In Reality It's Crosby vs. Stamkos


Written on 12/31/2010 by Jim Cerny

During the first half of the season the National Hockey League has offered up non-stop promotion for its reality series on HBO centered around Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby---one that will culminate in tomorrow's much hyped and aniticipated Winter Classic at Heinz Field.

In the second half of the season no other special programming is planned, though I suggest that focus shift from the Sid the Kid vs. Ovie to Sid vs. The New Kid in Town, Tampa's Steven Stamkos.

Crosby and Stamkos do not have the history that Sid and Ovechkin share, and Stamkos has yet to be raised by the league's marketing gurus to their lofty status just yet. But is there a better one-on-one battle being waged in the league right now than the one between Crosby and Stamkos for the Hart Trophy (not to mention Art Ross Trophy and Rocket Richard Trophy)?

Like Sid and Ovie, these two are former first overall picks carrying great expectations on their shoulders---and succeeding in masterful fashion. Their games are a bit different---Stamkos more the sniper, Crosby more the overall package offensively---but since tying for the NHL's goal-scoring lead a year ago, the games of Stamkos and Crosby have been more intertwined really than those of Sid and Ovie.

Stamkos scored another pair of goals last night, including a you-can't-believe-this spin-o-rama penalty shot goal vs. Montreal's helpless Carey Price. He now has 9 points (5-4-9) in his last 4 games. And perhaps most impressive is the fact that despite Crosby reeling off an incredible 25-game point-scoring streak, Stamkos is still right there breathing down Sid's neck in both the points race and the goal-scoring race.

The kid chasing The Kid.

Check out the numbers of the two: Crosby, 23, leads the league with 32 goals and 65 points in 39 games. Stamkos, 3 years younger at 20, is second in both categories with 31 goals and 56 points in 38 games. Stamkos leads the NHL with 13 power play goals, and Crosby is second with 10. Stamkos is connecting on 22% of his shots, Sid right behind at 20.8%. Crosby is second in the league with a +20 plus/minus mark, Stamkos is a solid +12 for a much looser defensive team.

And most importantly, Crosby's team and Stamkos' team are both winning. Currently the Penguins sit atop the Atlantic Division---and the Eastern Conference---with 53 points. The Lightning lead the Southeast Division with 49 points while holding down the second seed in the East.

Should all of this success continue---and really, barring injury to either player, why wouldn't it?---there is going to be one heckuva' run for the Hart Trophy as the league's Most Valuable Player.

Right now my pick would be....oh wait, can't give away any secrets here. My "Halfway Home Awards" are coming next week here on Rink Rap, as I choose the league's award winners through the first half of the season.

But let's just say this is a two-man race. And Alex Ovehckin isn't in this picture.

The kid versus The Kid.


Tonight closes out a very action-packed calendar year 2010. Thank you for the support you have shown me this past year---and thanks for the debates, suggestions, and laughs along the way.

Enjoy ringing in the new year this evening, but please be smart and be safe so that we can share more great memories together in 2011!

Follow Me On Twitter: @jimcerny

Sutter Resigns, Devilish Problems, and Wiz Trade Shows Isles Colors


Written on 12/29/2010 by Jim Cerny

With much news in hockey land of late, here is a smorgasbord of the most important doings the past few days, and my quick take on each.

Daryl Sutter Resigns as GM of the Flames

This was not a shock, and probably could have/should have happened this past summer. The Flames are a midling team at present---one stuck with 11 no-trade/no-movement contracts---with a weak farm system after one poor draft after another.

That falls on the general manager. And as such, with the Flames sitting in 14th place in the Western Conference, it was no suprise that team president Ken King asked for--and received---Sutter's resignation.

But all that said, I don't understand the level of vitriol that has been sent Sutter's way, in general, by the hockey media, not to mention the glee with which Sutter's resignation has been reported.

Sutter is no bouyant personality, never looking to be quick with a joke or to banter with media folk. I get that. But I also understand that he made a series of bold moves earlier in the decade to turn Calgary back into a relevant franchise again, one that was within a controversial call of winning the Stanley Cup.

