Our latest edition of a new weekly column here at SNY's Islanders Point Blank, as Andy Graziano and Brian Erni will trade opinions on two of the hot topics working their way around the Islanders and give their two cents.
Sportsclubstats, as of this morning, had the Islanders at 98.5 percent for making the playoffs. It's still a possibility that they catch the Penguins (three points back, one game in hand, play Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn) and set up an epic first round matchup with the New York Rangers. Or they could settle back and finish in a wild card spot, resulting in Washington, Florida or Tampa. Let's quickly analyze each matchup.
Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
That Rangers matchup still looks so enticing from my perspective. It's just been too long since we have seen the rivalry come to life with the season on the line. I think just about everyone in hockey, inside or outside the New York metro area, wants to see it also. The reality is Madison Square Garden doesn't intimidate the Islanders. Henrik Lundqvist doesn't intimidate the Islanders. I think it could be a series for the ages.
I am one of those rare media types who thinks the Islanders match up very favorably with the Capitals, regular season be damned. That would be another tight, hard hitting, physical battle. The one who wins it could very well lose easily in the next round. Tampa? No thanks. Florida scares the bejesus out of me a little. Young, gritty and scrappy with great goaltending.
I subscribe exclusively to the theory that you don't root to get any specific team in the playoffs, because if you do, more often than not, you're end up sorry you asked for them. I have a lot of friends who have been telling me they're dying to play the Panthers in the first round. But with Roberto Luongo between the pipes, that doesn't seem like a cake walk to me. The postseason is so wide open this year that once you're in, I think you have a legitimate shot at the Cup. The only thing I really wanted was home ice in the first round, but with the prospect of that waning, all I want is the team healthy on April 11, ready to take on any and all comers.
Now as far as who I'd like to see, of course I'm licking my chops at a shot at the Rangers. But consider this: if the Isles do get that top Wild Card spot and take on the winner of the Atlantic division, that will set them up with a path through the Atlantic instead of the Metropolitan. If that happens and they get to the Eastern Conference finals that way, they could find themselves squaring off with the Rangers for a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Final. How would that be for some high stakes hockey?
Arthur Staple of Newsday did a Twitter Q&A on his way to Tampa Thursday and rocked Isles Twitter with his opinion on Jaroslav Halak's future with the team beyond this summer. Thoughts and reaction?
Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
Arthur is the Islanders beat writer with a ton of hockey experience and knowledge and has been following this team around a number of years at home and on the road. But the Islanders are a very secretive organization that almost nobody is ever truly on the inside of. What Arthur said was his opinion -- the same one that you or I would have on a number of topics related to this team at any given moment. He made it very clear that he didn't have any source or knowledge of inside information that led him to said opinion.
Now, to the actual point of Halak possibly having played his last game as an Islander? I just don't see it. I cannot, for the life of me, begin to logically break down why Garth Snow, a former goaltender no less, would deal his only playoff tested, veteran goaltender with the team just being competitive now over the last three seasons. Thomas Greiss has had a nice season but is now at a career-high in games played and looks to be tiring. J.F Berube? Are we really handing him the reigns after six NHL starts ever?
I think it all boils down to how the Islanders are going to go about constructing the roster for next season. At first blush, I don't know if it's the best route to go, but there's not much sense breaking down one potential (and hypothetical) move in a vacuum. Who's to say Greiss or Berube would be the number one in this scenario? Maybe there would be another move that would make Halak expendable?
If I was going to make a case for it, it would be this: Kyle Okposo will be gone, and the team is going to have to find a creative way to replace his offense. They could bank on Michael Dal Colle or Matt Barzal taking a huge step forward, but remember that Snow relied heavily on development of his young players this offseason, and the results have been largely uneven. So maybe dealing Jaro would be a way to bring in young, affordable, impact talent with years team control? I do think Garth has earned the benefit of the doubt that he's able to both build a team in the short term without sacrificing the long term. I suppose time will tell.