Sunday, July 4, 2010

NY Islanders: Rehab Camp for Wayward Hockey Players?

What the heck is a Mulligan? I don’t play golf so I didn’t know. But Garth Snow began his post pick interview with “We all wish we could get a Mulligan. Here’s his Mulligan.” when he was discussing young Russian Kiril Kabanov. Had Garth Snow used the more juvenile term “do over” when discussing the antics of the Russian prospect, then I would have understood. But considering Garth, as most of those in hockey, is also an avid golfer that’s the word he chose.

“We’ve all done things we may have regretted.” he told the media scrum in LA after drafting Kabanov in the third round at 65th overall. Simply reading the statements in print, it sounded as if Snow was looking for absolution for his own past mistakes. However, watching the interview on ITV, you can see the true intent of the words and the depth of understanding the boy (because 17 years-old is certainly a BOY) that so many other clubs wouldn’t take a chance on. You can also see the humor he injects “I don’t want to say too much. My mother may be watching.”

Certainly while Snow can relate to youthful mistakes, he also made clear the Islanders were not going to put up with any embarrassing shenanigans. “We do things a certain way and expect all our prospects and players to conform in a certain manner.”

Maybe the Islanders will end up being the Yankees-light. “We’ll see.” Garth continued. Yes, we will.

However, the brash Russian from Moscow with the super-model girlfriend isn’t the only one the NY islanders have taken a chance on. Just look back to last year’s draft and the case of Casey Cizikas. Prior to the 2009 NHL Draft, Casey was charged with manslaughter for a horrific Rugby incident that threatened to change the way violence in sports was regulated by the law in Canada.

After going through that year’s NHL combine and all the questioning, the Islanders made the decision to give Casey a chance and drafted him in the 4th round at 92 overall. Casey was sentenced to one year probation and 100 hours of community service for the manslaughter conviction of 15 year-old Manny Castillo during a 2007 Rugby match; a game that Castillo probably should not have been participating in due to a major concussion he sustained two weeks earlier. The judge ruled that Casey Cizikas used “unnecessary force” when he drove Castillo’s head into the ground in what some say was a violent act and others say was part of the game.

In 2009, the same week Casey was sentenced, he was here on Long Island at the Islanders mini-camp. I didn’t have a chance to interview him then, but when I asked Garth Snow about him, my concern for his character must have been evident. I remember him saying “He’s a good kid.” But it was certainly a bad situation.

Last season Casey scored 25 goals and 37 assists for 62 points and a +32 ranking for the Mississauga St. Michaels Majors. He also sat in the box for 77 minutes. In 16 playoff games he scored 7 goals and 7 assists with 16 PIMs. So while it seems Cizikas has some serious skills, he may also know the penalty box attendants quite while.

Then there is the story of Bobby Hughes who, just a few weeks ago, was acquitted of a 2008 criminal sex act after only 42 minutes of deliberation. Another bad boy in the Isles system?

Hughes was acquired in August of 2009 in a trade for Rob Hennigar. The charges against Hughes came as a surprise to Howard Saffan, a lawyer and the Sound Tigers President, who said in November that they knew nothing of it until marshals showed up to remove Hughes from the Arena at Harbor Yard.

While, as Garth said, everyone deserves a second chance, not all second chances work out. Take the second chance the Islanders gave Neil Smith. Remember him? Of course you do. Smith was the general manager of the NY Rangers from 1989 to 2000. It wasn’t until 2006 that Charles Wang gave him another shot at being a GM. That lasted 40 days and 40 nights and to hear those who lived it, the time was worse than the epic floods that caused Noah to build that Arc.

As of 2010, no other team has hired Smith as an NHL GM either so he is now owner and coach of what was the Charlestown Chiefs and are now the Greenville Road Warriors. Smith moved the team from PA due to financial reasons. When no one hires you for a job, you go into business for yourself. Smith is an excellent hockey personality for radio and TV and also does some great impressions. I’m sure he’ll keep them entertained in Greenville.

Jack Adams award-winning coach Ted Nolan was also given a second chance by Charles Wang. Ted waited ten years for another NHL coaching job after leaving the Buffalo Sabres. The job lasted one year less than his contract. While there is plenty of speculation as to WHY his tenure only lasted two years, I can only say this -- there may have been a reason it took ten years for him to find another spot in the NHL coaching merry-go-round. In July of 2009, Nolan was named VP of Hockey Ops of the Rochester Americans AHL team.

How about the bad press that Rob Schremp received in Edmonton? Schremp was claimed off waivers by the Islanders last season and was just extended a qualifying offer. Prior to the NHL Entry Draft of 2004, reports of his lack of character and cocky, confrontational attitude caused his stock to drop like a rock even though no one disputed Rob had top 5 talent. He was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1st round 25th overall. Schremp made no excuses for his personality. “I use the F-word when I talk to my friends and maybe I do swear too much.” he told the media.

He never seemed to impress the powers-that-be in Edmonton but now looks like a steal for the NY Islanders. As someone who has witnessed this bad boy’s antics in the locker room and with fans, I can tell you he hasn’t changed much. He still catches reporters off guard with somewhat inappropriate answers that can’t be used in stories and laughs loudly when joking with his fellow players. But he is humble and appreciative with fans and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. At only 23 years-old, this bad boy from Fulton NY has another chance to prove that his skills were indeed worthy of a top five draft pick.
So maybe drafting Kiril Kabanov wasn’t such a bad idea for the Islanders. Maybe Charles Wang’s insistence on giving the kid a second chance will work out for them. So what if his agent JP Barry dropped him. He has a new agent at the Orr agency. So what if he bailed on the Moncton Wildcats. Charles Wang can certainly find him another junior team if he has to come October. The 17 year-old (who turns 18 in July) is dating a waif of a supermodel named Yasmina Muratovich and has already fallen in love with “ink.” I suppose the laws governing tattoo parlors in Russia are different than they are here in the states. (In New York, no one under 18 can get a tattoo even with parental permission.)

Garth Snow says he will read him the rules and let him know exactly what is expected of him. He gets a chance to prove his critics wrong and Wang’s Islanders right or he will be shown the door. The choice is his. The Islanders already made theirs.

And for my thoughts on the Chase for Kovy, please check HockeyBuzz here.


Anonymous said...

I think you can make the case that Neil Smith was a bad move, considering that Wang wanted to do that committee nonsense and Smith wanted no part.

Otherwise, I don't really see the harm. Nolan did a fine job here in getting that 2007 team into a position to get home ice in the playoffs. If it turns out that he pissed people off afterward, then it makes sense to fire him then.

Otherwise, what's the risk? That a 3rd rounder doesn't pan out? That happens what, 80% of the time anyway? Especially given that the Isles have trouble attracting free agents, how else are they going to get top flight players but through the draft?

Stef said...

There was very little talk about Schremp's bad attitude when in Edmonton. That albatross followed him from junior.

7th Woman said...

Hey Steph. I took those comments from an article I found on line and from conversations I had with some other writers. Personally, I'm determined to make sure Robbie never sees the albatross again. I think he's an excellent player and a good kid with a great sense of humor.