Under his stewardship---both as general manager and head coach---the Flames became a profitable organization once again, not to mention a contender on a regular basis. That needs to be recognized as part of Daryl Sutter's record as much as his recent head-scratching moves and lack of on-ice success the past couple of years.

As for the bottom line, the Flames are in good hands with interim GM Jay Feaster, a solid hockey man, in charge for now. But it will take time to clean up this mess, what with untradeable veterans and less-than high-end prospects in the organization.

Devil of  a Time in New Jersey

John Maclean finally got the boot as coach of the Devils, with Lou Lamoriello dropping the axe right before Christmas on one of the organization's most popular and devoted all-time individuals. The move was as justified---the Devils are shockingly last overall in the 30-team National Hockey League---as it was disrespectfully timed.

That Jacques Lemaire was brought back in by Lamoriello to coach this mess of a team, mere months after an exhausted Lemaire retired as bench boss in Jersey following a first-round playoff pasting at the hands of the Flyers, is either a desperate move, a convenient move, or a move of a man who could think of no other move.

Nonetheless Lamoriello now has to figure out how to purge salary from his Cap-stressed roster and begin to look towards how to fix things in time for next season. He is all but begging some other team to claim Brian Rolston on re-entry waivers by noon tomorrow---a move that would save the Devils half of Rolston's $5 million salary this year and next.

That is the only beginning, though. Lamoriello has a helluva' lot more work to do than that. And while purging salary, he needs to find a way to be creative and get Zach Parise---the injured, yet soon-to-be-star-free-agent---signed this summer, and then attempt to rebuild his awful defense corps while getting Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and the like to score like they used to.

I spoke with a Devils staffer today at the Prudential Center and he wore the blank look of someone shellshocked by what has happened this season. As that Devils employee and I said to one another, seasons like this always have seemed to happen to other teams---pretty much every other team in the NHL, actually---just not to the Devils.

Now that it has happened to the Devils, Lamoriello and the organization do not seem to know how to slow down the snowball that has swiftly descended the negative slope.

And thus they are buried in an avalanche of a mess.

Islanders Trade Wisniewski to Canadiens

On the surface the Islanders trade of defenseman James Wisniewski to the Montreal Canadiens for two draft picks, including a second rounder, seems like a win-win for both clubs.

The Islanders are not in playoff contention and they turned the servicable Wisniewski into a pair of draft picks.

The Canadiens are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, battling for their playoff lives with a string of other teams, and could use veteran help on the blueline, especially now that the club has seemed to decide that rookie PK Subban is not quite ready for a regular role among the top six defensemen.

But what irks me about this trade is that I get a nagging feeling that the Islanders just wanted to drop more salary from their payroll. That Charles Wang is in Garth Snow's ear telling him to drop even closer to the Cap floor, though I don't know how much further down they can go before falling through that floor.

I spoke with a respected veteran NHL person "in the know" today and he said exactly what I was thinking, "At some point you have to stop selling this notion of the future, the future, and start showing something in the present. This guy (Wisniewski) is no star, but he was vital to that team. In my opinion this was all about shedding more salary and continuing to sell the idea that stockpiling draft picks and prospects is the way to go."

Couldn't agree more. It's almost like a street-card game of Three Card Monty. Keep shuffling in a fast deceiving way, keep offering hope, but never deliver the goods.

And so it goes on The Island...

Follow Me On Twitter: @jimcerny

Hockey Recollections on a Snowy Day


Written on 12/27/2010 by Jim Cerny

Sitting here at Madison Square Garden after a 2.5 hour snow-shoveling marathon and an ensuing uneventful drive into Manhattan---well, other than having to back up the length of 26th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues through the snow due to a stalled truck near tenth---I realized that I have yet to wish you all a Happy Holiday!

My bad....but, hey...Happy Holidays!

If you are on the east coast, hopefully you survived the wild snowstorm with at least you sense of humor still intact.

As for me, snowstorm or not, I did what I had planned all along to do last night...kick back and watch Team USA on The NHL Network play it's first game at the World Junior Championships up in Buffalo.

Sitting there watching hockey as the snow pounded greater New York outside my window I thought back to a pair of snow-related hockey travel stories from my past. One was after the Islanders team plane landed at a small Long Island airport following a wicked storm and all of us in our suits and dress shoes trudging through the deep snow to find our cars just absolutely buried underneath the white stuff.

