The Islanders are taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins at the CONSOL Energy Center tonight and are doing so without the services of 2010 fifth overall selection, Nino Niederreiter, for the second straight game.
No Niederreiter isn't hurt, but rather wasting away in a suite high above the ice hanging out with us healthy scratches. This isn't new to the Isles rookie, who also had the best seat in the house for four consecutive games earlier this year. When he does play, he averages under 10 minutes of ice time per game. So someone remind us again, why wasn't this kid sent back to junior hockey?
Yes, the way the Islanders have handled one of their best young talents to this point has been awfully confusing. But what's more baffling is how little we've read about it. Hey New York media, feel like doing your jobs?
Now granted, nobody's saying New York is a "hockey city" by any means. The NHL has to jockey for position on the back page with the likes of the Super Bowl Champions, Tim Tebow and Linsanity, and that's just in the past six weeks.
Even if the Rangers (who by the way have been leading the Eastern Conference for the majority of the season) went on a lengthy playoff run that culminated with their first Stanley Cup since 1994, there would be more of a buzz about what Alex Rodriguez had for breakfast.
So take the whittled down hockey coverage and prepare to divide it up unevenly among the three New York-area teams. Obviously when two of those three are in the thick of the playoff race, the Islanders will fall further down the proverbal totem pole. But this team does have voices. So besides basic game recaps which have the reading level of a fourth-grader, what is there time to talk about?
Oh, I don't know, maybe you can harp on the Islanders' arena problems for the umpteenth time. I heard there was a bit of news on that front that amounts to absolutely nothing new. But by all means continue acting as if it's the only story worth writing.
Not one writer, not Newsday's Arthur Staple, Katie Strang of ESPN New York (granted she covers all three teams now so she gets a pass) nor any of the fans-turned-journalists in the Islanders "Blog Box" have had either the hockey knowledge or gumption to inquire as to why the organization's top talent has had his career tarnished to this point.
None of the league-wide writers such as Jesse Spector, Greg Wyshynski, James Mirtle or Joe Yerdon have spent much time on the team, because they've got enough on their plate as it is. This isn't an indictment of their work, by any means.
Staple stated all the facts in a March 3 column, but never pressed general manager Garth Snow on the matter of keeping El Nino away from junior hockey, where he would've undoubtedly had another dominant season and gained some valuable playoff experience.
That's as critical as anyone has gotten this season. Don't waste your time, it's not much. You could argue that the sports media does have a Woodward & Bernstein-like purpose, to keep organizations honest, and make them answer for unpopular decisions. That is where the media has failed the fans. There is zero accountability for anything hockey-related. Ironically, that sentiment seems to have trickled down to the locker room, where they continue to search for answers.
Now, let's go through those facts again and try to dissect this as much as possible. Nino Niederreiter is still just 19 years old. That makes him too young to play for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the team's American Hockey League affiliate. The Islanders knew that coming into the year, that it was either the stay with the big team or head back to junior hockey. After a brief nine-game stint with the team last year and a stellar season for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League (41 goals in 55 games), Snow was convinced the Swiss forward was ready for the jump to the NHL. Makes sense, right?
Heading into the season, Niederreiter was slated to ride shotgun alongside John Tavares and Matt Moulson on the team's top scoring line. Then the injury bug crept into the picture. In the second-to-last game of the preseason, Niederreiter suffered a groin injury that kept him out of the lineup through the season's first month. Upon returning, he suffered a concussion that cost him another month.
The lack of playing time and injuries have tried the prospect's patience, which has slowly whittled down over the course of a frustrating season.
"Everybody says you gotta look at the big picture, but that's not me," Niederreiter told reporters earlier this month. "I'm in the moment, I'm trying to do my best right now to play and help the team win, so when I find out I'm not playing, I can't be happy. I'm pissed off that I can't play."
In the 55 games he has played in this season, he's rarely been used in a scoring role by bumbling idiot Fred Flinstone head coach Jack Capuano. Nobody's claiming that he's done right by the kid. Ask any Islanders fan, they'll offer you part of their next paycheck to take him out.
He's scored just one goal all season. Yep, you read that right. One. As if that wasn't bad enough, he's also a -24. Ready for the NHL, indeed. It's almost as if the organization has gone out of their way to interrupt the development of one of their top prospects. Party on, Garth.
In late December, the team was given the option to send him to the U-20 World Junior Championships, where he would play on a line with 2011 Flames first-rounder Sven Baertschi for Switzerland (who oh by the way would've also been his teammate at Portland), or stay with the organization. For some reason, Snow, Capuano & co. decided not to send him to Calgary. He was scratched for the next two games while the Swiss were eliminated.
Fun fact: Baertschi was recalled earlier this month on an emergency basis. In five games, he had three goals before being returned to the WHL. It served as salt in the wound for anyone on Long Island keen enough to notice.
So here we are, on March 28, watching the final games of the first year on Niederreiter's three-year entry-level contract. Where has this year gone with regards to their big, young winger? That would make a pretty enticing question for Capuano and Snow to answer.
Well how come nobody's asked it? Are they afraid of being blacklisted by the Islanders, a la Chris Botta?
That must be part of it, at least for the Blog Box, who does a good job of keeping fans up on team news while not rocking the boat. In fact, Bloguin's own Christian Arnold, founder of Islanders Hockey Blog, is by far the best of the bunch. But given the lack of positive news coming from the organization both on and off the ice, it's amazing that you don't see more criticism of the team's practices, especially when it comes to personnel decisions.
