues-watching, Al Arbour-worshiping father -- I'd cite the book "Birth of a Dynasty" by Alan Hahn, a great former Isles beatwriter who was a Long Island kid when that goal happened. His book tells the story as every fan would dream it: In a nutshell (this local news clip helps), picture the highly populated yet spread out suburban "younger brother" NHL franchise finally taking the crown, earning bragging rights over its longer established big city neighbors.
Wait a minute ... you guys learned *exactly* what that's like back in 2007!
The Islanders drafted a Southern California player in Rhett Rakhshani, and Denver's Hobey Baker finalist made his debut with Bridgeport recently. I'm wondering what Islanders fans, or maybe just you, think of California's ability to develop a player. You can use what you know of Rakhshani, blind prejudice, or even what you've seen of Richard Park, who played his youth hockey in California before moving to Canada. Speed? Skill? Impressed?
For Rakhshani specifically, Islanders fans are hoping for the ideal outcome of a player who does all four years in college: that he arrives older, wiser, as a solid character and two-way hockey player. I'm always impressed by guys who stick around to earn their degree (the Islanders tried to coax Rhett out of college after his junior year). While there is some injury and income risk, a degree and four years of the college life sure isn't too shabby of a life choice.
As for California players (and elsewhere: The Isles also have a touted Oklahoma-reared player, Matt Donovan, at Denver): I think it speaks to the fact that elite athletes (and certainly speed is one of the instant markers of them) with good supporting environments can develop anywhere. While growing up with the game all around you as in Canada can help, it's hardly a requirement for a successful player (or, I'd add *cough cough* a successful expansion team, despite what most Toronto columnists would say). Although I have little desire for the NHL to become as popular and over-covered on every media outlet as the NFL/MLB are, it does excite me to think that kids in the sunbelt, in Oklahoma, in Tennessee, can discover what a great sport hockey is. I would absolutely wish my childhood hockey experiences -- going to games, playing in my basement, playing pick-up at the schoolyard -- on any child.
When the Penguins faced the Red Wings a couple of years ago, the talking heads likened the dynamic to the Islanders/Oilers series of the 80s, where the young team had to take a loss to learn how to win. As an Islanders fan, is that a fair assessment, or do you think they're refusing to give New York credit for defeating the "real" Oilers?
I do think that narrative is a little simplified, but I also believe it contains some truth. The "real Islanders" themselves had to take their lumps in 1977, 78 and 79 before finally winning in 1980. Did they suddenly "learn how to win?" Probably not, but they did learn just how big an effort is required to survive four rounds. While in our stat-focused age we tend to look at players as robots who possess specific ceilings and known abilities that should be repeated year after year, anyone who has ever engaged in physical competition can understand that you learn about your physical and mental capabilities (and limits) through competition and defeat. Plus, if the sting of defeat isn't a motivator . . . then you're probably never going to play a meaningful part in a victory.
The Islanders thumped the much heralded Oilers in 1983, and Gretzky and Lowe famously remarked that walking by the Isles locker room afterward, they saw a bruised and battered bunch that crystallized for them what it takes beyond talent to survive the Stanley Cup playoffs. The next year, winning 4 games to 1 over the exhausted Isles, they demonstrated what they learned. Maybe neither team faced the "real" version of the other.
At the same time, there's a whole lot of other variables, obviously. The Islanders were minutes away against the Penguins in 1982 from having their run stopped at two Cups. Meanwhile, that team's stars played in 20 playoff series in five years (and ultimately two preseason Canada Cups), so it was no surprise they began quickly fading into retirement and/or bit roles through the rest of the decade.
I'm a Gophers fan, so I have to get your take on the Kyle Okposo situation. Were you hoping Aaron Ness would leave Minnesota this summer?
One of my best friends is a Gophers fan, so I love ribbing him with updates when Okposo scores. I've read so many theories about the Okposo situation, possibly the most reasonable being that both Lucia and Snow were acting out of concern to shield the young player from flak for wanting to leave, and in the process backed into a mini-war of words. I don't really buy that another year of college would have held Okposo back, but I do think from watching him in the intervening years that he was ready to step into the AHL, and given the situation it was the right move to give him his 9-game trial with the Islanders after a baptism in the AHL. He's a really nice two-way player who keeps growing. I figure if he can step in and be an NHL team's best or one of its two best players for the last season and a half, it didn't hurt him to leave.
...which is why I'm glad Ness is staying. For one, the Islanders don't need him until he's ready -- they have several enticing blueline prospects. For another, from the sounds of it, Ness hasn't demonstrated that he's ready for the next level. I'm not a believer that simply going there can force you to learn -- particularly not when you're undersized like Ness. Since college is the last spot outside of Russia where you can draft a kid and let him continue to develop beyond two post-draft years, I'm all for it. As for the Lucia-Snow rift, it seems like that's in the past, but either way I don't put much stock in hockey inner-circle politics and drama. If a player can play, he will find a way and a place to play.
And finally, what is the Ducks/Islanders trade you feel has to happen right now, as in before the night is over?
Oh man, I don't see a single fit between the two rosters and their respective phases. If Lupul were signed for about 8 more years than he is, I'd offer you Rick DiPietro straight-up in an exchange of medical dramas. In memory of the Islanders swapping Wade Redden for Bryan Berard when Berard wouldn't sign with Ottawa, I could say Okposo for Bobby Ryan (and every Isles fan would kill me) or Calvin de Haan for Cam Fowler. I realize all of these deals are some such manure, but I thought throwing that out there would be better than punting the question with a simple, "There is no fit." In terms of the Islanders' rebuild, I like the way their depth and contracts are stacking up as it is, so I'm not inclined to add any aging players or looming contract issues (Wisniewski for a 3rd excluded; that just made sense).
Thanks for taking the time, Dom!