Now, I'm not a complainer at all, but it's enough of a pain in the butt to clean ten inches of snow off the car when you do it in the middle of the day, but it really sucks when you do it at 2:00 in the morning following a full work day, game, and travel!

All the players were helping clean each other's cars when John Vanbiesbrouck came over to me and, without asking if I needed any help, quickly and efficently helped clean off my car and dig it out of the snowdrift it was parked in. It was a reminder that I didn't need to be a teammate to still be part of the "family", and it's part of the reason why I have so enjoyed my time working for both the Rangers and Islanders during my career.

We all---players, coaches, trainers, equipment men, staff (like me)---spend so much time together, traveling and living together on the road throughout the long season. And hockey players are so down to earth...though they are clearly the stars of the operation, and the most important people within the family...they see and understand and respect the other members, people like me. The Beezer snow story is just one of many examples I could give to prove this point.

The other story I thought back to last night also occurred when I was with the Islanders, serving as the team's radio play-by-play broadcaster. We were bussing from Calgary to Edmonton and the heating system in the bus did not work! So here we are, just absolutely freezing in the middle of an Alberta winter, million-dollar athletes and much-lesser paid "family" members alike. And though no one enjoyed the predicament at all, the laughs we had on that bus ride were priceless memories. I will never forget how everyone huddled inside their own long winter coats and shot one-liners back and forth the entire bus ride.

Welcome to the National Hockey League one and all! Indeed....

Good times and good memories were stirred during last night's storm.

As for Team USA's debut at the World Juniors....well, they did find a way to earn a 3-2 win over Finland on Nick Bjugstad's overtime goal, but they are going to have to be much better moving forward. Finland was the better team much of this game and was able to dictate the style of play.

But it was only the first game---butterflies and all that---so I'll give the US squad a pass and we'll see how they look moving forward in the tourny. But, again, the bottom line is that they won the game even when not at their best. And it's never a bad thing in a short tournament like this when your goalie---in this case Jack Campbell, the number one pick of the Dallas Stars this past summer---is your best player. And he was.

Next up for Team USA: Slovakia tomorrow night...and they may have to play without winger Jeremy Morin who suffered a fairly serious shoulder injury in last night's win. The loss would be significant as Morin is a veteran on the US squad, and I thought that he was one of the better and more effective players for United States last night.

Stay tuned....and in the meantime take something for that sore back you have from all that shoveling today...

Follow Me On Twitter: @jimcerny

Please Add to the Coyotes Roster, Number 35 Goaltender Tom Fenton


Written on 12/17/2010 by Jim Cerny

Word started to spread around 5:30 last night at Madison Square Garden that Ilya Bryzgalov was stricken with the flu and would not be able to start in goal for Phoenix against the Rangers. With veteran Jason LaBarbera on hand to fill in, it seemed like a fairly minor story---though, of course, Bryz, the 'Yotes workhorse, not starting a game was indeed a worthy news item.

The real intruguing news story trickled out moments later when it was announced that Bryzgalov was too sick to even sit on the bench and serve as LaBarbera's back-up. With such late notice---coupled with the fact that the Coyotes' top farm team is based in Texas---Phoenix was in a bind as to whom would serve as LaBarbera's caddy for the night.

Rumors started to fly that popular former NHL goalie Sean Burke---currently the 'Yotes goaltending coach---would dress as the back-up. But that notion was scratched rather quickly when it was mentioned that a pro, or former pro, would have to pass through 24 hour waivers first.

24 hours? The Coyotes had closer to 2 hours to figure all this out!

Enter Tom Fenton. Who? Tom Fenton. Who?

Tom Fenton, 26 year-old former Division III goalie from American International College, currently the head of community relations and hockey operations for the Manhattanville College hockey team in New York.

Fenton fit the bill for the night. Played the position before. Had skated recently. Has his own goalie equipment. Lives locally, so could make it to The Garden fairly quickly. Bring him in!

And so that's what the Coyotes did. Relying on Frank Effinger, the team's Director of Pro Scouting---who has local New York ties, Phoenix got the name of Tom Fenton.