Have they issued an unwritten gag order on all things negative? Probably not. The performance from the press box just seems to be worse than the one on the ice below. See, told you it was pretty bad.
Mike, all of the bloggers in the blog box have talked and asked about Nino. but the thing is -- you haven't read them. I asked Garth what he was doing with Nino when I wrote my one-on-one interview in early March. But as far as not releasing him for the WJC, I can tell you that Bailey wasn't either. Josh Bailey; the kid who had a five point night last night against the Penguins.
@7thWoman Hi Dee. Thanks for the read. I'll admit it, guilty as charged. The only Blog Box site I read with any regularity is Christian's and occasionally Lighthouse Hockey when I stumble on something. I honestly don't even read Rangers bloggers that often.
But I did do a decent amount of research with regards to literature on Niederreiter the other day to make sure what I thought was correct. What I found was one Lighthouse column and Staple's piece. That was pretty much it. Upon seeing your one-on-one with Snow now, I don't think I'd change anything I wrote. Is he learning the team's system (which will change when they inevitably fire Capuano)? Sure! But I'd still take him getting considerable game action in the WHL and being a dominant force over simply practicing every day at the pro level. He spends more time on the stationary bike most game nights than he does on the ice. That's a problem.
As for Josh Bailey being released to the U-20 World Junior Championships, he's 22 years old. I assume though, you meant he wasn't released his rookie year either to play for Canada, a team he wasn't guaranteed to even make, much less be an offensive force for. Michael Del Zotto was cut that year as well.
As for his five-point night and recent scoring outburst, see: Sam Gagner. I anxiously look forward to projections for his stats next year though. 30 goals perhaps?!?!
continuing to play with boys when he needs to learn how to play against men is not how Garth Snow thinks his development should go. As he said, he would have loved to send Nino to BPort. That would have been ideal. But due to the CBA rules, he couldn't. I think by being here and being humbled occassionally, Nino is learning life lessons along with his hockey skills. These are character building trials and tribulations.
And no... He won't get 30 goals next year. But he will get more minutes and more production. He'll have the entire summer to think about it and prepare. Much the way all the other young 1st rounders have.
it's a difficult process, but this is the way the Islanders feel they want to do it. and while Nino may not be happy about his minutes, he didn't WANT to go back to Juniors. That was the deal and he's kept his promise.
As a writer for one of the blogs which is in the Blog Box, Lighthouse Hockey, it's been discussed ad nauseum in our threads. The basic belief is that Nino is too good for JRs and wouldn't have gained anything from another season in Portland, but the Isles can't send him to BP due to the agreement with the OHL. It also doesn't help that he's been hurt and missed chunks of the season twice. He had a groin injury October 3rd that caused him to miss 14 games, only returning to the team November 14th. He also had a Concussion December 6th which caused him to miss another 5 games and not return till the 17th. So he basically missed the first half of the season, probably setting hoped for progress that much back.
Personally, I think it's much like Matt Martin last year. A lot of Isles fans argued that he should have been in BP last year instead of getting 4th line minutes in the NHL. But this year Martin came out of the gates playing great and has been one of the top consistent players on the team. I don't think we'll know if the Islanders made a mistake until next season. But at the very least Nino is practicing on a daily basis with men who know the in and outs of the game, instead of pushing around undersized kids in JRs.
@webbard Hey Webbard, thanks for the comment. I actually read Lighthouse Hockey from time to time and saw an Nino-related article on your site. Great content. I've been up in the press box a few times, guess I haven't met you though. Next time!
As far as the argument that he's too good for juniors, I'm not so sure. He had 41 goals in 55 games last year. Great season? You bet. But he wasn't breaking all kinds of records. To say that he wouldn't have gained anything from it isn't all that accurate because confidence is as much as talent for kids of his age. Also, he would've been playing for the best junior team in Canada, so the experience of another deep playoff run is something you can't teach. No, it's not the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Memorial Cup run is no slouch either.
But even still, my biggest gripe with Snow & co. was that he didn't send him to the WJC. The Swiss team would've absolutely qualified for the quarterfinals if he was there. Obviously that's not Snow's concern, but he would've been a star. Look at how everyone gushes over Kuznetsov now because of his tournament. Imagine if Nino had a similar performance? Isles fans would be going absolutely crazy. Who's to say he wouldn't have scored a bunch of goals there and returned to the Islanders ready to go and given this team a formidable scoring threat?
As for the Martin comparisons, I'd have to wholeheartedly disagree there. Martin is nowhere near the talent ceiling as Nino. That's not to say he's not a serviceable player at the NHL level, but one was taken in the fifth round, and one was taken fifth overall.
In short, in today's NHL, it's better to give a young talent a shot with your playmakers right away (see Henrique, RNH, Hall, Seguin, Stepan, etc.) than to coddle them at the pro level.
@RealMikeSalerno @webbard You make valid points, and it's one of those arguments that really can't be resolved for a few years down the line. But the one thing I will say is that I can't blame Snow for not releasing Nino to the WJCs, as he had just recovered from his concussion for the start of the tourney
Loving all the positive feedback guys, thanks very much! But I don't want to ruin your day here or anything... I'm a Rangers fan. I just happen to be one of the few of us who can objectively look at things around the league haha.
As for Garth being a bad GM, I don't think he's the worst, but he's pretty far down the list. Keep in mind he's not given much to work with, but at the same time, he doesn't make much of it either. Moves like this are the ones where he can really show his value, and he fell flat.
It's about time someone stepped up and called out Garth. He's the worst GM I've ever seen and I'm old. He makes Milbury look like a great GM. How reporting how he only used Nino to get to the Cap floor.