Before the first puck was dropped this year there were a few questions about the Bridgeport Sound Tigers chances of repeating as division champions. The biggest question being, who is going to do the scoring?
Of the top thirteen scoring forwards from last season only David Ullstrom and Casey Cizikas returned. Free agents Brandon DeFazio and Colin McDonald, acquired from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penquins, and Matt Watkins from the Portland Pirates will provide a solid veteran presence that can be counted on to put up some big numbers, but what about the kids?
There is less than 12 hours until the third lockout begins under Commissioner Gary Bettman's watch. The last occurred back in 2004, canceling the 2004-2005 season and resulted in a new salary cap system. However, that system has been failing the smaller market teams, forcing them to keep up with the other clubs who earn more revenue and can afford higher salaries.
The owners and the NHLPA are fine with a salary cap system; they are not trying to reinvent the wheel all over again. But both sides are trying to structure an agreement on how the revenue is shared between the owners and players.
In recent discussions, several different proposals have been thrown on the table but none have come close to settling the disagreement. Bettman has been prepared to lockout his players if a new deal is not reached by the end of today. Although each side is likely to meet with each other before the day is over, it seems very unlikely that an 11th hour deal will be made.
Despite talks of another NHL season getting wiped out entirely, many players from the New York Islanders have returned to the Island to prepare for training camp. This week, Eric Boulton, Matt Carkner, Michael Grabner, Kirill Kabanov, Andrew MacDonald, Brock Nelson, Nino Niederreiter, Frans Nielsen, Marty Reasoner and Johan Sundstrom took part in some informal skates at Islanders Ice Works in Syosset. (Photo Credit: Islanders Hockey Blog/Flickr).
These players have not only been skating, but they have been active off the ice as well. Just yesterday Michael Grabner signed 150 autographs for the first group of fans to attend the grand opening of the Cantiague Park Pro Shop.
The past few weeks have been important for guys like Boulton and Carkner, who are just meeting some of their Islanders teammates for the first time after signing contracts with the organization on the first day of Free Agency.
It is rare when a player stays for more than three seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The team exists for one purpose and one purpose only … develop talent for their NHL affiliate, the New York Islanders.
Each September, a half-dozen or so twenty-year olds arrive in Bridgeport to begin their careers as professional hockey players against bigger, faster, stronger competition.
This years arrivals could include forwards Brock Nelson, Kirill Kabanov, Johan Sundstrom, John Persson, Mike Halmo and perhaps Nino Niederreiter, each, an investment by the Islanders in the future of the franchise.
After signing an Entry Level Contract with the New York Islanders back in May, fans must be wondering when Brock Nelson might make his debut in the NHL. Nelson only improved in his two years of playing WCHA hockey as he tallied 68 points in 84 games played. In his first season at the University of North Dakota, Nelson might not have put up numbers that would have made him a standout with the Fighting Sioux, but the freshman managed to hold his own after transitioning from playing high school hockey in Minnesota. (Robert Kowal/Flickr)
Before Nelson arrived at the University of North Dakota, the pivot was highly productive in 31 games played for Warroad High School as he averaged more than three points a game and had a +55 rating. Some may have expected the center to be an offensive dynamo in his first year of WCHA hockey, but Nelson was also placed on a team that had significant talent at the forward position. While the forward only recorded 21 points (8 Goals, 13 Assists) in 42 games played, half of his goals came on the man-advantage, an indicator that better production would come as the center grew more accustomed to WCHA play.
It almost seems like it's been the same story heading into the off-season year after year now; the Isles lack a top-six forward and top-four defenseman that could help make them a competitive team that could be fighting for a playoff spot.
They've tried free agency and have been shot down by guys like Paul Martin. They tried the trade market with James Wisniewski, who ended up being a major disappointment while wearing orange and blue. They even tried that route once more, gaining the negotating rights to Christian Ehrhoff. He didn't want to sign, and I think after seeing how he played under his very luxurious contract, most Isles fans probably don't care.
Although both trades were under different circumstances, they shared one glaring similarity. Not one of them involved any actual players leaving the Island. Ehrhoff's rights were acquired for a fourth round draft pick, and Wisniewski came on board in exchange for a 2011 second round pick and conditional 2012 fifth round pick. Despite the early signs of GM Garth Snow developing a pattern, there is reason to believe that could change heading into this summer's off-season.
The countdown of the Islanders top 15 prospects not playing in the AHL or NHL continues on as we have reached the top 5. If you missed either of the other two parts of the countdown, well numbers 10-6 can be found here and numbers 15-11 can be found here. Without further ado here is the top 5.
(Photo Credit: GuelphStorm.com)Pedan just finished his second season with the Guelph Storm of the OHL and it was another successful season for the young defenseman from Russia. Andrey played in 63 games this season finishing with 40 points (10 goals and 30 assists). He also played in 6 games during the OHL playoffs where the Storm were eliminated in the first round. (Photo Credit: GuelphStorm.com)
I can pretty much talk about hockey 365 days a year, and do. When a friend asks me a question about the AHL or the Sound Tigers, they will get an answer. It took me a while to realize that because they asked me something about the game I love, did not mean they shared my enthusiasm. I first noticed it in the spring when a friend for years asked me to explain what a ‘developmental team’ was. Listening to my response as I explained the roll the AHL was intended to play in the development of players for the NHL, his eyes began to glaze over when I approached the V-260, V-320 (veteran of 260 or 320 professional games) grey areas. An “urgent call” took him from me, and the next day I was ‘un-friended’ on Facebook. That is when I decided it would best to write about the game. While it is still boring to many, at least the number of ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes I get from Facebook friends won’t diminish.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “How much do the players get paid in the AHL?” Were I a man of few words, the answer for this 2011-12 season would be a short “The league minimum is $39,000 the highest paid is getting $6,500,000.” This is true though misleading, and as I am not a man of few words and don’t want to mislead you, let me bore you from bottom to top.
This was a season like no other. From its quick start to its abrupt ending it was unique. In season’s past, after mini-camp, the team would form early in September and begin getting ready for the upcoming year. Practice, photo-shoots, training, find lodging, practice, training, media day, practice, training, meet and greet, practice, training. After two weeks, a pre-season game or two and the season is at the doorstep. Not this year.
The team stayed on Long Island until the last minute, perhaps to give the new coaching staff the training and practice that they needed with the Islanders systems. Whatever the reason, the normal two plus weeks was compressed to a few days. The routine remained the same, but with little time on hand the players were getting up at six in the morning to look for housing before heading to practice, training, etc. Condos and houses rented, friendships that will last for years were made and the season began. And a great season it would be, a banner season by all standards.
This edition of the prospect report I will look to update you on all the news and notes surrounding Islanders prospects. Some prospects decided it is time to go pro while others continue their march through the playoffs with their current teams.
To start, the news came down earlier this week that Islanders prospect Brock Nelson decided to leave college and start his NHL career by signing a 3 year entry level contract. Nelson is considered to be one of the Islanders best prospects and it is exciting seeing him ready to take the next step in his development. Nelson also signed an Amateur Tryout contract with Bridgeport that will allow him to join them this weekend to finish out the season and get a taste of some playoff hockey. Nelson will see his first action tonight as the Sound Tigers take on Syracuse. He will wear number 29.