So Effinger called Fenton. And so did a string of other Coyotes' officials. One problem. No answer on his cell.

"I was getting a haircut," Fenton explained to me after the game while standing in the visitors dressing room at MSG. "And who wants to be answering the phone when getting a haircut?"

Pretty good thinking there Tom, but it almost cost you the chance of a lifetime.

Fenton eventually listened to the first message from Effinger. "Get down to MSG. We need you to back up in goal. Blah, blah, blah."

So I asked Tom if he felt like he was being Punk'd.

"Yeah, a little," he laughed (you can watch my entire interview with him by clicking here). "I figured my buddies were up to something. But then I saw a lot of different calls coming from an area code I didn't know. Then it got serious."

Go to Manhattanville and grab his equipment. Get in the car and drive from Westchester down to New York City. Call family, girlfriend ("she's a big Rangers fan"), and friends along the way. And, oh yeah, get to The Garden by 5:00 or else you are not eligible to play.

Oh, and did anyone tell you what entrance to get into MSG? Not exactly by the ticket rotunda off Seventh Avenue, my friend. That's for the paying customers. You are here to work tonight.

After a Spinal Tap-like search, Fenton finally did find the proper entrance, did take his physcial, did sign his paperwork, and then found himself getting needled before warmups by Shane Doan and his brethren.

"I think I did fairly well during warmups, stopped most of them," remembered Fenton. "Of course I didn't face too many. But still, to have Shane Doan and Ed Jovanovski shooting at you. Man..."

Man, indeed!

Fortunately for the Coyotes---and probably for Fenton, too---LaBarbera was able to backstop the entire game---one that ended 4-3 in favor of the Rangers after a shootout.  At one point in the third period LaBarbera was slow to get up after a collision in his crease, and then he began flexing his left leg.

"That's when I really started to sweat heavily," recalled Fenton, who did not win a whole heckuva' lot when he played for the AIC (ahem) powerhouse for four years.

Fenton took much ribbing from his teammates-for-the-day on the bench during the game, especially before the shootout when several players insisted he go in cold to stop the Rangers.

After the game, as he conducted a string of interviews, the soft-spoken and mostly-calm Fenton shook hands with Coyotes staffers and players as they thanked him for helping out in a pinch.

As the Coyotes headed to their team bus for a trip to their next destination on Long Island, Fenton stood alone in the visitors room and tried to soak in what had just taken place over the previous 7 or 8 hours.

His momentos from the day were in his locker and equipment bag. A signed amateur tryout contract. A No. 35 Coyotes jersey with his name on the back. A Coyotes dry-fit shirt. A game puck handed to him by one of the linesmen. And the official game scoresheet.

And more memories than most of us could ever imagine cramming into such a small window.

"It's something I will never forget."

Something Good Brewing on Broadway


Written on 12/15/2010 by Jim Cerny

This is my fourth season covering the New York Rangers as a beat reporter. I have seen many ups and downs for the team as well as for individual players. Needless to say I have seen a lot of the team's star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, a nightly fixture year-in year-out whether the team is going well or playing poorly.

I have seen Henrik during some very low moments---struggles, slumps, being eliminated by the Penguins and Caps in the playoffs, being eliminated from even making the playoffs on the final day of the 2009-10 season---yet I am not sure I have ever seen him as upset with himself as he was following Saturday's 3-1 loss in Columbus.

Lundqvist surrendered the game-winning goal to Rick Nash on a shot that came from near the right corner and well behind the goal line. Rangers coach John Tortorella said of the goal, "It can't happen. Ever." But it did.

And Lundqvist was devestated that he let in such a bad goal, especially since it cost his team a game in which they played well and were good enough to win. I could see it in his eyes when speaking with him after the game. I could see it in his body language---usually very upright and full of confidence no matter the circumstance. And I could hear it in his words, spoken in a near whisper.

A regular season game, number 31 out of 82 that will be played. And Henrik just seemed crushed.

The next night, after he bounced back with a 31-save shutout---his league-leading fifth of the season---backstopping the Rangers to a 7-0 victory over the Capitals, I asked Lundqvist when he was able to let go of that bad goal and disappointing loss.

"Not until during the day today," Lundqvist responded. "It really bothered me and I was really frustrated and disappointed. I was so glad (Tortorella) put me in (Sunday) so that I could just get it out of my system. Sometimes when I am upset with myself I use it as energy. This was the answer I was looking for."

Why was this particular mistake and defeat so hard to swallow for Lundqvist? I reason that it's because this is the tightest-knit group the Rangers have had in a long time. This team has worked incredibly hard for the succes it has achieved so far this season, a better-than-expected 18-13-1 record and solid sixth place standing in the Eastern Conference. And as such the players, in general---and Lundqvist, in particular---find it incredibly distasteful to let one another down.

And to show the character of this group, Rangers players were passionately defending in the late stages of their game with the Caps on Sunday, even while holding a seven goal lead. Sure, pride in a 60-minute effort was part of the reason, and shutouts are always nice. But the real reason why the Rangers laid it on the line in the waning moments on Sunday is that they knew---they saw---how painful it was for Lundqvist to let them down 24 hours earlier. Now they wanted to reward the goalie they respect, admire, and trust to the max by helping him secure an important shutout to fully erase the pain he felt in Columbus.

"Hank is our rock back there and we want him to have success," said Brandon Dubinsky. "I think the big thing for us was the way he responded. He was amazing. We wanted to lock it down and get (the shutout) for him because of the way he showed up (Sunday) night and the way he responded."

When Tortorella talks about what "a great room" the Rangers have, this is clearly a prime example. Lundqvist is a huge part of that room, passionately caring about letting his brothers in arms down. Dubinsky---and many others---speaking about how the players recognized the importance of giving something important to Henrik, to help lift him, after the anguish that goal in Columbus had put him through.

There are clearly more talented teams in the National Hockey League than the Rangers. But they have the chance to far exceed expectations because of their collective make-up and hard-working mentality.

As forward Brandon Prust says, "When guys are this tight and so close to one another, there is a higher level of accountability towards one another. You don't want to let the guy next to you down."

Added Tortorella, "I have said this many times before, that is a great group of guysd in that room. And the way we play? It is an extremely rewarding and satisfying way to win when you play as hard as we do."

No better example of that than what happened with their most important player this past weekend. First the deflation on Saturday, then the response on Sunday.

Good stuff taking place on Broadway.

Follow Me On Twitter: @jimcerny and @thenyrangers

Can Filatov Break the Zherdev Mold?


Written on 12/11/2010 by Jim Cerny

Here in Columbus to cover Rangers and Blue Jackets and much of the talk at the morning skate over at Nationwide Arena was about a talented winger with questionable work ethic and desire from Eastern Europe that is frustrating Columbus coaches and management to no end.

And perhaps the worst part for the Blues Jackets is that there is a major sense of deja vu taking place with this particular situation.

The player in question now is 20 year-old Russian Nikita Filatov, who was just sent to Springfield in the AHL yesterday after the 2008 6th overall pick had recorded just seven assists---and no goals---in 23 games.

The player in question five or so years ago was Nikolay Zherdev, the 4th overall pick in 2003 by Columbus, who drove Ken Hitchcock and company so batty that he was traded away after just four seasons wearing the red, white, and blue of the Blue Jackets.

It's still too early to say that Filatov will also be dealt unceremoniously out of Columbus, but it is not too early to say that there are definite similarites between the two uber-skilled former first-rounders. At their core no one questions either's talent, but nearly all question their passion and desire.

To be fair to Zherdev he still scored 34 points in 57 games as a 19 year-old rookie in 2003-04, and also had seasons of 27 and 26 goals in Columbus. It was his seeming indifference to the game, and the fact that many close observers felt he could have been a 35+ goal scorer if he worked harder with the Blue Jackets, that got him shipped out of town rather quickly.

Filatov spent most of his rookie pro year in the minors back in 2008-09, but he caught everyone's eye by scoring four goals in 8 NHL games as an 18 year-old, too. Last year, though, Filatov scored just twice in 13 games, and then refused a minor league demotion---instead having agent Don Meehan broker a deal where Filatov would finish the season playing in Russia. By not showing a willingness to continue to hone his craft within the organization at the minor league level, where his every move could be studied and coached, Filatov raised red flags about his true desire and passion to succeed in North America.

That Meehan felt compelled to publicly state Filatov was "willing" to accept a trip down to the minors yesterday says more bad than good about the kid, and his reputation.

Scott Arniel, the Blue Jackets rookie coach, had much to say on the topic this morning.

"It's about doing the extra work before practice, after practice...we've talked about it," Arniel said of Filatov's work ethic. "He needs to continue to work at his trade and make sure he gets better every day. As for not scoring goals, he needs to bear down more, fight for rebounds. He's got some work to do."

Several times when speaking on the Filatov topic, Arniel spoke about how some players are "just not ready" for the NHL life at such a young age, and that you "can't force-feed" these players into feeling comfortable until they really are.

Though he was speaking in general terms, it seemed as though Arniel was talking specifically about the maturity level of Filatov, which has been questioned from the outside on a fairly regular basis.

"I tried to put him into as many opportunities where he could have success---on the power play, on the top lines---but there was some inconsistency with his play," explained Arniel. "We just wanted him to go out and do what he does best. But as it went along and he didn't, then you could see it really started to weigh on him. And now he was starting to press, and now he wasn't playing on the inside and his compete, at times, was not where it needed to be."

Arniel and team GM Scott Howson felt they only had one good option. And fortunately this time Filatov accepted his assignment to Springfield.

"Again, he's a young player, and he just needs to go and get confidence," said Arniel. "He has to go feel good about himself. It may take two weeks, may take two months, I don't know what it's going to be. But the first step is going there and understanding why. Some guys get it instantly, and for some it takes a little longer. We're not giving up here. It's part of the process."

Filatov was chosen sixth in the 2008 NHL Draft. Here are the five players selected before him: Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, and Luke Schenn. Quite a bit of early NHL success to be found in that group, which makes Filatov's struggles stand out that much more. Among those selected after him: Tyler Myers (12th), Michael Del Zotto (20th), Jordan Eberle (22nd), Colin Wilson (7th), and Tyler Ennis (26th).

Filatov is playing catch-up with his draft class, no question about it, but this next segment in his career---how he handles being back in the AHL and how hard he works at his craft and how much desire he shows in returning to The Show---will help determine what his future may hold.

Will Filatov be taking the Rick Nash course in Columbus. Or will he take the Nikolay Zherdev path.

Time will tell.

Follow Me On Twitter: @jimcerny

Here to Praise Sid the Kid


Written on 12/09/2010 by Jim Cerny

Am up here in Ottawa to cover Rangers and Senators tonight, but found myself watching TSN as the Penguins won their 11th straight last night, 5-2 over the Maple Leafs.

And I found myself glued to every shift Sidney Crosby played. All 23 of them. Every second of the 20 minutes and 47 seconds he spent on the ice.

Because when an elite superstar athlete is on top of his game like Crosby currently is, I am compelled to watch, and watch closely.

Funny, a little more than a week ago I penned a column on why Crosby is so hated by fans and opponents throughout the NHL, and entered into the debate as to whether or not Sid the Kid is a dirty player. I certainly mentioned his greatness and his accomlishments, but the story's main focus was elsewhere.

Today's entry is different. I come to praise what I have been seeing from Crosby during his current 17-game point-scoring streak---and I have seen some of these games in person and quite a few more via the television.

What stands out most to me is Crosby's focus. Look at his eyes. Look closely. There is a fire there. Game in, game out. Shift in, shift out. When you take the incredible skill Crosby owns and then add the fire and passion and focus he is currently playing with, you have a near unstoppable combination. And right now, Crosby is just about unstoppable.

Sid the Kid has eight goals in his last four games---with two more last night. And he has potted 20 in this 17-game streak. 20, as in 20 goals NOT just points, in 17 games. As for points, he has 35 of those during the streak. That's two per game in a six-week stretch. In the current NHL, where scoring is at a premium, those are Gretzky-like numbers. Or for you Pens fans, how about Lemieux-like numbers?

But again, away from the numbers, it's Sid's focus, his will, his determination, his ability to take over pretty much every game the past month and a half. And doing that with little-to-no help from Evgeni Malkin---who is now sidelined after an already un-Malkin-like start to the season---and not one game's worth of help from the injured Jordan Staal.

He is playing with an edge, battling every shift, playing with a certain fury. Legal--and, yes, illegal---hits. Trips to the penalty box---three last night, including a cross check and a roughing minor that set off mini on-ice riots. But also a passion to dominate offensively with a skill and vision few can even imagine.

I thought Bob McKenzie did a great job last night on TSN in discussing Crosby's underrated skating burst and subsequent speed, not to mention his anticipation of when to take off on a potential rush or scoring play.

McKenzie summed it up uniquely and quite perfectly, saying, "Crosby is like the Road Runner. Beep! Beep! And he's gone!"

Loved that!

McKenzie also raised a great question last night: when exactly does Crosby hit his prime? He is 23 now, with 2 Cup Finals, 1 Cup Ring, 1 MVP, 1 Art Ross Trophy, 1 Rocket Richard Trophy, an Olympic Gold Medal, 3rd youngest player ever to reach 500 NHL points, and so much more already on his resume.

But is his prime still years away? Is he in his prime now already? If so, how long will that prime last?

By the looks of it, Crosby is getting better and better. 51 goals last year showed that. His even better play this year proves that again.

I know you may hate him, or be jealous of him, but as a true fan of the sport, you must also be somewhat in awe right now.

That's how good Sidney Crosby is at the moment.

Dead on the Island


Written on 12/06/2010 by Jim Cerny

When I served as the play-by-play voice of the Islanders during the predictably unpredictable dark days of multiple bad ownerships, Mike Milbury's reign of error as General Manager, the revolving door of head coaches, and one last place finish after another there was always one positive thing that could be counted on.

Whenever the Islanders hosted the Rangers at Nassau Coliseum, the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike would be sold out and rocking.

Though attendance at the Coliseum  was always fairly lousy in those days, and season ticket holders were few and far between, the joint would be jumping and tickets were impossible to find when the arch rival Rangers paid a visit.

Sadly, not even appearances by the Rangers can fill the old building in Nassau any more. The Rangers have visited the Nassau Coliseum twice already this season, and the arena has not been close to sold out either time.

Back on Columbus Day---keep in mind a Monday day game on a holiday not everyone gets off from work for---the announced crowd was a bit over 11,000, some five thousand short of capacity. And to be honest, it really looked that afternoon that perhaps there were fewer than 10,000 actual bodies in the Coliseum as huge swaths of sections were empty.

Then last Thursday night the Rangers skated on Long Island again and there was good news/bad news for the Islanders. The Good News: the team had its largest single-game attendance of the season. The Bad News: less than 14,000 showed up for the New York-New York "rivalry", still 3,000 short of a sell out.

And I guess I'm piling on here, but only 7,773 were announced in attendance for yesterday afternoon's Sunday matinee with another long-standing rival, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Larry Brooks, the excellent hockey writer for The New York Post, wrote yesterday that the league should intervene and save the Islanders from an owner who has done everything within his power the past several years to gut this franchise of any sense that it belongs in the major leagues. Everything about the Islanders now reaks of minor league---from front office to sales & marketing to public relations to the building to the on-ice product. Owner Charles Wang is spending the minimum amount possible to keep this team alive until its lease expires at the Nassau Coliseum in four years and, presumably, he can move it somewhere else.

While I agree, in part, with Brooks that the league should step in, I would argue that enough is enough and perhaps Gary Bettman et al could help broker an early termination of the lease and end the misery sooner rather than later. Let Wang take his team elsewhere, or sell it to someone who wishes to do the same. Because I do not believe there is anyone in their right mind who would buy the Islanders now and keep them on Long Island. Wang has killed the market, and four more years of this painful slow death is just so cruel to the Islanders Faithful.

Wang's Lighthouse Project for a time made him the people's champion as he tried to get a new arena and bustling entertainment and shopping area built. But without any political support to speak of, the project is dead in the water, and with that, Wang has pulled back on dumping his resources into the team---certainly his business perogative---and the fans have responded to that---as well as the rich ticket prices---by simply not attending Islanders games any more.

I thought I had seen and lived through the worst of it for the Isles back in the '90's and the early part of this decade.

I was wrong. This is worse. Much worse. And it feels like it should finally be the end.